Without knowing the process of discovery, learning science gets reduced to conglomeration of facts, that may or may not seem connected. Most first year undergraduate biology students will faithfully recite the three tenets when asked about Cell Theory; but few would have any idea how it was developed. However, supplementing classroom teaching with an online resource like “the wacky history of cell theory” video can help the students appreciate the incremental developments that led to the theory that is the foundation of Cell Biology.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between science that is taught and the way it is done, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune (IISER Pune) in collaboration with British Council of India, organised a workshop at their campus entitled “STEM Teacher Training workshop to develop research-based pedagogical tools” for undergraduate science faculty, from 10-12 March 2016. Invited from DBT Star Colleges across India, the participants were either administrators or faculty from various science streams.
In describing the objectives behind organising this workshop, L S Shashidhara from IISER Pune said, “the intent was to introduce undergraduate teachers to research-based pedagogy. Many people think that the concept involves students doing research projects. But that is not so. It is about educating students about research methods used in their respective disciplines to produce new knowledge. We believe that knowing so will make it easier for them to understand textbook-based knowledge. Otherwise they cannot understand the context of the information that they are provided. This context comes only when they know how research is practiced. That’s what this workshop was all about.”
The title “research based pedagogical tools” alludes to incorporating elements of research in science taught in the classroom: it is question-driven. The question in turn arises from basic/background knowledge on the topic at hand, that students already have. In the process, not only is the syllabus covered, but students also develop soft skills (critical thinking, logical reasoning, working in teams, etc.) that will serve them well into their future, in any career of their choice.
Inquiry-based or problem-based learning was not new to this group,so expectations at the beginning of the three-day workshop were a mixed bag—some people were unclear on what else they could learn about a teaching method they already practice. The first day of the workshop included brief presentations by subject experts from Sheffield Hallam University, UK, in applying research-based pedagogy: Gareth Price and Julie Jordan in Biology, Pete Sides in Mathematics, John Walker in Chemistry and Diana Bracewell in Physics. The initial presentations were designed to give participants the idea of the different parts to a research-based teaching technique, with the intent that being able to recognise these components would enable teachers to incorporate them in their classes. Over the course of the workshop, through multiple sessions, teachers from different colleges, working in groups developed examples of subject-specific exercises that can be incorporated in class. These were presented as posters on the last (third) day of the workshop. “The enthusiasm of the teachers who participated was striking. Even though they were familiar with inquiry-based teaching, they have been very receptive towards using research-based pedagogy”, says Manjula Rao from the British Council.
From his experience, Gareth Price shared in his opening presentation, “students are good at giving teachers answers they want to hear, without changing their own ideas”. To actually change their view of the world, to ensure learning has taken place, requires that a teacher’s “toolbox” includes additional techniques besides traditional lecturing. There is also research showing that of the various approaches to student learning, lecturing ranks at the bottom of the rung, with less than 10% retained by students just 3 days after a lecture. Pete Sides, Mathematics instructor from Sheffield Hallam University, shared, “India is not the only culture where lecturing predominates as the teaching method. It’s like that in many countries, and a lot of them are moving away from using that as the principal method.”
Urmila Kumawat from B.N. Bandodkar College of Science, Thane, said “I learnt how to frame a research problem in classroom context. While pursuing our PhDs, we learn how to frame and probe questions for research projects. But doing that in the classroom is a different matter altogether. And this workshop helped a great deal in that respect.” Sangeeta Shetty, from Xavier’s college, Mumbai, shared “I was apprehensive at first since we’re already doing a lot of inquiry-driven teaching in our classes; but at the end now, I feel it’s given more structure to what we already do”. More and more participants accepted the potential, and by the end were even excited about how they could take it further.
Teaching resource related to research-based pedagogy: