HHNS Network Fosters Community of Scholars

Teaching Innovation: Undergrads evaluate learning styles

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At Guelph presents this story as part of a series that highlights University of Guelph leadership in teaching excellence and the scholarship of learning.

Faculty and students in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences are evaluating teaching strategies like lecture capture, where classroom lectures are videotaped to allow students to review or access a missed lecture.

Does “lecture-capture” technology make better students? How do biological sciences programs at Guelph help prepare students for careers? And how do students engage with course material under a new biology curriculum?

Those are among topics under study by students and faculty members in a new human kinetics (HK) undergrad course as part of a wider teaching and learning network launched in late 2011 in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences (HHNS).

Members of the new Teaching, Learning and Knowledge Transfer Research Group (TLKT) are studying how students learn and ways to improve teaching and learning practices, says organizer Prof. Bill Bettger, also chair of the department’s curriculum committee.

Members of his department normally study nutrition and nutraceuticals, human kinetics, anatomy and biomechanics. Now faculty, staff and students are looking at aspects of learning in order to foster what Bettger calls “a community of scholars.”

Members of the new group are investigating various projects and approaches, including the following:

  • use of breakout groups in undergraduate classes;
  • case-based learning modules in biochemistry;
  • educational programs at a children’s museum;
  • course assessment using Bloom’s taxonomy for learning expectations;
  • software for improving scientific literacy; and
  • a mobile app for biochemistry and nutrition.

Among other initiatives, a first-year course called “Biological Concepts of Health” stresses independent learning, communication and critical thinking skills. Those concepts are typically addressed only in senior classes, says group member and course co-ordinator Justine Tishinsky. She studied physiology here and studied omega-3 fatty acids during her PhD in HHNS, completed last year.

It was while serving as a teaching assistant and sessional instructor that she “developed a love for learning and the scholarship of teaching.” Says Tishinsky: “People here value teaching as much as research.”

Another group member is also a made-in-Guelph student-turned-instructor. Prof. Kerry Ritchie has encouraged students in a University of Guelph-Humber class to develop non-conventional writing assignments explaining research to non-scientists. She served as course co-ordinator during the design of “Biological Concepts of Health.”

Ritchie joined the HHNS faculty in 2012, intending mostly to teach and to study learning at Guelph and in the kinesiology program at Guelph-Humber.

Another faculty arrival last year was Prof. Genevieve Newton, HHNS, who completed her PhD here in 2007. Like Ritchie, she studies teaching and learning – including problem-based learning and case studies – by drawing on courses she teaches at both Guelph and Guelph-Humber.

Newton is now looking at the use of lecture-capture technology, including effects on student attendance and catch-up for missed lectures. Lecture capture involves posting content on a course website, including video, audio and slides.

For that project, she has worked with students in that new fourth-year HK offering. This course allows students to study the scholarship of teaching, learning and knowledge transfer.

Rachel Wong worked on the lecture-capture project for the course last semester. “I am really interested in educational methods for the future,” says Wong. She studied nutrition and nutraceutical sciences at Guelph and plans to study neuroscience in Germany. She is now working in a research lab there on memory and learning. “Videos are being offered in more classes in many universities.”

Nicole Spencer, a fifth-year psychology student, is now taking that new course. Along with Bettger, she’s looking at how first-year students in “Biological Concepts of Health” engage with course material in the new biological science curriculum. She also worked on the topic as an undergraduate research assistant (URA) with Ritchie.

“I enjoyed my URA experience over the summer, and taking the HK course was a way for me to continue working on the project,” says Spencer, who plans to pursue grad studies. “This course has also presented me with my first opportunity to work with qualitative data, which I have found to be a valuable experience.”

Other HHNS faculty are also involved with the network, says chair Lawrence Spriet. He says the department teaches many students in several B.Sc. majors on campus and in the kinesiology program at Guelph-Humber.

“There are many challenges in teaching effectively to these populations beyond the normal problems of large classes and issues of funding and time commitment,” he says. “It is very exciting to be in a science department that values quality teaching and is devoted to staying on top of teaching innovation, in addition to scientific research endeavours.”

Members of the new TLKT network also work with other groups on and off campus. Those include OpenEd, as well as Guelph-Humber, York University and the University of Waterloo.