Friday, July 25, 2008

Teaching philosophy

It's time to write a new 'Teaching Philosophy' section for my CV, so I though I'd work on it here.
I think there should be four headings:
  1. Why I've chosen to teach first-year classes
  2. Problems ("Challenges"? "Goals"?)
  3. Solutions - principles
  4. Solutions - what I'm doing.
1. Why I've chosen to teach first-year classes: The inability of the general public to approach the world scientifically is much more important than the supply of new professional scientists.

2. Goals: A. Increase students' confidence in their ability to learn at the university level (to learn as scientists). B. Help them see the broad relevance of their learning. Not just the relevance of the material I'm teaching them, but that their having learned it makes a difference to more than their grade in the course (in their lives and what they can do for the rest of the world). C. Get them comfortable with not-understanding, as not a failure but a necessary prelude to understanding. D. Get them comfortable with working collaboratively. E. Convince them that rote memorization has little or no role in university learning. Help them transition from rote memorization to real understanding.

3. Solutions (principles): A. Scientists have been very slow to apply to their teaching methods the same requirements for evidence that they apply to their research. Where possible, make changes supported by evidence (preferably from peer-reviewed sources. Work to generate evidence. B. We can't blame high-school science teachers for the misconceptions our first-year students arrive with - we're the ones who taught those teachers.

4. Solutions (what I'm actually doing): C.
Giving only open-book midterms, exams, quizzes. Giving students choices - letting them modify what they take on and how they are assessed. Talking about the learning process - explaining why topics are presented in certain ways. Using clickers (I pioneered this in Biology 121). Providing opportunities for students to consult with each other in every class. Running a research project on the effect of written homework. Asking that they learn to pose their questions in writing. Incorporating the latest research into the course - exposing students to appropriate research papers from the start. Regularly consulting with a colleague in the Faculty of Education whose expertise is in biology education. Providing a community service learning option - this is the most popular component of the course. Giving homework assignments that are relevant to issues in health and ecology. Explicitly incorporating material that will prepare them to deal with creationism. Giving marks for asking questions, not just for providing answers.

No comments: