Journal club offers opportunity to improve teaching practices

Journal club meeting

Science classes are as old as academia, but a program at the UO is helping science instructors hone some new tricks to engage nonscience majors in their courses.

The University of Oregon’s Science Teaching Journal Club is a partnership between the Science Literacy Program and the Teaching Engagement Program. It brings faculty members and students together to discuss strategies and methods for engaging more students in science, technology, engineering and math courses.

Unlike most journal clubs, the participants don’t meet solely to critique and debate the points of their readings. Instead, they evaluate articles and research about teaching science and study broader teaching methods to incorporate into their teaching.

Richard Wagner, a graduate employee in the Department of Physics, has been attending the journal club since it began.

“After a few quarters of being a TA, I felt like I wasn't really getting through to my students,” Wagner said. “I went not really knowing what to expect from an academic journal club and was quickly impressed with folks' knowledge and how they could pick up on and build off of ideas in the papers.”

Several graduate students who have been involved in the Science Literacy Program continue to attend the journal club throughout their doctoral studies at the UO because of the valuable teaching experience it provides on top of training in their area of research.

The journal club was started in 2010 by Elly Vandegrift, who currently serves as the associate director for the Science Literacy Program, and affiliated graduate students who wanted to learn more about science education research.

“During one workshop, a graduate student asked, ‘Well, those active and inclusive teaching ideas are interesting, but how do we know it works?’” Vandegrift said. “So, we began reading the science education literature to explore and support implementation of evidence-based teaching practices.”

For Samantha Hopkins, associate professor of earth sciences and associate dean for faculty in the Clark Honors College, the journal club has given her the opportunity to learn about current research in science teaching and has led her to incorporate more active learning into her courses.

“Like many faculty members, I didn’t get a lot of training in teaching during my graduate training, so I’m always looking for good professional development to fill the gaps in my knowledge,” Hopkins said. “One of the things I hadn’t anticipated about journal club is that it has given me a community of colleagues across the sciences, and beyond, who I know are also thinking about better ways to teach.”

A critical part of the insights faculty members and graduate students gain from the journal club comes from undergraduate students sharing their perspective on the classroom learning experience.

Ruimin Xia, a fourth-year undergraduate majoring in educational foundations, sees her role as a “bridge builder” between faculty members and students. Her experience in the journal club has reaffirmed her passion for education and the principles from her major coursework.

“Since I am an international student and nonscience major student in SLP, I was nervous at first, but after I heard from professors and graduate students about how they were struggling with teaching, my anxiety was gone,” Xia said. “I realized that teaching always has hopes and limitations. It is difficult for teachers to include every student even if they have a perfect plan.”

Many of the undergraduate students who have attended the journal club have been surprised by the discussions and being able to talk with their instructors about how to improve the teaching and learning experience.

“Most of the people who are faculty succeeded in the traditional lecture environment, but not all students are like that,” said Julie Mueller, faculty consultant for the Teaching Engagement Program, who co-leads the journal club with Vandegrift. “We need to use teaching methods effective for a wide range of students.”

For winter 2019, the journal club has been reading “Teaching Undergraduate Science: A Guide to Overcoming Obstacles to Student Learning” by Linda C. Hodges, which explores strategies for helping students learn science.

The journal club meets every Thursday during the academic term at 9 a.m. in Room 217 in the Lewis Integrated Science Building. University faculty members and students interested in learning more about STEM teaching practices are welcome to attend.

For more information, including reading schedule and a full bibliography of the journal club’s readings, visit the Science Literacy Program website.

—By Jesse Summers, University Communications