Author Archives: Miranda Byse

Acknowledging race in the science classroom

thinking“I don’t teach about race. Leave it to the social scientists. They are trained to talk and teach about this stuff. I wouldn’t even know where to start.” I am embarrassed to admit it, but there were times in my life I thought this, and I know I am not alone.

As a science educator, it is easy to stick close to our training as scientists. Scientists teaching science is normalized, largely unquestioned, and safe. Early in my career as an educator, with every institutional equity initiative announcement, I easily convinced myself that I supported my students in other ways. “Leave diversity to the experts.”

What about my expertise? Diabetes is a topic I know well after more than 15 years of training, research, and teaching. It was easy to incorporate this topic into all of my courses. In fact, I teach my entire introductory biology course using humans as a model and diabetes as a way to connect many of the systems. Most students know someone with diabetes. Their personal experience with the disease, complemented by a continuous barrage of hands-on, inquiry-based laboratory activities in this intro course, completely hooks the students! They succeed, with very low drop or fail rates (<5%). At the conclusion of the course, students are enthusiastic about taking more biology courses (Johnson & Lownik, 2013). Things seem to be going well. Why worry?

During the introductory biology course, we spend days going over CDC data about the trends and risk factors for diabetes (CDC, 2015). Are the relationships correlations or causations? How can we use population data to think about the biological mechanism of diabetes? These are great questions for introductory students, and they totally buy in.

However, something funny happens when we start looking at these data. Diabetes is a disease that affects black and Latinx populations at a vastly higher rate than white populations (CDC, 2015). Why would I talk about that? Let’s talk about the science. I know the science. I have spent years studying how hormones regulate glucose (i.e. “the science”).

Frankly, I was scared to stray from my training. The students of color really engage the topic of diabetes, intrigued by the data indicating racial differences.  Many students of color speak of their beloved grandparents’ struggle with diabetes. What if students started asking me questions about race? As a white professor, how could I answer their questions? I know how hormones act to change glucose levels; I don’t know why certain racial and ethnic groups are more susceptible to diabetes. Students want answers about their own risk, and I didn’t know how to help them.

Looking back now, in response to my fear, I deliberately avoided discussions of race disparities. During the introductory biology course, we talked about socioeconomic factors, cultural factors, obesity, and food availability, but in vague and general terms. I might put up a graph to demonstrate disparities, but we never “had time” to engage the topic. We never really talked about why these disparities exist.

As a researcher, I would never intentionally ignore a major contributing factor to a disease. Would we ever ignore smoking as a risk factor for lung cancer? Why completely avoid race as a risk factor for diabetes, even though some individuals are almost twice as likely to develop the disease (CDC, 2015)?

 

By ignoring race and ethnicity as risk factors for diabetes in my course, I taught my students:

  1. Only traditional aspects of disease are worthy of investigation and emerging or relatively newly identified risk factors do not deserve attention.

Potential long-term impact: Reinforcing old practices comes at the expense of new findings and approaches. Focusing exclusively on the role of hormones in diabetes ignores other potential mechanisms, specifically those related to race, limiting the scope and creativity of questions investigated in my classroom and the scientific community.

  1. Scientists don’t “do” diversity.

Potential long-term impact: While national science education initiatives have a strong emphasis on encouraging diversity and equity, these movements have struggled to develop at the grassroots level. In my experience, most white science undergraduate students cannot articulate the importance of diversity of thought and experience in science. Students typically miss the mark when they emphasize that science is “objective,” and therefore, unbiased.  In fact, every scientist has different experiences, training, and assumptions, resulting in different approaches to asking questions and drawing conclusions. Diversifying these approaches is essential for innovation. If the importance of diversity in science continues to be misunderstood, current and future scientists will surround themselves with individuals that think and act like them, limiting new ideas, interpretations, and innovations.

  1. To ignore the concerns and questions of students of color.

Potential long-term impact: By glossing over the details of racial health disparities and not taking the time to understand them myself, I silenced the legitimate health concerns of my students of color. It should not be a surprise that many of my black and Latinx students switched their majors to public health and sociology. I was ignoring their queries and interests. They went to disciplines that addressed their questions. Mass exodus of individuals of color represents a deletion of perspectives from the scientific community. The result is a limited set of experiences that determine the scope of future research agendas; therefore, severely limiting the ability to solve large and complex scientific problems (Page, 2007).

To address these problematic gaps in my pedagogy, I continually challenge the way I think about diversity and equity in my classroom and make impactful changes. Avoiding potential harm to my students was a factor in making these changes; however, my greatest influence was students of color at my institution stating that they did not feel safe or welcome in the sciences (Johnson & Mantina, 2016).

Here are a few first steps I have taken to change the atmosphere in my classroom:

  1. We now talk about racial health disparities and investigate mechanisms related to these disparities in my courses, using CDC data or peer-reviewed scientific articles (ex. Herman, et al., 2016).
  2. I continue to educate myself about the interdisciplinary research investigating these disparities.
  3. I acknowledge publicly to students that when we discuss race and diversity, I might not get it right, might not have all the facts, and might have different personal experiences than theirs.
  4. Prior to larger class conversations about race, I collect input from students of color about how they might approach these conversations.
  5. I never ask a student to speak on behalf of their race or identity, only to speak to their own experiences. I never force a student to speak on the topic of race, period. However, reflective writing or small group discussions are helpful to bring ideas to the forefront.
  6. I avoid telling students that their experiences with racism are wrong or overblown.
  7. I use an assets-based approach to teaching science. Students develop strategies to become successful by identifying the skills and information they bring to the classroom based on their unique experiences and background.
  8. I challenge myself to continue to evolve my approaches to active learning and engaging students. For example, in my early years of teaching, to establish an interactive environment on the first day of class, students introduced themselves and talked about a summer experience to a small group. However, students that worked as day labors found this exercise intimidating when sharing with students that went on wonderful European vacations. I now prefer to ask students to describe their favorite food or dessert.

I acknowledge that issues of race, equity, and diversity are multi-faceted and nuanced, and purposefully, this description is a broad overview of the topic. I still have a lot to learn and do, but I am now a scientist that “does” diversity.

References

CDC (2015). Diabetes Public Health Resource. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/statistics/incidence/fig6.htm, accessed August 2, 2016.

Herman, et al. (2007). Differences in A1c by race and ethnicity among patients with impaired glucose tolerance in the diabetes prevention program. Diabetes Care, 30 (10): pp. 2453-7.

Johnson, K.M.S. and Lownik, J.C. (2013). Workshop Format Increases Scientific Knowledge, Skills, and Interest when Implemented in an Introductory Biology Course that Attracts and Retains Underrepresented Minorities.  Poster.  Experimental Biology, Boston, MA, April 20-24, 2013.  Published Abstract: FASEB J. 27:739.7

Page, S.E. (2007). The difference: how the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools, and societies. Princeton University Press (Princeton, New Jersey).

 

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Katie Johnson, Associate Professor of Biology at Beloit College, evaluates the effects of active teaching practices on learning attitudes and outcomes in different student populations. She has been recognized by the American Physiological Society for her work. Her laboratory research assesses the connection between obesity and hormones that regulate glucose levels in animals. She mentors a diverse group of trainees and has numerous physiology and pedagogy publications and presentations co-authored by undergraduate researchers.

 

 

Establishing rapport with your class BEFORE they are your class

shutterstock_124813237Think back to some of the best courses/semesters you’ve ever had teaching (or as a student). I can almost guarantee that you fondly remember several of the students who were in the class. You would recognize them today even if you have had thousands of students since they last sat in your classroom. You probably remember specific interactions that you had. Maybe (after they were out of your class and preferably graduated, you even accepted their Facebook friend requests) Why? What made those students so memorable? Maybe it was a common academic interest or passion, some sort of unique personality trait, or maybe some unexplainable, unseen force that developed organically that you can’t pinpoint and think you can never purposefully recreate in future courses. Well, I’m here to tell you that you just might be able to recreate it. In fact, you can actually manufacture it for your future courses. While it does sound like cheating, it will help make your class successful for all of the other students as well.

With the beginning of the fall semester approaching, the first few days of your course will set the stage for the next 16 weeks. Obviously being well-prepared with the syllabus, course objectives, and course schedule well organized and outlined for the students is necessary as Angelina eloquently outlined in the previous article. Further outlining the expectations of yourself as the instructor and the students as the learners will help to start your course on the right trajectory. But a classroom success strategy that is easy to overlook, especially in the hectic first days of the semester, is building an early rapport between yourself and the students. While building rapport with the students comes more easily for some than for others (we all have that colleague who seems to naturally have the right combination of wit, charm, and caring and who never seems to have a problem engaging students), numerous factors contribute to its development, and nearly all of them can be planned for and controlled, manufactured if you will. I did not realize to what extent this was true until very recently though.

Generally, I have a good rapport with most of my classes and my Individual Development and Educational Assessment (IDEA) evaluation scores seem to indicate that is the case. However, the impetus for this article came after I struggled through my recent summer session course. I was left questioning my teaching abilities after every one of the 20, 2-hour-long class meeting times. Since I had taught the course multiple times, in the same time slot, and used all of the same strategies and more in attempts to connect and engage with the students like I successfully had in previous courses, I was baffled as to what the difference might be. Why was this one section so much less engaged, less likely to ask questions, less enthusiastic about the various activities, less likely to stop by my office, and less likely to e-mail with non-course related physiology questions? I had done everything that the literature recommends to develop rapport with students, but after my own post-hoc course evaluation and some serious introspection, I have an idea of what went wrong. I had not laid the ground work to build rapport with even one single student BEFORE the class began. While great articles do exist on building rapport in the classroom (see Meyers 2009 and Buskist & Saville 2001), few of them discuss how to build rapport before you’re in the classroom. It’s easier than you realize.

Thinking back to some of the best classes I’ve ever taught, I realized that I have always had at least one “go-to” student from the very first day of class, a student who I knew was reasonably comfortable speaking up in front of the whole class. I would use this student as a bellwether for the whole class in the first couple of days, posing questions directly to him or her and asking for comments and feedback. Inevitably, this would show other students that it was okay to speak up, make comments, and ask questions. Usually this student is pretty outgoing, but not always. Usually this student is good academically, but not always. Sometimes this student could be defined as the “class clown,” but not always. Almost always, however, I have known or at least communicated with this student before the semester has begun. Sometimes the student was in a previous class I taught or was my advisee, but often it is just a student who had trouble registering or had a question that required coming to my office before the first day of class. How did these students become my go-to students? What did I do to make these my go-to students? What makes them different? I have no idea honestly, but something about that first interaction, however innocuous, enables it to occur. Considering my past go-to students, I’ve come up with the three main ways that you can make sure that this interaction occurs in your class.

  1. During the advising and registration period (often the semester before), encourage students that you know to enroll in your class.
    • If you’re an advisor for students who might take your course this is actually pretty easy. Identify several students who might be able to fit your course into their schedules. Encourage them. “I really would enjoy it if you were able to take my course.” I have found this to be a very effective way to get students who are already comfortable speaking with me into my class. Not an advisor? E-mail students you’ve had in other courses or you’ve worked with in some other capacity.
  2. Prior to the semester start, someone is bound to e-mail or stop by your office to ask about your course, tell you he/she is having trouble registering, ask about a textbook, etc. Use this as an opportunity.
    • Obviously in these situations learn the student’s name, but also ask a couple other questions. “How’s your semester going?” “How was your summer?” “What makes you interested in this class?” “Is that shirt from that local 5k? You like running?” These interactions might seem like meaningless chit-chat, but they can really lay the foundations for classroom rapport later on. Latch on to anything the student says that you might be able to use later in class. Now you know you have a runner that went to the beach over summer. Great! You teach a physiology class and now you have a wealth of information that can make your lecture relevant to that student…and likely many more. Mention the student by name when you bring up the topic.
  3. Once you receive your class roster, look at it! E-mail the students even if it is weeks before the course starts.
    • Scan through your roster looking for students you’ve had previously or otherwise know. Send them individual e-mails and tell them you’re glad they’ll be in your class. Look at each student’s major, minor, even club affiliations if you have access. Take note of anything you can use later. Craft an e-mail to all the students to introduce yourself. “Hi! I’m Ed Merritt and I’ll be your professor for exercise physiology. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone. Looking at the roster I see we have several nutrition majors in this class. Remind me to tell you a story about the time I ate a doughnut right before a hard workout. I also see we have a British literature major. Don’t worry. I’ll find a good story for you too! Let me know if you have any questions or concerns before the first day, otherwise I’ll see you soon!”

These three strategies alone will almost always insure that you have a go-to student for the first day of class. Use this connection. Call on him or her by name and show the class that you care about that student. The class won’t know that this is your go-to student, but once you have your go-to student engaged the rest of the class is much more likely to engage. Rapport is contagious, and once you have it with the class, teaching the material is much more enjoyable, and the student outcomes are much better. And hopefully you won’t have to suffer through a semester questioning your teaching abilities after every class.

Good luck with the upcoming semester!

 

References

Meyers SA. Do Your Students Care Whether You Care about Them? College Teaching, v57 n4 p205-210. 2009.

Buskist W, Saville BK. Creating positive emotional contexts for enhancing teaching and learning. APS Observer. p12-13. 2001.

 

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Ed Merritt is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Ed received his doctorate in Kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Cellular and Integrative Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Ed’s research focuses on the molecular underpinnings of skeletal muscle atrophy after trauma and with aging, but he is also equally involved in the scholarship of teaching and learning and melding educational outreach activities with service learning.

 

Course Preparation for a First Timer – Tips and Example Steps to Take

 


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This summer has been a uniquely exciting time for me as I prepare to teach my very first course, Human Physiology! What are the steps you take for preparing your courses? If it is your first time teaching, preparation seems overwhelming, and a challenge to figure out where to even begin. In this blog, I will be describing the steps I’ve taken to get ready for teaching my first course at our nearby minority-serving community college this fall. Full disclosure — I am definitely not an expert in course preparation, but I’ve included some tips and resources for what has worked for me.

Step 1: Reflection and determining my teaching philosophy

Reflecting on my time as an undergraduate student, I realize that learning how to learn did not come easy. It took me more than half way through my undergraduate years to figure out how to do it, and it was not until I was a graduate student that I mastered that skill. Thinking about my future students, I sought training opportunities to aid me in becoming a teacher who effectively facilitates student learning. I especially am interested in teaching practices that foster learning in first-generation college students who are not yet experienced with knowing how to learn and study. I want to make sure that my teaching style is inclusive of as many diverse student populations as possible. To do this, I have to educate myself on learning theories and effective teaching methods.

Early this summer, I attended the West Coast National Academies’ Summer Institute on Scientific Teaching to educate myself on teaching methods, and went home with understanding of the practices that fit my style and my philosophy. I highly recommend others to take advantage of these types of events or workshops (such as those offered by CIRTL) to familiarize yourself with various techniques. Aside from formal workshops, informal meetings with teaching mentors or experienced teachers gives valuable insight into the kinds of things to expect, things to avoid, suggestions and tips, teaching experiences, and inspirational words of wisdom. Use your network of mentors! Overall, inward reflection, formal workshops, and informal conversations with experienced mentors are ways that have helped me formulate the teaching practices that I will use for the course.

Step 2: Book and technology selection for the course

This sounds like an easy task, however, it can be a challenge if it is the first time you learn how to deal with choosing a book and the technology for your course. Luckily, one of my teaching mentors introduced me to the publisher’s local representative who met with me for several hours to discuss various book options and the technological tools that could be combined with my order. The rep helped me register my course in their online tool (Mastering A&P) and trained me to use this technology for creating homework, quizzes, interactive activities, rosters and grading. Thus far, I’ve spent countless hours exploring and learning how to use this technology before class starts. After all, I can’t expect my students to maneuver it if I can’t do it myself!

Step 3: Creating a syllabus, alignment table, and rubrics

The most important, hence time-consuming, task thus far is selecting the major topics and level of depth for the course while deciding the most important concepts, ideas, and skills for students to take away from the course. In order for students to meet expectations and become successful learners in the course, both the instructor and students should have this information clearly written out and understood at the very start of the course. The course syllabus is the first place where overall learning goals, outcomes, and expectations for the students for this course is presented. Furthermore, the syllabus should include information about grading, and any institutional policies on attendance, add/drop deadlines, and disability services.

Fortunately, the course that I am preparing has been offered multiple times previously, and thus I do not need to completely design a new course from scratch. However, I am re-designing and modifying sections of the course to include active and interactive teaching techniques. To guide this process during the semester, creating an alignment table for the course is beneficial to effectively execute learning activities and teach key concepts, ideas and skills. The components included in this table are: course learning goals, daily learning objectives, assignments, summary of activities, and assessments for each class period.

Take note that assessments should be determined first in order to prepare the content and activities for the class period accordingly (backwards design). Assessments could include an in-class activity, post-class assignments, exam and quiz questions. Rubrics of assessments should be made without ambiguity to formally assess students and to make sure the class period addresses the major points that students will be expected to learn. Preparing each class period, with flexibility for modifications based on gauging student grasp of the material, will help the semester run more smoothly and with less difficulties.

Step 4: Preparing content presentation and materials for activities

The last step I will take for course preparation is making and uploading any PowerPoint slides, handout materials, assignments, quizzes and exams, and any other material required for activities. With an alignment table already made, this portion of preparation should be relatively easy, but it will still take a significant amount of time.

Final Tips

Overall advice, plan ahead!! At minimum, it should take an entire summer to successfully prepare for a new course. With a well-planned course ahead of time, the hope is to be able to spend more energy throughout the semester to transfer and translate faculty enthusiasm for teaching into student enthusiasm for learning physiology!

Additional resource: Course Preparation Handbook by Stanford Teaching Commons

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Angelina Hernández-Carretero is an IRACDA Postdoctoral Fellow at UC San Diego and is an adjunct faculty member at San Diego City College. She earned her Ph.D. in Cellular & Integrative Physiology from Indiana University School of Medicine. Her research interests involve diabetes, obesity, and metabolism. Angelina has a passion for mentoring, increasing diversity in STEM education and workforce, and inspiring the next generation through outreach.

 

 

 

Diary of an Adventure Junkie: Be Daring…Step Outside Your Comfort Zone!

19257649I love adventures, don’t you?  In fact, I love them so much that I am convinced that an adventure can happen anywhere and anytime.  I am a world traveler, the silly shopper who throws items into the grocery cart the length of the aisle just to make my daughter laugh, I geocache and I jump in rain puddles…but sometimes the excitement of an unknown adventure turns into anxiety and fear.  Like most people, I have had my fair share of anxiety about the unknown…starting graduate school, moving, becoming a parent, my first faculty position.  However, stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something new can often have fantastic results.  In fact, physiology, the foundation of my professional adventures, is actually perfectly designed to help us achieve, when we place ourselves just outside of our comfort zone.

Upon completion of my postdoctoral fellowship, I found myself embarking on a series of new adventures…motherhood, moving and monetary-insufficiency.  At this juncture, monetary-insufficiency demanded that I find a fount of funds and quickly, so I applied for a physiology teaching position at a brand-new, doors-opening-soon medical school.  With so many non-professional challenges already on my plate, many asked why I would choose to start my career at a start-up institution.  The answers are simple…the job was in my hometown, it moved me from unemployed to employed and I had the chance to build a program and my career simultaneously from the ground up.  Building two sand castles at the same time was certainly pushing me over the edge of my comfort zone.

I decided immediately that I needed to make physiology interactive.  I did not want to reinvent the wheel and instead felt I could tap into a fellow physiologist’s methods and have students answer real-time questions in class with colored-construction paper.  My hope was that this interactive way of lecturing would benefit me as a new teacher and allow me to know when my students understood the lecture material and when they didn’t.  I proposed my idea to a few of the basic scientists on faculty with me and was met with a lot of, “well, you can try that it you want to,” coupled with doubtful looks.  Maybe I shouldn’t pursue this after all…I need everyone’s approval, right?

Without full support from senior faculty, I watched my comfort zone slipping away like the receding tide.  But I am an adventure junkie, so steeled with my ever present resolve, I marched down the hall to my first lecture.  I handed out four sheets of paper, red, blue, green and purple, to each entering student, admonished them not to lose the papers and dimmed the lights.  The lecture started and up popped the first question.  “Vote with confidence!” I cried after I had read the question stem.  Hesitantly, hands were raised and an answer was given in the form of colored-construction paper.  I explained why the answer the majority had given was correct and my comfort zone came slinking back towards me.  After a few more questions, the comfort zone of the class slowly reentered the auditorium and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Our newest adventure no longer evoked feelings of anxiety and physiology became interactive in our school.  Soon, thereafter other faculty wanted to poll students during lecture, I was commended for starting the movement and the school adopted an electronic audience response system.  But now what?

Shortly after beginning my faculty position, I knew I wanted to engage K12 children in science and began participating in PhUn week.  I started small, 25 students in one classroom.  I felt comfortable with these students, managed by their teacher, while l was partially shielded by my fellow physiologists; but I knew that many more would push me to the edge of my comfort circle, where the waves of anxiety waited to lap over me.  With each year of involvement, the number of participants and my comfort with them grew, expanding my comfort zone and forcing the waves out with the tide.  I connected with a local first-grade teacher who invited me to work with her class and facilitate their discovery of the special senses and germ transmission.  Then it happened…the wave crashed over me and I was rolling, tossing and being pulled down by the riptide. The upcoming project with one first-grade class had been expanded, “Please include all of the first-grade and the kindergarten classes too,” she said, “800 students in all.”  800! I can’t manage 800 students.  Fearing I would disappoint the young scientists-in-the-making, I agreed.  My comfort zone however, was on hiatus, minus an internet, telephone or even smoke signal connection.  I started the plotting and planning, recruiting volunteers, creating a schedule for each of the classes, buying supplies and encountering sleepless nights of worry.  The day of the Human Body Fair arrived, as did I, full of inward worry and outward energy.  After two days, 800 students, 40 volunteers, 6 physiology stations and innumerable cups of coffee, my comfort zone telephoned and said, “See, I knew you could do this with just a little push.”

All of these adventures have created anxiety and fear and ultimately feelings of satisfaction.  Sometimes I feel like my comfort zone took a trip to the beach without me, but it always comes back and I am always a better person for having let it take a vacation.  Now, as I swim towards my next adventure, a life outside of traditional academia, I know that while I may submerge at times, my head will always bob back up above the water and ride the waves.

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Jessica C Taylor is a physiologist, medical educator and adventure seeker. For the past six years she has served as a member of the physiology faculty at the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Outside of the classroom she focuses on K12 outreach, presenting science to the general public and encouraging young women to pursue careers in science and healthcare. Her comfort zone is currently being washed out to sea as she leaves her current university in pursuit of other scientific arenas. Hopefully, she will be safely back in the zone soon.

 

 

Teaching Toolbox: Tips and Techniques for Assessing What Students Know

GanzImage.What has to shift to change your perspective? Thomas Kuhn coined the term paradigm shift and argued that science doesn’t progress by a linear method of gathering new knowledge, rather, a shift takes place when an anomaly subverts the normal practice, ideas and theories of science. Students learn through interaction with the surrounding environment mediated by prior knowledge from new and previous interactions with family, friends, teachers, and other sociocultural experiences (Falk & Adelman, 2003). Deep understanding of concepts depend on the interaction of prior experience with new information. As Kuhn stated in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “The challenge is not to uncover the unknown, but to obtain the known.”

In order to assess what students know, you need to find out what they already knew. An assessment can only provide useful information if it is measuring what it is intended to. In the medical field, assessments are used all the time, for example, an MRI is a useful diagnostic tool to determine the extent of tissue damage but it is not necessarily useful for establishing overall health status of an individual. Assessing what a student knows with a multiple choice test may also not be useful in establishing an overall picture of what knowledge a student possesses or how that knowledge is applied, especially if the items are not measuring what they are supposed to. Construct validity provides evidence that a test is measuring the construct it is intended to. How to measure construct validity is beyond the scope of this article, for information, see the classic work by Messick (1995). Outside of the psychometrics involved in item or assessment construction, I’ll provide some quick tips and techniques I have found useful in my teaching practice. What can you do to separate real learning with deep understanding from good test taking skills or reading ability? How can you assess what students know simply and effectively?

Instruction in a classroom environment needs to be connected with assessment rather than viewing instruction and assessment as separate activities. Understanding student thinking can be done with formative assessment which benefits students by identifying strengths and weaknesses and gives instructors immediate feedback regarding where students are struggling so that issues can be addressed immediately. By providing students with context in the form of a learning goal at the start of a class, the clear objective of the lesson allows them to begin making connections between what they already know and new information. When designing or preparing for a class, ask yourself:

  1. What do I assume they already know?
  2. What questions can I ask that will help me confirm my assumptions?
  3. What are the most common misconceptions related to the topic?

Tips for checking students background knowledge

  • On a whiteboard or in a presentation, begin with one to three open ended questions and/or multiple choice questions. Ask students to respond in two to three sentences, or circle a response. It’s important to let them know that the question(s) are not being graded, rather, you are looking for thoughtful answers that will help guide instructional decisions. Share the results at the start of the next class or with a free tool like Plickers for instant feedback.
  • Short quizzes or a survey with Qualtrics, Google Forms, or Doodle Poll can be used via Black Board prior to class. Explain that you will track who responded but not what the individual student responded at this point. Share the results and impact on course design with students.
  • Group work. Using an image, graph, or some type of problem regarding upcoming course content, have students come up with a list of observations or questions regarding the material. Use large sheet paper or sticky notes for them to synthesize comments then review the themes with the class.

Formative assessment is used to measure and provide feedback on a daily or weekly basis. In addition to learning goals communicated to students at the beginning of each class and warm up activities to stimulate thinking about a concept, formative assessment can include comments on assignments, projects or problem sets, asking questions that are intentional towards essential understanding rather than a general, “Are there any questions?” at the end of a lesson. To add closure and summarize the class with the learning goal in mind, provide index cards or ask students to take out a piece of paper and write in a couple of sentences what the most important points of the lesson were and/or ask them to write what they found most confusing so that it can be addressed in the next class. Formative assessments provide tangible evidence for you to see what your students know and how they are thinking and they provide insight and feedback to students in improving their own learning.

Summative assessment includes quizzes, tests and projects that are graded and used to measure student performance. Creating a well-designed summative assessment involves asking good questions and using rubrics. In designing an assessment that will accurately measure what students know, consider:

  1. What do you want your students to know or be able to do? This can also be used in each lesson as a guiding objective.
  2. Identify where you will address the outcomes in the curriculum.
  3. Measure what they know with your summative assessment.
  4. Based on the measurement, what changes can be made in the course to improve student performance?

Good questions

  • Measure what you intend for them to measure.
  • Allow students to demonstrate what they know.
  • Discriminate between students who learned what you intended versus those that did not.
  • Examine what a student can do with what they learned versus what they simply remember.
  • Revisit learning goals articulated at the beginning of a topic, unit or course.
  • Use a variety of questions such as multiple choice, short answer and essay questions.

Rubrics

  • Used for oral presentations, projects, or papers.
  • Evaluate team work.
  • Facilitate peer review.
  • Provide self-assessment to improve learning and performance.
  • Motivate students to improve their work.

Online rubric resources for educators include, Rubistar, Online Instruction Rubric, and Value Rubrics.

Students do not enter your classroom as a blank slate. Assessing and determining what students know targets gaps in knowledge. By incorporating an activity or a question in a small amount of time at the start and end of a class, you can check on potential and actual misconceptions so that you may target instruction for deep understanding. Background checks of prior knowledge provide awareness of the diversity of your students and their experiences further designing and improving instruction for active, meaningful learning. Creating a bridge between prior knowledge and new material provides a framework for students for a paradigm shift in learning and makes it very clear for them and for you to see what they learned by the end of a lesson or the end of a course.

 

References

Falk JH, Adelman, L.M. Investigating the Impact of Prior Knowledge and Interest on Aquarium Visitor Learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 2003;40(2):163-176.

Kuhn TS. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 4th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 1962.

Messick, S. (1995). Standards of validity and the validity of standards in performance assessment. Educational measurement: Issues and practice,14(4), 5-8.

 

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Jennifer (Jen) Gatz graduated from Ithaca College in 1993 with a BSc in Exercise Science and began working as a clinical exercise physiologist in cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation. Jen received her MS in Exercise Physiology from Adelphi University in 1999, founded the multisport endurance training company, Jayasports, in 2000, and expanded her practice to include corporate health and wellness for Brookhaven National Laboratory, through 2012. Along the way, Jen took her clinical teaching practice and coaching experience and returned to school to complete a Master of Arts in Teaching Biology with NYS teaching certification from Stony Brook University in 2004. A veteran science teacher for 12 years now at Patchogue-Medford High School in Medford, NY, Jen is currently teaching AP Biology and Independent Science Research. A lifelong learner, Jen returned to Stony Brook University in 2011 and is an advanced PhD candidate in Science Education anticipating the defense of her dissertation in the fall of 2016. Her dissertation research is a melding of a love of physiology and science education focused on understanding connections among cognitive processes, executive functioning, and the relationship to physical fitness, informal science education, and environmental factors that determine attitudes towards and performance in science. In 2015, Jen was a recipient of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Graduate Research Fellowship.

Summative Assessment – Does the End Justify the Means?

I recently heard two students in academic difficulty recount painfully similar stories about how their own studies had come off the rails following the attempted suicide of younger siblings, who were themselves college undergraduates. What are the chances of hearing two such stories in one day? Well, according to Emory University’s statistics, there are 1000 suicides per year among college students and as many as 1 in 10 students have made a plan for suicide at some point1.

I do not pretend to understand such shocking statistics. Known stressors for college students include interpersonal factors such as new social environments and relationships, personal factors like poor sleeping and eating habits and financial problems, academic workload and poor grades2. There are many things here I cannot help with directly, but on the academic side it does make me reflect on what can I do as a professor to help?

stressedI am a physiologist, not a counselor or a psychiatrist. However, I can begin by learning what counselling services my university has (they are excellent as it turns out – and I bet yours are too), and I can do a better job of guiding distressed students to seek their help; if the need arises I can ask students straight out if they have suicidal thoughts and I can dial 911 if necessary. But another thought occurs to me….at certain points I become the focal point for student stress and that happens each time I choose to set a high stakes exam.

It is an old axiom that assessment drives student learning but with such power comes great responsibility! The stress incurred by students through testing (especially when graded) must come with some tangible educational benefit. In other words, I must weigh the costs and benefits of deciding to set up a particular assessment and especially how much summative testing to include in the block. After all, we know that the rate of forgetting is significant, even after the mega high stakes United States Medical Licensing Exams3.

One strange observation I have made over time is that students and faculty often align with wanting more testing; students want to lessen the burden of information per test and faculty want more complete sampling of the material. I have struggled in three different institutions to reduce summative testing load and to replace some tests with formative testing instead. Each time, student score distributions at the end of a course were not affected, whereas student stress levels seemed lower and the classroom was a more relaxed and enjoyable place.

Is all testing bad or can assessment be a win-win where positive educational impacts outweigh the negatives? Progressive testing methods such as project-based assessment and collaborative assessment align with 21st century goals of graduating students with competencies in critical thinking, communication skills, technology literacy etc., perhaps without the same level of stress that cramming for knowledge-based tests produces. Recent studies have convincingly shown that frequent zero-stakes testing used as a means to rehearse content produces major learning gains in what has been coined the “testing effect4”. Commercially available adaptive learning platforms are also available in which the technology helps students to continually self-assess towards achievement of mastery5.

As a faculty member I can help to address student burnout and stress by carefully considering my choices of summative assessment and maximizing testing for learning. I believe we need to be intentional about teaching students how to learn by addressing learning preferences, motivation and self-regulated learning habits. The dismaying statistics I started with suggest universities should also provide more learning opportunities on wellness, nutrition, resiliency, lifestyle management, financial planning, etc., as part of all our programs. I realize there are many other factors to think about and hope some discussion will follow to explore these gaps.

Resources

  1. Emory Cares 4 U. Suicide Statistics http://www.emorycaresforyou.emory.edu/resources/suicidestatistics.html Accessed 4/22/16
  2. Ross SE, Niebling BC, Heckert TM. Sources of stress among college students. College Student Journal 33 p312-318, 1999
  3. Ling Y, Swanson DB, Holtzman K, Deniz Bucak S. Retention of basic science information by senior medical students Academic Medicine 83(10 Suppl):S82–S85, 2008
  4. Karpicke JD, Roediger HL 3rd. The critical importance of retrieval for learning. Science 319:966–968, 2008
  5. Flashcards. Memory Aids. An automatic study plan for every lecture. https://www.osmosis.org/ Accessed 4/22/16

PECOP picture Kibble

J.D. (Jon) Kibble graduated from the University of Manchester in 1994 with his BSc and PhD in physiology. In his first faculty position at the University of Sheffield Medical School, Dr. Kibble started a research laboratory to investigate the molecular physiology of renal tubular ion transport. His passion for teaching was ignited at this time as he began to teach medical physiology and anatomy. Next he became a Course Director for Medical Physiology at St. George’s University in the West Indies and later at The Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada. The experience of teaching over 4,000 medical students in different parts of the world established his academic base as a medical physiology teacher.
Jon moved to the United States in 2008 to join the founding faculty of the University of Central Florida, College of Medicine. In 2010 he was appointed as Assistant Dean for Medical Education and is responsible for overseeing the development of basic science content throughout the curriculum. His scholarly work includes publication of learning resources in the form of a textbook on medical physiology, flashcards and electronic resources for adaptive learning. His primary research interest relates to the efficacy of formative assessment and understanding student engagement in self-assessment.
Jon became a Fellow of UK Higher Education Academy in 2007, is deputy editor of the journal Advances in Physiology Education, currently chairs the American Physiological Society’s Teaching Section and is a member of the International Union of Physiological Society’s Education Committee. He was the recipient of the Alpha Omega Alpha Robert J Glaser Distinguished Educator Award, 2015.

Guided Inquiry: A Flexible Technique for Engaging Students

shutterstock_124813237Like many instructors, I am continually looking for ways to better engage students and, hopefully, benefit their learning. To this end I have incorporated a variety of techniques into my courses; including inquiry labs, case-based studies, clicker questions (without actually using clickers), and various electronic supplements. These have been met with varying degrees of success, as assessed solely by student feedback. And although I continue to use all of these to some extent, my new “favorite” active learning activity is guided inquiry. I find it a flexible method that can used in class, as homework, or in labs. It can also be used to focus on graphical interpretation, which is a skill I have a particular interest in.

 

What is Guided Inquiry?

Guided inquiry is a form of inquiry-based learning, the latter of which is a broad category of learning where students focus on solving problems, scenarios or posed questions in a manner that aids them in constructing knowledge. The phrase “guided inquiry” is not always defined consistently, with some experts only using this term when the solution to the presented scenario is not already known, and others using it to describe any process that “guides” students through the learning cycle.  I personally apply the phrase in the same manner in which is it presented by the POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) Project, where it is used to describe the following process:

  1. Model Exploration. Models are often figures or graphs, but could include objects, videos, etc. Exploration commonly involves direct questions, which can be answered by appropriately examining the model and interpreting the information correctly. In a presentation of figures of a homeostatic feedback loop, model exploration might involve listing the components of the loop.
  1. Concept invention. Additional questions require students to identify patterns in the model. In the example of the homeostatic feedback loop, such questions might focus on the interactions between components and their reliance on one another.
  1. Students are asked additional questions that require them to apply the concept to a different or new scenario. Such questions may be convergent (students should have similar answers) or divergent (where there may be multiple reasonable answers).

As in many types of active learning, this process is best carried out in small groups of students. When process skills are added into the overall activity, such as teamwork or oral communication, the activity is often described with the trademark POGIL acronym, although this label should only be used after the activities have been reviewed and approved by the POGIL office.

 

How I Use Guided Inquiry in my Physiology Courses

When I started teaching 15 years (or so) ago, I was the “typical” lecturer, presenting information on slides (overheads to start), hoping that the students would passively absorb the information. In my teaching there have always been certain figures, such as the oxyhemoglobin dissociation curve, that I would spend significant time presenting information about. Today, as a reformed educational facilitator, I have a goal of using guided inquiry (or another active learning technique) to have students investigate such figures. To this end, I use guided inquiry in lectures, in some labs and occasionally as homework. The benefits of using these “in class” include the ability to roam the room and eavesdrop on student conversations and to include a “report out”, which can stimulate discussion even amongst the groups.

 

I am Interested, How do I Get Started?

Guided inquiry activities can take significant effort to put together, especially without good examples to work from. If you are a member of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS), you can access five activities free from their site. There are also currently two books that contain POGIL activities for physiology, and they would be a great way to get started. The collection of guided inquiry activities for physiology is growing, which should provide additional options for those of us looking for added options to use in our classes.

 
RonGerrits

 

 

Ron Gerrits is a Professor of biomedical engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). He earned his BS degree in biomedical engineering from MSOE in 1994 and his Ph.D. in Physiology from the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) in 1999. That same year he returned to MSOE to become the coordinator of the health science courses. Since that time he has taught a variety of courses, including cell biology, microbiology, nutrition, physiology, pathophysiology and pharmacology, to nursing, biomedical engineering and perfusion students. His main professional interest is science education. To this end he has been active with the Biology Scholars program, the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, Project Lead the Way, and various summer programs for high school students. He has also been the program director of the Masters of Science in Perfusion program since 2002.

Education Research: A Beginner’s Journey

Why does it seem so hard to do education research? I have never been afraid to take on something new – what is stopping me?  These thoughts were burning in my mind as I sat around in a circle with educators at the 2016 Experimental Biology (EB) meeting. During this session, we discussed how we move education research forward and form productive collaborations. Here are my takeaways from the meeting:

EDUCATION RESOURCES

Here are some tips to get started on education research that I learned from the “experts”.

1. Attend poster sessions on teaching at national conferences such as Experimental Biology.

2. Get familiar with published education research and design.

3. Attend the 2016 APS Institute of Teaching and Learning

4. Reach out to seasoned education researchers who share similar interests in teaching methodologies.

6. Get engaged in an education research network such as APS Teaching Section – Active learning Group

“Doubt is not below knowledge, but above it.”
– Alain Rene Le Sage

As seasoned research experts discussed education research in what sounded like a foreign tongue, I began to doubt my ability to become an education researcher. However, the group quickly learned that we had a vast array of experience in the room from the inspiring new education researchers to the seasoned experts. Thus, the sages in the room shared some valuable resources and tips for those of us just starting out (see side bar).

“We are all in a gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”
– Oscar Wilde

You may already have all the data you need to actually publish a research study. In my mind, education research had to involve an intervention with a placebo and control group. However, it can also be approached like a retrospective chart review. To proceed, you should consult with your local Institutional Review Board to see if you will need informed consent to utilize existing data or if it qualifies for exemption.

“Setting out is one thing: you also must know where you are going and what you can do when you get there.”
– Madeleine Sophie Barat

It became clear at our meeting that the way forward was collaboration and mentorship. A powerful approach that emerged is taking a research idea and implementing it across a number of institutions in a collaborative research project. By doing this, we would have a network of individuals to discuss optimal research design and implementation strategies and increase statistical power for the study.

At the end of my week at EB, I reflected on my experiences and realized that education researchers are a unique group – in that, we are all passionate about the development of others. Collaborating with individuals who seek the best of each other will lead to great friendships and good research.

If you are interested in joining the APS Teaching Section “Active Learning Group”, please contact Lynn Cialdella-Kam.

Resources:

Suggested Readings:

Alexander, Patricia A, Diane L Schallert, and Victoria C Hare. 1991. “Coming to terms: How researchers in learning and literacy talk about knowledge.”  Review of educational research 61 (3):315-343.

Matyas, M. L., and D. U. Silverthorn. 2015. “Harnessing the power of an online teaching community: connect, share, and collaborate.”  Adv Physiol Educ 39 (4):272-7. doi: 10.1152/advan.00093.2015.

McMillan, James H, and Sally Schumacher. 2014. Research in education: Evidence-based inquiry: Pearson Higher Ed.

Postlethwaite, T Neville. 2005. “Educational research: some basic concepts and terminology.”  Quantitative research methods in educational planning:1-5.

Savenye, Wilhelmina C, and Rhonda S Robinson. “Qualitative research issues and methods: An introduction for educational technologists.”

Schunk, Dale H, Judith R Meece, and Paul R Pintrich. 2012. Motivation in education: Theory, research, and applications: Pearson Higher Ed.

PECOP Lynn Cialdella Photo

 

Lynn Cialdella Kam joined CWRU as an Assistant Professor in Nutrition in 2013. At CWRU, she is engaged in undergraduate and graduate teaching, advising, and research. Her research has focused on health complications associated with energy imbalances (i.e. obesity, disordered eating, and intense exercise training). Specifically, she is in interested in understanding how alterations in dietary intake (i.e., amount, timing, and frequency of intake) and exercise training (i.e., intensity and duration) can affect the health consequences of energy imbalance such as inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, alterations in macronutrient metabolism, and menstrual dysfunction. She received her PhD in Nutrition from Oregon State University, her Masters in Exercise Physiology from The University of Texas at Austin, and her Masters in Business Administration from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She completed her postdoctoral research in sports nutrition at Appalachian State University and is a licensed and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

The art of revamping an Introductory Biology course (and curriculum) around Vision & Change

blue cycling arrowsWhen Vision & Change: A Call to Action was published and distributed, University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Biology department (like many other departments across the country) answered the call. The rubrics for Vision and Change gave people a means to evaluate one’s department and how student instruction occurred. This led to great discussions on what needed to be remodeled within our courses and curriculum. This was good. The previous UAA Introductory Biology course had a 20% withdrawal rate and (by estimates only) an additional 20% of students who would not succeed in the course (D or F grade). If we wanted to increase retention in the major and increase the diversity of people pursuing a biological sciences undergraduate education, something needed to be done.

I want to take this opportunity to spend a bit of time on our process; not simply because I am excited about the positive changes that are happening at our biology department, but to share our brief story in hopes to hear from others.

The problem – UAA had a 2 semester introductory biology (survey based) course that had, in some instances, 40% reduction of students for each semester.

Our solution – Create a 1 semester laboratory/experiential learning introductory biology course (Principles and Methods of Biology; BIOL A108) that is founded on the principles laid forth in Vision and Change.

What does this really look like, other than a lot of work?

The basic flow is to have 3, 5-week (10 sessions) modules within the semester, which focus on three core concepts: evolution, information flow, and structure and function. These modules are tied together by principles of the scientific method and student led experiments. Each module has a different content lead instructor. The unifying instruction is led by a lab coordinator that follows the theme of scientific method to ensure students are practicing and utilizing each part of the scientific method throughout the duration of the course.

  • Module 1 focuses heavily on observation, creating and testing hypotheses, finding and using credible sources, and creating basic graphs for communication purposes.
  • Module 2 continues to build on observation, creating and testing hypotheses, creating graphs, and adds the component of applying the collected data into a greater context using credible sources.
  • Module 3 takes the components of modules 1 and 2 and asks the students to interpret their data using credible sources.

These modules culminate at the end of the course by having the students present a hypothetical experiment based on a current biologically relevant observation.

This course set up requires a large amount of group work and coordination among the students. We encourage discussions through specific assignment prompts and ask the students to present their data (6 times) as a group (they switch group members for each module). Presentations are assessed on flow of information, clarity of information, and accuracy of information. We include concept quizzes (3 per module), but no high stakes exams. There are a series of assignments that are formative to allow instructor feedback to be incorporated into summative assignments (presentations and experimental write ups).

Is it working? – We’ve tracked these changes with pre/post tests and student retention rates. Initial data show 96% of students passed (defined as a C or better grade) with a withdrawal rate of 2% in the first semester (Fall 2015). Data from the current semester (Spring 2016) suggest a similar trend. A second goal of the program revision was to increase student learning and engagement about the process of the scientific method; in this our data suggest we were successful. Within one month of BIOL A108, students have improved their use of the scientific method to tackle challenging biological questions and core concepts. Preliminary assessment data show 96% of BIOL A108 students can create and use hypothesis statements correctly. Additionally, BIOL A108 student pre/post data indicate a 25% improvement in their comprehension of Mendel’s principles.

These changes have required a lot of work by many people; including learners from all levels. Transparent communication between instructors and students have been paramount to our initial success. This communication includes informing the students that the changes within the course structure are based on discipline based educational research and is founded by using current data from evidence-based teaching to shape the course.

Additional data that we are collecting include student demographics and end of semester student perception surveys. I hope to gather information regarding how this course is perceived by students and their personal successes as scientists. Why would we care about our student demographics? Anchorage, Alaska has three high schools in the top ten diversity ranking of high schools. A majority of our students enrolled in UAA’s biological science degree program are from the Anchorage and greater Alaska area. Collectively, if we want to increase the diversity of people trained in the biological sciences; UAA’s biological sciences program is one place to start. Maybe our course redesign will help others with their curricular transformations.

I am really interested in learning about how other departments and programs have remodeled their courses following the guidelines of Vision and Change, and what outcomes they are tracking. Let’s share ideas and materials within the LifeSciTRC and PECOP resources!

 

References:

Aguirre, K. M., Balser, T. C., Jack, T., Marley, K. E., Miller, K. G., Osgood, M. P., & Romano, S. L. (2013). PULSE Vision & Change Rubrics. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 12(4), 579-581.

Brewer, C. A., & Smith, D. (2011). Vision and change in undergraduate biology education: a call to action. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC.

Brownell, S. E., & Kloser, M. J. (2015). Toward a conceptual framework for measuring the effectiveness of course-based undergraduate research experiences in undergraduate biology. Studies in Higher Education, 40(3), 525-544.

Farrell, Chad R. (2016). “The Anchorage Mosaic: Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Urban North.” Forthcoming chapter in Imagining Anchorage: The Making of America’s Northernmost Metropolis, edited by James K. Barnett and Ian C. Hartman. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Press

Hanauer, D. I., & Dolan, E. L. (2014). The project ownership survey: measuring differences in scientific inquiry experiences. CBE-Life Sciences Education13(1), 149-158.
PECOP rachael hannah

 

Rachel Hannah is an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at University of Alaska, Anchorage. Helping people become scientifically literate citizens has become her major career focus as a science educator. As a classroom and outreach educator, Rachel works to help people explore science so they can apply and evaluate scientific information to determine its impact on one’s daily life. She is trained as a Neurophysiologist and her graduate degree is in Anatomy and Neurobiology from the University of Vermont College of Medicine. Recently, Rachel’s research interests have migrated to science education and how students build critical thinking skills.

The Emerging Role of Fixed-Term, Non-Tenure Teaching Faculty in Higher Education

The Back Story: I did not set out to become a college professor.  My “aha” moment came half-way through my Master’s program when I counted the number of course credits left to complete and realized that I had not yet learned all that I wanted to learn.  This led to a Ph.D., followed by a post-doc, followed eventually by a tenure-track faculty position.

lecturer_smallFlash Forward to Today:  I am now a Lecturer.  Leaving a tenure-track position at a small private college to be a Lecturer at a large, research-focused university was the right career choice for me; however, as with everything in life there have been trade-offs.

The primary difference between Lecturers and tenure-track faculty at our institution is the research component.  As a general rule, Lecturers are full-time faculty members specifically hired to teach numerous courses so that tenure-track faculty may focus upon their research areas.  This is a good plan in theory.  Tenure-track faculty benefit from a reduced teaching load.  Undergraduate students benefit from courses taught by faculty who have specialized in teaching.  For many Lecturers, it is a career “win” to teach in a college or university setting without the expectation to pursue external grant funding and simultaneously balance research against instructional requirements.

And yet . . . there is an element of sensitivity surrounding the “Lecturer” title.

Originally I wondered if perhaps it was my own sensitivity.  Interactions with other teaching faculty, from my institution and others, suggest this uneasiness is a more prevalent and widespread issue.  Perhaps it is fueled by the uncertainty of uncharted territory.

Whereas there are a handful of Lecturers who have held the job title for 10-20 years, the substantial growth of fixed-term, non-tenure teaching opportunities is a relatively recent phenomenon.  A non-tenure teaching position is not the traditional career path, leading to questions such as:   What exactly is a “Lecturer”?  How stable are fixed-term appointments?  By accepting a Lecturer position now, does it limit future job prospects down the road?  From the other perspective, I sometimes wonder what tenured faculty think about teaching faculty.  Are we consulted as valued and knowledgeable peers within the department and/or college?  This matters.

Teaching faculty seem to be placed in an ambiguous category ranked somewhere between graduate students and tenured faculty.  Part of the unease comes from the lack of clarity of our roles and the paradox of having demanding departmental responsibilities while being denied full faculty status.  The students do not appreciate the difference.  In their minds, we are essentially all the same—the bodies up at the front of the room challenging them to learn about the amazing human body.

This is where you, the PECOP reader, come in.  Although I have only the lens of my own experiences, it would be interesting to hear the perspectives of other tenure- and non-tenure track faculty regarding the emerging role of teaching-specific faculty at other academic institutions across the country.  These are the questions that I will throw out to foster discussion; feel free to add your own!

Question 1:  What role do fixed-term, non-tenure track faculty play at your (or other) institutions?

This is a basic question.  I have been a Lecturer at one institution, admittedly not a big sample size.  Are courses at other colleges or universities primarily taught with the “old” model of tenured faculty, or are teaching faculty trickling in?  Does the size of the academic institution influence the use of non-tenure teaching faculty?  What is the general perception of teaching faculty and scope of their contributions to the department and college?

Question 2:  What should our job title be?  (… And remind me again why it is that we cannot receive tenure?)

“Lecturer” appropriately describes what I was hired to do, to teach four courses a semester, but it is a relatively small part of what I actually do on a daily basis.  The time outside of lecture is spent predominantly on trouble-shooting student issues to the effect of “I forgot my Clicker, can I still get the points?” and “Is this [insert your own small, random fact] going to be on the test?”, acting in a more administrative capacity to coordinate coursework across numerous sections and numerous instructors/TAs, participating in departmental matters and curriculum development, answering endless e-mails, and so on.

There are, however, other titles describing teaching faculty.  Listed below are a few that are relatively common:

  • Lecturer (as mentioned): with possible promotion to Senior Lecturer
  • Instructor, Teaching Instructor, or Teaching Professor: sometimes Associate, Professor status (still non-tenure, though)
  • Assistant, Associate, Professor of Practice

A confounding issue is the wide range of abilities across the fixed-term, teaching-focused, faculty spectrum.  Unlike the tenure structure, there is not a strong model in place to differentiate levels of ability and professional achievement.

Is one title more representative of the job at hand than others?  Should different titles be used at community colleges compared to 4-year colleges or universities?

Finally, with a significant amount of my time centered around communication and administrative-type tasks, a small part of me sometimes wonders where is the physiology?  Which brings me to my next question:

Question 3:  What are the opportunities for professional growth and development for non-tenure/teaching faculty?

(Hint: volunteer to write a blog or a blog post!)  The obvious answer is to engage in educational research and strategies to promote student learning, since this is precisely what the job description entails.  As scientists, we have a natural curiosity to explore the correlations between teaching practices and outcomes.  If we have data to support the anecdotal experiences—even better!  It is one way to utilize the skills developed over time in the research setting.  So, this is one very viable solution to promote professional growth and development.

What are other options for remaining engaged in the study of physiology if the basic science research component is minimized by the nature of a teaching faculty position?  I have come up with a handful of potential solutions, but it is my guess that many of you may have faced similar questions.  What do you do to stay professionally active and engaged once the research opportunities are minimized?

In summary, I predict that teaching faculty will become more common in upcoming years, paralleling the continued evolution of the undergraduate experience (fueled by educational research regarding effective teaching strategies, of course).  For now, though, there is no obvious roadmap for continued professional growth for fixed-term, non-tenure teaching faculty.  Just as we invest time and energy to provide our students with the tools for success, it is important to consider how to do this with our teaching faculty colleagues.

Jen Rogers Headshot

 

 

 

Jennifer Rogers received her Ph.D and post-doctoral training at The University of Iowa (Exercise Science).  She has taught at numerous institutions ranging across community college, 4-year college, and university settings.  These varied educational experiences set the foundation for her interest in student readiness for learning and incorporation of effective teaching strategies for academic success specific to different student populations.  Jennifer regularly teaches Human Physiology, Human Physiology Lab, Applied Exercise Physiology, and other health science-focused courses.