Even in the modern age of STEM-education, a well-informed and considerate professoriate can still let their egos get the better of them. With shifting trends in pedagogy towards student-centric and, gasp, evidence-based decisions in instructional planning, we can easily fall victim to thinking we are leaving no one behind. We can imagine our classrooms full of well-prepared students, ready to fire on all Blooms’ cylinders, each day. It is, of course, midterm season, so we empirically know this is not true. Nonetheless, as we prepare for our next flipped session, scaffolded learning task, or class discussion we set our expectations high and count on eliciting random acts of higher-order thinking in our students.
Thank goodness then, for the slackers. To remind us that, no matter how closely we reach for pedagogical enlightenment, there will still be the restless few that would rather go out to party for the night than prepare for the multi-stage exam we have created with such care. We should value those 20-something year old students who recognize their education as only part of their lives, and balance – however successfully – their school and social responsibilities (and should studying for our midterms really be the focus of such a life?). It should remind us STEM-educators, so enamoured currently with the practices entering our curricula, that we must continue to refine and improve our teaching practices throughout our careers, continuing the effort to broaden the reach of our courses. Case-based learning, flipped classes, and a “guide on the side” perspective are changing instruction in STEM classrooms for the better, and creating a richer experience for our students – statements supported by monthly peer-reviewed journals such as CBE Life Sciences Education, Research in Science Education, and a myriad of other discipline-specific journals. But we should also remember, as colleagues have reminded me during past Grad House conversations, these roads have been well-trodden by liberal arts professors for generations – and their students still manage to struggle through all-manner of their pedagogical practices.
So, as we stare up at that back row of students snoozing through our iClicker questions, we should appreciate this reminder that the pursuit of student engagement in our modern lecture halls remains an evolving practice — one that is worth the effort to reach those students who, against our best intentions, have yet to be engaged and are happy to keep our coursework squarely in the middle of their priority lists.
Dr. Marcel Pinheiro is a Continuing Lecturer and Undergraduate Advisor (Biomedical Science) in the Department of Biology. His focus is zoology of the invertebrates, primarily benthic invertebrates and those that carry out a parasitic lifestyle. His undergraduate teaching focuses on exposing students to the diversity of eukaryotes, both single- and multi-celled, and striving to provide students with the chance to encounter these organisms in the field. Dr. Pinheiro utilizes various technologies to enhance student engagement and writing in his classroom – at all years of study.