As instructors, it is important to prepare students for their careers after college. In a number of fields this could involve simple memorization of key terms or concepts. However, as outlined in “Vision and Change”, this methodology simply does not suffice in the biological sciences. This release was the seminal work of a number of biological educators and it outlined core concepts and competencies needed for biology students to be successful after college. I have long disliked the idea of memorization in the college setting. If we are to prepare modern students, constant access to information must be considered. Thus, focusing on deep learning and core concepts is far more important than covering a vast amount of information at a shallow level.
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is in the midst of a great transformation, in which “Vision and Change” has served a critical role. In addition, treating teaching as research leads to constant improvement and avoids a stagnant classroom environment. My teaching philosophy has been shaped by “Vision and Change”, the numerous teaching workshops, seminars, courses, and conferences I have attended, and the idea of teaching as research. As such, I have aligned my course learning goals and student-centered active learning activities to the core competencies necessary for student success post-college.
I believe that both lecture-based and student-centered active learning courses each have their advantages if done correctly. For example, lecture courses can be successful if students are given time during the course to pair up and discuss a complicated or difficult topic being presented. However, other courses, such as advanced courses with students who are experienced with active-learning would allow a course focused on student-centered active learning to engage students at high cognitive levels. Regardless of the instruction technique used, I always integrate the following into my teaching: daily learning objectives aligned with course goals, student engagement, regular formative assessment, peer review, and inclusivity.
Daily learning objectives: When students enter my classroom they will be provided with daily learning objectives which fit into larger, course objectives. These objectives direct students so they understand the broader objectives in which the daily materials fit. I utilize these objectives explicitly so my students seek not to memorize the material, but understand the deeper concepts and apply them to new situations.
Engagement: In my opinion there is no greater travesty in college-level education than to lack engagement in an introductory classroom. This engagement could simply be the way materials are introduced; I am an animated and humorous instructor and this is often reflected in my student evaluations. In addition, I ensure that the materials being taught are up-to-date. If something has recently changed in the field it is an exciting time for students to realize that science is constantly evolving. Finally, I enjoy bringing topics from the news into the classroom. While to some it may seem a divergence from the course goals, this is essential for engagement and for students to understand that the material has real-world implications.
Assessment: Regular formative assessments (e.g., clicker questions, concept mapping, short write-ups, and case studies) provide me and my students with valuable feedback. With this, students can view their progress towards meeting learning objectives prior to summative assessments and I can adjust my teaching style to address student misunderstandings. Summative assessments are aligned to the learning objectives, and designed to examine student recall of important topics (e.g., concept maps and short answer questions) and then expand upon that to test critical thinking (e.g., case studies and experimental design). As stated previously, experience with these “new” forms of assessment is essential. As such, these forms of assessment will be introduced early in the course as formative assessments. Finally, students will know what is expected of them as my assessments will reflect the course and daily learning objectives. In addition, I always provide the rubric by which their answers were assessed.
Peer review: One of the more difficult and important skills for any individual is the ability to provide and accept constructive criticism. It is important to create an environment where students are comfortable expressing their ideas. Peer review provides an opportunity for this, in addition to additional formative assessment beyond what an instructor can provide. If done properly, peer review is an immensely powerful technique in an active learning classroom. In addition, peer review is also useful in that it lessens the burden of grading on the professor. This is especially true in large classrooms where, realistically speaking, open-ended assignments often get less than a cursory glance.
Inclusivity: Inclusivity is something that all instructors should strive for. However, this is not often stressed until after an issue arises. I have attended several workshops on inclusivity and I am now in the process of evaluating my course material and teaching style to stress inclusivity. In addition, I will place a statement in my course syllabus stating the proper way to report un-inclusive behavior from a member of the course or from myself. A few examples of inclusivity improvements I am making to my role as teacher and mentor include: 1) course activities account for different learning styles (e.g., visual, aural and hands-on), 2) ensuring that presented primary literature reflects the diverse members of the scientific community, and 3) increasing my own understanding of different cultures, religions, special needs, and economic backgrounds through workshops and discussion.
I am a work in progress and so is my teaching. I stressed previously that I see instruction and course design as research, and this will continue when I receive a position. I will continually review my methodologies and develop my knowledge and techniques through faculty development opportunities in person and online. My continued development as a mentor, teacher, and facilitator is necessary to ensure students are provided with the best opportunity to achieve course goals, have a positive learning experience, and succeed after my course.
My multidisciplinary background has allowed me to step into a diverse set of courses at Michigan State University including biology, microbiology, and genetics. Additionally, I am qualified to design seminar and laboratory courses in microbial ecology, diversity, physiology, genomics, genetics, and bioinformatics. I have had the opportunity to participate in both large (≥400) and small (~30) enrollment courses while at Michigan State University and developed classroom materials for these courses.
My ideal course
While I find teaching biology exciting and worthwhile no matter the subject area, I would very much like to teach a 100- or 200-level introductory (micro)biology course and companion laboratory. I believe that my enthusiasm for teaching and use of up to date instructional techniques could lead to increases in student engagement and retention in the program. STEM fields are exciting and inherently interdisciplinary; thus these introductory courses can appeal to a wide variety of student interests even if they wish to pursue careers outside of science. If provided with an introductory course I would stress the broader applicability of STEM courses and ensure that my students do not leave the course to immediately forget what they have learned. These would serve as foundational lessons by which they can interact with the world, or continue throughout the program to advanced courses.
For the Vision and Change PDF look here.