I teach by asking questions; I rarely lecture. In higher education, the role of the teacher is to empower students to evaluate others’ ideas and synthesize their own; yet there is overwhelming evidence that lecturing is a relatively ineffective pedagogical tool for promoting these forms of higher-order learning (Knight and Wood 2005). Therefore, my classes are driven by inquiry-based learning, thus promoting critical thinking and open discussion. When the students themselves make the point I wanted to convey, they retain knowledge better and achieve levels of learning beyond rote memorization.
In class, my goal is to have the students spend their time thinking scientifically. While this is easier to realize in a laboratory course, it can still be done in a “lecture” course by having students work in groups to solve problems, argue points, create and test hypotheses, and critique the reasoning of others. This format works well for both small- and large-enrollment classes (Deslauriers et al. 2011). While I appreciate that students learn in different ways, I employ active learning strategies to deliberately engage students in reading, writing, listening, discussing, doing, and reflecting. Active learning strategies thus benefit a plurality of learning styles and intelligences.
I enjoy teaching and research equally and do not think they should be mutually exclusive. I like to find ways to keep teaching at the cutting edge by integrating my own and others’ recent research into the course material. In seminar-style discussions, students learn to appreciate the practice of science by reading, explaining, and critiquing recently published peer-reviewed articles.
Finally, the classroom need not be a room. Especially in biology, the study of life, some of the best and most memorable learning experiences can occur outside where an extraordinary diversity of life abounds. My own passion for understanding and conserving Earth’s biodiversity was cultivated primarily outdoors. For that reason, facilitating both structured and unstructured exploration of the natural world is an indispensable component of a comprehensive education in biology.
Deslauriers, L., E. Schelew, and C. Wieman. 2011. Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class. Science 332:862-864.
Knight, J. K., and W. B. Wood. 2005. Teaching more by lecturing less. Cell Biology Education 4:298-310.