USING THE SOCRATIC METHOD TO TEACH NUTRITIONAL ECOLOGY TO UNDERGRADUATES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
University of California (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2011 Proceedings
Publication year: 2011
Conference name: 4th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 14-16 November, 2011
Location: Madrid, Spain
Abstract:The Socratic Method is an analytical technique using systematic problem solving and dialogue between the instructor and the student. The instructor asks probing questions to examine values, beliefs and assumptions. The subject-matter for this first year undergraduate university class is nutritional ecology, an area of research that examines connections between nutrition, health, food policy and the environment. The discussion topics are current, thought-provoking and controversial. The classroom experience is a dynamic process where student input is an important component in the learning process. Students are challenged to discuss, offer opinions and exchange ideas. Many students have been taught in a setting where there is little interaction between the teacher and the learner and often the teacher uses a set lesson plan to convey factual information. Here, the student does not actively participate in the learning process. In this undergraduate class, asking question is an active process where the instructor encourages the student to think critically about the subject. At the beginning of each class, a question is raised about a controversial issue involving a current topic on health or the environment. The classroom is set so that students face each other in a circle to encourage dialogue and participation. One example used in this class is the following question: Are organic foods better than non-organic foods? The instructor first poses the question and waits for a student to respond. Usually a student will state they that they believe organic foods are better. The instructor then asks: What does “better” mean? Several students, at this point, will be more willing to express ideas about organic in terms of health and the environment. Many will report that they shop at the farmers’ market in order to buy organic foods. The discussion continues with one student suggesting that organic foods are more expensive. Another student might provide an example of an organic food that wasn’t more expensive. The instructor will provide a handout on what “organic” means in terms of definition and use of governmental certification. At this point the discussion takes on new meaning: students begin to question the use of the term, the ways that products use the terms, the misinformation on some foods and their own beliefs about the idea of “better”. The discussion takes on new meaning when one or more student expresses concern about the use of pesticides. At the end of the class the instructor provides a short demonstration by bringing organic apples and non-organic apples so that students can see, taste and compare prices. One aim of the class is to have students ask their own probing questions. After this kind of dialogue, students are more likely to look at the issue critically and be able to access the validity of data. The result of this method is an increase in self-awareness and confidence. Often, discussions lead students to do more research on these topics and come back the next week to offer new insights. At the end of the ten week class, most of the students are actively involved in the class discussions and are engaged in the subject-matter. Many report that their eyes are now open to societal concerns and the environment. In addition, most students report that their own health habits have improved.
Keywords: Socratic method, Nutritional Ecology, Undergraduate teaching.