5 Active Learning Strategies to Try in Your Classroom

This is the third in a collection of posts about topics covered in “A Learner-Centered Approach to Effective Teaching,” a workshop series offered by the UC Davis Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). By writing these posts, I hope to solidify my grasp of the topics covered and provide useful information for the college teaching community.

Think about how you would teach someone to change a tire on a bicycle.

I would probably talk through the process with the person, answering questions as we went. Then I would demonstrate how the process works on one wheel, and ask the person to try changing the tire on the other wheel. What I probably wouldn’t do is show the person a series of slides on how to change a tire and then ask them to come back in a month to try it out for themselves. The first approach, which I think is much more natural, is an example of active learning – the student is constructing knowledge as they go and actually tries to solve a problem. The second approach is an example of passive learning, where the student simply receives the information from the instructor without really engaging with it. Continue reading

Will this affect my grade? Using formative assessments to drive learning

This is the second in a collection of posts about topics covered in “A Learner-Centered Approach to Effective Teaching,” a workshop series offered by the UC Davis Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). By writing these posts, I hope to solidify my grasp of the topics covered and provide useful information for those unable to attend the workshop.

What’s in a typical syllabus? Most begin with a description of the course, lay out a series of lecture topics and reading assignments, and then delve into grading policies. These policies are generally designed with three purposes in mind: to provide accountability to students, to determine the suitability of each student for advancement, and to describe how students compare to some standard. The tools used to enact these policies – tests, quizzes, graded essays etc – are known as summative assessments. While these types of assessments do a good job at determining whether a student has achieved particular learning outcomes, they do little to actually promote learning.

This leads me to what is often missing from syllabi – Continue reading

Backward Design: An Introduction

This is the first in a collection of posts about topics covered in “A Learner-Centered Approach to Effective Teaching,” a workshop series offered by the UC Davis Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). By writing these posts, I hope to solidify my grasp of the topics covered and provide useful information for those unable to attend the workshop.

We began the first workshop in the series, “Where to start: Backward design and student learning outcomes,” by thinking about how courses are typically planned in the instructor-centered model of learning. In this model, the instructor uses their expertise to assemble lectures that transmit knowledge to students about a particular topic. One difficulty with this approach is that, for any given topic, there is far more information available than can possibly be covered in single lecture (or even an entire semester in many cases). How, then, do instructors typically decide what to include? Continue reading

Behind the scenes in a 650-student biology course

For the past year, I have worked as a teaching assistant (TA) for BIS2C (Biodiversity and the Tree of Life), which is the third and final course in the introductory biology series at UC Davis. Successful completion of the introductory series is required before students can move on to take upper division biology courses. The course is offered every quarter, with enrollments ranging from 600-1000 students. Those students attend four 1-hour lectures and one 3-hour lab each week. I want to use this blog post to give you some insights into the people and resources that make such a large course possible. Continue reading

Book Review: “Building a Career in America’s Community Colleges”

If you’ve spent much time looking around my blog, you know that I am very interested in a career in college teaching. This interest has led me to look very closely at community colleges as a good option. I really like what I’ve seen so far – particularly the strong focus on teaching, small class sizes, and the mission of helping all students learn. However, my educational experiences thus far have all been at large research-focused state universities. This means that before I can make the case that I’m a good fit for a position at a community college, I need to learn more about how these institutions work and what it means to be a teacher at one.

As part of this learning process, I recently read “Building a Career in America’s Community Colleges,” by Rob Jenkins, a long-time community college faculty member and administrator. Continue reading

Teaching postdoc? An interview with Dr. Lisa Auchincloss

As I’ve became more and more serious about pursuing teaching as a career, one of the people I’ve regularly turned to for advice is Dr.Lisa Auchincloss, who graduated from my graduate group at UC Davis last year.  While at Davis, Dr. Auchincloss did her doctoral research on stress ecophysiology of cottonwood with professor Jim Richards. She also did a wide variety of teaching and science communication-related activities, including TAing for an innovative online course on global climate change. After graduating, she worked briefly as an adjunct professor at American River College and then accepted a position as a biology education postdoc with Dr. Erin Dolan at the University of Georgia. I had heard about “teaching postdocs” before, but didn’t know much about them, so I asked Dr. Auchincloss if I could interview her to find out more. Here’s the result: Continue reading

She got a teaching faculty position! An interview with Dr. Christine Palmer

Dr. Christine Palmer just got her dream job. It’s a faculty position at a small state college in Vermont, where her primary responsibility will be teaching biology to undergraduates. Since her dream job looks a lot like mine, I asked her if I could pick her brain about her journey.

For those of you who don’t know her:

Dr. Palmer is currently a post-doctoral scholar in the Maloof Lab in the Plant Biology Department at UC Davis. Even though her academic path reads like a who’s who of elite institutions (she has degrees from Williams, Penn, and Dartmouth), she is one of the least pretentious people I’ve met and is well-known in the department for being friendly and upbeat (her one stipulation for doing this interview was that I edit it if she said “Awesome!” too much). You can learn more about Dr. Palmer’s professional history at her snazzy website – I focused my interview on her recent experiences with the job search.

The Interview:

Continue reading

Community College Teaching: A Closer Look

I recently took a couple of opportunities to learn more about teaching science in the Los Rios Community College District – a group of 4 community colleges that serve the Sacramento area. The first opportunity was the result of an email I sent several weeks ago to a friend of mine who teaches chemistry at Sacramento City College (the oldest and second largest Los Rios campus) asking for suggestions of biology faculty that might be open for an informational interview. He suggested that I contact Dr. Ken Naganuma, who agreed to meet with me and let me sit in on a session of his Cell and Molecular Biology course. Continue reading

Where are PBGG alumni now?

If you’ve read my Bio, you know that I’m a Ph.D. student in the Plant Biology Graduate Group (PBGG) at UC Davis. We’re a pretty diverse group in terms of research interests. We have everything from computational biologists and biochemists to plant breeders and ecologists. This diversity got me and fellow PBGGer Mark Lemos wondering about what sort of careers alumni of our program were pursuing.

To answer this question, we took to the internet to track down our alumni – primarily using LinkedIn, Pubmed, and Google. We were able to find 101/110 of Ph.D. alumni that had graduated during the previous 10 years. I presented our findings at the PBGG annual meeting in Spring 2013 and have decided to post them here for people who missed the meeting or want to revisit the data.

Here is a breakdown of the sectors in which our alumni are employed: Continue reading

Book Review: “The Smartest Kids in the World”

“The Smartest Kids in the World,” by Amanda Ripley, is a highly engaging look at secondary education in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. The book was published in 2013 and generated quite a bit of buzz , due to its skillful comparison of the systems of these three educational high-achievers with that of the United States. Ripley skillfully combines a variety of statistics (primary compiled by the PISA exam) with a unique on-the-ground perspective provided by extensive interviews with three American exchange students, who each lived in one of the subject countries for a year. Many of her findings challenge key aspects of the U.S. high school experience: Continue reading