Improving the teaching of science
One question all college faculty face is this: Do the teaching methods they use actually improve student learning?
Thanks to a Biology Scholars fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology, Assistant Professor of Biology Daron Barnard, Ph.D., has a unique opportunity to address that question. Barnard is one of 20 college biology professors from across the country selected by the society to focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning in biology at the undergraduate level.
“It’s a virtual residency,” Barnard explains. This combines intensive, face-to-face, multi-day training institutes followed by on-going learning communities using electronic communication.
The Biology Scholars met in Washington, D.C., at the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Institute in July to identify problems to work on during the 2008-2009 academic 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,” says Barnard, “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. They are also expected to publish the results of their work and 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.
In 2007-2008, he was named an Alden Teaching Fellow in the WSC Center for Teaching and Learning, where he serves as a co-facilitator for the “technology in teaching” working group.
“I'm eager to start research on the teaching of biology,” Barnard says. “I always want to improve my own teaching.”
President’s Annual Report, 2008