PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century
W. Bradley Kincaid
What works: Observations from the field
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.
What brought you to an interest in “advancing the frontiers of education” and to connecting your research to that work?
After many years conducting ecological research, I found myself more involved in teaching. Although I enjoyed the immediate feedback in the classroom, I wondered if I could be doing a better job. In my research, I was used to testing and applying biological theories to add to our knowledge about nature and predict outcomes of environmental perturbations. Could I do the same with theories of teaching and learning? Fortunately for me, Arizona State University, where I was working, had a respected professor of science education on the Zoology faculty. Interactions with him introduced me to the science education literature and led me to undertake some small classroom research. More recently, I have examined the role of assessment in promoting student's deep understanding of biology, and I have led an interdisciplinary discussion of the nature of science and how to teach it.
Were there crises in doing this? What made you persevere?
Yes, there were crises very early in this process. A colleague and I decided that we were going to conduct an educational experiment comparing inquiry instruction with traditional expository instruction. Our classes were to be the treatment group, and we asked some colleagues to be the 'control' group. Of course, the results showed that our students had improved biology achievement, scientific reasoning, and attitudes toward science. But our colleagues perceived our conclusions to mean that they were doing a bad job of teaching their classes. We learned that little educational reform can occur from independent efforts and that sustainable reform must involve all who have a stake in the system.
What connections have been of most value in doing this?
Now as Director of our Center for Teaching and Learning, I am promoting the faculty learning community model to support scholarly examination of our teaching practice. I am hopeful from evaluation of a pilot program that the faculty learning community approach will lead to sustainable improvements in student learning. In addition, I think this approach will lead to more interdisciplinary connections among faculty, engagement of faculty in scholarly or scientific teaching, and potentially institutional transformation.