As a community college educator with many first semester students, I am trying to prepare my students for the college experience, for their academic program in the health sciences field, and for potential future transfer to a larger four-year institution. Therefore, I am not only trying to teach content in my subject area, but also trying to teach my students the skills they will need to succeed in college. That covers a little on my teaching philosophy, but what about learning?
Learning for me is shown when a student can take the basic information that is presented to them and comprehend it at a deeper level. This can be shown by being able to discuss and apply the material to a particular situation. For instance, in teaching anatomy, students are expected to be able to identify anatomical structures from a model. This is usually a fairly easy task for most students but doesn’t really show learning if the student is unable to recognize that same structure presented in a slightly different way during a future class. Many students have become accustomed to memorization to succeed in their prior educational experience, but if they can’t apply that information later in the course, they didn’t really learn it. Since my courses are designed as a two semester sequence that builds on prior information, memorization is not going to be adequate to succeed.
How learning takes place really depends on the student and their learning preferences. I try to allow the students to determine the way that works the best for them. This includes online quizzes, flashcards, videos, reading the textbook, meeting with me for discussion, study groups, online games, and laboratory simulations. So many of the tasks that help students learn involve experimentation, interaction, and collaboration. I have many students who have formed their own online learning groups via email and social media sites to share notes and learning strategies that they have discovered. Instead of a competition between each other, they work together to help and encourage each other in their learning.
As an educator, I do need to assess the students at regular intervals to see if learning has taken place. I love the moments in class where a confused look on someone’s face turns into an excited look of comprehension. But those looks can’t always be recorded, so there does need to be evidence that learning has taken place. For tests and quizzes, I try to use a mixture of both basic knowledge questions and some more difficult application and synthesis questions. I also repeat basic physiological concepts over and over, so that if they can apply material from a previous section to the current section, they can determine how the new scenario will work. For instance, a common physiological mechanism is negative feedback, in which the body sends signals to return something such as a hormone or body temperature back to its normal level. This is a concept that is described in the first week of class, but is continually brought up for many situations as the two semester course progresses. If the student can understand that concept early on, they can then continually apply it to new physiological processes. In class discussions and tests, this type of application indicates that learning has occurred. In addition, when a student brings up a particular real life disease and can recognize how the information just presented shows how the disease occurs, it indicates true learning, instead of memorization, has taken place. Many of my students will soon be in clinical situations where they need to work on plans for patient care, so the more I can encourage higher order thinking, the more they will truly learn and be better prepared for their future academic and professional careers.