Faculty: Learn to teach students material they dislike during March 29 UCITE seminar

The perennial problem that confronts almost all teachers is how to engage students who may not have any intrinsic interest in the material. So how does one teach students material they dislike? That’s the topic of this week’s UCITE seminar, to be held March 29 from noon to 1 p.m.

This problem appears in particularly sharp focus in the course Dynamics of Biological Systems (BIOL 300/EBME 300), which attracts both biology students and students with strong mathematical, physics and engineering backgrounds. Although biology students are attracted to experimental and qualitative analyses of complicated systems and are willing to memorize many facts about these systems to understand them, these same students generally dislike and fear mathematics and programming. Conversely, students who excel in mathematics, physics and engineering and who tend to look for ways to simplify and abstract systems to analyze them quantitatively usually hate memorizing biological facts and often find biology courses frustrating and boring.

To engage all students in all the material, several novel approaches are used in the course: there are no lectures in the course, except for the first class; students work throughout the semester in teams to solve problems that then allow them (later in the semester) to reconstruct a recently published model of a biological system; students and instructors interact directly and informally during class as students work on mastering material; students use an interactive textbook that provides working code snippets they can modify for their needs; and students are given continuous feedback on their progress.

In the upcoming UCITE session, the course instructors—Hillel J. Chiel, Jeffrey P. Gill, Jeffrey M. McManus and Kendrick M. Shaw—will talk about some of the results they have obtained which indicate that the course is, in general, very successful at achieving its challenging educational goal of overcoming negative content-biases.

Chiel also has published several articles about the courses he has taught over the years, and will discuss how to publish in the educational literature, an important way to obtain peer review evaluation of one’s teaching, and to share ideas with the larger educational community.

Join the talks and discussion March 29 from noon to 1 p.m. in the Herrick Room, which is on the ground floor of the Allen Memorial Library Building.

Pizza lunch and sodas will be provided at the sessions; RSVP to ucite@case.edu.