PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Alison Morrison-Shetlar

What works: Observations from the field

Alison Morrison-Shetlar is Director of the Faculty Center for Teaching & Learning and Professor of Biology at University of Central Florida. Professor of Biology

Faculty for the 21st Century members reflect on their experience in making a difference for their students and for the communities of which they are a part.

If a visitor were to come into your classroom/lab—the environment in which you work with students—what impression would s/he leave with?

Very student-centered and learning-centered. Lots of question and answers among peers and with the instructor. Enthusiastic and active learning and diverse teaching strategies. Multiple intelligences and learning styles being addressed.

What brought you to an interest in "advancing the frontiers of education" and to connecting your research to that work?

Much of my employment since coming to the US has been to develop new curriculum particularly in the introductory biology for majors and non-majors areas with large enrollments (200+ students). The results have been that students are engaging in educational opportunities that increase their interest in science. About 3% of the non-majors became majors (6 - 10 students per year) and data collected indicated that more students were taking their core classes in biology earlier in the curriculum and enjoying them more. Retention in the class and grade distribution for these courses also increased. The other result of developing these strategies was a book I published on interactive teaching strategies. It has been distributed to over 3000 schools, colleges and universities, across the nation, and led to invitations to give workshops and and plenary talks around the nation.

Were there crises in doing this? What made you persevere?

Having another focus that is different from 'pure' research was an issue for tenure and promotion, but since I was also active in 'traditional' research I was still successful. I was also getting more grant money for STEM research than most of my colleagues for their 'science' research and that caused some tension. But, I was taught in a very traditional way and since that did not work well for me, when I started teaching I had a greater understanding for those that did not do well with lecture approach.

What connections have been of most value in doing this?

Going to conferences and meeting like minded people. With regard to leadership I have always been involved in administration and found that I can make a difference there too. PKAL made a huge difference to me, especially the summer program for F21 Faculty and the conferences that occurred over the last seven years. People listen to me and I can communicate both the importance of diverse teaching methods through interactive workshops offered nationally, that seem to be effect change.

What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and teaching?

A change in the tenure and promotion process and preparation of chairs and appraisal committees about scholarship of teaching and learning. There needs to be better journals that deal with the rigor of research in this area.