By Parmit Kumar Singh, PhD
The NICHD Office of Education has arranged a teaching workshop for postdoctoral fellows since 2012. Dr. Boots Quimby, an associate director of the Integrated Life Science Honors program, University of Maryland, conducts this six-week workshop, which takes place in the summer. During the workshop, she introduces students to new concepts in college teaching, like concept maps, backward design, the 5E model of teaching, and Bloom’s taxonomy. Her lectures span three main areas involving student learning: how to plan for learning, how to make learning more effective, and how to assess learning.
Planning for Learning
Concept maps, backward design methodology, and Bloom’s taxonomy are three planning tools that maximize student learning. During the first class, Dr. Quimby taught us how to make a concept map when organizing lecture content. A concept map is a graphical way of representing information. It has two components: 1) concepts that are enclosed in circles or boxes, and 2) the relationships between concepts, represented by connecting lines. Such representation visualizes how one piece of knowledge is related to another. Concept maps help organize lectures and learning activity based on the concepts’ relationships. At the course level, the concept map helps link each lecture.
Next, Dr. Quimby introduced the concept of backward design. In this planning method, we identify the target learning outcomes—what we want students to learn. We then determine the criteria for the evaluation of student learning, i.e., their assessment. Only after we establish the learning outcomes and criteria for evaluation do we plan the learning exercises and instruction. Classroom exercises should ensure that everyone acquires the new information and can use the information for their target goal.
To meet those target goal requirements, Dr. Quimby taught us how to generate learning outcomes when planning our instruction. The rule of thumb is to focus on what we want students to know or know how to do. For example, is it a skill development or a knowledge increment? What does the student need to know in order to do such an activity? The best learning outcome focuses on what the learner has achieved and not what the instructor has taught.
So how do we establish learning outcomes? Dr. Quimby suggests that we use Bloom’s taxonomy, a categorization of the types of learning. It has six components:
- Knowledge (remembering or recalling the information)
- Comprehension (understanding the concepts behind the information)
- Application (using the knowledge in a new situation)
- Analysis (breaking big or complex data into smaller parts to draw a conclusion)
- Synthesis (putting the conclusions from analysis together to make a big picture)
- Evaluation (making a judgment or final conclusion)
Bloom’s taxonomy helps remind us that recalling information and applying information are two different learning outcomes that may require different types of instruction. In general, each step along Bloom’s taxonomy requires a greater depth of learning.
Making Learning More Effective
Next, we learned how to make our learning activities more effective. She explained that it’s important to use a method of learning that supports interaction. She introduced us to the 5E model of teaching:
- Engagement: activities promote curiosity among students.
- Exploration: students attempt to solve problems to show they understand the concept.
- Explanation: students discuss confusion that arises during exploration.
- Elaboration: students apply concepts to solve novel problems.
- Evaluation: students assess their understanding of the new concept.
To increase student interaction, Dr. Quimby suggests ending the class with a short discussion using words like “what,” “so what,” and “now what.” Such small pauses will help get feedback from the students.
In Dr. Quimby’s last lecture, we learned the method of assessment. The key point is to make sure assessment matches learning outcomes. Assessment should include both formative assessment and summative assessment. Formative assessment is the evaluation of student progress and occurs throughout the course of learning. It creates a feedback loop between students and teachers. Such feedback helps to modify the teaching and learning activities to maximize student progress. Summative assessment is at the end of a full course, and includes activities like final exams, presentations, and final projects. Assessment should cover all of the learning outcomes and should balance between summative and formative assessment.
Teaching college students is an exciting career option for many postdoctoral fellows. This workshop helped me understand that teaching is a continuously evolving process and that feedback and interaction with students is very important. Having knowledge of concept maps, learning outcomes, Blooms taxonomy, and the 5E model of teaching will help me design more effective and interactive lectures. I am confident that by utilizing these concepts, anyone can motivate more and more young minds in college and enjoy being a science educator.