Teaching Effectiveness

Notes of student appreciation


When I started at Metropolitan State University, I had been hired to start an Anatomy and Physiology course. I thought I had teaching experience, but quickly learned that my teaching was nowhere near where I wanted it to be. I threw myself into improving my teaching. I spoke to colleagues both within and outside of Metro, I read books and blogs, I attended webinars and pedagogy conferences. I geeked out about teaching and how to become an effective instructor. As such, I use many evidence-based best practices in my classroom.

In doing this I learned something about myself, I am not a lecturer. In fact, I get pretty boring after about 30 minutes. Instead, I like to teach through discovery and inquiry. I feel that students learn by doing. As such, my classes have carefully constructed labs and activities to help the students experience all of the material that they would if I lectured the whole time, but in a way that I believe increases retention.

The biggest change to my teaching occurred when I was asked to teach Human Biology (Biology 105) on relatively short notice. This course was my 6th new prep and I was pretty sure I was not going to end up teaching it again. I decided that I would do everything I had ever been too afraid to do in a course. I backward designed the entire class, I limited my lecturing to no more than 15 minutes in a stint, I made the students keep a reflection journal where they would write based on prompts I gave at the end of class, I did group quizzes, I sometimes did 2 different activities in the same class period, I had the students teach part of the class, I created learning games, etc. (see photo to the right for example of homeostasis the game). Despite that I was sure that so many of my ideas were going to fail-- they didn't. Instead, I ended up with a wonderful class that helped students to overcome their fears about science and that they enjoyed. This class became a playground for me-- I learned more about teaching than ever before and I enjoyed it. I won't say that all of my ideas worked, because some REALLY didn't. But I am so glad that I got over my fear, stepped out of my box, and redefined what I feel a class should be like.

In early childhood education there is something called 'learning through play'. You give the child a game which may help them learn letters or numbers. To them, it is a game, but at the end they manage to learn. We have forgotten how to play in education. We take ourselves too seriously and that makes learning more like drudgery and less like fun. And when something is not fun, people are less likely to do it. For example, the first time I had to teach anatomical terminology I gave a lecture which consisted of far too many latin and greek terms. It was the single most boring lecture that I have ever given in my life. The students could hardly stay awake, they learned nothing. I was bored. It was a fantastic example of what not to do when teaching. Now, there is a minimal lecture peppered with questions (and funny images) and a little simon says, followed by a large scavenger hunt that uses their terms. They have fun and practice and are better than ever with their terminology. They are joyful learners. And as an instructor, I am having more fun. This is not limited to my classroom, there is a rich body of literature about the effectiveness of teaching with games.

This approach, in addition to improving my ratings and student understanding of the material, has also led to some research into teaching effectiveness. One example is my homeostasis game (pictured right). This game is being tested at 10 institutions around the country to assess its viability as a teaching tool and is being evaluated by a company that manufactures and distributes educational games. Students in Human Biology rated the lab as being a 7.1/10 for being able to help them to understand the role of the endocrine system in homeostasis and 7.75/10 for enjoyment of the game. Their ability to name a hormone and its function when from 0.67 per student to 2.72 on average.

Sample Schedule of the day taken from Biol 105. Lecture is punctuated with wet labs, simulations, and activities
Sample lab activity: In comparative physiology we examine the influence of neurotransmitters on aggression in crayfish. Students examine whole class data for analysis.
Sample activity in class: In A and P students draw and label anatomy on the board during lecture and correct each other's drawings. Through teaching each other they get a sense of community, accomplishment, and are more effective at learning the material.
Sample lab activity: Homeostasis: the game. An interactive game for teaching about the endocrine system
Sample title slide: Just because it is a lecture, doesnt mean it cannot have a sense of humor. Through showing my personality to my class, the students develop a better relationship with me and we all enjoy the class a little more.

Teaching Ratings

Note: the axes have been flipped so that the higher the line goes, the closer it is to 1.

To the left, I have made graphs of my overall instructor rating from the IIQ. My performance has definitely improved since my rocky first year. This improvement is not solely about student enjoyment of the course, but is about the effectiveness of teaching-- meaning how much do students learn and how much do they retain. I view courses as being iterative and aim to improve each time a course is offered. To aid myself in this task, I have my own evaluation that is much more detailed than the IIQ and specific to each course. In some cases this includes pre and post course assessments of knowledge.

To examine individual courses, please click the links above. This will lead you to my IIQs, my own assessments, sample course materials, and information about how the courses have changed over time.

Visible Body Course Development

I was tasked by the company Visible Body to develop instructor materials for a two semester anatomy and physiology course. This course includes discrete units. Within each there are reading assignments, quizzes, outside sources, games, and guided notes. I also have consulted about the user interface of their software using Metropolitan State University as the first Beta test site in the nation. Now, the software and my sample course has been distributed to over 50 institutions including Harvard.

Click here for more information

An interview about it can be seen here.

Their support letter about it can be found here.