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Pre SoTL Assignments

Table of contents
  1. 1. Reflection

As a teacher, my primary interest has always been to engage my students in the learning process.Because so many students focus on memorizing facts rather than understanding concepts, it is often difficult to convince students that struggling with difficult concepts as they acquire new scientific knowledge is truly worthwhile.We all know that students are not entirely to blame for their narrow-minded approach to learning; too often we as teachers focus primarily on details as well, imagining that the students will be able to put the big picture together later.After all, memorizing the parts of a cell is easier than figuring out what kind of proteins or machinery might be defective in a human disease (though certainly not as interesting!).In our readings, I particularly identified with Bass’ inverted pyramid –why *do* we usually assume that students will be able to figure out what we think is most important when we don’t make it obvious to them?Relating this to the five elements of teaching as a process (Shulman), I’ve been trying to focus more time on design (of a course or a project), and on analysis (what *did* my students actually learn?), rather than the elements teachers often focus on-- interaction and outcomes (where outcomes is simply the grade the student receives).

Over the past year, I have been focusing on two main research problems that address some of the ramblings above:

1.Investigating understanding of genetics topics by students who are biology majors compared to understanding of the same topics by students who are non majors.We use a validated multiple choice genetics assessment tool that we’ve just developed at CU to pick out whether students have the same incorrect ideas about genetics both pre and post, as well as comparing performance on multiple choice quiz and exam questions in common over the semester.I am curious what the persistent incorrect ideas are, and whether they are the same or different in these two populations.I also wonder whether non-majors can gain as much understanding as majors, and if not, why not?Looking at the data I’ve collected so far will help with the design of interactive exercises intended to be used in class (but could also be used in recitations) to specifically address the incorrect ideas students have.I’d like to share these exercises, test their effectiveness in my own classes as well as at other institutions, and measure whether more directed instruction on these topics helps change student thinking and understanding.Some part of this work will be ready to present at next year’s ASMUE meeting.

2.Developing a similar series of activities for an upper level Developmental Biology course.This is a more advanced population of students (mostly seniors), and at this level, my goal is to get these students to really think like scientists.I am interested in measuring whether working in groups on challenging problems improves their ability to think and reason critically.I already have a few exercises developed, but have not gathered data on their effectiveness.The difficult part of this project is that it requires analysis of student’s written work (as opposed to answers on multiple choice questions).I was intrigued by Bass’ use of an opening day writing assignment that is then revisited at the end of the course.Could you measure student progress both in their scientific content knowledge and in their ability to express themselves or think critically in terms of such an assignment?I’m hoping to learn more about this type of analysis this summer and over the upcoming year.This may be a longer term project, so I shouldn’t commit to being done by next year!

While defining these research problems, I have been struck by the challenge of proving that a new educational technique, or a new way of approaching a difficult concept is actually better than the old way.Although the scholarship of teaching should and does include just sharing good ideas, real progress requires research with controls and hypothesis-driven questions.But our students don’t fit well into control groups, and sometimes we really don’t know what to expect from our research!This is a topic I’d like to discuss with others at the institute.From the 12 properties of the scholarship of teaching, although I believe they are all important and interwoven, I think #s 5,6,8 and 10 are the most important to me, because I particularly enjoy seeing what and how others teach the subjects that I teach.How do they address the problems I’ve encountered?What kinds of solutions have they thought of?What can I share with them?All this helps to better define the problems that do exist, such that we have more tools with which to guide students towards deeper conceptual learning.I am excited to see that so many of us have overlapping interests and goals; I predict a productive meeting of minds this summer!


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