It is time to (re)introduce myself this semester as a participant in Connected Courses: Active Co-Learning in Higher Ed. I was given the opportunity to take part in this course as one component of the Future Professoriate Graduate Certificate at Virginia Tech. As a PhD candidate in the basic biological/medical sciences, I recognize an obvious lack of training in teaching and mentorship. There is an assumption that a good researcher makes a good teacher, to the dismay of many a student in top-tier research institutions. I hope to be part of the solution to this problem, and am enrolled in the Active Co-Learning course to acquire new tools and new ways of thinking as the landscape of higher education rapidly changes.
I am not currently teaching a course. In fact, nearly the totality of my experience teaching has been confined to laboratory settings: albeit laboratories also equipped with chalkboards. I am more accustomed to lecturing on methods, presenting new data, or training new students about life in an academic lab than I am used to lecturing from a textbook or syllabus. Laboratory classes, whether in the natural sciences or otherwise, are quite different from lecture or pure discussion sections, and I imagine there are several advantages and disadvantages to teaching in this setting. One of the upsides is the more obvious “why”, since most of what I do is applied (in the bioengineering sense) rather than theoretical. However, even in this setting it can be all too easy to oversimplify the process, as Mike Welsch put it, as the “ultimately wrong notion of learning as the simple acquisition of knowledge”.
Education is a transformative process. That’s what got me hooked on science from the beginning. The scientific method provides more than a tool for answering questions: it is a worldview. Learning experimental design in high school biology opened up a whole new way of understanding and BEING on the planet Earth. I still fondly remember the foundational projector slides: a flow chart of Gregor Mendel’s plant hybridization experiments is SO MUCH MORE than a simple gardening task! It was empowering, and provided a broad framework for looking at other problems. As was discussed in the first session, education CANNOT be about checking boxes. Education is about TRANSFORMATION.
I credit a few inspiring mentors for helping me along my path, and I aspire to facilitate similar experiences in my students by giving them a purpose and helping them apply their passions and build their own niche. I was really interested to hear from the panel last class about how to move beyond outcomes-driven education and how to harness the REAL learning that seems to only take place in the periphery of the traditional classroom experience.
Even the pedagogical training I have received at Virginia Tech has been transformative. I entered the PFP program expecting to learn a few tools for being a better teacher, but have instead become immersed in the latest theories and ideas of higher education at its core. I am excited to see the changes that this course will facilitate, and hope to be able to share my insights and experiences along the way.