WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM OUR STUDENTS? USE OF STUDENT REFLECTIONS AS TOOLS TO IMPROVE TEACHING STRATEGIES
A key role of the higher education instructor is to communicate enthusiasm to their students. University teaching has changed from the traditional didactic lecture to use of active learning strategies. The image of the instructor filling the empty vessel of a passive student’s mind has changed. A lecture class no longer entails simply scripted delivery of information but may also include a variety of active learning technologies capable of truly engaging students. The altered needs of students have been instrumental in this change. Students now demand more for their money and are prepared to travel to get the most from their education. There is now an increased diversity within the student body. Many students enter education at an older age, perhaps having worked therefore bringing life experience to the classroom. Moreover, the classroom is increasingly multicultural. Use of learning styles in teaching has been well documented. Understanding how our students learn and what works best for them is fundamental to our individual approaches to teaching.
This paper explores teaching of Molecular Biology to undergraduate Biomedical Science students using a multiple intelligences approach. Individual learning styles are considered as is how teaching style is influenced by learning styles. Lectures contain a myriad of activities including classroom dialogue and classroom assessment techniques such as mindmapping and the minute paper. Materials are posted on a VLE and the use of in-class animations are stored on the VLE for use outside the classroom. The VLE is also used to communicate with students when online and to host online chat-rooms before assessments. Weblogs were also developed. Pairs of students created blogs where in-class activities were discussed. Engagement in blogs is of interest from both a social and pedagogical perspective. A major advantage is their ability to support a sense of community within the class. Many students came alive in the blogs. Gifted students, normally reticent in the classroom, can become quite opinionated while weaker students are inspired and motivated to contribute. From a teaching perspective, insight is gained into what a student thinks/feels. We may learn about difficulties they are having with the course, identify particularly difficult areas which can inform our teaching. We may also gain insight into other difficulties in the student’s life. Thus, blogs help in reflecting on teaching strategies and in identifying areas requiring adjustment. From the pedagogical perspective, blogs encourage reflective practice. By making work semi-public and transparent, students see what others are doing and this can exert positive peer pressure. When writing blogs students must consider what they want to say, thus forcing them to think about their course. Because blogging is relatively new in the education arena, it is perceived as being a fashionable alternative to reading or doing essays so it can more readily engage students. Blogging can also be done anywhere/anytime; requiring only an internet-accessible computer. In this way we can fit this extension of learning around other activities.