Transformations

John Doudna, Assistant Professor of Biology

In my years of working with students, one student stands out me for her transformation from disengaged to leader. But before I get to the specifics, I want you to understand the transformation my classes have taken over the years. In my early years, my focus was on providing a foundation of knowledge through well-designed lectures. Some students excelled, some failed, and the rest plodded along. I could not understand why my solid teaching was not impacting more students.

I discovered active learning a few years later. The idea that students would collect some knowledge and then apply it to complex problems just made sense – it was the scientific process! I trained and applied what I learned. The change was transformational for me, as it taught me to see students as the drivers of the learning process. It was transformational for students, as they became invested participants in the learning process. It was transformational for the classroom, as the environment came alive. I also discovered that it takes time and trust on the part of the students to develop as active participants in the classroom.

This brings me to the one student. On the first day of class she was reserved and stood out among her peers. She sat way in the back and she made efforts to not engage in interactions. I have an activity on day one that requires each student to speak aloud and to work with at least one other student on a low-stress activity. She participated in a minimal way. In the next small group work, she was more engaged and assertive. By class four or five she was not just participating in her group discussions, she was managing them for the better. You could sense that she felt an ownership of her learning journey. She was in her classroom, not mine.

The success I found in using active learning and the transformation in this student had little to nothing to do with me – the best possible scenario in my opinion. Her experience was due to a classroom environment where her opinions and ideas were valued and given voice. She could not maintain her distance, but she could have remained removed from the work (non-graded by the way). But by providing her with the opportunity and the support to engage and speak out, she not only became an active participant, she became a leader.