Zoe Jordens – Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Zoe Jordens (Institute of Molecular Biosciences, Massey University) – Award for Sustained Excellence in tertiary teaching 2012.
Questions, questions, questions…
I question everything! I enjoy investigating questions and finding answers that make sense to me. This challenge to understand, and the resulting sense of achievement, motivates my learning and my teaching. I enjoy the thrill of learning and I teach to help my students experience this thrill for themselves.
I am an accidental university lecturer. Teaching – in any shape or form - was not on my list of career choices when I was at school. I knew that I was going to be a scientist in a laboratory, obtained a BSc (Hons) and PhD in microbiology and then embarked on a career as a research scientist in medical microbiology in the UK. I enjoyed helping research students in the lab but had no plans to move further into tertiary teaching. A move to New Zealand for my husband’s work gave me the opportunity to try something new. Massey University needed a lecturer in microbiology so I thought I’d try that! I was enthusiastic about microbiology and reasonably confident that I could deliver the material I’d been given based on my own experiences as a student. After my first few lectures and lab classes I knew there had to be more effective ways to help students learn. Discussions over coffee with a colleague doing her Master of Education resulted in my enrolment in the Postgraduate Certificate of Tertiary Teaching at Massey University. This programme completely changed how I thought about my teaching. Through reflection and reading I gained an educational insight that I did not have as a trained research scientist. I believe the combination of my experience as a scientist in the real world and tertiary teaching qualifications provide the firm foundation on which my teaching and learning is built.
I believe the purpose of higher education is to help build socially responsible thinkers for a world that is constantly changing. Building students’ self confidence to be whatever they want to be is as important to me as helping my students to become effective microbiologists. I see the teacher as facilitator, or tour guide, and believe that by treating students as scientists in an authentic scientific environment, they develop scientific ways of thinking, in addition to learning concepts and practical skills. This approach to learning is essentially experiential – learn by doing. My aim is to enhance learning by building relationships with students and providing experiences that are student-centred and enjoyable, using inquiry-led learning and authentic, real-world activities.
I use Biggs’ principles of constructive alignment combined with an authentic scientific context in my planning and design. This means that I design activities and learning environments that closely resemble those of professional scientists, in particular, microbiologists. This authenticity encourages students to learn ‘ways of thinking and practising’ in a discipline. I want all my students to learn through process. I design laboratory work and assignments to give students experiences of being scientists, in preparation for the ‘real’ world, whatever that world may be.
Although I teach microbiology at undergraduate- and postgraduate-level, my teaching highlight is unquestionably the inquiry-led lab course for the 200-level microbiology paper The Microbial World. Learning objectives describe the skills and attitudes associated with becoming microbiology laboratory scientists. In the inquiry-led design, the focus is on the investigation, with students applying the techniques they have learnt in previous labs and learning concepts and skills as they are needed for the investigation. My laboratory environment is designed to closely resemble a professional scientific laboratory. I provide basic equipment and standard methods (protocols) and give students an overview of the investigations for the semester. I challenge students to make their own decisions about what experiments to perform and to plan these. Students need to request specialist chemicals and equipment from Steve, our technician, one week in advance and identify any potential hazards, reflecting the planning necessary in an authentic real-world science lab. Students are encouraged to answer their own questions using the print and internet resources available in the laboratory. Students document their lab work in a lab book in real time in the same manner as professional scientists.
At the introduction to the first laboratory investigation – The Microbe Hunt - I sit in a circle together with the students - about 20 - in the middle of the lab and explain that this lab is different. Here they will learn to be laboratory scientists by doing what lab scientists do. They are given a book of general methods, access to books and the internet and a list of microorganisms that they need to find in the next six weeks. Students are then asked to form pairs and plan how they will approach this – what environmental samples they will collect, what media and conditions they will use, and how they will demonstrate that they have found the microorganism of interest. I use ‘thinking out loud’ to model how I would approach this problem. I also model how professional scientists think by drawing my ‘thoughts’ on the whiteboard.
I provide written feedback on each lab book half-way through the course, with suggestions for improvement that the student can implement for the remainder of the course. My final assessment of the lab work reflects how far students are on the road to becoming microbiology laboratory scientists and includes the following criteria: planning, record-keeping, awareness of safety while working in the lab, problem solving in the lab, working as a team member and improvement as a result of formative feedback.
When I am in this lab I do not know what the experimental results will be. I am a science researcher investigating unknown microbiological samples with the students. And I am the students’ guide for the maze that can be laboratory microbiology. We ask questions of each other to find our way through and I can see the moment when something ‘clicks’. I can almost ‘see’ learning happening and the great thing is that the students know they have learnt something.
I care about my students. It is very important to me that I nurture relationships with students in my classes. I encourage students to communicate with me. I want students to know they can talk to me and that I will do whatever I can to help them on their learning journey; I am their own personal tour guide! Lab sessions are especially important to me as this is where students and I get to know each other and form our learning partnership. My place in the lab is with the students, encouraging and sharing in their exploration of the microbial world. Through dialogue my students learn which questions to ask and how or where to seek the answers; they can see how a ‘real-life’ microbiologist approaches a problem by seeing how I think and practise microbiology.
I also want to help develop students’ communication and social skills as these are essential in professional science laboratories as well as other contexts in society. Students often learn best with and from each other; having to explain an idea to another student often ensures or clarifies the student’s own understanding. I use pair and group-based activities to encourage the development of communication and social skills, as well as to enhance learning. The lab provides an ideal opportunity for peer-to-peer learning as students who have overcome a problem explain how they did so to other students. I encourage students asking for practical advice to consult with other students whenever possible. Similarly, students’ exciting discoveries are shared. Group work is crucial to learning in the laboratory. Students work in pairs, and larger teams of pairs, and need to negotiate with team members to make and share commonly used chemicals. Because the inquiry-led lab course for The Microbial World labs uses real environmental samples, there is a large element of the unknown; this creates a real learning community where the staff – our technician Steve, our postgraduate demonstrators and me – are learners too. Relationships in many forms are at the heart of learning in the lab.
I’m committed to improving my teaching and to sharing ideas with colleagues. This is a very important facet of my being a teacher and a scientist. The biggest contributions to my development as a university teacher have undoubtedly been gaining the Postgraduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching and subsequently the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Adult Education). I have also welcomed classroom observations of my teaching by education experts to help identify teaching behaviours that contribute to or hinder student engagement. I have become increasingly interested in tertiary science education and am actively involved in educational research on student engagement and lecturer perceptions of quality teaching.
In the future I want to pursue research into teaching and learning in science at tertiary-level that will make a difference to teachers’ practice and students’ learning. I hope to use the award to support this and visit tertiary institutions where inquiry-based learning and discussion-led classrooms are active in science.
Peer and student comments
She was very, very approachable and a lot more human than some lecturers are. A lot of lecturers you feel stand up and do their piece and leave, and there is no real [relationship], there is nothing to suggest you can go and talk to them outside of class and actually have a discussion and get help from them. Whereas ZJ was very approachable and very open about it, she said “if you need anything, come talk to me”’
162.212 student, Massey University, 2010
...she has revolutionized and brought into the 21st century, the laboratory-teaching component of a 200 level microbiology course. She has single-handedly ... developed it as a hands-on, enquiry-based problem-solving exercise that is both inspirational and educational to students taking the paper
Associate Professor Kathryn Stowell
Zoe is an outstanding teacher. She actively engages with her students using an approach that is strongly underpinned with the theory and practice of learning’
Professor Barry Scott
The way the lab is set up is very helpful in teaching how to take initiative & critical thinking skills as opposed to strictly following directions
162.212 student, Massey University, 2008).
‘And often when you do ask [Zoe] a question ...typically she would be like “so do you think the internet might be able to help you with the answer?” or kind of direct you to a particular place where you might be able to research the answer. So she doesn’t necessarily give a flat out answer, but she kind of facilitates you to go and find one’
162.212 student, Massey University, 2011
I was doing the paper in order to do another qualification and as such believed that it was going to be a boring paper about bacteria, I was very wrong. I found the paper to be very interesting and the lab work to be rather hands on. I found Zoe’s teaching style enabled me to make discoveries and be enthusiastic about a subject I had never given a second thought. I had a surprisingly enjoyable time sitting 162.212
162.212 student, Massey University, 2010
... the best labs I’ve attended.
Informal student feedback, 162.212, 2008
I was impressed by the reflection you engaged in. Reflection is embedded in your approach to your teaching and you reflect critically on what you did and on the students’ feedback....
Dr Linda Leach