PS. I apologize I did not follow the prompt…

Connections*. That’s what I got from Dr. Michael Wesch’s TED Talk. The reason he was successful in working with students and helping them learn is that he took the time to make connections with his students. I wholly admire his technique and ability to get to know his students to help make them more engaged in class. I too have struggled with the notion that students are taught to just see the end goal of a grade. I’ve told people before that when (if…?) I get a job as a professor at a university I don’t want to give out grades; I don’t want to keep track of points. All I want to know is that the students are learning to process information and ask questions based on that.

I am a PhD student in geosciences and in my experience, I’ve found this technique is often easier to apply in humanities courses that tend to be more discussion based than STEM courses which are much more lecture based. My question is, do they have to be? Why do we feel we have to teach STEM by lecture? Why can’t we have a discussion? Why can’t we get the students involved?

I’ve had two courses that have shaped my view on pedagogy, or at least what I understand of pedagogy (I’m sure that will change over the course of the semester). The two classes that engaged me the most were not in my discipline at all, ‘History of African American Music’ and ‘Invertebrate Biology.’ History of African American Music was fascinating to me because it made the connection between how society and history had so closely driven the style of music produced at the time. They married so well together and it made me listen to music in a whole different way. I sometimes listen to music being produced today and wonder how it will sound in thirty to forty years when it’s being taught in classrooms. It’s hard to see history as it is being made, but it is so interesting to reflect upon and discuss. Even now, four years after I took that course, I still have lingering questions and it sparked my interest in how I can make my subject more interesting and accessible to students outside of STEM fields.

The other course, Invertebrate Biology, was the first experience I had with nontraditional grading and teaching style. This course was taught by a very charismatic Russian biologist who graded our weekly labs based on the drawings we made of the organism we were studying that week. He also tested our lecture material by oral exam. We had a list of potential prompts, went into his office where he randomly chose one prompt, and we had twenty minutes to prepare. The actual exam was a conversation. While we had one question prompting that conversation, he wanted to know more. He wanted to test the bounds of our understanding on the subject matter. He didn’t want us to feel stupid, he simply wanted to assess what connections we had been able to make based on what we had discussed in class. Now that I think about it, this is similar to a graduate student’s preliminary exam, where you are asked questions to test your knowledge and forced to make connections with everything you have learned. This to me is the skill that is most important in learning how to learn and how to think critically, it’s all about making connections.

I guess that sort of brings me full circle with where I started this rant, connections. Long story short, I’m looking forward to a semester of being forced to think about new ways to connect with students and engage them in STEM.

  1. *I apologize I did not follow the prompt and did not talk about networks, but I did do the readings. This will probably be the theme of me blogging for the semester.

3 thoughts on “PS. I apologize I did not follow the prompt…

  1. Thank you for your post, it made me chuckle. Those classes BTW sound fascinating! Now I want to learn about how music was styled by society and history and I also want to know about invertebrates from this particular professor. I think you bring up a great point in the connection piece of teaching and learning. I’ve found through various non-research based sources (students) that if they cannot find a connection to their educators, they have difficulty forming a relationship with their own process of learning. Now some people are more independent and may be able to learn even without connection, but human beings I think are born as social beings…right?!

  2. Thank you for not following the prompt! I wish I could have taken invertebrate biology from the Russian professor you mentioned. It sounds like a wonderful and meaningful way to learn the subject. And I’m guessing more of that “content” stayed with you after the class than would have been the case in a “normal” lecture class.
    Lectures are definitely not the only / best approach for STEP courses. I think they have their place in a range of curricula, but there are more student-centered, curiosity inspiring approaches that work better most of the time. I’m glad you enjoyed Mike Wesch’s talk and look forward to the semester!

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