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Jessica Watkins's picture

Cells...or People?

I really enjoyed Greg's presentation, particularly the way he started it off by saying he wanted our help in making his lecture  more interactive.  The fact that he immediately told us how important our feedback was to him transferred a lot of authority from him, the "conductor," to the rest of us and put us in the mood to learn with open minds.  I found myself more receptive to his teaching techniques knowing that he was expecting us to be critical in a way.  However, I actually felt less critical because he had started out saying this.  Beginning with 'learning objectives' seemed like a good way to structure the lesson, and it certainly contributed to a sense of "common purpose" toward which we were all working.  But does this preemptive structuring limit free-flow thinking?

Because I had taken Greg's class before and was familiar with much of the terminology in his lecture, I had the luxury of being able to think more passively and abstractly about the material rather than actively learn it.  I was surprised at how many connections I made between cells and morphogens and students/people in general.  For example:

  • Camouflage: Butterflies use it to hide from predators in the wild. Do we use it to blend in to what we perceive to be "right" or popular so we can avoid "predators" like stereotyping or discrimination?
  • Cell fate: Each and every cell in our body is "fated" to turn out a certain way or be directed to a certain part of the body for a specific task.  It's interesting to rethink the concept of free will, or even just true freedom at that, when we are entirely composed of things whose fate is predetermined.
  • Different cells are shaped by concentration gradients via morphogens, but specific patterns of things like pigment are dependent on environmental factors: Just like students! We are all shaped by a greater culture and understanding of life, but on a closer level we are affected by factors such as family life and personal experience.

Overall Greg's use of the participants' opinions to answer questions and devise experiments was quite good. I did not think that his entertaining alternative explanations was detrimental to our conversation at all; in fact, at multiple points I discovered that the answer I had thought up that I thought was "right" could really benefit from the opinions of others.  I think his technique worked because he could balance group discussion and thought with actual lecture time during which he would "teach" us in the traditional sense of the word.  However, I think the size of our group also helped this along. Because we are in a setting of a small, close-knit seminar (and because Greg teaches at a small liberal arts college) it is easier to listen to individuals' opinions and take them all into consideration within a discussion.  On a larger scale this might not work because the time needed to answer every question and satisfy every raised hand would be immense in comparison to the time needed to actually get through material, and class time is often limited.


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