Today I had an interesting experience while teaching my biochemistry class. I had students write the Krebs cycle on their digital whiteboards while keeping track of the specific carbons in the cycle intermediates. The point of this exercise was to have students understand how biochemists study metabolic pathways and to practice writing the chemistry of the cycle. To initiate the exercise, I explained the biochemical logic of the first reaction. After that, I let them go because we had already spent a lecture discussing the reactions. This produced a fairly lively classroom with students trying to understand the flow of both carbons and energy through the cycle. While they worked, I walked around commenting here and there as needed or when I saw a misconception arising. Clearly, learning was happening. But the weird thing was . . . I didnít feel like I was teaching.
The Teaching Professor Current Issue: May 2017
ďWe are very good at teaching students how to solve problems for which we already know the answers. The challenge is to teach them strategies for tackling problems weíve yet to solve.Ē
Aspergerís syndrome is a functional type of autism spectrum disorder in which a person might exhibit social and physical awkwardness, slow monotone speech, fixation with certain topics, a reclusive nature, and minimal eye contact. These are a few of the many characteristics of Aspergerís that can inhibit effective teaching.
How do we get students to act on the feedback we provide? When papers are returned, they look at the grade first and then (but not always) briefly peruse the comments. Do they read them more carefully at home? When asked, they say they do, but then the next paper comes in with little if any improvement in the areas targeted by the feedback. Do they need more comments? Fewer comments? Comments worded differently?
Using end-of-course evaluation results to improve a course isnít always easy. Generally, the results are delivered after the fact. The course is over. The students are gone. That rules out any chance of making adjustments during the course, and it rules out clarifying any confusing aspects of the feedback. Perhaps, then, it isnít all that surprising that a lot of faculty members, 77 percent according to McDonnell and Dodd, donít change any aspect of the course based on the feedback, and those who do make changes tend to change very specific things, like the pace of the lectures. Other research documents that rating results remain stable: they donít change all that much, which could also be indicative that not much is changing in the course.
Required courses are among the most challenging to teach, and the lack of student motivation is one of the big reasons. Students donít want to take these courses. Most do not understand the justification for requiring them, especially those in fields that appear to be unrelated to their majors. Most teachers try to show the relevance of course content, but it almost always feels like an uphill battle without much success.
Educators continue to provide excellent learning opportunities that develop the knowledge and skills required by disciplines. But generally the focus is on what students need to know and be able to do within that discipline only. If there is an attempt to provide an interdisciplinary experience, it is usually a short, token learning experience that might involve guest speakers, videos, or classroom discussion. These experiences tend to be passive and do not promote development of interdisciplinary teamwork skills now regularly required in many professions. How to deepen studentsí appreciation for other disciplinesóthatís the challenge facing many teachers.
Most entry-level science classes are test-centric, meaning that the course grade is based primarily on tests and only minimally on homework, quizzes, or other grades. For students with test anxiety, that can be devastating.