This is how I teach

This month we spoke to Associate Professor Elizabeth Beckett, an Education Specialist within the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.  Last year she enjoyed national recognition, receiving the Michael Roberts Excellence in Physiological Education Award. Liz is also a member of the Adelaide Education Academy. Here she speaks about her approach to teaching and the methods she uses to ensure active student participation, online and on-campus.

How would you describe your approach to teaching?

Activate critical thinking 
My goal is to help students to develop the knowledge and skills needed to be able to frame problems, ask good questions and propose intelligent, evidence-based solutions. I realise that the term critical thinking gets a lot of airplay – but I truly believe that providing students with the skills to think critically should sit at core of everything we do. I aim to support students to develop and apply knowledge with an open mindedness to synthesize and evaluate the quality of evidence, whilst also recognising the potential for variability and error. I want to encourage students to be self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective in their thinking.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Beckett

Active learning
I am a strong proponent of active learning.  I have advocated for the retention of interactive practicals within our physiology courses so that students can experience “physiology in action” rather than simply reading or listening to information delivered to them.  Physiology laboratory classes and workshops serve to reinforce knowledge, stimulate interest and help students develop hands-on laboratory skills, teamwork, analytical and communication skills. They also introduce students to the ethics of animal and human experimentation and, in many cases, begin to train students for independent research work and/or clinical careers.  But perhaps most importantly they are opportunities for our students to interact and engage with each other and they are lots of fun!

Active recall
I’m a big believer in active recall.  Exams are coming up, so I’ve been hosting quite a few ‘review and consolidate learning’ sessions over the last couple of weeks.  In these sessions I encourage students to challenge themselves to write their own questions and use these to recall what they know and ‘test themselves’.  My students may cynically believe that this is because I don’t wish to write lots of study questions for them – but I promise this is not the case… I believe that as students go through their materials to frame and write their own questions they are actively engaging their brains and applying cognitive effort to reinforce their understanding even before they try to answer.

What do you like most about teaching in your discipline?

I have always loved human biology as a subject, so I feel super grateful that my career is centred around sharing my own learning and knowledge of this fascinating discipline with others. Liz Beckett

I find human biology wonderfully interesting and obviously so relatable to everything we do and everything we are! I truly hope my passion for the subject comes across in my teaching! I really love working with my colleagues within the School of Biomedicine and Adelaide Medical School.  I appreciate that the vast majority of my peers are extremely committed and passionate about excellent teaching – going above and beyond to ensure that our students have an enjoyable, enriching and rewarding experience.  Each day I witness my colleagues continue to raise the bar in education quality, despite facing ongoing challenges and austerity.

 How does your teaching help prepare students for their future?

I think one of the big challenges currently in physiology education is to ensure the importance of the discipline doesn’t get diluted as we feel the pressure to design and deliver more and more vocational, “job-ready” degrees. Physiology is obviously the cornerstone of medical advancements and new discoveries, but physiology as a subject within biomedical science degrees almost seems to be shrinking to make way for a whole plethora of vocational topics. Without students having space in their curriculum to engage with and consider physiological concepts and mechanisms at a reasonably detailed and advanced level there is possibility that the ‘higher level thinking’ that encourages students to embark on discovery projects to explore gaps in knowledge will be diminished.  I am likely biased (given my physiology ‘upbringing’) but in my work to develop new courses within the new medical program at University of Adelaide I will be emphasising clinical relevance of physiology as the foundation of scientific medical practice and its applicability both at the bedside and for the development of new, improved therapeutics. We need to keep the subject of physiology relevant for students, but we need to keep challenging students to think deeply so they can tackle problems.

What is your favourite way to use technology to enhance learning?

Active polling. I’ve been getting really good use out of the polling feature on ECHO360 over the past few years.  To keep students engaged during a presentation whether it be face to face or via Zoom I’ll drop-in polling questions which students can answer during the session on their personal devices.  Some questions are super easy and included just to check that students are paying close attention.  We have lots of laughs in these classes – I swear some students try to ‘wind me up’ by placing their “hot spot dots” in very random places…

Active preparation. I really value the capabilities of a cloud-based platform we are using within Physiology and Medicine courses called Lt (by AdInstruments).  This web-based application makes it super easy to build pre-session learning activities for students to engage with.  It enhances learning as students can arrive at active learning sessions well prepared for what’s to come.  We therefore can make good use of the time we have in the active learning session.  The other marvellous thing is it is very intuitive for us as course coordinators and instructors to use and we can make tweaks whenever required.

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