How did the community colleges become national leaders in science education?

Last summer, I had the good fortune to attend a conference in Washington D.C. on Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology education. There were lots of inspiring speeches, cool videos, and talks about building more student-centered classrooms and strategies for change.

Surprisingly, many of the attendees seemed unaware that there is a group of instructors, and educational programs who embody this vision, albeit with a bit of twist.

These are the biotech instructors and biotech education programs at the community colleges.

Many of the ideas described at the Vision and Change conference as our goals are already common practice in community college biotech programs.

Hands-on labs with authentic science? We got 'em.

Internships? yep.

Asking students for their opinion? This is new?

Part of the reason that community colleges can be more innovative is that there are fewer constraints. We don't have 300 person lecture classes. We don't have to prepare our students for the MCAT or GRE.

We also have a different attitude. We don't view a job in the biotech industry as "dropping out of science." Since community college programs measure their success by their employment stats, they have to innovate, focus on what needs to be taught, and teach it well. You don't cut your lab classes when your students are going to evaluated by their work in the lab.

This summer, Suzie Montgomery from Utah Public Radio interviewed biotech instructors, who came from across the U.S. to attend the Bio-Link Summer Fellows Forum. Her 30 minute radio interview provides more insight as the Bio-Link educators tell their story.

i-a91a19d8f5633d3c63f593677dcde793-Screen shot 2010-06-22 at 8.17.47 AM.pngListen to the broadcast

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I credit community colleges completely for any success I have in my career. Without the quality and attention I received, there is no way I would have realized my potential and even went to college. I will certainly put CC's on my job hunt list when I get my phd

I think that's true of math teachers, too--my husband teaches math at the community college level, and compared to my (miserable) university math experience, his CC math department is amazing and progressive, and very interested in pedagogy. That's not true of every CC, though...

I'm in a field where it's nearly impossible to teach without having a degree with a major pedagogical component, and I find myself harboring the heretical notion that all college professors ought to be required to get masters' degrees or at least full-academic-year certificates in subject-specific and general pedagogy. The standard academic notion that you can somehow magically teach well having only a good knowledge of your subject baffles me.

(Clearly, many people make up for it by teaching themselves and learning from experience, but I think they're the exception. I learned well from most of my teachers in college, but I was a student who was like my teachers. I didn't need much actual teaching effort. This didn't work nearly as well for many of my classmates.)

Thanks Kevin and Clarissa!

When I started teaching, I didn't know anything about teaching (other than having been a lab TA). I explained to the students that I had been doing the science side for a long time, but needed to learn the teaching part.

Fortunately, community college students are adults and they helped me out. And, since my community college was focused on teaching, they offered lots of workshops and opportunities to learn on the job.

Amen, I teach biotechnology concurrent enrollment at a small Utah town high school, and a big part of it is Tami and her team. This year we will also be working with some 4 year Universities and Colleges to work in some actual, publishable science.

By Lance Gritton (not verified) on 29 Jun 2010 #permalink

Thank you, Sandra, this is such a good post. And to Clarissa - couldn't agree more that all university teachers should have some form of teaching qualification in addition to their specialist degree. This has the potential to make such a difference to their students :)