One problem all college faculty face is this: Do the teaching methods we use actually improve student learning? For faculty in the sciences, this may be even more vexing. Experimental design at the bench is familiar. Experimental design to measure student learning may not be.
This week, Professor of Biology Daron Barnard, Ph.D., learned that he is one of 16 college biology professors selected to spend the next year focusing on the scholarship of teaching and learning in biology. The Biology Scholars Research Residency Program is an offering of the American Society for Microbiology‘s undergraduate education division.
“It’s a virtual residency,” Barnard explained. This combines intensive, face-to-face, multi-day training institutes followed by on-going learning communities using electronic communication.
The Biology Scholars will meet in Washington at the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Institute July 16-19 then will spend the year working on problems each has identified. They’ll meet again in May 2009 to evaluate their fellowship year.
For Barnard, this means examining his current interest: Could a project-based lab for genetics or a development course, with reduced breadth but greater depth and continuity, lead to enhanced student involvement and learning?
It’s important that students learn the process of science, he says, as our knowledge of biological processes is constantly changing as new information emerges. He wonders whether devoting more time to the teaching of practical experiments, of teaching scientific inquiry, will result in increased student learning.
That’s one point of this program. The Biology Scholars will learn to employ rigorous evaluations of their own teaching. The program’s other goals are to have the fellows publish their results demonstrating improved student learning in the laboratory or classroom. They’ll then be expected to lead biology colleagues in national efforts to sustain undergraduate biology education reform.
Barnard, who holds a doctorate in molecular biology from Vanderbilt University, was a postdoctoral fellow in the program in molecular medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School and a teaching postdoctoral fellow in the biology department of the College of the Holy Cross.
As a scientist, Barnard recognizes the need to address student learning in the same way he approaches bench experiments. He’s looking to develop a more systematic examination of student learning as he tries different teaching methods.
He has already invested a lot in the improvement of his teaching since coming to Worcester State College two years ago. He completed the Consortium’s Certificate in College Teaching Program. This year has named an Alden Teaching Fellow in the WSC Center for Teaching and Learning. He shares the responsibility for facilitating the ‘technology in teaching” working group with Karl Wurst (Computer Science).
“I’m eager to start research on the teaching of biology,” Barnard said. “I always want to improve my own teaching.” This Biology Scholars fellowship will give him just that opportunity.
Written by Barbara Zang, Ph.D.
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