Arne Christensen, PhD
Professor of Biology
Anna Maria College
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A Statement of Teaching Philosophy
Instruction and learning are two distinct processes, but each is optimized and informed by the other. An effective instructor employs a variety of teaching approaches that build off the strengths of the individual learners. A successful learner develops knowledge within the framework of the varied pedagogical approaches towards a mastery of the subject. The nature of this relationship is unique for each course, but there are three general instructional approaches I use:
1. The importance and the relevance of the course content is emphasized
2. Varied teaching modalities are used to create a dynamic learning environment
3. Formative assessments are used to gauge instructor efficacy and student learning
Importance and relevance:
Students in higher education science courses should become proficient at creative and critical thinking, interpreting the natural world, and in some cases be provided professional training. It is not always easy for a learner to connect the importance and relevance of these outcomes to course content. One of my goals as an instructor is to make these connections more apparent to energize and motivate the learner. As one example, after finishing a unit on brain anatomy and cell types I presented data from a recent study (Han et al., 2013) wherein researchers inject developing mice with human cells that support neuron function (glia), the students were then asked to discuss and predict the results of the study. The intention of this particular exercise was to empower the students to develop their own conclusions based on what they are learning, highlight the relevance of what they are learning, and recognize that cutting edge science is becoming more accessible to them.
Varied teaching modalities
The age of the sage on the stage is waning. A variety of teaching modalities should be used to build off the strengths of students as individuals. To this end I employ a variety of teaching techniques in courses which aim to meet the students at multiple levels. In lecture courses I use PowerPoint presentations to some extent, but I also use white boards to write down terms and definitions, and I map out concepts to encourage the students to do the same. I also invite students to join me in drawing and mapping out these concepts in front of the class to create a more dynamic and active learning environment. I have worked with individual students to produce videos (e.g. fruit fly development) which have been posted to YouTube and used by instructors at other institutions as teaching aids. In my Human Anatomy and Physiology courses I have created movies that review important concepts; these movies use video, 3D virtual representations, and models, and are edited to couple narration with text to meld auditory and visual modalities. I use collaborative learning strategies with particularly challenging content, such as muscular system anatomy and function, by requiring the students to develop group presentations for their peers. Taken together these varied techniques are used to create a more dynamic learning environment and speak to a wide range of learning styles.
Formative assessments
As a class or course progresses I make frequent formative assessments to determine the efficacy of instruction and progress of the learners. In lectures I use the iClicker system to check if critical concepts have been effectively conveyed. I use quizzes and case studies as low-stake formal assessments. Outside of a lecture, discussions with students during office hours are a useful way to informally monitor student learning and consider improved approaches to teaching a specific topic, or determine which topics need to be revisited. Ongoing formative assessments are important tools for gauging instructor efficacy and student learning and decrease failure rates.
My years of experience as an instructor have led to the development of these approaches, but they are a work-in-progress and are perpetually refined and adapted based on how successful they are at meeting the desired learning outcomes.
Reference
Han, Xiaoning et al. Forebrain Engraftment by Human Glial Progenitor Cells Enhances Synaptic Plasticity and Learning in Adult Mice. Cell Stem Cell. 12:3, 342 – 353.
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Anna Maria College
50 Sunset Lane - Box 84
Paxton, MA 01612