Do you teach the way you learn?

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  • Student Centered EducationHarold B. White*

    From the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University ofDelaware, Newark, Delaware 19716Copyright 2013 by The International Union of Biochemistryand MolecularBiology, 41(3):187188, 2013

    I met Bill Deans only once more than 20 years ago, but Iremember him well. He was a retired DuPont chemist whohelped facilitate a campus faculty development workshopon learning about learning entitled, Do I teach the way Ilearn? Curiosity as much as anything prompted me toattend his workshop. What could an industrial researchchemist tell faculty about teaching? As is typical for suchteaching workshops, few other science faculty attended. Theculture of academic science seems to select faculty who lackthe time or interest in such events. I dont know how theworkshop affected others, but for me it provided importantinsights about myself and significantly influenced the way Ithink about teaching and learning as I have described brieflybefore [1]. Apparently, the insights I gained are shared byothers who attend such workshops (p. 6, ref. [2]).

    Bill was an unassuming person and did not lecture us.Rather, he led us through an exercise in personal discovery.He asked us individually to think about the most importantthings that we had learned in life and write one learningevent on each of six numbered index cards. Then, on thereverse sides, we wrote as much as we could rememberabout the circumstances surrounding the significant learn-ing event. We then considered subsets of three in differentcombinations looking for commonalities that linked two ofthe three to see if there were patterns in the learning experi-ences. For me, there were surprising patterns.

    None of the events I listed were associated with formaleducation and only a few involved people who were teach-ers. However, most occurred during my college and gradu-ate school years and often involved other students. Most ofthe lessons involved situations I did not knowingly chooseand they included circumstances beyond my control that I

    had to resolve. All involved a strong emotional componentand most involved interpersonal relationships. In thisreflection process, I also realized that much of my earlymotivation for becoming a scientist came from outside theclassroom and laboratory. So, does this have anything to dowith teaching? It did for me.

    Substantive learning in or outside the classroom hasan emotional component which I view as active engage-ment. Consequently, I feel comfortable and justified in mov-ing from a teacher-centered lecture approach to a student-centered, problem-based learning approach where studentswork in cooperative groups during class time. To encour-age involvement, I look for complex real-world problemswith a hook that relates to the students and links to theconcepts I want them to learn.

    Learning is not easy. The struggle to understand is im-portant. It is not my struggle but the students. Therefore, Iam much less inclined to answer student questions directly.Rather, their questions more often elicit other questionsfrom me that can be viewed as handholds on the mountainthey have to climb. With this perspective, I try to encourageindependence but provide support when needed.

    Instructors are more than content experts whose jobis to cover the material. I believe it is important for me toevaluate student writing for composition and grammaralthough I am not an English professor. I feel it is importantto introduce ethical issues that relate to the materialalthough I dont have ready answers. And I am willing todeal with uncertainties in the dynamics of the groups I createwithout credentials in social psychology. These are all thingsI think will help students become more effective scientistsand citizens. By dealing with these issues in the biochemistryclasses I teach, I hope to convey their importance.

    Students are learning important lessons outside theclassroom. The lessons I learned with Bill Deans help,make me more tolerant, if not understanding, of the livesmy students lead beyond the classroom.

    AcknowledgementsI wish I could have thanked Bill Deans personally for thesepersonal insights but, unfortunately, he lost his battle with

    Originally published as Thank you Bill Deans, About Teaching, 53 Fall(1999), Publication of the University of Delaware Center for TeachingExcellence.*Address for correspondence to: Department of Chemistry andBiochemistry, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware 19716 E-mail:halwhite@udel.eduReceived 17 January 2013; accepted 25 January 2013DOI: 10.1002/bmb.20691Published online 27 April 2013 in Wiley Online Library(wileyonlinelibrary.com)

    Do You Teach the Way You Learn?

    Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 187

  • cancer a few years later. He gave his workshop while hewas in remission. I suspect that he, without telling his per-sonal learning experiences, helped others like me to reflecton what is most important to learn. Also, without telling us,he let us know that as teachers we had not thought enoughabout learning.

    References[1] White, H. B., III, in Dorsey, J. K. and Rangachari, P. K., Eds. (2012) Stu-

    dents Count: The Rewards of University Teaching, Southern Illinois Uni-versity School of Medicine, Springfield, IL. pp.183199.

    [2] Finkel, D. L. (1999) Teaching with Your Mouth Shut, Boynton/Cook Pub-lishers Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH.

    Biochemistry andMolecular Biology Education

    188 Do You Teach the Way You Learn?

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