We Surveyed 600 Life Sciences Instructors: This Is What We Learned
Posted on 5/4/23 by Andra Bowditch
One of our approaches to product development at Visible Body is to think of it as a problem-solving exercise. What problems can we help solve for life sciences instructors and their students? Critical to this approach is conducting research to understand the methods and materials life sciences instructors use, the challenges and pressures they face, and how they generally feel about teaching. These insights help inform how we create interactive 3D models, quizzing, flashcards, and premade courses for A&P and biology classrooms in order to improve the teaching experience and results for instructors.
We asked, you answered. Earlier this year, 600 instructors from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia responded to our survey about teaching life sciences. We’ll share some key takeaways about what we uncovered in this blog.
1. Tried and true? Or new and fresh? Instructors want to make room for both
We asked instructors about the teaching methods and materials they use now and expect to be using three years from now. A majority of instructors use, and expect to continue to use, a number of tried and true methods that are fundamental to their course design: low-stakes quizzing and assignments throughout the semester; higher stakes exams; traditional lectures; hands-on labs; and in class projects.
Yet, life sciences instruction is far from static. A couple of data points stood out to us:
Of those instructors who don’t yet assign interactive digital homework (e.g.,Visible Body, Pearson Mastering, McGraw Hill Connect), nearly half say they plan on doing so in the future. Likewise, over a third of those who don’t currently use virtual labs plan on adopting them within the next three years.
While currently four out of five instructors use a traditional textbook, only half of them plan on using a textbook in three years.
Virtual/digital tools continue to gain ground in life sciences instruction, and we are here for it.
Time. Money. Motivation. These are the ever-present obstacles in life, as well as in life sciences instruction. The majority of instructors regard the following three items as a major challenge in teaching: “finding time to evolve the curriculum”; “keeping students engaged and motivated”; and “finding materials that are affordable to my students and/or institution.”
“I think there are a lot of great opportunities with change, but change can also be hard, especially when we are already overloaded as instructors,” said a college biology instructor. “It is important, but can be hard to continuously adapt and alter course planning and instruction design.”
We’ve heard time and time again that instructors are finding it difficult to get students engaged. This problem is one that Visible Body is dedicated to helping solve with our highly interactive and visual products. We also like to suggest methods such as gamification and differentiated instruction that can help get students on track. Additionally, our commitment to creating easy to use and affordable teaching solutions is core to what we do.
3. Pressure on instructors comes from multiple fronts
While instructors, for the most part, feel that they have agency over how their courses are taught, they tend to feel pressure from the outside. Where this pressure comes from partially depends on where they teach. Two-year college instructors, for example, are more likely than other instructors to report that their students’ preferences and demands are a major influence on their teaching. And high school instructors are twice as likely as four-year college instructors to say their school’s strategies and directives are a major influence on how they teach.
Some of the comments we received from high school instructors explicitly tied their high levels of frustration (compared to college instructors) with the pressure they feel.
“When I'm in the classroom, I am happy,” wrote one high school A&P instructor. “The worry and frustration come from disagreements in terms of departmental direction and edicts, and also from the school at large.”
4. Despite it all, the #1 emotion when looking at the future? Excitement!
When you peel away the pressures, the stresses, and the trade-offs of their profession, and you simply ask instructors to tell you how they feel about teaching in the future, the emotion at the top of the list is excitement. Instructors view the potential of the future—of their students, of their teaching, of themselves—as something to look forward to.
“I am always excited and motivated to provide knowledge and understanding of new material to individuals who do not know or understand the concept of the material,” wrote one allied health instructor. “I love seeing the light bulb get brighter as the students find the connection and the use of the material being taught.”
Of course, it’s possible to have mixed emotions, which instructors certainly do. Still, instructors were more inclined to choose positive emotions over negative ones when thinking about the future. Here is the full array of emotions and what percentage of instructors chose each one to describe their feelings about teaching in the future: excited (60%); motivated (53%); comfortable (30%); frustrated (27%); worried (23%); nervous (20%); uninspired (7%); and confused (4%).