It’s been a long time since my last update. As you might know from reading the previous posts; I recently started a position as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Chemical Biology at Seton Hall University. Becoming a university professor has been a dream of mine for several years now, and it became increasingly apparent to me in the past few that I needed to take the next step in my development as a scientist. As I’m writing to you know, things have really started to pick up. I’d like to share some of the responsibilities that a professor has to give you all an idea of what this world is like. In this first post, I’ll update you on one aspect:
As a professor at a university, I’m expected to teach and advise students in classes that are offered within our Chemistry curriculum. This is so much more than just showing up with a power point slide every class period, talking for 2 hours, and then leaving without a trace. Not only were the things I learned in the PFFT (Preparing Future Faculty for Teaching) fellowship useful, they are necessary. The course I’m teaching this semester is called “CHEM1301 Elements of Bio- and Organic Chemistry for Nursing Students.” This class is a lot of work for the students. Essentially, they’re expected to learn the equivalent of two/three courses in one semester. This course would not be functional without building in formative assessments to every lecture.
In this class, I’m using a formative assessment technique that I started experimenting with during the first class I taught, “Methods in Drug Discovery”. In that class and in CHEM1301, I have a pre-class question based on the information in the lecture. I ask the class to attempt to solve the pre-class question, and then we come back to it by the end of the class and I ask them to solve it again. I make sure to collect their papers before I give them the answer. Now why is that? Well, I want to see whether he lecture had an impact on their answers. I think unfortunately we’ve trained our students to always try to get the right answers no matter what that we’ve scared them into never admitting that they are confused or don’t understand a concept. At the beginning of each class I show them how everyone did in the previous pre-class question and if a large portion didn’t understand both before and after the lecture (“-/-“). I’ll know that I must take a step back and re-examine the material with them.
Please take a look at the figures above. The first one, on the left, shows the results after we went over Chapter 1, which was all about measurements (length, volume, mass) and units (meters, liters, grams). What I can see here is that the vase majority of the class seems to understand the pre-class question (“+/+”) so they’re likely doing well with the material and I can continue on to the next lecture. Now, take a look at the most recent lecture on the right, however, when we’re starting to move away from discussions of general chemistry. Here I can see that the class struggled with the question both before and after the lecture. This lets me know that not only are they struggling but that I didn’t present the material in an effective manner. Now what I can do is go back and tailor the slides for the next class to cover the previous material in a, hopefully, more accessible way, and at the same time lead into the next topic. I feel like this is a very basic way to keep the class engaged and to let them know that I’m actively updating the courses according to their needs. In the future I hope to incorporate a more comprehensive pre-class questionnaire, rather than just one question, but there is just so much material and so little time in this course that it’s not feasible.
That’s just one aspect of teaching a college course. So much to cover in so little time that I really need to monitor my students to make sure they’re not getting lost and to identify anyone who is struggling. Another aspect that I have some experience with from TA’ing at Hopkins is working with the Disability Support Services (DSS) at SHU. As the instructor, it falls on me to make sure that I can accommodate all my students and to make sure that the class is accessible to everyone. Again, I’ve done this before for classes at Hopkins but I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about doing this at Seton Hall. Also, I’m personally very familiar with how Individual Education Plans (IEPs) work in primary and secondary education. Now at the college level, however, we have our own internal office (DSS) that I can work with to help my students with any needs they may have. This can be anything from finding note-takers, to getting tutors together, to organizing external review sessions, to organizing external testing dates among other things. I’ve found that DSS has been extremely helpful in getting started with this process as I had no experience with it at this university. I would have been severely flustered without them.
That’s the last thing I have time to write about this morning. The lack of time is what I’ll cover in my next post, hopefully in about two weeks so please look for updates! If you have any questions about teaching please feel free to comment. Thanks for reading.