Pathways to Scientific Teaching

May 28, 2009

Editors: Diane Ebert-May and Janet Hodder

Edition: First

Publisher: Sinauer Associates

Pages: 206

Price: £16.99

ISBN 9780878932221

When I first looked at this book, with a cover image of dozens of students - some looking engaged and others not - my heart sank, because I could not imagine that any pathways to scientific teaching were going to emerge. However, once inside, reading the foreword and the well-organised contents pages, I felt that I was certainly on my way.

This is a book that has been needed for a long time. It uses synergy between research and teaching to provide ideas and resources for active learning and assessment when faced with relatively large groups of 75 to 100 students. It aims to address some of the challenges we face as teachers in higher education when we need to evaluate the methods we use. The book also includes examples of methods of reflective evaluation and research in order to find out if what we are doing is resulting in better student learning.

The book stems from a series of two-page articles (called "pathways") published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Each article is based on a scientific paper published in the same issue.

Asking the question "What do we want our students to know?", the pathways articles use the material in the scientific publications to help students better engage with scientific reading and critical thinking, or to help teachers develop activities for problem-solving, group work and assessment. The book contains the linked scientific papers and pathways articles, and each chapter addresses a specific challenge in teaching science - usually illustrating it with four or five of the linked articles, together with an introduction outlining the pedagogical challenges being addressed.

This is an interesting idea that could be more widely used. With a little adaptation and appropriate scientific papers, the approaches described could be used across a wide range of biological sciences and beyond. As I got further into the book I was quite excited about the pathways and could imagine developing yet more that would address some of the challenges of practical laboratory teaching and experimental design for large groups.

I liked the way in which the book ended with a chapter about developing a community of researchers in teaching and learning. We all do this naturally for our subject-specific research but can easily become lost in our own teaching and learning. This book puts us on the right pathway.

Who is it for? This will be an exciting book for new and experienced teachers in biological sciences.

Presentation: There is a clear explanation of the aims of each chapter with a list of useful resources.

Would you recommend it? I would recommend it not only to ecologists and environmental scientists but also to anyone looking for ideas to reinvigorate courses and engage students in active learning.

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