REFLECTING AND UNDERSTANDING AT THE UNIVERSITY
“Society expects the university to deliver competent and mature scientists and professionals. It is often said that it is not enough for a student to pass through a university, the university must contribute to his or her growth and change, and this is an investment for the future.” (Naval, 2008, p.13) Therefore, the university professor has an important role in contributing to the creation of an atmosphere full of reflection, critical thinking and action that will encourage the development of deep understandings that will, in turn, result in ethical, innovative, and appropriate professional performances.
This is the result of a practical research project to promote improvements in the teaching practices of a university professor in charge of the subject of Microbiology and Food Conservation in the Gastronomy program of La Sabana University (Colombia). The teacher chose the Teaching for Understanding framework (TfU), developed by researchers at Project Zero of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education because she felt it was a pedagogical approach that was broad, flexible and complete enough to enrich the work she was doing in her class. For the implementation, taking into consideration the elements presented in the framework, she chose a generative topic (what she wanted her students to learn in her class), the understanding goals (what focus to give to the topic), the performances of understanding (how to involve her students in the learning process in order to achieve her goals), and finally, the application of on-going assessments and feedback (how to know if the understandings have been reached) centered on the dimensions of understanding included in the framework: knowledge, method, purpose, and forms of communication.
When planning her course, she realized that she also needed to change the syllabus and use different methods in class in order to carry out the performances of understanding. Accordingly, she chose the following strategies: case study, workshop, laboratory guides, research and presentations, and final projects. .
The implementation was carried out during the first semester of 2012 during which time the teacher observed significant progress both in her teaching strategies and in the students’ understanding. The results show that at the beginning of the course, the students had understanding levels of naive and novice; at the end of the semester, after being engaged in the performances of understanding, they reached the levels of apprentice and mastery.
Besides demonstrating the improvement in the students’ learning, this work, allows the professor to move towards greater understandings of her teaching, discover central elements that contribute to improving her practice, make significant contributions to the program her class is a part of, and identify a model that could be useful for other university professors’ reflections on their teaching. The change to her teaching practice has to do with planning, methodology and assessment; and is related to what the teacher needs to know and focus on, as well as the connections and projections that need to be established. This approach could help university courses move away from the mere delivery of content to becoming rich and rewarding experiences that truly contribute to preparing students to take an active and fulfilling role in the workplace of the 21st century.