Professors make suggestions on teaching methods

By Skyler Mitchell | Staff Writer

Ensuring a good education is a job that requires tremendous effort and time with many problems that come along with it. However, there are solutions that can start with the teachers themselves.

A meeting for professors, called the “Solving Educational Problems: Opportunities and Challenges in Innovative Teaching,” was held on Mar. 6 in room 170 of University Hall. The topic was one of great importance to them and for the education of their students. Even a teacher needs to learn something new in order to make sure the education of their students is thorough.

The speaker was Dr. Paula Lemons, an associate professor from the University of Georgia’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Lemons received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Kentucky and her B.S. in Biology from Southern Wesleyan University. She is a member of the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research. She has done extensive research into science education to make sure her students are getting the best out of their education. She has written and co-authored articles on the subject to get her information to those who need it.

Heather McCoy, the creator of the event, even said that “One of the first articles I’ve read is ‘Creating Active Learning Environments in STEM Courses.’”

“It’s stuck with me forever,” McCoy said. “Her methods have made teaching much my students much easier.”

Dr. Lemons’ goal was to bring awareness of problems with higher education.

“There has been a completion rate of 40 percent for four degrees, along with a 60 percent completion rate for 6-year degrees,” she said while trying to point out the severity of the issue.

Lemons said she thinks that with the pressure of having a good degree with good skills makes students dropout. Her proposal consisted changing how teaching is done.

Lemons proposed that departments should follow five core commitments: designing educational experiences to achieve clear outcomes; base decisions on evidence; active communication; continuous involvement; and promoting inclusion. She suggested that faculty should have access to resources and share data on teaching methods in order to help one another achieve their goals.

Lemons also believed that teaching students certain problem solving skills would be a boon for their education. A study she did several years ago on the problem solving skills of biology students showed that students with domain specific problem solving skills had a higher chance of getting a question correct.

“These students went from getting questions right 50 percent of the time to about 80 percent in several weeks,” she said, proving her point. She even suggested the website “Solve-It” to improve student’s problem solving skills.

Lemons also suggested having teachers get together occasionally to talk about how to solve problems in their fields. She provided some evidence of this working from other research she did of an experimental association of teachers working on teaching methods, which led to teachers talking about teaching and making a good group dynamic.

“While not all of the teachers who were involved thought the organization was useful, most found that they felt happier to have taken part in it,” she said as she talked about the results of the study.

Lastly, Lemons talked about how there should be a cultural change in how teaching is done. She encouraged her audience to go beyond the status quo and to question the fundamental beliefs about teaching. She wanted those in attendance to figure out what they want out of their students and how much they should put in to get it.

The speaker gave the teachers three objectives to try to fulfill in the next few years. She wants expanded use of evidence-based practices. She encourages development-based thinking through constant practice and training. She also wants the university incentives to align with the core commitments mentioned earlier. It is up to the teachers to decide what their next move is.

“Using skills like this will help you and your students learn better,” Lemons said at the end of the meeting.

There will be more plenary speakers throughout the semester and will be announced on the event calendar. For those that want to learn more about Dr. Paula Lemons or the subject at hand, read her article called “Creating Active Learning Environments in STEM Courses,” through your library or online through Google Scholar.

Contact Skyler Mitchell at skmitchell@augusta.edu.

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