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Professor of Biology Amy Mulnix, left, and Elly Vandegrift ‘97 are gave a presentation on active learning techniques during the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual conference in February.

EC professor, alumna touting active learning techniques to improve teaching of science

April 05, 2014

Professor of Biology Amy Mulnix and Elly Vandegrift ‘97 have developed a workshop on six features of research-supported active learning techniques for improving teaching in science. 

The three-hour workshop, “Thinking Skills for the 21st Century: Teaching for Transfer,” debuted at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago in February. 

“The main goal is to provide teachers with the techniques they need to not only give students knowledge, but effectively transfer information so they will graduate with 21st Century work skills,” Mulnix says. “People also call it deep learning; not having knowledge alone, but doing something with that knowledge.” 

Mulnix and Vandegrift say techniques that promote transfer may seem like common sense “but teachers don’t always use them.” 

“Transfer starts with good teaching,” says Vandegrift, who today is associate director of the University of Oregon’s Science Literacy Program. “I think what happens a lot of times in traditional classrooms is that when students sit and just listen to a lecture, they are not processing the information.” 

One of the most common ways to transfer information, they say, is encouraging participation in class, but also by using photographs or case studies during teaching, offering students feedback and seeking ways for students to connect the information to their personal lives. 

The pair worked together at Earlham while Vandegrift was a student and also as a visiting instructor in Biology after graduate school. They reunited last winter to develop the workshop after studying three reports by the National Research Council, President’s Council on Advisors in Science and Technology, the National Science Foundation and American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

They were joined by S. Raj Chaudhury, associate director of the Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning at Auburn University, and Jennifer Yates, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University, to develop and present the session. 

Mulnix and Vandegrift hope to take the session on the road to other conferences, secondary and post-secondary institutions in the future. The next stop is Auburn University. 

“The goal of this session is to take many ideas around improving science education that are out there and make them applicable to the classroom,” Vandegrift says. “My hope is that anybody who comes to this workshop will find something that they can take home and use immediately in the classroom.” 

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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