Translating Information in Science; Learning is for Everyone
I believe that clear and concise communication is key in translating information. As a scientist, I believe it is my responsibility to not only own my science but to also effectively and efficiently communicate my science. This greatly facilitates teaching; allowing learning to really be for everyone. I also strongly feel that my students should be armed with transferable skills with real-life applications lasting beyond the examinations. My teaching methodologies therefore encompass the five key principles below:
1) Multi- and Inter-disciplinary Approaches: Science encompasses a diversity of specialties and I am a strong believer in the strength a multidisciplinary approach brings to the topic taught. However, integration between the disciplines is essential in enabling a well-balanced understanding and enhancing the overall appreciation of the subject matter. Thus, this necessitates an inter-disciplinary approach. I therefore incorporate and integrate a multitude of disciplines such as cell biology, pharmacology, biochemistry, physiology, exercise and nutrition when teaching especially within my area of expertise; diabetes. Often, the students engage in group activities where they discuss, and present to the class, how many scientific areas are involved in the specific topic at hand.
2) Listening and Understanding ‘Why?’: A classroom should not be a one-way traffic zone. While traditional lectures are frequently utilized, I feel it is imperative that students should ask ‘Why?’, immersing themselves in the understanding of the material thereby unraveling of the layers of knowledge presented and comprehending the real-life relevance and applications. Consequently, cultivating such a dynamic learning environment where students ask questions and in essence take charge of their own learning, under guidance, is essential in class. This exercises the Atkinson–Shiffrin memory model; beneficial in translating sensory memory to working memory while enabling the recall of information from the long-term memory. This combined approach permits information retention lasting beyond the exams. Intermittently during class, I ask questions to provoke debate, and enable students to justify and defend, i.e. ‘own’, their statements. To ensure students concentrate and pay attention, I periodically ask students, at random, to briefly summate what was just been covered; which aids students in practicing verbal and communication skills and builds confidence. En bloc, this creates a two-way traffic zone.
3) Collaborative, Interactive and Team-based Learning: Students will differ greatly in their interest in each subject, so, an engaging and interactive setting provides a beneficial learning environment. Two important characteristics of cognitive systems are the ability to learn and the ability to communicate. I typically commence my course with a pre-course quiz to assess schema and my class by probing what students know to grasp attention. To permit collaboration and interaction, and to link topics with real life relevance, I ask students, in groups, to share any related personal experiences. As well as enhancing interaction, critique, and verbal communication, this enables me to adjust my pace. In activities where scoring is needed, members from the opposing teams allocate scores based on scientific accuracy; here, aiming to induce aspects of fairness, respect and democracy with an overall professional demeanor. I do not initially provide the answers to allow debate, reasoning and defense of choices. I endeavor to instill interaction, collaboration, and team work skills, as these personal and inter-personal skills are timeless transferable skills essential for personal and professional development.
4) Independent Learning: Learning is not restricted to the classroom. I strive to arm my students with proficiencies that improve learning outside the classroom. Utilizing interactive and accessible technological tools such as the internet, I teach my students the principles of scientific searching online and how to fully examine and critique the references and data they choose, by often going online, in class. I encourage them to ask what does the data mean, how many perspectives emerge as the data is dissected further and what controversial data is available. Students can thus present well-balanced arguments for homework assignments, where they rely completely on their judgment and skills. This is not exclusively for classroom settings either. While mentoring in laboratories, I would point out errors for students in order to ‘help’ them. I then realized that methods using logical, sequential and systemic thinking were by far more beneficial to students than the temptingly less time consuming method of simply providing answers. I would first observe, and upon an error arising, I ask students to justify their step. Following brief rationalization and validation, the student often realizes the error. This thought process is a transferable skill and helps in understanding ‘Why?’. In England, students I mentored in the second year of my doctoral degree achieved higher grades than those in my first year using this method.
5) C.R.E.A.T.E. (Consider, Read, Elucidate hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, and Think of the next Experiment): Sally G. Hoskins, Biology Professor at City College of the City University of New York, and with support from the National Science Foundation developed the C.R.E.A.T.E. process. The process involves intensive analysis of sequentially published journal articles to demystify science research and provide unusual insight into the people who do it. I find C.R.E.A.T.E. remarkable as it permits students to develop their skills using real examples; again bridging the gap between abstract theories taught in class and real life applications. I enjoy the process as it is preceded by initially simplifying and personifying scientific research where students dissect the scientific jargon to understand “who does science, how, and why?”. This agrees strongly with my belief that understanding ‘why’ allows deeper appreciation of material and longer retention of information. The students strengthen their analytical approaches to data interpretation and embrace their creativity when looking at the studies scrutinized from various perspectives. That said, I do appreciate that C.R.E.A.T.E. will work better for my science students than for English literature students for instance; highlighting the importance of selecting the right tool for the job.