There is no fixed rubric for great teaching. Some can eloquently paint images with enthralling words, others use the board (black or white) or an overhead, yet others find new technologies allow an exciting excursion into the theater of teaching.
What success I have had in over thirty-two years of university instruction is rooted in the understanding that I teach my students nothing…they must learn everything. To that end, the most critical characteristic of my teaching is engaging the learner. No matter what the message, the human being before whom I stand must hear me, think with me, and accept or reject my thesis. Boredom, predictability and information overload may fill a fifty-minute period, but will not excite the listener to welcome chemistry into their mind. After teaching very small classes at Benedictine University for nearly three decades, the UA lecture halls offer me great new challenges. Speaking to and connecting with three hundred students--each face, each mind-- is now the “theater of teaching.” The lecture hall is the stage and the lecture --now a performance --needs an overture, a engaging score and a reprise before the bell calls the curtain down whether I am ready or not. For me a white board is just not enough.
Each audience member has a unique learning style that is a blend of perceptions, learned skills and natural abilities. Lectures should not be predictable. Some days there are computer simulations, live demonstrations, videos, clippings from the Wildcat, new drugs ... but always connected ... always how the LEARNER might apply good chemistry. Geckos stick to ceilings with van der Waals forces. Once we closed our eyes and listened to a Geiger counter clicking to the rhythm of nuclear decay. Connecting to sound was a different way into the mind.
I was the first Chemistry lecturer to adopt the tablet style laptop computer as an electronic blackboard. My style is to offer data, pose question after question and then write student-generated comments, conclusions, and equations on the tablet screen. Personal Response Devices [PRD] (individual remote voting tools) added another dimension into what my students are hearing and thinking. An Arizona Board of Regents Learner-Centered Education Grant 2005-06 will allow me to expand and evaluate PRD as a learning tool. Anyone under twenty lives in a world of video explosions and X-Boxes – the lecture needs to be alive for them.
Students also need to know me as a person--my PhD from the UA in 1971, my hobbies, the fact I received a D on my first chemistry test (overconfidence) and my 99+ %tile on the Chemistry GRE. “Lunch with your Professor” is a weekly noon meeting with anyone who cares to stop and talk – the only rule is “no chemistry discussions.” I want to know about them and they need to know about me but I am still the professor – I wear a bola tie everyday.
No one should ever be afraid to ask a question or voice an opinion. “There is no such thing as a stupid question if you do not know the answer” is a classroom rule I enforce.
Assessment is critical – where did we start? (diagnostic testing)-- where do we finish? (common final exams with national norms). I am a member of ACS National 1st Year Exam Committee.
We deliver the best chemical education in Arizona, but there are ever-changing issues. We must always do better. I truly love walking into a classroom at the University of Arizona to meet those challenges.