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Breslow, Lori, 5.95J Teaching College-Level Science, Spring 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Teaching College-Level Science

Spring 2006

Strategic teaching is a way of making decisions about a course, an individual class, even an entire curriculum that begins with an analysis of key variables in the teaching situation. These variables include the characteristics of learner, the learning objectives, and the instructional preferences of the teacher. Once these variables have been analyzed, informed decisions can be made about course content, structure, methods of assessment, and other key components. (Image by Dr. Lori Breslow.)

Course Highlights

This course features assignments and an extensive readings list.

Course Description

This seminar focuses on the knowledge and skills necessary for teaching science and engineering in higher education. Topics include: using current research in student learning to improve teaching; developing courses; lecturing; promoting students' ability to think critically and solve problems; communicating with a diverse student body; using educational technology; creating effective assignments and tests; and utilizing feedback to improve instruction. Students research and teach a topic of particular interest. This subject is appropriate for both novices and those with teaching experience.


Course Description

This seminar was created in response to a request by science graduate students planning to pursue careers as academics. They wanted to complement the training they were receiving in research with the opportunity to improve their ability to teach. Thus, this course was developed to demystify such topics as: using the latest research in student learning to improve teaching; developing a course; promoting active learning, problem solving and critical thinking; designing exams and assignments; and using educational technology - with an emphasis on teaching science and engineering.

One of the most important findings in educational research is that students learn best by doing. In this class, you will be doing a good portion of the teaching by researching topics that interest you, and preparing interactive lessons to educate each other. I'll help you with the preparation of the class, following guidelines we'll discuss, and you'll receive constructive feedback on your efforts from me and your classmates.

I hope this course will aid you in developing your professional identity as a teacher by giving you insights into how things work in the academy, and by providing opportunities for you to practice your professional skills.

Learning Objectives*

If I've done a good job as the instructor and you've put effort into the course, by the end of the semester, you should be able to:

  1. Define the major research streams in learning in higher education (cognitive psychology, constructivism, expert-novice studies, etc.).
  2. Describe three or four ways that research can be applied to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) teaching.
  3. Demonstrate a set of teaching skills, including:
    • construct a set of learning objective
    • write problems for problem sets and exams
    • give students feedback
    • lecture
    • lead a discussion or an interactive exercise.
  4. Discuss how to address some of the challenges that come with teaching college students.
  5. Write a teaching philosophy statement.

*We will talk about how to write learning objectives. What do you notice about the characteristics of this list? For example, how is each learning objective phrased?


Because I hope this is a class in which you will learn from one another as well as from me, my expectations about our work together this semester include:

  • That you are willing to share your knowledge, opinions, and ideas in class.
  • That you will provide one another with clear, honest, concrete, and sensitive feedback on work that is done.
  • That any concept that is unclear or confusing will be explored and examined.

Texts and Materials

MIT students will be provided with a Course Reader (Note: Not available to OCW users. Please refer to readings section for a list of the materials that were included in the Course Reader.)

In addition, there are two textbooks that I recommend for beginning teachers:

Davis, Barbara Gross. Tools for Teaching. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993. ISBN: 9781555425685.

McKeachie, Wilbert J., et al. Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 9th ed. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1994. ISBN: 9780669194340.

And three texts I can recommend that focus specifically on STEM teaching, learning, and academic careers:

Davidson, Cliff I., and Susan A. Ambrose. The New Professor's Handbook: A Guide to Teaching and Research in Engineering and Science. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994. ISBN: 9781882982011.

Reis, Richard M. Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering. New York, NY: IEEE Press, 1997. ISBN: 9780780311367.

Wankat, Phillip C., and Frank S. Oreovicz. Teaching Engineering. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1992. ISBN: 9780070681545.

Please also buy one DVD because at least a portion of the class you lead will be recorded. There may also be additional readings handed out in class. Finally, I would like you to subscribe to the Tomorrows-Professor Listserv, which is managed by Richard Reis, a Stanford engineering professor. You can do that by going to: Information Technology Services and following the directions.


There are five assignments in this class:

  1. List your goals for this course.
  2. Write a teaching philosophy statement.
  3. Analyze a class in your discipline.
  4. Develop and teach a topic of interest to you in class.
  5. Revisit your goals for this course and your teaching philosophy statement.

I would like to know the topic of your class beforehand, so we can work on the learning objectives and performance criteria for it.

Five Short Assignments (10% each) 50%
The Class You Will Teach 40%
Effort, Enthusiasm, and General Good Will 10%

Each of these assignments is explained in more detail in the assignments section.

Course Calendar

1 Introductions (to the Course and Each Other)

Setting the Context: A Short History of Teaching and Learning in the American University

The Impact of College on Students

The Student-Teacher Relationship
2 What We Know about Student Learning in Higher Education Assignment 1 due
3 Constructing a Syllabus (with Special Emphasis on Learning Objectives and Performance Criteria) Assignment 2 due
4 Teaching Methodologies (with a Special Emphasis on Lecturing and Active Learning) Assignment 3 due
5 Diversity in the Classroom  
6 Assessing for Learning  
7-11 Student Presentations Assignment 4 due in Ses #8
12 Course Wrap-up Assignment 5 due   Tell A Friend