Edward Freeman


Teaching Philosophy

My career aspirations have centered on college level science instruction since the latter part of my undergraduate training. As in many fields, the typical course taken to meet this goal is to complete a doctoral degree and then seek an academic position. Doctoral training in the sciences centers almost exclusively on learning how to think and act like a scientist with virtually no instruction on how to be an effective teacher. For this reason I have attempted to gain knowledge of how to become an effective teacher from colleagues, from attendance and participation in educational conferences, and through readings in the professional literature. I have learned a few important points along the way. Specifically, cognitive and educational research has repeatedly demonstrated that when learning occurs in the presence of prior knowledge students have a greater capacity to construct meaning from the new material. This is generally straight forward in Biology courses as most every student has experience with plants, animals and the environment. Student experience with various aspects of Biology provides a starting point which can be referenced throughout the presentation of new material. This allows me to bring in current scientific findings to introduce or expand on a current theme. However, to rely solely on preexisting knowledge to provide a reference point can be problematic; the assumption that all students have taken the time to notice or think about the world around them may not always be accurate. Therefore, to ensure all students have pre-exposure to the chapter content I require responses to questions and statements that represent the learning objectives for each chapter. These learning objectives must be answered for each chapter prior to coverage of that chapter in class. To effectively respond to the learning objectives students must at least skim the relevant portions of each chapter and, therefore, are provided with a structured initial exposure to the content. This allows for students to have at least a minimal amount of background knowledge with which to move forward and ensures that as I ask them to draw on their prior knowledge they are working from a relatively level playing field.

In addition, cognitive and educational research has demonstrated that understanding and knowledge retention are greatest when students are actively involved in shaping their own learning. These findings have convinced me that student success will be highest in a student centered learning environment that requires participation and effective guidance through the content. In all of my courses I employ strategies that promote responsibility for meeting course goals, draw out prior knowledge and increase student engagement. To promote student engagement I teach using the Socratic method of asking questions to promote ongoing discussion and further student understanding. To accomplish this, I place students into small, permanent groups that allow for in class discussions. In some courses I provide PowerPoint slides to students that lack the details of our discussion. This provides students with a reference point but also requires student engagement to write down relevant material we have discussed either as a large group or in the smaller group setting. In addition, I provide opportunities to work with course material from various other perspectives. For example, on the spot lecture questions and hands on modeling/building activities, as well as problem-solving scenarios assist students in constructing meaning of the content being considered.

For additional information on my work in the Fellows Program, please see my report on Metacognition and Bloom’s Higher Order Questions in Biology 120.