PowerPoint may soon go the way of the overhead projector when it comes to teaching science atWest Virginia University.
Michelle Withers, biology educator in WVU sEberly College of Arts and Sciences, is leading efforts to replace passive teaching methods with more interactive, applicable ways of learning.
Most universities place a great deal of emphasis on research,said Withers, an assistant professor in theDepartment of Biology.Faculty typically dont have time to learn about the best teaching strategies and often fall back on traditional lecture methods they experienced as students.
Withers recently led the first WVU Summer Institute on Undergraduate Science Education, an intense workshop for science faculty and graduate students aimed at improving education in West Virginia.
The four-day institute was based on scientific teaching, shifting the focus from content coverage to learning outcomes. Modeled after the National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology, the workshop introduced faculty to education literature, provided practice with proven teaching strategies and addressed diversity in learning styles to better meet socioeconomic and ethnic differences.
Learning is an active process,said Withers, who joined WVU last year.Standing in front of a classroom talking at students does not facilitate that process. These teaching techniques are designed to keep students engaged in the classroom. Science is about wonder and discovery, its exciting, and we as educators should be conveying that excitement.
Faculty from the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics and Womens Studies worked in teams to develop instructional materials that encompass three core themes: active learning, assessment and diversity. They will meet in January to evaluate their progress during the 2008-09 academic year.
Withersappointment as the colleges first tenure-track biology educator â¦¡mp;#8364;a growing position in institutions looking to bridge the gap between research and teaching â¦¡mp;#8364;will also put a spotlight on diversity.
While the ratio of women to men is roughly equal in both undergraduate and graduate biology programs, women are still underrepresented at tenured and higher faculty ranks. This new career path increases the opportunity for women to excel in science education research, an area where few graduate teaching programs exist in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM disciplines.
Withersexperience in both basic research and education research not only illustrates a new career for those in science education, but provides new opportunities to learn through professional development.
Withers earned a bachelors degree in public health and nutrition in 1989 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Arizona at Tucson in 1995. Prior to joining WVU , she taught at Louisiana State University, where she was co-director of the Scientific Teaching, Assessment and Resources Mini-Institute on Science Education.
WVU is currently in the beginning stages of introducing optional education training in graduate programs that would earn students a certification in college teaching, along with their doctoral degree.
Withers said she not only hopes that the training will soon become a requirement supported by faculty, but one that will encourage more graduate students to study education research.
That sentiment is shared by Eberly College Dean Mary Ellen Mazey.
The Eberly College of Arts and Sciences is committed to professional development and extensive research, and the WVU Summer Institute is just one way we support the sciences,Mazey said.Michelle Withersnew position will provide advanced learning opportunities to students and faculty in STEM disciplines throughout the college.
For more information, contact Michelle Withers at 304-293-5201 ext. 31481 or Michelle.Withers@mail.wvu.edu .