As psychologists and neuroscientists, we are presented with a unique opportunity: what we learn through research and what our students learn from us are reflected in the daily realities of people around the world and even within the classroom. Whether we research memory retention or feedback-based learning as a means of improving academic achievement, we can use methods and insights from our work to help us understand and improve education. For example, my Scholarship of Teaching and Learning research broadly examined how our views of intelligence can impact educational outcomes.
My goals as a Scholarly Teacher (Gurung, 2008) are thus as follows: through discussion, writing, peer feedback, and hands-on applications, I hope to foster critical thinking, life-long learning, and problem-solving skills in my students so that they are aware of the reality beyond media talk on “mind-reading” and other popular psychology headlines, can independently assess psychological articles and research problems, and apply theories to address these problems within and beyond the classroom. At Duke, I am qualified to teach basic Psychology and Neuroscience courses:
· Contemporary Neuroscience Methods
as well as specialized discussion groups or courses in:
· Cognitive Control and Memory.
No matter the class size — whether a workshop, a large lecture unit, small summer courses, or one-on-one mentorships with my research assistants — I hope to promote student-focused outcomes so that students develop skills that generalize beyond the classroom.
Creating Specialized Workshops to Support Hands-on Skills:
Providing Constructive Feedback to Promote Student-Focused Environments:
When summative assessment is necessary, student-focused environments promote greater engagement. When I was the TA for Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience, an eighty-person lecture-based class without a discussion section, students received individualized feedback documents about their exams so that they could connect with and focus on the material covered rather than their number grade. They received further personalized feedback for their six two-hundred word response papers that were based on primary journal articles: this feedback was “helpful” and “made an enormous difference in what [a student] could get out of the class.” Each of the twenty-nine psychology and neuroscience students in the Thesis Distinction Workshop that I TAed also received personalized feedback on their Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion section drafts so that they could improve the thesis that they handed into their supervisor. In particular, I helped refine the content and learning objectives (original and final syllabus) and design lesson plans for this class; student feedback suggests that these changes helped the students to better understand current issues in psychology and neuroscience and develop their science communication skills.
Using Formative Assessment to Enhance Student Learning:
In future TAships, I hope to have students drive their own learning. For example, each student could create Wiki summaries of the lecture and material covered in a class, with the understanding that they could later use this Wiki as a study guide. I would also have students write at the beginning of each discussion section what they thought were the main points of the last lecture, an ungraded, formative assessment that would then drive whether I reviewed older material or moved forward in our discussion.
Developing Programming and Writing Skills to Further Short- and Long-Term Goals:
In my future summers at Duke, I hope to teach a variant of Computing and the Brain as an instructor of record. This is typically a thirty-person class with a lab section focused on teaching foundational skills for collecting and analyzing neuroscience data using computers. Here, I would help motivated undergraduates gain background knowledge in a programming language, which is particularly helpful for students pursuing advanced research via the Vertical Integration Program, Summer Neuroscience Program, or independent study credits. I would also like to teach Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience. Here, I would revise the idea of two-hundred word response papers: instead, students would write papers that synthesized their primary readings into a cohesive thesis. Each week, one group of students would write their paper, while the other group would provide their classmates feedback and work on revising their previous paper. They would also each present on the primary readings for the week in either a summarizing or criticizing framework, stimulating discussion even among the students who may have briefly skimmed the articles. Ultimately, they would propose their own experiment in a report based on what they read for the class. While many STEM courses use a transmission model of learning, I would like students to learn from each other through a mixture of formative and summative assessments that discourage rote memorization and encourage critical thinking. This is how I engage with my research assistants: discussing both goals in the short-term (e.g., learning how to read a primary journal article, analyze data, and run participants) and long-term (e.g., designing and programming their own experiments and writing their own manuscripts).
Learning, for students and teachers alike, does not end at the classroom doors. In order to fully engage their students, teachers must continually seek to improve themselves and adapt to the challenges posed by newer technology and changing societal demands. To this end, I have sought out specialized training. I am a scholar in the Certificate in College Teaching program, which trains students to become better college teachers through coursework, workshops, and peer-evaluated teaching, and hope to become a fellow in the Preparing Future Faculty program, which provides students with hands-on, institutional knowledge about the expectations and duties of new faculty. I am also working towards a Certificate of Accomplishment in Teaching Writing in the Disciplines, which trains teachers to help students develop writing skills across disciplines. Furthermore, I read higher education journals and blogs like the Educational Psychologist, the Teaching Professor blog, and the Chronicle of Higher Education for ideas on how to improve my teaching, and plan to record my own classes so that I can refine my skills based on my observations as well as student feedback and peer observation of my teaching. Finally, I have attended workshops and forums (e.g., How to Be an Ally, Diversity and Inclusion in the Classroom, authored by me: Becoming a Better Teacher: Trans* Inclusive Pedagogy) that encourage the creation of safe spaces. When students feel safe, they engage with the material, ask questions, and learn more from their work. Extending beyond the classroom, learning is a culture that students and teachers alike can champion in their continuing development as scholars and critical thinkers.