Biography of a tablet fellow
I'm in my mid-30s and just starting my third year as an assistant professor of biology at Fresno State. One of the reasons I chose to accept a position here is because of the California State University (CSU) system's balanced approach to the faculty workload. Of the three "pillars" of tenure (research, teaching, and service), research and teaching are fairly evenly balanced in the CSU system. Because I really enjoy training students in how to conduct research, and because I enjoy teaching and helping students develop their understanding of the living world, I felt that I would be a good fit as a faculty member in the CSU.
Is being an academic scientist at odds with being an effective teacher?
Tablets provide an opportunity for professional growth
Should you consider teaching a course with tablet computers? What's in it for you?
What does it take to be a tablet teacher?
Here are my reflections (now two weeks into the term) about what it means to be a tablet faculty fellow. I think that what is really critical for success is to embody the following six characteristics:
- excited to learn something new
- blessed with a number of colleagues who are available to build a supportive faculty community together! These folks don't even have to be on your campus (hey, we're in the digital age!)
- committed to helping students succeed
- motivated to reflect on teaching and make improvement
- willing to think deeply about the core knowledge students in your discipline need and then to swap out some content in order to incorporate active learning in the classroom?
- willing to try something new in front of a class of students, to fail, to make a change, and to try again
Some of my colleagues have expressed concerns to me about whether teaching with tablets means compromising professional/academic quality or integrity. I suspect that this somewhat visceral response might come from a couple of different perspectives: 1) that things potentially perceived as "trendy" (or that might yet be lacking rigorous evidence of validity?) should be tried out elsewhere first, or 2) that the addition of anything else to the syllabus of a course already stuffed full of content will somehow diminish its ability to ensure the production of thoroughly-educated students. As a scientist, to those who argue the former: I'm more than happy to try new things to try to keep my students more engaged (and hopefully to increase four-year graduation rates for my campus) instead of maintaining a status quo.
To the latter, I say: don't fall for the fallacy that bigger is better and that more content means better retention or better-prepared students! Having being forced to reflect (even more than I already had) on the really, truly fundamental concepts I need to help students learn is helping me help students develop deeper (longer-lasting) understandings of those core topics that they can build on in subsequent years. I am now regularly and consciously reminding myself that it has taken me twenty years since I first heard about meiosis to really (REALLY) feel like I understand its purpose and importance. Only in the last couple of years have I really come to appreciate the mathematical beauty of how meiosis produced Gregor Mendel's observations of trait segregation in his pea plants. Now my mission is to conjure ways to help students most efficiently arrive at the same point. Employing active learning (which I can do with a tablet) is one tool to help me get there. We are not spending every minute of class time using tablets - we employ them in a thoughtful manner, when using a tablet to enhance student learning makes sense.
From this faculty member's perspective, being a tablet faculty member is a win-win situation: done properly, it is beneficial to the students as well as to the faculty. If you get the opportunity, I suggest taking it!