Teaching Practicum Reflections – Antigen-Antibody Reactions

Quite the interesting process in revising my second lesson based on formative feedback obtained from the previous class – I continually adopted the learner’s lens and was consciously shifting into their perspective. Effortful yet incredibly rewarding. I included an agenda slide to provide a broad roadmap for the lesson. I altered the discussion questions in my participatory learning activity to leverage different expertise from the students. I was impatient and almost giddy to see how the students respond to this more tailored lesson. Even more so, because my mentor was observing and I’d be getting extra feedback on my teaching!

The learning objectives were – by the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the relationship between the three-dimensional structure of antibodies, antigen-binding specificity and the resulting antigen-antibody reactions
  2. Explain concepts of affinity and of avidity, as well as their influence on antigen-antibody reactions
  3. Discuss how antigen-antibody reactions may be exploited in the generation of biologic therapeutics
  4. Compare and contrast polyclonal and monoclonal antibody production methods.

I began the lesson by acknowledging and reviewing their thoughtful feedback and stated my intention to actively improve my teaching through incorporation of their feedbacks. As we were building on the previous lecture, I included a quick review of last lecture’s content with simple recall questions to activate their prior knowledge. Brief lecture intermixed with small group discussion to deepen their conceptualization of the various factors influencing antigen-antibody interactions. Specific instructions around group composition for the final activity (themed around therapeutic biologics) allowed the students to take advantage of one another’s expertise. The class concluded with a large group debrief around the comparative benefits and drawbacks of two antibody production methods.

I was really pleased with how the lesson went – I felt anchored and more confident in my role as an instructor. The biggest improvement, compared to the last class, was the overall productiveness of student discussion. In circulating amongst the groups, observing their interactions, clarifying their misunderstanding, and challenging their thought process with additional prompting questions, the students seemed more engaged with the material and even facilitated one another’s learning in discussions. One thing that I want to be more mindfully aware as an instructor going forward is to always have a plan B approach when the learners have less prior knowledge than expected (I was rather shocked and disappointed that no one could identify the two major protein secondary structure in a fourth year class..!)

My mentor provided some great suggestions in including announcement and question slides to reduce my cognitive load, as one technique to increase my presence in the classroom and to reduce the number of “read-my-mind” questions! Also, she noticed students whispering to one another after I pose a question. Perhaps incorporating more think-pair-share activities to minimize not-so-silent silences and to provide a structure space for students’ learning process.

Overall, students’ feedbacks (SoTL – Formative Feedback From V.2) on this lesson were surprisingly positive (phew!). They were appreciative of the overall flow, frequent references to last lecture content, and the thought behind the design of last activity. Some of them thought the active learning components were the most useful aspects of this lesson for their learning! I think in being transparent and in sharing my learning process around how to teach more effectively, the students were more willing to support my learning in helping them learn. It’s a dynamic I really enjoy and a relationship I feel privileged to be a part of :)

Teaching Practicum Reflections – Immunoglobulins

It was like déjà vu being back in the basement of the UBC hospital – except that I was now on the other side of the classroom. This was my first of three immunopathology guest lectures at the Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Medicine Program. There was a total of 30 students; 8 of which are from the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program.

I designed the lesson and participatory learning activities with their varied immunology exposures in mind. The learning objectives were – By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the basic monomeric structure of an immunoglobulin
  2. Explain the mechanism that generates immunoglobulin diversity
  3. Relate the structure of immunoglobulin isotypes to their respective general functions and properties

I began the lecture with a small group activity, with aims to engage in peer-to-peer teaching and to establish a collective baseline knowledge around the basic monomeric structure of an immunoglobulin. I then lectured briefly about the mechanism of DNA rearrangements at the variable regions necessary to enable immunoglobulin diversity. The lesson finished with a jigsaw and peer-teaching on the 5 different immunoglobulin isotypes.

Overall, I think the lesson went relatively well – I had fun! The flow of material was structured and logical; it helped me feel grounded as I guided the students’ attention through each component of the lesson. The content complexity grew as the lesson progressed. Again, I think one of my strength is in leveraging technology as a tool for teaching. I consciously built in space for questions and reflections in my slide deck, with aims to create a more interactive environment for students to engage with the material. I think in acknowledging everyone’s contribution to the discussion, I helped establish a more inclusive environment for the students to participate. Also, I thought I used silences well in my lesson – pausing after asking each question and making eye contact with each student to invite them to respond. Though I find that I still have a tendency to ask “read-my-mind” questions – some of my unplanned, follow-up questions tend to be too broad and unspecific given the context, which seemed to have created confusion for learners with less background knowledge.

One thing I would change about the lesson is to restructure my learning activities to make them more productive. I had to cut the jigsaw learning activity short due to the lack of time. While jigsaw was chosen with care and rationale (e.g., creating inclusivity for learners with less background knowledge and opportunity for peer teaching for learners with more background knowledge), it was quite time consuming and logistically challenging in a relatively small classroom. Perhaps a simple small group discussion, accompanied with a worksheet, would achieve the same learning objective more effectively.

 

Judging from my formative feedback (SoTL – Formative Feedback From V.1), I was able to hold a productive learning environment and my efforts to engage them throughout class were well-received. However, what surprised me was their perception of the lesson’s depth. It became very apparent that there was a wide gap between their prior knowledge on immunology – some felt that the class was too simple while others struggled to follow the class. This particular piece of formative feedback illuminated for me a learner need for better structured learning activities – how to best balance challenge and accessibility to all learners? 

Reflections on Disciplinary Identity

In our last GCP session, we used a Venn diagram to visualize intersections of our personal, academic and disciplinary identities. I found it immensely challenging for me to tease out the complex layers of my identity – especially when my “academic student” identity is highlighted by my immediate environment. I also had an ugly realization of self-delusion-in-action while engaging in this activity – the items that I committed to paper were how I WANT to perceive myself instead of the completely honest and unedited picture of my identity.

In making the bold assumption that (at least some) people would behave similarly to me – in having the tendency to paint a pretty picture about who they are – I realize that we need to actively put ourselves on the other side of the table and see from others’ perspectives, however uncomfortable and furstrating, whenever we encounter an identity conflict (and the ethical dilemma associated with it) and do our best in collaboratively finding an approach that is acceptable to the identities in conflict. While I recognize we may not always have this luxury, I believe it is something we should be increasingly mindful of whenever we notice our reaction of resistance towards these identity conflicts.

What lingered with me after the session was the topic of tolerance paradox – it may have something to do with my science background and my recent rediscovery of Karl Popper. I think our discussion really brought out the need for open discourse and acknowledgment of emotions, especially when there is an identity conflict in our interactions. These are important and productive conversations to have, should we ever want to learn about the many potential ethical implications in confronting these identity conflicts (as Joseph’s example demonstrated). I cannot wait for our continued discussion on disciplinary identity!

Teaching Practicum Reflections – Urea Cycle

The classroom was alarmingly unpopulated when the clock struck noon, despite the quiz scheduled at the beginning of class; only half of the students were present. As I frantically adapted my planned learning activities for the lesson, the importance of clearly communicating the instructor’s high expectation on attendance and participation throughout the course hit home for me. How could one establish a safe, inclusive, and challenging environment that fosters empowerment, meaningful learning, and accountability?

The topic of the lesson was on the biochemical pathway of urea cycle. The learning objectives were – By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
1.Describe the enzymatic conversion of ammonia to urea, with close attention to the compartment of these steps
2.Compare and contrast short- and long-term regulations of urea cycle
3.Identify and discuss the advantage of interconnection between the citric acid cycle and urea cycle

I thought that my animated PowerPoint presentation was a powerful teaching tool – it helped me to manage my pace and prevented overloading students with excessive contents. Given the nature of the topic, I found myself using guiding question and repetition to engage my learners as I explained the enzymatic reactions. I noticed that in allowing silences and additional time for the learners to answer my questions, they would turn to one another to discuss and arrive at an answer/consensus amongst themselves – perhaps I could include more structured peer discussions throughout my lesson, both as opportunities for the students to process the materials and as an formative assessments. However, I discovered that managing each student’s air-time was surprisingly challenging with this Q&A teaching technique. While using eye contact and open body language to encourage quiet students to contribute to the discussion proved somewhat effective, I think I could have invite different individuals to participate by posing specific questions to them or by acknowledging the active students’ contribution and requesting them to allow others an opportunity to speak.

With the small number of students, I invited them to join me at the whiteboard to add enzymes responsible for each step of the urea cycle as a detailed review, as a discussion platform for the energetic cost of nitrogen metabolism, as an aid for the brief discussion on relevant pathology mechanisms. While I thought the activity was engaging, challenging, and well-aligned with my learning objectives, I felt that the lesson fell flat for me as an instructor – I question whether the students would remember anything from this lesson after their exam in a few weeks. I’ll teach biochemical pathways to fulfill curriculum requirements and to prepare students for other advanced courses, but I wonder whether we could steer away from basic recall assessments and how might we make these contents to be more meaningful for the learners beyond the bounds of a classroom or an examination…

Teaching Practicum Reflections – Biological Membranes

For a 90 minute lecture on biological membranes (for an introductory biochemistry course at Columbia College), I probably spent close to 8 hours making (only) 14 slides. I had a lot of fun creating the teaching material. The PowerPoint presentation was carefully animated – each concept inviting discussions and each slide building on the one previous. The process of designing the presentation allowed many opportunities for me to question the overall alignment between my learning activities and learning objectives, to strategize around how to best engage all of my students, and to think about specifically how each participatory activity may help my students learn (e.g., stages of the Kolb’s cycle).

I invited the students to collaboratively draw a typical biological membrane at the beginning of class and built on their previous knowledge as I introduce additional more in-depth concepts (e.g., chemical structure and molecular interactions). Throughout the lesson, I used many guided questions to help them make connections between concepts. At the end of the lesson, the students taught one another as they collectively filled out a compare and contrast worksheet on the projected whiteboard.Overall, I am happy about the lesson  – most of it unfolded as I had planned and anticipated. I feel confident that the students met the learning objectives by the end of the lesson.

The learning objectives for my lesson were – by the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. List and describe the interaction(s) between each major component of a typical biological membrane
  2. Compare and contrast characteristics of a membrane channel and a transporter
  3. Given the characteristics of a solute and the cellular environment, provide the most feasible passive and/or active transport mechanism across a semi-permeable and selective membrane barrier

From this teaching experience, I think one of my strengths is my ability to leverage technology in creating powerful teaching and learning aid. In animating the slides and in minimizing text, it created space for story-telling and helped to enhance student engagement. I also think that the learning activities were well-structured to provide a safe space for everyone to participate and were well-aligned with the learning objectives. I found it difficult to manage time (I only filled 75 of the 90 minutes in this lesson), not knowing how to best balance between amount, depth, and breadth of content and opportunities for students to engage with the material and to integrate knowledge. I recognize that finding this fine balance takes practice, experimentation and experience – but it is most definitely something I need to be conscious of whenever planning a lesson.

In my post-teaching discussion with the course instructor, he left me with some questions to ponder on – how could you further challenge your learners in this class? what kind of assessments could help you distinguish stellar students from good students?