Student-inspired Presentations in Biology

Golgi guys

Students dress up as a Golgi apparatus for their biology presentation.

In the cell biology lab, I decided to scrap the pre-lab quiz one week and have students do brief presentations. Each partnership chose one electron micrograph to present. I gave some basic guidelines and encouraged them to be creative.

That day, our class awaited the arrival of two students. Their tardiness was quickly forgotten as they came through the door, dressed in full lab coats and covered in twisting balloons (the ones used to make balloon animals).  Collectively, they embodied a living, walking Golgi apparatus.

Meanwhile in the genetics lab, students were presenting meiosis.  

Nature and Learning

I recently took a large group of university students in first-year biology for a forest field trip. At the outset, I inquired as to how often they walked along a wooded path.  A few liked to take their dogs on the trails, yet the vast majority (over 90%) had never, in their life, gone into the forest.  I was astonished.

As a child, I made regular sojourns into the neighborhood wilderness.  Whether it be the park or ocean down the road, the local trails by the stream, or simply the small wooded area of our backyard, I lost myself in adventures of the imagination fuelled by being outside.  I found it hard to fathom that these young adults had abandoned the great gift of hiking.  Or perhaps, more precisely, that their upbringing had never exposed them to this experience.

Re-evaluating My Role as Educator

Something wonderful happened in the biology lab this past semester.  Stressed students began to laugh.  The shy felt comfortable asking questions.  They sometimes challenged my explanations.  This spurred curious debate and conversation, and a willingness for us both to explore beyond the lesson plan.  I shifted from a teacher of content to a facilitator of learning.

Post-secondary teachers are trained to be experts in their field.  Yet how do we provide a suitable framework for learning?  Many instructors, including myself, are put before students with scant preparation, our only model the example by which we were taught.  Knowing the photosynthetic chloroplast mechanism in intimate detail may be important; understanding the best method for engaging students with this complex organelle is vital.

Students complain that their classes are boring, that teachers teach from the book, that they are overwhelmed by essays and exams.  They complain because they are not inspired.   The central role of the educator is to provide an enriching—and perhaps transformative—learning experience.