Talking Teaching

March 31, 2012

the tutor’s tale: how i keep my teaching fresh

I’m lucky to work with some wonderful teachers in my job. One of them, Brydget, runs all our first-year bio labs & is constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of what we offer in order to enhance the students’ learning experiences. (I am extremely envious of the fact that she’s the only person I know who routinely gets a perfect ‘1’ in students’ appraisals of her teaching.)

Anyway, Brydget recently wrote a piece on how she keeps her teaching fresh, for the University’s in-house teaching journal, & has very kindly allowed me to reproduce it here :-)

Anyone in academia realises that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  When I first started teaching I had plans of learning more about teaching, I envisioned myself understanding pedagogies and theories and thought I’d regularly read education journals.  I was soon to realise that while it was a nice idea it was not going to happen.  However, I was still determined to learn more about teaching.  The biggest resource I was to learn was not the myriad of academic journals but my colleagues both within and external to my department.

Communication with others in the university has been the biggest factor in keeping my teaching fresh.  Through participating in TDU seminars and the teaching network meetings I’ve been able to talk to teachers outside of my faculty.  This has been invaluable.  It opened my eyes to the fact that we become very entrenched in the way we do things.  It’s always been that way so it must be right.  Going through university right from the undergraduate level we become accustomed to a certain style of teaching and assessing, as students we accept that this is the norm.  When all the papers are presented in a certain way it seems that must be the right way.  And thus when moving roles from student to teacher it is unsurprising that we emulate the styles with which we were taught.  As a new teacher, I knew no different, I had not been exposed to many different ideas.

Being able to converse with teachers from different disciplines opened a new world.  At the TDU seminars I would hear what seemed like impossible ideas.  What do you mean we should give them a marking schedule?  Shouldn’t they have to work out the question, interpreting what I’m asking is all part of the mystery.  The more I talked with others the more I realised that teaching has to evolve and sharing ideas is such a valuable tool.

Even within a discipline, the act of just talking with colleagues about what they are doing in the classroom can open you to new ideas.  A simple conversation in the tea room, or attending the school teaching advocacy sessions allows for this exchange of ideas.  We tend to think of teaching as something we do in isolation (even with 200 students watching us) but we need the feedback and advice of those around us if we hope to keep our teaching alive and avoid the tedium that can come with repetitive teaching.  I am lucky that I teach in a role that allows me time to regularly talk to my students and from them I can gain feedback.  In every class students are given an opportunity to write down comments through the use of a “feedback box”, in addition to being encouraged to post on moodle.

One of the natural ways I keep my teaching fresh is purely through identifying a need.  In the first year of teaching it seems to be more about getting through (and hoping you don’t make a fool of yourself).  Once you’ve made it through that year it is like you’ve passed this first test and you start to settle in to teaching.  This is when I was able to change my focus and started identifying problem areas both in my teaching, and the courses I taught in general.  Any good teacher is going to address these problems.  Sometimes the problems are easy to fix, other times they take some creative thinking.

A few years ago I realised that one area of my teaching just was not working, the students were disengaged and found the topic a bore.  So like most of us I started thinking how I could alter this, and as I started planning I starting to keep a journal with ideas.  At first it was very factual and rudimentary, focusing on experimental change.  To my surprise the nature of the journal changed, as I implemented my new teaching strategies I started recording students reactions.  The changes brought about conversations with students that were unexpected, they moved beyond what I was teaching and asked questions.  Writing down these conversations I began to see the value in keeping a journal.  I was later to learn that this was called being a reflective practitioner.  This one small change helps keep my teaching fresh because it is a constant reminder of what I’m doing, what is working, what I did in the past and how the students are reacting.

With time and confidence you start casting your net wider.  I’ve joined online communities, forums and blogs all allowing us to share our problems, successes and ideas.  I’ve become more familiar with some of the education terminology and while I’m not quite at the stage of regularly reading journals, articles from education periodicals are becoming more frequent in my reading list.

March 26, 2012

the importance of vision

Filed under: education — Tags: , — alison @ 10:21 pm

This is just a quick post – a friend sent me a link to a blog post by Kelly Kingman, entitled The revolution will be visualised. It’s got some interesting comments (& images) on the importance of visual learning to many people. And it’s reminded me that I really must get on & finish the piece I was writing on concept maps :-)

‘scientists anonymous’ write to me about ‘programming of life’

Filed under: education, science teaching — Tags: , , , — alison @ 2:25 pm

In some ways this is quite a way off from what I usually write for this particular blog (it’s from my Bioblog). I’ve republished it here because it’s something that I do want to get out to science educators – especially biology educators – as widely as I can.

I’ve written about the group who call themselves ‘Scientists Anonymous (NZ)’ before, in the context of determining the reliability of sources. At the time, I commented that I would have a little more confidence about the information this group was putting out there if the people involved were actually identified – as it is, they are simply asking us to accept an argument from (anonymous) authoriry. (I was rather surprised to actually receive a response to that post, albeit its authors remained anonymous.) Anyway, this popped up in my inbox the other day, and was subsequently sent to me by several colleagues in secondary schools:

TO: Faculty Head of Science / Head of Biology Department

Please find a link to the critically acclaimed resource ( dealing with the nature of science across disciplines/strands.

Interesting to see an attempt to link it into the current NZ Science curriculum with its focus on teaching the nature of science.


  • The reality of computer hardware and software in life
  • The probabilities of a self-replicating cell and a properly folded protein
  • Low probability and operational impossibility
  • The need for choice contingency of functional information

Freely share this resource with the teaching staff in your faculty/department.

Yours sincerely

Scientists Anonymous (NZ)

So, I have been to the website. I intend to watch the video tonight (from a comfy chair), but the website itself raises enough concerns, so I’ll look at some of them briefly here. And I’ll also comment – if they really are ‘doing science’, then it’s not going to be enough to simply produce a list of ‘examples’ of the supposed work of a design entity (because that’s what all the computing imagery is intended to convey) & say, see, evolution’s wrong. That would be an example of a false dichotomy, & not scientific at all. They also need to provide an explanation of how their version of reality might come to be.

Its blurb describes the video as follows:

Programming of Life is a 45-minute documentary created to engage our scientific community in order to encourage forward thinking. It looks into scientific theories “scientifically”. It examines the heavy weight [sic] theory of origins, the chemical and biological theory of evolution, and asks the extremely difficult questions in order to reveal undirected natural process for what it is – a hindrance to true science.

The words ‘undirected natural process’ immediately suggest that this is a resource intended to promote a creationist world-view. I would also ask: if the documentary is created to ‘engage our scientific community’, then why did Scientists Anonymous send it to secondary school teachers in biology and not to universities & CRIs across the country? The blurb goes on:

This video and the book it was inspired by (Programming of Life) is about science and it is our hope that it will be evaluated based on scientific principals [sic] and not philosophical beliefs.

Unfortunate, then, that they wear their own philosophical beliefs so clearly: ‘undirected natural process’ as a ‘hindrance to true science’.

As well as linking to the trailer for the video, & the full video itself, the Programming for Life website also presents a bunch of ‘tasters’. One of these is the now rather hoary example of the bacterial flagellum (irreducible complextiy, anyone?) The website describes ‘the’** flagellum thusly:

The bacterial flagellum is a motor-propeller organelle, “a microscopic rotary engine that contains parts known from human technology such as a rotor, a stator, a propellor, a u-joint and an engine yet it functions at a level of complexity that dwarfs any motor that we could produce today. Some scientists view the bacterial flagellum as one of the best known examples of an irreducibly complex system. This is a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts manufactured from over 40 proteins that contribute to basic function, where the removal of any one of those parts causes the entire system to fail.

** As noted on my link for this example, there is no such thing as “the” bacterial flagellum as the sole means of bacterial locomotion: different prokaryotes get around in different ways. Nor is the flagellum a case of design; its evolutionary history has been quite well explained. The lack of quote closure (& of citation) is in the original.

 Mitochondria have their own executable DNA programs built in to accomplish their tasks.

Well, yes, & no. Several key mitochondrial genes are actually found in the cell’s nucleus – something that allows the cell to control some aspects of mitochondrial functioning (& incidentally prevents the mitochondria from leaving!). There’s a good review article here. That the number of nuclear-based mitochondrial genes differs between taxa is a good argument for evolution; for design – not so much.

Much like the firewall software on your computer the membrane contains protein gate keepers allowing only those components into the cell that belong and rejects all other components. The membrane is thinner than a spider’s web and must function precisely or the cell will die.

Well, d’oh – except when it doesn’t. Viruses, and poisons that interrupt cellular metabolism, get in just fine. They really are pushing the boundary with this computer metaphor.

The human eye is presented as an amazingly complex ‘machine’ – yet we have a good explanation for how that complexity evolved. And more telling (but omitted from this presentation): the eye’s structure isn’t perfect – it’s a good demonstration of how evolution works with what’s available,but hardly an argument for the wonders of directed design. The same can be said for the human skeleton, which is also in the taster selection, along with the nucleus, DNA, & ribosomes (which come with more, lots more, of the computer software imagery).

As I said earlier, if this video is not simply another example of the use of false dichotomy to ‘disprove’ a point of view with which its authors disagree, it had better provide more than metaphor. That is, I’ll be looking for a strong, evidence-based, cohesive, mechanism by which these various complex features sprang into being. Otherwise, we’re not really talking ‘nature of science’ at all.


I was going to stop there (for now) but then I noticed the ‘Investigate the facts’ heading. It links to a list of various papers & articles that supposedly support the ‘design’ hypothesis. Richard Dawkins’ name caught my eye – he’s there for writing that

Human DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.

I had a couple of thoughts; a) metaphor is a wonderful thing, & b) Dawkins is a biologist & science communicator, but not necessarily big on programming. (If I am inadvertently doing him a disservice, I apologise!). Someone else had the same thoughts.

March 21, 2012

tertiary teachers & accreditation

Filed under: education, university — Tags: , , — alison @ 10:47 pm

Over the years I’ve had a fair number of conversations with my students about what’s involved in being a university lecturer. They ask things like how I decide what to teach, how we develop programs, and – this year – just what I do when I’m not in front of a class. (They genuinely thought that I’m ‘on holiday’ when the teaching semester’s over: I found this rather sweet *smile*.)

And someone will always ask, do university lecturers have any training in how to teach? After all, these days primary, secondary & pre-school teachers are all required to have professional qualifications in education.

The answer is, it depends. (I’m going to talk about university lecturers here as that’s the area I’m familiar with.)

Back in the ‘old days’ (ie when I was a student, lol) you probably would have been scratching to find any university lecturer who had a teaching qualification alongside their discipline-based qualification. (Back then, Colleges of Education were generally not part of the university system here in NZ.) These days, universities have some form of professional qualification available for their staff to study for, but it’s purely a voluntary decision to take it up. It’s probably fair to say that a significant majority of university lecturers still do not have formal training in education.

The obvious question is, does it matter? After all, generations of lecturers have learned the necessary skills ‘on the job’, and generations of students have completed their degrees or diplomas & gone on to graduate.

Yes. Yes, it does matter. Let’s have a look at the meaning of the term ‘accreditation’ (Ingarson et al, 2006):

‘Accreditation’, as used in this report, refers to an endorsement by an independent external agency that a professional preparation course is adequate for the purpose of a particular profession; that the course is able to produce graduates who meet standards for entry to the profession and are competent to begin practice.

..Accreditation is also an important mechanism for engaging members of a profession in decisions about standards expected of those entering their profession, as well as standards expected of preparation courses.

In the context of this post, ‘accreditation’ would refer to confirmation that someone had been through a program of study that adequately prepared them to teach a class. In a teaching context, that program would include exposure not just to good teaching practices, but also to the professional literature around teaching in a particular discipline. And this matters a lot, because as I’ve said elsewhere on Talking Teaching, there’s so much more to teaching than simply transmitting information – the method which very many lecturers would have picked up, because that’s how they themselves were taught. (Certainly that was my experience, back in the day, & it’s one that my friend & colleague Kevin Gould described to great effect in a recent presentation on good use of teaching technology.)

In other words, university teaching is a profession (after all, I’ll bet many of us put ‘lecturer’ on census forms & the like!), and there’s a good case to be made to support academics’ ongoing professional development in education and to recognise that through form of accreditation. As Hicks, Smigiel, Wilson & Luzeckyi (2010) note, such professional development can

[promote] a set of shared expectations and understandings about the nature of university learning and teaching

which would help to promote consistency in approaches across the institution and also the sector and, because staff are gaining an enhanced understanding of just how students learn, enhanced learning outcomes for students. Note that consistency =/= homogeneity! But rather, academics at the various institutions would have (Hicks et al, 2010)

some common understanding of core learning and teaching principles.

This sort of professional development, leading to accreditation, should probably be focused on new lecturers to begin with, as they’re arguably those who really, really need such support. After all, as Kevin pointed out in his talk, if you’re thrown in the deep end & simply emulate the practices of those who taught you, you’re likely to pick up some pretty bad habits along with the good, & over time these can become deeply entrenched. (Which does suggest that it would be good, at some point, to involve experience lecturers in the conversation around best-practice in teaching and learning as well.) And you could also ask, why should both new teachers and their students struggle while the teachers find their feet? That’s not good for anyone.

The other thing is, universities have changed from the days when I was a student, & they’ll continue to change. Along with technological advances (which as Kevin said, have been embraced in very many secondary schools, to the point where students view teaching technology as the norm & may well expect to see it used in similar ways in university classrooms) and increasing numbers of ever more diverse students attending university (with ever more diverse experiences and needs), there’s also

an expectation that universities should be more accountable to funding bodies and other stakeholders (students, parents, employers, etc.) (Hicks et al, 2010).

One way to respond to this is for institutions to be able to demonstrate that their staff have that “common understanding of core learning and teaching principles” and are able to apply these in their classrooms for the good of their students’ learning.

And what’s the best way to show this? Through some form of accreditation.

(Of course, for all this to happen we do need a definite change in the culture of universities. Staff are probably not that likely to want to participate in professional development if they perceive that teaching is accorded less value than research when it comes to promotion, or when they perceive that such programs are’t valued by their colleagues – or when models for workload allocation don’t take into account staff involvement in these programs. But there’s nothing to be lost by talking about and working towards that ideal.)

M.Hicks, H.Smiegiel, G.Wilson & A.Luzeckji (2010) Preparing academics to teach in higher education. Australian Learning & Teaching Council.

L.Ingvarson, A.Elliott, E.Kleinhenz & P.McKenzie (2006) Teacher education accreditation: a review of national and international trends and practices. pub. Teaching Australia. ISBN 0-9775252-6-0

March 14, 2012

how do you give feedback to university teachers

How do you give feedback to university teachers? – this was the search ‘topic’ used by one visitor to Talking Teaching. It struck a chord with me as I’m part of a small group of people discussing that very question, so I thought it might be a good topic for a blog. Not least because actually sitting down & writing about it should help to focus my own thoughts on the issue.

My institution expects teaching staff to carry out regular appraisals of their papers & their teaching in those papers.While there are a number of ways to do this, in practice most people use the ‘standard’ form: a set of Likert-scale questions on both paper & teachers that are common to all appraisals; a set of open-response questions (identify 3 things about this paper/teacher that should be changed/kept the same); &, if the lecturer chooses, some other questions as well. (Last year I included a set about student’s perceptions of Panopto, for a research project that I’m running with a couple of colleagues.) So there’s potentially quite a bit of information available there.

It’s what happens to this information, of course, that matters. Here, the current state of play sees lecturers receive a summary of the Likert question responses, plus any demographic information, fairly soon after the semester ends. Once the grades for the semester are finalised, we’re then sent the original survey forms, so we can then read the open-ended material as well. Both lots of information are potentially extremely useful if you’re wanting to improve paper delivery & your own teaching. The thing is – does everyone actually read it? Anecdotal evidence would suggest not: that the sheaf of paper may sometimes simply be flicked through (at best) before relegation to the paper-recycling device commonly known as a rubbish tin. When this happens, both students & teacher miss out. The students have spent time engaging with the questionnaire & do have a right to expect that their words will be read & (hopefully) responded to. And the lecturer may have missed out on suggestions that might allow them to enhance their paper’s delivery. And of course, there’s no closing of the feedback loop – letting the class know that you’ve read their comments & suggestions, & explaining how & why (or why not) you’re intending to respond to them. This in turn can see students becoming quite disillusioned with the whole process.

One of the options we’ve discussed, as a means of improving this part of the system, is whether to provide teaching staff with a summary of the open-ended questions as well, perhaps with a commentary alongside: “X% of the class felt that…. This suggests that… – have you considered the following.. ?” This, of course, would constitute a lot of extra work for our Teaching Development staff!

And there’s also the question of whether this is the best, or the only, way of getting feedback on one’s teaching.What about on-going formative feedback during the semester, using techniques like one-minute papers or ‘muddy questions’ (in which students highlight the points in a lecture that most puzzled or confused them)? Or the use of feedback surveys in learning management tools like Moodle? There’s also the issue of perceived legitimacy – I’ve heard it said that students don’t know enough about a given subject to give any meaningful comment. (While this is likely true about the content it’s certainly not the case for the methods – students do have a fairly good idea of the teaching styles & tools that work best to enhance their learning.) Would feedback be better coming from peers rather than students? How comfortable would lecturers be with having a colleague sitting in on their classes & providing constructive comments afterwards?

I seem to be posing more questions than I’ve answered! Please feel free to weigh in with your suggestions :-)

March 10, 2012

a map for ‘basic biology bits’

Students in my first-year bio class have quite varied backgrounds in terms of their prior learning in biology. I’ve had a little survey running on our Moodle page in the lead-up to beginning to discuss plants: roughly 1/4 of them didn’t take year 12 (6th form) bio; 1/4 did, but didn’t study plants; and most of the rest both studied year 12 biology and learned about plants. (For readers outside of NZ, year 13 is the final year of high school.) This is going to make teaching about plants – which occupies not quite half of the paper, quite ‘interesting’. It also means, of course, that 25% of the class don’t have any formal leaning in biology as a separate subject at all: something that my colleagues & I need to keep in the back of our minds in our teaching.

And of course, even those who report having studied something in school may not actually remember it in any meaningful way, in the sense of having accurate conceptions about the topic. However,  the misconceptions that they may have in lieu can make expanding & correcting their understanding quite tricky. For this reason, a few years ago I began starting the new semester with a class called ‘Basic Biology Bits’ – pop quizzes & discussion around a few key ideas that many students appeared to be having trouble with. Feedback from the class was positive, so I’ve kept that in the curriculum.

However, having read & blogged about visual curricula, I realised that just dishing out a set of apparently unrelated concepts probably didn’t make a lot of sense to the students, even if they were gaining an enhanced understanding of the concepts in isolation. So now I have a little map to show them where we’re heading, & I thought I’d share that here (since my last post seems to have attracted so much interest, lol).

We started off with an idea that everyone agreed with – that living things are made of cells. Cells are very small, & I wanted them to think about why this might be:

This gave the opportunity to talk about just how ‘small’ is small & to introduce the units of measurement (micrometres) that they’ll be using with their microscope work in the lab. I find a lot of bio students tend to be quite maths-phobic & a little gentle intro to these units & also to the idea of converting between them will hopefully be useful when they come to work out the size of the things they’re seeing down the microscope. And the ‘why’ question meant that we could talk about diffusion & osmosis & why multicellular organisms need some sort of transport system.

We’d talked a bit about plants being autotrophs in a previous class, but I wanted to give a heads-up that they’d be learning more about photosynthesis in another paper. Turned out not all of them were familiar with writing or interpreting a chemical equation, so showing

CO2 + H2O + light energy –> C6H12O6 + O2

was quite useful as a means of signalling that they’d need to become familiar with the basics of chemical formulae. (Also, it turned out during the body of the lecture that I’d got a mistake on the relevant slide. Someone was brave enough to point this out, & I thanked him & took the time to say that this was good; students shouldn’t be afraid of asking if they think someone’s made a mistake, just as it’s important to ask if they don’t understand something.)

A few years back I was rather taken aback to discover a particularly common misconception among our first-year bio students: the idea that plants photosynthesise, but don’t respire. Ever since I’ve taken the time to point out that all living cells respire, albeit not necessarily aerobically. I use a couple of pop quizzes on the processes that cells might need energy to carry out. And we also talk about ATP as a carrier of energy – and why cells might need such carriers.

(Don’t know how I managed to include that line just above!) It’s interesting to think about respiration & photosynthesis in terms of the carbon cycle, something that we’ll be considering in more depth towards the end of the semester.

 And finally, reminding them of the role of DNA in controlling all these goings-on. (That 25% of the class who didn’t study biology at the senior high-school level are going to need a lot of help in this area!) When we looked briefly at mitochondria & chloroplasts I noted that both organelles have their own loops of DNA – & asked why some mitochondrial genes are located in the nucleus & not in the mitochondria at all. A very interesting discussion ensued.

Teaching like this is probably more work, in some ways, than a traditional lecture. It certainly can demand more of the lecturer. But I firmly believe it provides a much better learning experience for the students! The thing is, you just need to signal what you’re going to do from the start – and explain why. “I’m going to be teaching in this way because science education research clearly shows that it significantly enhances learning outcomes for students.” That way, we’re all in the same boat & paddling in the same direction :-)

March 5, 2012

changing teaching techniques

This post’s title is another one drawn from the search terms that brought people here to Talking Teaching :-) I’ve written quite a lot about the benefits students may gain as a result of lecturers changing the techniques they use in the classroom. A while back I wrote about the idea of helping students to visualise a paper’s curriculum, & this semester I decided to try that out with my first-year biology class. Today was the first day of the new semester, & I thought I’d share what I did with them – it would be interesting to hear what others think of this approach, so please do add a comment :-)

I kicked off with this slide – I thought the images captured some of the confusion that many first-year students seem to share as they enter their first year of uni study. It’s a fair bet that all the new terms & concepts thrown at them in many ‘traditional’ paper outlines don’t help :-)

Then I listed the obvious: the various classroom ‘styles’ they’ll be experiencing (ie lectures, labs & tuts). And pointed out that there are definite bi-directional links between them – this is because (in my experience, anyway) some students tend to see them as isolated enitities. When I first tried my hand at a diagram like this my wonderful friend & colleague Brydget pointed out that it was way too complicated; the kids would just get lost in the detail. I took her advice & had another go :-)

And then I asked, OK, when you enrolled in this paper, what did you think you’d be doing & learning? This was the very first class so I wasn’t sure what responses I’d get, if any, but I wanted to send the message from the start that this is how I teach & that active participation is the norm in my lectures. But people put their hands up. ‘Content,’ they said; ‘stuff about plants & animals & how they function & how they interact with their environment.’ ‘Great!’ I said, ‘and I need to make sure that we do look at some of this, because my colleagues further down the line will expect you to be familiar with this material.’

‘But wait!’ I said, ‘there’s more!’ (Because beyond ‘dissections!!!’ no-one had mentioned any process skills.)

So now we could look at those other skills & why they are relevant. We’d talked a bit about plagiarism at orientation last week, so I could check back on their understandings around this – & emphasise that we’ll be working with them to develop their skills in academic writing, referencing, citations & so on. And critical thinking – to me, this is surely one of the most important skills that any student could acquire during their time at university.

Now, where are we going with all this?

 Well, there’s the obvious one – that first-year is expected to turn out students with the knowledge & skills that they’ll require if they’re going on to further study in the subject. But there’s a second, equally important point here, and it hinges on the fact that there are quite a few students in the class who aren’t going to major in biology, & who may not actually be science students at all – they’re taking the paper as an elective in another degree altogether. What do I hope they will gain from it?

Yes – apart from (I hope!) helping them gain an enthusiasm for & appreciation of the living world, I really really want to enhance the scientific literacy of all my students, so that they can apply this understanding in their own future lives, regardless of whether they’re going on to a career in the sciences.

Now, I don’t know what the class thought of this approach – yet. I’ve asked them to let me know (anonymously if they like) through our Moodle page. But it would be good to hear from readers as well :-)

ensuring student success

The other day my colleague Nigel Robertson (from the uni’s centre for e-learning, “WCeL”) sent through a link to this article: Ensuring student success – students are not to blame. The writer, Arshad Ahmad, begins by saying that

[many] students may appear to be unqualified, unprepared and uninterested. But if you believe, as I do, that each one of them has a talent, each one of them has a capacity to develop – intellectually and emotionally – then it follows that each one should be given a fair chance to succeed.

And he goes on to say that

[there] is an alarming scarcity of interdisciplinary courses, little integration of existing courses, and almost no alignment to achieve the specific outcomes that these collections of courses are geared towards.

This is especially true of first-year courses with large impersonal classes taught by teaching assistants and part-time instructors.

It is exactly during this time, the first-year experience, when students are making important transitions, when students require a lot of personal attention and when they seek faculty (ie staff] time. It is a time when we should put our best teachers on the front lines and offer an experience that few, if any, students will be able to refuse.

I couldn’t agree more, & it’s the reason we (my wonderful colleague Brydget, & I) keep reviewing the labs we offer to our first-year bio students. Lab classes being so much smaller than lecture streams, they represent an excellent opportunity to give students one-to-one attention. This year we’re trialling a peer mentoring system: another chance for students to form good working relationships with others in their class & work together to enhance their learning.

And it’s also why I keep banging on to people about the benefits of moving away from the traditional lecture format. (Don’t have to worry about the teaching assistants bit there as the lecturers are the people who front up to these classes.)

Arshad’s article is a strong argument in support of the need for regular & thorough review of teaching programs – not just individual papers, but the actual degree programs themselves. Otherwise there is always the risk that the collection of papers, overall, can lack focus – and that is not going to produce the best learning outcomes for our students.


At Enough of the Cat Talk, Darlena makes a similar point: “Would we demote an entire class of children for our inability to teach them?”


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