Teaching Practicum Reflection – Vancouver Summer Program 2016

I had the wonderful opportunity to co-design and co-instruct Package J: Medical Laboratory Science at the Vancouver Summer Program this summer with Dr. Amanda J. Bradley – it was my first experience of being so intimately involved in all aspects and stages of the teaching process; it was so energizing and exciting!

In the few months leading up to the program, we collaborated in tailoring the course curriculum to international students from diverse (cultural and disciplinary) backgrounds, with special consideration given to our learners’ varying competence with the English language (Course Syllabus). We created numerous opportunities for peer teaching and learning through in-class small group discussions, student team presentations, and use of two-stage quizzes and final exam; all with the intention to offer ample formative feedback through active learning and varied formats of assessment. We maintained an asynchronous learning environment through forums and discussion boards using an online platform (e.g., Blackboard Connect) with goals to facilitate transparency in communication and to empower students to engage in self-directed learning. Moreover, we spiced things up with a hematological laboratory session to offer unique hands-on experience for students to anchor and to integrate their knowledge, a presentation skills workshop in preparation for one of their summative assessments, and site visits to Pathology Education Centre and Canadian Blood Services Network Centre for Applied Development facilities to highlight the real-life relevance and clinical impact of course material.

Despite having a structured framework and having articulated our teaching intentions for the course, I found it challenging to simultaneously zoom in and out on as I prepared individual lesson plans to ensure alignment between intention, beliefs, and action. In preparing teaching materials (PowerPoint slides, visual aids, handouts, assessments, etc), I was surprised to find how crucial every minute detail and how impactful the phrasing of instruction are in making each lesson as clear and accessible as possible for our learners. This was especially transparent in implementing in-class small group activities, perhaps due to differences in what academic behaviours are valued culturally and differences in English competency – the learners seemed hesitant in verbalizing their understanding and in sharing their opinions with one another without step-by-step structured instruction and clear expectation of what will be shared back with the class at the end of each activity. Risk-taking was not embraced or welcomed by them. It was interesting to experiment with different facilitation techniques to fine-tune our mutual definition and expectation around participation; it turned out to be a rather collaborative process when I informally inquired about their emotional reactions to the classroom dynamics. I think the pre-assigned teams allowed a more even distribution of diversity and “expertise” throughout the classroom, which created a more supportive environment and challenged student to step out of their comfort zones in becoming more active participants in the classroom. The two-stage quizzes and the team-based small discussion activities also seemed to help build individual confidence and a sense of camaraderie between each student team; the shifts in group dynamics were intriguing to observe over time – peer-teaching organically took place without explicit direction or influence from the instructor half way through the course!

What stood out to me in this teaching experience was how integral and impactful transparent communication of my high expectations, of my believe in their ability to achieve high standards, and of my sincere effort in helping them deepen their learning were in motivating my learners. I found it extremely rewarding to engage my students beyond the classroom and to be connect with them individually with authenticity and beautiful vulnerability; their words of appreciation made all the hard work worthwhile (and yes, including the dreaded marking of the final exam!).

Teaching Practicum Reflections – Lymphoid Tissues and Lymphocytes

Third time’s a charm – I felt noticeably less anxious standing in front of the classroom.

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

  1. Describe the origin, subsequent development, and role of the two major classes of lymphocytes
  2. Differentiate between primary and secondary lymphoid tissues
  3. Relate the structures of secondary lymphoid tissues to their function
  4. Summarize the recirculation of lymphocytes and its relationship to the sequence of events involved in antigen capture and presentation, lymphocyte activation, and the initiation of an adaptive immune response

In order to assess students’ prior knowledge, I asked them to identify features that differ between innate and adaptive immunity before we dived into the bridge between the two systems. It seems that jotting their responses on the board and asking them to elaborate on their responses for the benefit of their fellow classmates resonated well with the group. I lectured briefly on the lymphocytes, inviting contribution from the class throughout. The majority of the class was focused on discussion around the secondary lymphoid tissue structures, focusing on their vasculature and cellular composition, and their relationships to tissue/organ function. I helped to provide more structure by assigning a scribe and a presenter to each group, so that students were more likely to feel accountable to stay on task during the time allotted. The participation seemed more lively as their comfort to engage in activities grew over the three lectures. One thing that I would do differently is to have the students hand in their notes taken during the discussion, so that they could be made available to the rest of the class and become part of their study material!

I wish the students had fun and felt that they learned during class, not only from myself but from one another! I’ll have to find out how I did on the program’s instructor evaluation after the term comes to an end.

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? 

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…