Making Connections in Education to Improve Your Teaching

Jan. 6, 2021

Teaching is a complex human endeavor that requires passion, dedication, compassion, creativity and scholarship. One is not born a great teacher, but becomes one through thoughtful, scholarly teaching. Good teaching links information with the daily existence of the student and professor. The challenge of effective teaching, as measured by student learning, is to find connections that foster motivation, knowledge building, thinking and integration of old and new information, and bridge the real and academic worlds of both students and teachers. We provide you with 5 ways to connect your teaching to student’s learning.

Connecting Education from Kindergarten to Graduate School

The educational landscape includes many types of connections. An important one is the link between the educational pathways from kindergarten to graduate school. What and how we teach needs to build upon how content is presented and assessed, and how students learn, as they progress along their educational journey. Most teachers teach as they were taught and students prefer familiar teaching approaches. However, as educators, we need to use a spectrum of pedagogies and technologies for learning and adapt to an ever-changing educational landscape. One approach that helps students succeed in a changing landscape is to ask them to reflect on their learning in short writing or discussion forum assignments. This not only helps the individual process their learning but provides ideas and incentives that other students can build upon. ASM’s teaching resources provide a treasure trove of vetted images, pedagogies and other teaching and learning assessments that can assist teachers.

Connecting Content to Students' Lives

The second type of connection is making content relevant to students' lives. The current pandemic provides a plethora of opportunities to connect content to the ongoing crisis. It is important to consciously choose examples that promote and honor diversity. Use culturally diverse examples that show the impact and role of microbes in various cultures.

Connecting Your Research to Teaching and Vice Versa

A third example is to connect one’s research to one’s teaching and vice versa. This is often referred to as Teaching as Research or TAR, and is a foundation principle at the Center for Integration of Research and Teaching and Learning. One important lesson that I discovered in my teaching journey is that many of the approaches that I learned and honed as a student, scientist and researcher apply to scholarly teaching.

  1. Defining a question or problem that one wants to address, e.g., how can I increase student learning of concepts versus memorization of facts.
  2. Creating and applying protocols (teaching approaches) that identify solutions to the question or problem.
  3. Developing and using appropriate assessments that measure the learning outcomes (data).
  4. Analyzing the data and formulating conclusions.

As in research, first attempts often do not give us the answers we expected. Often, the outcomes don’t provide clear answers to the question or problem but raise additional questions and/or provide insights that can be used to refine or refocus the study. If the study is well designed, it will yield new insights, which help to connect our scholarship, learning and teaching. Also, when shared with others, these can be tested and improved upon to advance teaching and learning.

Connecting Your Work to the Community of Educators

The fourth type of connection is to share one’s teaching in scholarly activities through professional communities of educators, rather than keeping it private and within your classroom. Many of us work with peers on our campuses and through professional societies that support and enable better teaching. ASM has decades of experience in fostering effective teaching. ASM’s commitment to high quality education is more than a century old, as evidenced by the first article in ASM’s first journal, “The Pedagogics of Bacteriology.” One excellent source of community is the ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE) — it is a great place to connect, network and share teaching and learning approaches. Another resource is ASM’s online webinar series on teaching and learning. ASM also has a Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, which provides readily adoptable resources in biology education.

Connecting Good Teaching to Student Learning

The last connection is both the most and the least obvious: good teaching and student learning. The obvious part is that poor or uncaring teaching does not result in quality learning and that good teaching does. In the words of Parker Palmer, from his book The Courage to Teach, “Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching — and in the process from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” It is difficult to precisely prescribe what constitutes good teaching that results in increased learning, since each course, class, student and teacher is different. Good teaching includes attitude, presence, accessibility to students, learning spaces, relevant content, engaging pedagogies, effective use of technology, appropriate assessments and transparent standards.

Author: Spencer Benson, Ph.D.

Spencer Benson, Ph.D.
Dr. Spencer Benson is the founder and director of Education Innovations International Consulting.