North Carolina A&T State University
I have always liked school, and as a child I "played school" often. My earliest memory of college/university is as a seven-year-old playing in an empty Boston State College (now U Mass) classroom, while my mother worked as a reading tutor for freshman students. I loved writing on the chalk board and sitting at the desks (especially the ones that had doodles etched in them). I thought to myself these college kids are so cool. When we would walk past Harvard yard in the spring, I would be in awe of the immaculately manicured campus and imagine myself one-day sitting in the shade of a majestic tree studying. Just as I saw those “cool” college kids doing. Those were indelible impressions. I felt as though college was a magical place and one that I wanted to experience. My time as an undergraduate and graduate student were amazing. Although I never studied in the shade of a tree, I greatly enjoyed the intellectual conversations I had with peers and I relished in the constant never ending flow of new knowledge that institutions of higher learning offered. I count it a blessing that I continue to live that dream, and walk onto a university campus every day. The joy and excitement that brings to me is reassuring that I am doing EXACTLY what I am supposed to do.
My goal as a professor is to share my passion and excitement for constant learning. I endeavor to ignite an appreciation for scholarship, promote the value of critical thinking, and inspire students to become life-long learners. To do that, I feel that students must trust and relate to me and see a little bit of themselves in me. On the first day of all my classes I engage students with an ice breaker. Ice breakers, like two truths and a lie or guess who? are fun. They are designed in order that students learn more about me. I am intentional about the facts I share. For example, facts, like I failed medical terminology in college or that I play the drums, make me more relatable. I think that allowing the students to see me as a person that is not so different from them is so important that, this semester I instituted Minor Monday Chat and Chew. This is a once a month opportunity, for any student who wishes, to have lunch with me. Students either enrolled in my courses or assigned to me as advisees have participated and we have used the time to get to know each other better.
"Whether You Think You Can or Can't, You're Right." Henry Ford. The fear of failure, humiliation, or disapproval can severely influence a student's capacity for learning. What I have come to know of my students, is that they are more than capable of learning and achieving greatness, but some of them are held back because of fear of failure and a lack of exposure. The "stereotype threat" that each student brings into the classroom is a barrier to their success. For learning to occur, there should be an absence of fear in the classroom. In my walk as a professor and advisor I make it a point every day to break through these barriers and show students that the “magic happens” when they step out of there comfort zones. The first lecture of class is typically a motivational lecture that is centered on determining the students’ mindset (fixed or growth). I explain to them that where they are now, is not where they must stay. I encourage them to embrace the attitude that it is not that “you can’t do it, or you don’t know it- it’s that you can’t or don’t know yet”, and that yet is achievable, but dependent on the work that they put in, inside and outside of the classroom. My classrooms are “safe” spaces for students to not just express their understanding of the material but more so to not be afraid to answer or contribute in class discussions because of fear of displaying misunderstanding or unfamiliarity with a subject/technique. I incorporate activities like think-pair-share, a collaborative learning strategy that allows students to work individually and then together to solve problems or answer questions. I also allow students to answer questions anonymously with cell phones using poll everywhere software or by writing answers on a paper, balling them up and throwing them to the front of the classroom (sometimes instructing them to aim at me with the wad of paper). I find that after a few class periods of these activities they trust me and more readily speak up in class.
"A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled. " Plutarch. My role as an instructor is not to" pour knowledge into empty vessels" but rather be a facilitator of the learning process. There is a growing body of research stressing that the quality of teaching and learning is improved when a student is engaged in the learning process. The "Cone of Learning" (Figure1) credited to Edgar Dale, posits that retention of content from passive activities such as reading or sitting through a lecture is negligible compared to content retained 2 when students actively engage with material. Although there is some doubt as to the validity of the percentages ascribed to the "cone" there are however, benefits to active and cooperative learning. I incorporate several active and cooperative learning techniques into my courses; including group discussions, case studies, journal article discussions, laboratory experiments and structured dialogue/debates. Teaching is also learning, therefore students in my courses are encouraged to give presentations, directed to "go to the board to draw and or explain", and while in groups, "teach" their colleagues. Assessments used include, homework, exams, quizzes (group and individual), presentations, reports and literature reviews, and rubrics, adapted from the AA&U, are used to assess oral and written assignments.
In all my courses, students are required to read and present primary journal articles. To increase students’ confidence with reading and understanding primary literature, I’ve developed a worksheet called the “journal dissection grid”. This worksheet instructs students to identify the big picture problem the what I call the “why we should care factor”, the goal and hypothesis of the paper, then summarize the methods and determine the most relevant results and conclusions. It also asks them to identify any unanswered questions or limitations of the study and what experiments might be done as a follow up. I have heard from many undergraduate and graduate students that this exercise increases their comfort with reading journal articles and enhances their understanding the material. The content of the journal articles chosen for each class present “real-world” relevance of the information that is being covered and allows for formative and summative assessment of student learning gains. As an example, in LASC 660 Tech Prep/Immuno/Micro/Rad, students are presented with lectures and videos that cover the theory behind the immunological techniques such as western blotting. We engage in a laboratory exercise where we perform a western blot. We then, as a class read and discuss a primary journal article that uses that technique. Then students are asked to find a paper using that technique and prepare a presentation that focuses on the goal of the paper and the one figure that uses the technique. This is repeated for each of the different techniques covered during the semester. At the end of the semester, students are assessed on their ability to design experiments to a hypothetical hypothesis using the techniques covered in class as well as present and critically evaluate an entire primary journal article that uses at least three of the techniques covered.
Active learning, particularly the "practice by doing", is especially important for science technology, engineering and math majors. In three of my courses (LASC 461, LASC 462 and LASC 660) the doing is achieved by use of case studies as well as engagement in research or laboratory experimentation. Case studies present content in the context of real world situations and are designed to increase the value and relevance of the content to students. They facilitate reading, discussion, and critical thinking. I use case studies, published by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science or those that I have written. In addition to my university courses, I have used case studies in outreach activities for K-12 students and have presented the impact of these activities. Often the cases are coupled with lab experiments this helps to make concepts clearer but also illustrates how the techniques are relevant to the industry or health field. The hands on lab experimentation component of LASC 660 Tech Prep/Immuno/Micro/Rad was enhanced after I was awarded a capacity building grant from the USDA that allowed us to purchase state of the art laboratory equipment and supplies to provide the students with more relevant and impactful lab experiences.
The “practice by doing” is best demonstrated by the activities in ANSC 619 Special Problems in Animal Health. This is a capstone course where students engage in a research project during the semester. The projects are focused on issues relevant to the production of livestock animals. As part of this course students 3 read primary journal articles to understand what is known on the issues they select. Then students working with a faculty member in the department write a proposal that presents the hypothesis/goals and methods of their selected project, they present the expected results and the role of each group member in the project. Once the data are collected, students prepare a final report and present their work to peers and faculty. During this final presentation they are encouraged to think critically about the data they collected and what improvements or next steps could be done. This course incorporates students into the scientific process in ways that many of them have not experienced before, and seeks to improve their ability to work collaboratively. The students recognize the real-world applications for the knowledge they have gained over their time in the department and develop a greater appreciation for how the information and industry practices they learned in other Animal Science courses like poultry and dairy production are shaped by research.
In (ANSC 701) Topics in Animal Health we focus on discussing contemporary topics that are relevant to animal and human health; such as antibiotic resistance, genetically modified organisms as well as “in the news” topics related to animal and human health, like swine flu and Ebola. To engage students outside of the class and keep them thinking about the topics we are discussing I encourage students to post course relevant “in the news” content to the class Facebook page. Although the topics discussed in the course change from semester to semester, the learning outcomes of the course do not. The course goal to develop good scientific communicators and critical thinkers. As part of this course, in addition to lectures, there is a significant amount of reading, group discussions, writing and presenting primary literature. This semester, in collaboration with Dr. Sims, Psychology professor at Florida A&M University, I have begun to utilize structured dialogue into the course. For each topic, students develop a thesis statement, then they are asked to find evidence (at least three primary journal articles) to support their thesis statement or counter the thesis statement of others. They then prepare presentations and write papers. The most exciting and engaging part of the activity is the dialogue. This is when students stand at the front of the class and defend their statements. This activity has not only encouraged lively conversations and brought stimulating ideas to the class, but it has increased student’s confidence in expressing their ideas, recognizing flaws in their own thinking as well as giving and accepting contrary opinions.
"Teaching consists of causing people to go into situations from which they cannot escape except by thinking." William Sparke. I strive for my courses to be engaging and fun so in addition to the traditional lecture; I incorporate, cooperative learning techniques, demonstrations, videos, on-line interactive content such as games, and virtual labs. I also incorporate the use of technology (smart phones). One activity, a game I call, “Immuknowledgy”, it is a group activity (quiz) where students get access to content questions by scanning quick response (QR) codes, to make review of material more fun. The students then engage in a scavenger hunt to find envelopes with the answers to the QR code questions. Once they have successfully retrieved the answers, they are given another set of questions that are of higher order. Students are then instructed to work in groups to answer the new questions. They are pushed to relying on their own knowledge to answer the questions, but can use a “lifeline” (notes, computer or ask me) if they like, with each lifeline used costing them points. Here I am encouraging them to (1) see that value in studying outside of class well before the exam, and (2) forcing them teach each other, (3) trust what they know and uncover what they don’t know well before the exam. In addition to course related activities, I have also mentored and advised several undergraduate and graduate student researchers in my lab. My strategy with students working in the research laboratory is to use both the hands on and hands-off approach. I provide my student researchers with training, demonstrations, and guidance in the planning and execution of their experiments. However, because I believe that some of the greatest lessons are also in our failures, I also take a hands-off approach. Letting them make, and attempt to correct their own mistakes. This approach strengthens their learning, independence, critical thinking, and confidence. As part of their growth all my student researchers are encouraged to participate in oral or poster presentations at conferences. A source of pride is that many of these students (undergraduate and graduate) have won accolades for their presentations. 4 "The teachers who get "burned out" are not the ones who are constantly learning, which can be exhilarating, but those who feel they must stay in control and ahead of the students at all times”. Frank Smith. Today's student can Google it or ask Siri or Alexa and within seconds receive a wealth of information. Consequently, professors are not, I am not, the expert with all the knowledge. What that means to me is that my purpose in the classroom is to present key concepts and facts, yes, but mostly my role (as the expert learner and thinker) is to facilitate the learning and thinking process. I exist to guide students though their discovery and learning process. I am there to help clear up misconceptions and push them to THINK and make connections. One of the best way for me and the students to see what they understand, the connections that they are making and what gaps they still have is through concept mapping. I use concept mapping as an activity in (LASC 462 Principles of Medical Science) to help students make connections between the course content as well as content from other courses or what information they might know through personal experience. This course presents the etiology and pathophysiology of diseases and the goal is for students to understand the many mechanisms for how different disease begin. As part of this course for example we discuss topics including but not limited to genetics, environment, cell signaling, and microorganisms. Through concept mapping the students see that for many diseases there are several factors that can contribute to its induction and progression. They also appreciate how topics they learn in other courses, like the central dogma discussed in biochemistry are relevant to our discussions on disease.
Teaching, like learning, can be a lifelong process that requires consistent and constant evaluation of pedagogical approaches and implementation of new strategies and techniques. I continuously work toward improving course curriculum and implementing new teaching strategies. For example, since 2008 I was a bit frustrated with the quality of the laboratory reports from upper level undergraduate students enrolled in LASC 461 Physiology of Domestic Animals; the abstract and the introduction, often would not state a hypothesis and not clearly label graphs or discuss the results. To help students understand what the parts of a lab report are and how they should be written, my colleagues and I directed an activity whereby the students (in groups) were asked to review with two examples of each part of a lab report (abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion and conclusion). One example was poorly written (based on examples that we had seen in the past) and one example was written well. After allowing for groups to study the examples, while using a guide on writing lab reports that was provided in the syllabus, we then discussed what was wrong with the poorly written report and what the elements were that made the other better. While I did not assess the impact of this activity quantitatively, overall, I, along with my colleague think that the lab reports following this were of much better quality.
“By any Means Necessary”- Malcom X. Through all the teaching tools used, I am encouraging students to step further out of their comfort zones challenging them to push themselves to grow personally and intellectually. But I also drive home the point that there are few excuses for not trying or not doing your absolute best to achieve a goal. If you want it, you must do what it takes to get it. I encourage my students and advisees to take an honest accounting of their actions to meet a goal and if they did not meet it what might they do differently to change the outcome. This motto applies to me as well. What I have now come to appreciate is that institutions of higher learning are not “magic”. It takes dedication, hard work and commitment to the teaching and learning process. Moreover, I recognize that these college kids are not so “cool” after all. They are young adults with great gifts and highest potential. All they need is guidance, mentoring and encouragement, to realize their gifts and reach that potential.
So if you are looking for me, perhaps you’ll find me sitting under a shade tree, contemplating impactful ways to continue to motivate and challenge my students in and out of the classroom.