I have loved teaching since my undergraduate years and my first experience before a classroom, substitute teaching for one of my chemistry professors. I quickly learned as my career progressed that, for me, teaching is not a job requirement but rather an opportunity to make a real difference in students’ lives, and that I enjoy the humbling responsibility of the endeavor. I came to believe and have often said that the minimum responsibility of faculty in higher education is not only to teach, but also to teach well.
We find ourselves at the beginning of an educational renaissance, and the time has come to ask ourselves in this day what it means to teach well?
We often back lofty proclamations of creating an educated citizenry with deliberate and well-intentioned decisions to train scholars rather than technicians. Yet when the essential question – the real life, technical problem to be solved – is embraced in deed as well as in word, many obstacles to learning fall away. Putting the problem literally into the hands of students increases their motivation, aids in the generalization of knowledge, and makes self-evident the benefits to be reaped. John Dewey said as much in 1900 , and it is true now as it was then. This simple idea is more than just the conclusion of thousands of educational researchers; I consider it a statement of ethical obligation toward my students. I ought to remain accountable to them for providing not only a high quality oration, but also a learning experience with immediately tangible benefits.
It is, however, infrequent in a typical classroom that the end goal of learning is truly brought to the fore. This is to our peril. We claim to teach students to understand, analyze, and synthesize, but seldom actually do so. We seek that reflection of ourselves in our students, but too infrequently hold up a mirror. Thus, the apprenticeship model of “do as I do” has come to form the foundation of my pedagogical approach.
Similarly, I believe undergraduate involvement in research is invaluable to student and scientist alike. In my experience, undergraduates who spend multiple years doing research are manifestly capable of performing at the level of a Masters student. To quote one of my undergraduates, “I learn more in this lab in one day than I learn in all my classes in one week.” I continue to encourage all students to get involved in basic and applied research, and other acts of creative technical expression. I strive daily to make students equal partners in discovery, in my lab, in my department, and across the university.
I have published number of novel approaches to implementing active learning in traditional classrooms, both undergraduate and graduate , and in educational programs . I have also studied the costs and benefits of these approaches to student learning. We find in general that active learning has focal effects on student learning , but no general benefits to the traditional measures of retention and comprehension of knowledge. This begs the question, are we even measuring the right thing?...
We traditionally measure the low hanging fruit of educational outcomes - things such as the retention and recall of knowledge, and the comprehension of subject matter. Are these even the right things to measure? I am conducting research on alternative metrics and how they are influenced by educational interventions. These metrics include implicit bias , curiosity, creativity, and self-concept.