I practice student-centered, feedback-driven critical pedagogy grounded in active learning. My teaching is centered showing students that science is not unbiased, but an active form of discovery. Thus, students can shape and influence science by bringing their whole selves to scientific inquiry.
The undergraduate classroom is perfectly poised to apply this teaching philosophy. Most students are coming from classroom environments that required memorization of information and processes determined by nameless scientists and deposited as facts in textbooks. They are at the optimal point in their educational lives to begin thinking critically about the production of science, their role in it, and their potential contributions.
I have had the opportunity to engage in this pedagogy with undergraduate students at various levels. I assigned students an analysis paper for their final project in my self-designed seminar “Feminist Neuroscience.” Assignments of different modalities were scaffolded in throughout the quarter to prepare them for successful project completion. To guide students through reading a scientific article, we rehashed the scientific method as a class and transformed that knowledge into a fillable worksheet. Students learned to summarize graphs and that viewpoints on the same data can lead to different summaries through a graphical abstract assignment. Alternatively, I designed application-level problem sets for the upper-division physiology course “Neuroendocrinology of Reproduction,” where students used classroom knowledge to interpret data, test hypotheses, make predictions, and design future experiments. These sets were also formalized groupwork should the students wish, allowing for community engagement that mimics problem solving in the lab.
I also incorporate queer and feminist theories into discussions of the neuroscientific study of sex variables and sex differences. In my self-designed general education and writing seminars, Feminist Neuroscience and Sex, Gender & Feeding – Intersections in the Brain, these social science disciplines were formal parts of the curriculum, occupying multiple weeks of course instruction. I informally spotlighted social scientific material and student thinking of the interconnectivity between science and society in Neuroendocrinology of Reproduction using discussion boards, where I encouraged students to reflect on course material and think about other ways the same question has been answered outside of the academic, scientific realm. I asked them to connect course material to their own lived and cultural experiences, to identify gaps in scientific or their own knowledge. In this way, students were able to bring their whole selves to the course and to the material. Their posts were filled with personal anecdotes and personal cultural practices, as well as information from other, non-scientific courses such as disability studies, gender and women’s studies, queer studies, and cultural studies. Whenever I ask students to reflect on what they are being taught, students learn to think critically about how science is being taught and presented, and how that reflects societal norms and hegemonic structures.
I view students as partners in learning and exploration, shifting away from the traditional lecture class model. During the first meeting for any class I teach, I guide students in creating class agreements as an opportunity to shape their learning community. This living document promotes inclusivity and justice within the classroom by holding both students and me as the instructor accountable to one another. This document, in addition to pre-class surveys I frequently administer to take help meet students where they are at, provides a strong foundation on which to build a learning environment within which students are free to bring their full selves to the classroom and take intellectual risks. Students begin to feel confident in their own perspectives and are also less worried about being penalized for being “wrong.” When students can bring their whole selves to the table, classrooms transition from locations of silence and judgement to places of freedom.
Through structured student support in higher-order thinking, attention to the interconnectedness of science and society, and the creation of a community environment, my pedagogy aims to have students leave my classes with more than just and increased understanding of neuroscience. I encourage my students to take a step back, to ask what contributed to the interpretation before us aside from the data, and what we can glean if we attempt to break free from our perspective. I strive to engage with undergraduate students in a way that prioritizes their voices, their ideas, and their experiences, so that they learn that their critical capacity has validity. My pedagogy aims for students to develop their own perspectives and approaches so that they can contribute to the narratives of scientific discovery.