I have now taught a large introductory class (Physics 2020), and two advanced classes with commensurately smaller attendance (PHYS 4230/6230/6231 – molecular motors and PHYS 4410 – classical physics). In the future, I would like to expand the curriculum in biophysics – advanced biophysics classes are sorely needed both from an academic learning perspective and as an important building block to similarly broad efforts in research. At the same time, I am also interested in teaching core physics classes.
I feel that the greatest need is a biophysics journal club class, similar to journal class courses in many other biomedical departments on campus but with emphasis squarely on biophysics. My experience as a PI and an educator is that the culture of reading primary sources is not introduced to students early enough or emphatically enough. This may be a particularly acute problem in biophysics where the field is young, there are few established books, and primary sources is all we really have.
I believe that all good teaching begins with motivation. If I give the students a reason to care, then I can hold their attention and so I get a chance to provide them with the information they need.
Ideally the learning experience in each class is self-contained, and thoroughly planned out, proceeding smoothly and logically from the well-known and obvious to the more complicated. In most classes I taught so far, the educational background of the students varied significantly though for different reasons. Therefore, the ability to deliver self-contained class was particularly important.
I think that homework plays an important role in the learning process. For core classes (where key skills and key information are learned) the homework assignments should emphasize applying the new skills and knowledge to the problems not covered in class, allowing the students an opportunity to be creative and extend their understanding. Such exercises are also the key to students gaining confidence in their proficiency of any given area. I believe that tests should reflect the subject matter covered in class and on homeworks. However, for some of the more advanced courses, it may be best to simply guide the students’ exploration of a subject, allowing them to e.g. research the literature themselves. In this way students can develop a picture of a given field of research that is to an extent their own. My observation from teaching Molecular Motors is that this is possible but that guidance needs to be well structured, otherwise it takes too much student and professor time. For instance, I have revised the course for its second edition so that literature reading is tested every week rather than at more random intervals (smaller amount of material tested more often) and this has been a very successful modification (by my estimation).
I also believe it is very important for a teacher to make themselves available to students outside of class. In some cases, a professor can serve in a more general role of a mentor, helping students with class-related, research-related, and/or career-related challenges.
Lastly, a professor needs to accumulate all feedback from students to refine their teaching approach. Homework and exam performance are one avenue for feedback but a teacher should also accumulate suggestions and comments from students, colleagues, and facilities like CTLE (Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence) and use this feedback to improve course design, teaching delivery, and various organizational aspects of a class.