PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

William Bromer

What works: Observations from the field

William Bromer

Bill Bromer is Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at University of St. Francis.

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?

A visitor might very well leave wondering whether I was teaching and if the students were learning since students would be talking, getting out of their seats to talk with other groups. Students work in informal groups on problems that are difficult for individuals to answer. If the visitor stayed for the whole period they might see me give a mini-lecture of 8-10 minutes and then follow up with a series of multiple-choice questions using a student response system (clickers). Students and I cheer when most of them get the answer right, but if a number of them gave the incorrect answer, small groups discuss why one answer is better then the other and then I poll the class for their interpretations. Sometimes their explanations convince me to change the answer.

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

For a long time I have been discouraged by student performance on cumulative exams at the end of the semester and by how little they remembered from previous courses, especially ones that I taught. I was also surprised to discover how difficult it is to dispel some types of misconceptions in my students and also from the literature. Lecturing alone was not increasing long-term retention nor dispelling misconceptions, therefore I knew something else was need. Thanks to the work of people like Eric Mazur, Larry Michaelson, Dee Fink, Craig Nelson, and Kip Herreid there are many resources to use instead of straight lectures.

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

Much of the recent educational research has advocated active learning in class rooms and the data indicate increased performance or in some cases no difference. Even if the use of active learning pedagogy had no major effect on student learning at least we were doing something interesting and students were participating.

What connections have been of most value in doing this?

Connections with faculty from both PKAL and CUR reinforced my belief that we need to change how science is taught. Some faculty were willing to try new approaches and others steadfastly stood by their lectures that cover all the material, but when I watch students, they are rarely involved unless they have input, get a chance to talk, and are active.