If you are here for the "Differentiation Stations" Lesson Plan from the SciREN event, all materials can be found here.
As an instructor in the field of biomedical engineering, my primary goals are to foster interest in the broad areas of study within the field, while providing students with the tools they need to succeed in whichever area they choose to pursue. No matter what subject I am teaching or the background of the students, I aim to provide students with the ability to place information in the context of their own experiences and approach problems using critical thinking skills. I feel comfortable teaching introductory courses in engineering, biology, physics, and mathematics, along with more advanced courses within biomedical engineering with a focus on fluorescent imaging, biomaterials, mechanobiology, and model organisms.
I believe in adapting my teaching style to the needs of a class.
As a relatively new field, biomedical engineering class compositions can vary greatly from year to year due to curriculum changes and mixing populations of undergraduate and graduate students. Additionally, biomedical engineering is hugely interdisciplinary, and student interests can be widely varied, from cell biology to medical devices to materials science, and everything in between. I have found that it is worth the effort to get a picture of the experiences and interests of the students to best tailor the class material. Frequent informal surveying of the class, for example through ungraded quizzes or course feedback questionnaires, have been most helpful in adapting material and teaching style to a particular class. I have had the opportunity to give a couple of lectures about my field of research, mechanotransduction, to biology classes taught by my mentor at Elon University. One lecture was presented to the BIO 111: Introductory Cell Biology, and the other was presented to BIO 422: Cell and Molecular Biology. Both student groups consisted of about 30 biology undergraduates, but of very different levels of experience and with no background in engineering. In preparing each of these lectures, I found it very helpful to write firm learning objectives and think about sample exam questions that would be reasonable for the students to be able to answer following the lecture, knowing the content of the course as a whole. Each lecture ended up being quite different in structure, though covering the same topics, but both lectures resulted in significantly positive feedback from the students.
I believe that students should be taught to make the most of their resources.
In STEM fields, it is impossible to memorize all of the information taught in classes that will be relevant for future work. A more important ability is learning the problem solving and research skills necessary to address application of the learned material. As a former engineering student, I realize that it is very easy to settle into a formulaic approach to solving problems in class, especially in the usual contrived scenarios that outline a homework problem. When students are presented with a problem that doesn’t fit the learned formula, they often have difficulty rearranging their knowledge to fit the given scenario. I have encountered this difficulty during my tutoring sessions with both undergraduates and high school students. In my experience, students are too quick to claim that they are unable to solve a problem just because it does not match what they have seen before. Instead of just providing the solution, I encourage students to break the problem into parts, clarifying what is known and what is being asked, and use available resources to relate these parts together. Most recently, I started working with a high school student taking physics who was getting a D in the class despite not struggling in other classes. After working with him for several weeks on understanding and applying the formulas, he was able to raise his grade up to a B. In a classroom setting, I try to present problems in contexts students may encounter in the future. During my 3.5 years as a TA for EK127, an introductory class in using MATLAB for all freshman engineering students at Boston University, I was responsible for designing projects for the students, among other duties. I took examples from my own research experience to formulate a real-world project that would require novel applications of skills gained in the course.
I believe in making material engaging and pervasive.
In the field of biomedical engineering, many course subjects are complex phenomena that combine skills from across disciplines. In order to effectively teach a course, it is necessary to both engage the students and reinforce the material through different aspects of the class. During my two semesters as a TA for a course called BME 244L: Quantitative Physiology, which contained approximately 100 undergraduate biomedical engineering students, I understood the challenge of covering the same material across labs and lectures. Among other duties, I led weekly lab sections of about 20 students each, and found that students were better able to engage in the material by relating concepts learned in lecture to the students’ real-world experiences, for example explaining the importance of nerve conduction velocity in athletes. This level of engagement is most readily assessed through written or verbal responses to questions that probe higher levels of learning, such as short-answer exam questions, lab report discussions and conclusions, and in-class discussions or review sessions. In my teaching, I aim to rely more on assessments that ask students to apply their knowledge and analyze their results rather than just remembering facts. I have also addressed this issue in a completely different classroom setting while designing and teaching a professional development seminar course for 40 second- and third-year PhD students. In order to create an engaging seminar, a fellow PhD student and I came up with a series of topics that we have found to be useful in career development. Each session begins with an introduction and description of resources related to the topic, followed by an interactive activity, reiterating the themes of professional development and career planning.
My teaching experiences thus far have helped to shape my current teaching philosophy, though as my experience grows, I hope to continually revisit and revise my beliefs. I have completed the THE500 course at the University of Toronto, and I have earned a Certificate for College Teaching and participated in the Preparing Future Faculty Program at Duke University. I also had the opportunity to tutor, TA, and guest lecture throughout my PhD and postdoc. This experience will prepare me for a career in academia, in which I can encourage and shape the next generation of scientists.