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June 5th

I've been teaching for nearly 20 years now and I (like to think I) am a good teacher, but the last few years in particular have presented several opportunities to be more thoughtful and purposeful about teaching.  Reassuringly, many of the practices described in the pre-workshop readings are ones that I do anyway, but many are ones that I discovered  on my own through trial-and-error (though I got a lot of new ideas too). Poor early students that had to suffer through my classroom experiments! 

As an example of being more purposeful, this summer, 4 of my collleagues and I took part in a workshop to think about writing in the discipline.  Georgetown has changed it's English requirement, so now all students will need to have a writing course in their major to graduate, starting in Fall 2015.  We've been reading a terrific book:  Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John C. Bean, 2nd ed, Jossey-Bass (Wiley). As we've been working towards a mechanism to teach scientific writing to sophomores, we've all come to realize that the act of writing is an aspect of critical thinking.  But at the same time, I was interested to see in the Dee Fink article we read here, that he refers to Sternberg's theory of three kinds of thinking - critical, creative, and practical.  It struck me that in our writing discussions, we've really been thinking about all three kinds of thinking and kind of lumping them under the term 'critical.' 



  • Identify and describe one of your courses that will serve as your “project course” for the work you do at the Institute. 

The course I'm going to revise is our Biochemistry course.  I taught this for more than 10 years, but asked to be relieved for awhile since I was doing a bunch of other things.  However, now I'm stepping back in after 3 years away. This is a sophomore level class for our majors, although students can take it in junior or senior year as well.  

  • What constraints influence how you teach this course?  (e.g., large class size, laboratory format, non-majors) 

This course serves as one of two courses that students need to take to fulfill the "Molecules" requirement in the major.  In addition, many of the pre-med non-Biology majors take this class to fulfill requirements for AMCAS.  Finally, we usually have a number of post-baccalaureate students who are coming back to college to fulfill pre-med requirements.  In total, there can be anywhere from 60-120 students in the course in any given semester.  There is also a laboratory associated with the class, but we have a Professor of the Practice who deals with that as one of her primary teaching responsibilities. 

  • What do you hope the students will learn in your course?

Need to go back and list the specific learning goals (backward design) but the basic outline of the course involved and will continue to involve the following three things: 

1. Basic aspects of protein structure and function

2. Biochemical "sense" - why things are regulated the way they are 

3. Overview of the enzymology of fundamental life processes - replication, transcription, and translation 

  • How do you determine whether students have achieved the learning you describe in question #3?

Traditionally, assessment has been accomplished by 4 hourly exams and a final exam.  When I taught the course previously the exams were usually short answer.  I learned to my horror that the two adjuncts who team taught the course last year used mostly multiple choice questions from horrible question banks. One of those two will be co-teaching with me next year. Students also got credit for laboratory and for a short bioinformatics paper (with a partner) that became part of the laboratory grade. 

  • Provide a list of 3–4 specific assessment strategies you are most interested in exploring during the Assessment Institute?

Although I thought my previous course was reasonably successful (students generally did well and evaluations were good, including feedback from some students who had gone on to medical shool), I'm now convinced that it isn't necessary to march through the textbook with me lecturing on all topics.  Rather I'm hoping to incorporate more case studies to illustrate some of the fundamental principles, have more writing and more peer review, and generally have things at a higher level than read and regurgitate.  

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