The Role of a Teacher

Posting by my wife Dr. Sarah Rosario

As I begin my second year as a college professor I find myself examining the purpose of my job. I read this article (http://bit.ly/MuFH9q) the other day and it made me think hard about my role as a teacher. A couple of lines stood out for me:

“Education is not the transmission of information or ideas.”

I have to admit that I have invested much of my time over the last year trying to deliver information in a organized, and efficient fashion. I want the material I present to be as clear and polished as it can be. I am constantly revamping my powerpoint slides to make them as concise as possible. I make it a point to provide explicit study guides outlining my expectations. I refer students to additional resources on YouTube and other websites. I give vocabulary quizzes and homework assignments to make sure they actually crack open the texbook. It is becoming increasing clear that this is not enough. I am still not satisfied that my students leave my class knowing more than they came in with. Yes they are passing my exams and can regurgitate the information, but I’m not sure that they could piece together a coherent argument or critically evaluate a news article on a topic covered in class.

“Educators are coaches, personal trainers in intellectual fitness.”

How on earth do I get my students to exercise their brains? I feel like I have laid down the framework for my courses, but now I have to step up my game. I need to encourage them to move beyond role of passive receiver of information into a role of active learner. Communicating information is the easy part. The harder part is getting my students to apply that knowledge. I have to change the way that I behave in the classroom. It is my job to make sure they are not just memorizing facts, but that they can see the bigger picture. For my introductory biology course I am introducing a small project that will require them to present and critique a news article related to something we’ve studied in class. I have no idea how well it will go over, but it is at least a start. For my part, I am going to resist the urge to cover as much information as possible and focus my attention on making sure that my students truly understand the material before moving on.

Here are a few resources I am exploring to help me on my journey:

How to Encourage Critical Thinking in Science and Math (http://www.teachscienceandmath.com/2011/09/14/how-to-encourage-critical-thinking-in-science-and-math/) – an article aimed at K-12 teachers, but helpful nonetheless

HHMI Biointeractive
(http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/)- fantastic resources for engaging students in the material

Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education
(http://jmbe.asm.org/index.php/jmbe)- full of articles on creative teaching ideas.

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