Learning to Teach: The why and the way

This article continues the “EdCommversations” between Liam Hallada and Alison Dell (Teaching Scientist), who catalyzed our last two columns. Here, Liam investigates the why of teaching and highlights opportunities and resources for education-curious folks including an invite to join us at the ASCB meeting in December. You have registered already, right?

(Probably) no one taught you how to teach

Training people to teach translates into improved academic outcomes for both students
and educators. We require our primary and secondary teachers to undergo extensive training and certification. Why wouldn’t we expect that training teaching assistants and faculty would also support positive outcomes? The correlation seems obvious, yet most institutions don’t invest much in training their researchers how to teach. According to one recent survey of 72 institutions, while 96% reported they offered some kind of training, more than half (52%) required fewer than 10 hours of training for would-be teaching assistants. (https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.14-11-0196).

The lack of training persists across academia, from teaching assistants to full professors. In an environment that doesn’t select for teaching efficacy, learning to be an educator is more about coincidence— that is, your proximity to experienced individuals rather than to standardized training programs (https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.05-12-0132). Unsurprisingly, this fact leads to an academic culture that emphasizes the ability to generate and interpret data rather than effectively teach. Yet our own experience as learners has shown us how valuable good teaching can be.

Resources for teaching

Institutional change begins with individuals who step up and improve their teaching practices, but time and resources are critical limiting reagents for everyone. Here are several resources that can help improve your teaching skills today:

  • ASCB’s Education Committee (EdComm) is a fantastic network of teaching professionals and resources. The Education Committee is sponsoring numerous events at the upcoming Cell Bio 2022 meeting in Washington, DC, from December 3 to 7 (Register to attend at ascb.org/cellbio2022/). There is an entire track of meeting programming dedicated to education and professional development.
  • If you are looking to move away from a lecture podium—and we hope that you are— ASCB’s PALM (Promoting Active Learning and Mentoring) program offers an incredible list of resources encompassing biology topics to teaching techniques https://palm.ascb.org/resources/ (Shout out to EdComm member Sue Wick for her leadership in this great program).
  • If you are looking for mentorship or for an introduction to new teaching tools, or workshops, or are just curious – come say hello at the meeting later this year!
  • If you are working in, or transitioning to an associate’s degree granting institution, the always great CBE Life Sciences Education journal has a special issue on Community College Biology Education Research for January 2022. If you want to incorporate more modeling into your class time but aren’t sure where to start, LSE’s evidence-based teaching guides are an excellent teaching guide. https://lse.ascb.org/evidence-based-teaching-guides/modeling-in-the-classroom/.
  • The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL www.cirtl.net) and National Institute on Scientific Teaching (NIST www.nisthub.org) offer courses and seminars year-round to support the professional development of educators from graduate students to tenured faculty.
  • HHMI’s Biointeractive has an excellent series of workshops for educators to connect with teaching tools on complex topics including one focused on teaching metabolism. https://www.biointeractive.org/professional-learning/workshops/.
  • Need funding to continue your training? The Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA) provides opportunities from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institutes of Health to support your commitment to students. It can connect you with individuals similarly devoted to education that may become valuable mentors/colleagues in your career path.

It can be a steep learning curve for getting into teaching. We hope that this article can ease your workload and make learning to teach more accessible by providing these resources. The teaching community is empowered by the diversity of experiences that our members bring, we hope to meet you at this year’s meeting or cross paths later down the road.

About the Author:

Liam P. Hallada started in the mountains of New Mexico and travelled to the river in Memphis, TN, to earn a PhD studying developmental neurobiology at the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.