In his essay “Scientists and Science Education Reform,” neurobiologist James M. Bower of the California Institute of Technology states:
“Scientific training often includes little or no focus on science education itself. Instead, it is simply assumed that a Ph.D. in experimental science is adequate preparation for ones eventual educational responsibilities…. The most important personal consequence of my involvement with science education reform has been a growing awareness of how poorly I have taught my own students…. I have become profoundly aware of the negative effect the poor teaching of science in colleges and universities has on the rest of the educational system.”
One way to counter the “negative effects” that Bower
describes is to train college and university faculty to be “teachers” not “tellers,” ones who know about and also apply the vast body of research about effective science teaching and learning.
Biomedical scientists are trained during graduate school and postdoctoral studies to be researchers. Many of those who pursue academic career tracks are also expected to teach, especially if they assume faculty appointments at smaller colleges. Ph.D. graduates often find that they are not well prepared for this faculty role (Golde and Dore, 2001
; Austin, 2002
). Many graduate school programs do have a teaching requirement, but this is often limited to being a teaching assistant (TA) in a lecture-based course or in an introductory laboratory course. TAs seldom have full course-planning responsibility. Other opportunities for teaching such as leading discussions and assisting with lab investigations are aspects of science teaching that TAs may be involved in, but they rarely have opportunities to create and lead their own lessons. Often, the only “teaching” experiences that graduate students have are the occasional, interdepartmental seminars (using lecture format) that they are required to give to fellow graduate students and faculty.
Graduate students who want to learn more about teaching and, more importantly, learning, have few role models to turn to. Faculty in basic science departments are unlikely to also be involved in science education, particularly at a large research-based university where their primary function is to produce and publish research data that advance the goals of their laboratories. Research faculty are often completely grant funded, and even when scientists themselves are interested in teaching or participating in science outreach programs, they may be discouraged because their interest in teaching and learning does not contribute to their research goals.
A large percentage of graduate students will end up in academic careers that require them to teach. Data from a 2003 National Science Foundation (NSF) survey of 593,300 doctoral scientists and engineers in the United States indicate that 259,380 of them are employed at universities and 4-yr colleges (NSF, 2006
). Thirty-one percent (183,650) of all respondents to this survey indicate that teaching is their primary work activity. Forty percent of the doctoral scientists employed at universities or 4-yr colleges indicate that teaching is their primary work activity, whereas 21% indicate that teaching is their secondary work activity. According to the 2005 Survey of Earned Doctorates, conducted for the NSF, 24.2% of the 29,246 science and engineering doctoral recipients in 2005 indicated that they will be employed by an educational institution after receiving their doctorate (Hoffer et al., 2006
These percentages provide evidence that a critical need exists to provide graduate students with information on educational skills needed by faculty members who teach at the undergraduate, graduate, or professional level, including instructional skills and strategies and knowledge of theories and principles of learning and teaching. Graduate students also need to be introduced to a variety of curricular designs, instructional strategies, and differentiated assessment methodologies that could be used in their future courses.
One approach to broadening the exposure of graduate students to teaching and learning would be to institute a mandatory teaching course coupled with a mandatory teaching internship. However, few basic science departments would be in favor of adding time and effort required “away from the bench” for their graduate students in order to complete such a course. In contrast, a one-semester science education elective course would be quite useful for students who might be interested in pursuing an academic career but who have little time to devote to extra coursework. Such a course could be followed by additional opportunities for graduate students who are interested in teaching and learning.
Despite the obvious need for graduate students to develop skills in teaching and curriculum design, few universities offer their graduate students the opportunity to enroll in a science education course, and if they do, the course is usually coupled to a “teaching minor” or is limited to students who are already participating in science education programs. Some quality programs do exist, however, and have grown out of the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF)
initiative, a joint undertaking of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools. PFF was supported from 1993 to 2001 by the NSF, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Atlantic Philanthropies (http://www.preparing-faculty.org
). PFF programs provide doctoral students (and some postdoctoral fellows) with opportunities to observe and experience a variety of faculty responsibilities including teaching, research, and service. These opportunities usually occur through mentoring and partnerships developed with liberal arts and community colleges. PFF programs have been implemented at more than 45 doctoral degree–granting institutions and nearly 300 partner institutions.
For example, the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh recently instituted a Teaching Minor program. The requirements of this program include at least two semesters of teaching, participation in a monthly teaching club, enrollment in a Teaching Practicum Course, and maintenance of a Teaching Dossier (http://www.pitt.edu/~biohome/Dept/Frame/teachingminor.htm
). University of Minnesota's Center for Teaching and Learning has a PFF program for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. In their Teaching in Higher Education course, students “model a variety of active learning strategies (e.g., cooperative learning, collaborative learning, problem-posing, case study, interactive lecture, discussion, critical thinking, role-playing) and facilitate discussions addressing educational theory and practice” (http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/pff/courses/8101.html
). This course is followed by several other courses that offer opportunities to teach and also a course that prepares students for entering the job market in academia. North Carolina State University has several education courses in which graduate students may enroll, including Teaching in College, which focuses on some of the “fundamental tasks of a college teacher,” and Teaching Mathematics and Science in Higher Education, which examines “design of courses and curricula, innovative programs and facilities, and methods and materials for instruction.” The University of Florida offers a Fundamentals of Biomedical Science Education course (http://www.med.ufl.edu/IDP/courses/Syllabus/GMS5905Education.html
) that is focused on providing skills for teaching medical student courses.
Universities and funding agencies are working together in numerous ways in an attempt to address the need to prepare graduate students for academic teaching careers. A prime example of this is the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL)
, an NSF-funded partnership among seven universities that “work together to promote professional development in teaching and learning for faculty and future faculty” (http://www.cirtl.net
). CIRTL initiatives at the seven partner institutions focus on three foundational concepts (known as “CIRTL pillars”): Teaching-as-Research, Learning Communities, and Learning-through-Diversity.
The University of Rochester (UR) has approximately 950 graduate students enrolled in doctoral degree–granting programs in science and engineering. Opportunities for UR science and engineering graduate students to gain teaching experience or to learn about teaching and learning include working as TAs in laboratory or lecture-based courses and working as team leaders in peer-led, cooperative learning–based workshop courses. Graduate students and postdoctoral candidates can also volunteer their time to assist with science outreach programs for local K–12 students and teachers. A group of several dozen UR graduate students and faculty members meet monthly as an informal Cluster for Leadership in Education. This group discusses a variety of topics in teaching and learning and hosts occasional guest speakers. The UR's Department of Electrical Engineering offers a one-semester elective course called “Preparation for Academic Careers in Engineering and Science.” This course covers a variety of topics of interest for students who may pursue an academic career, such as how to interview and negotiate for a faculty position; how to juggle teaching, research, and service; grant writing; and achieving tenure.
In 2004, faculty from UR's School of Medicine and Dentistry submitted a proposal for a two-credit elective course in order to familiarize science graduate students interested in pursuing academic career tracks with a fundamental understanding of some of the theory, principles, and concepts of science teaching and learning. Despite initial reluctance (and an underlying attitude of concern) from several of the graduate training program directors that such a course would take graduate students' efforts away from their laboratory research, the course was given unanimous approval by the university's Committee on Graduate Education. The Graduate Experience in Science Education (GESE) course was initiated in Spring 2005. This one-semester elective course provides graduate students with practical teaching and communication skills to help them better relate science content and to increase their confidence in their own teaching abilities. The GESE course is designed to make graduate students more aware of educational research and application about learning and research-based pedagogy. The GESE course focuses on general aspects of teaching and learning, foundations on which the PFF programs are designed. GESE also includes an introduction to some methods that are specific to science teaching, such as inquiry-based and problem-based learning, emerging technology, and communicating about science research.
This article summarizes the GESE course and presents preliminary data from the 2006 cohort to evaluate the effectiveness of this course in providing graduate students with information on instructional methods that they can use throughout their careers.