Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Instructional Strategies and Learning Preferences at a Historically Black University

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Instructional Strategies and Learning Preferences at a Historically Black University

Article excerpt

Through the Minority Biomedical Research Support-Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement program, the natural sciences faculty at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically Black university, works to support their students' learning. The heterogeneity of learning preferences among students challenges the faculty to provide a variety of instructional methods. Supplemental instruction was a particularly popular and effective strategy. Results include an increasing trend in number of JCSU Natural Sciences graduates.

I was doing Punnett Squares and I was leading them through it This goes here. This goes here. One of the students said, "1 know how to do that. I learned that awhile ago." She walked up to the front of the class and does it on the board. She does it perfectly. Everybody knew how to do it. Okay now, "What is an allele?" No idea. "Where did these letters come from?" No idea. None at all! If I had just asked them to do a Punnett Square on the test I would not know that they had no clue what they were doing. They knew how to put the letters in the square, but they didn't know what it meant I was so shocked I just stood there with my mouth open.

This revelation shared in an interview with a professor in the Department of Natural Sciences at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) exemplifies the need for formative assessment one of many instructional strategies professors need to guide their students to understanding. Likewise, students need multiple learning strategies to proceed past memorization to understanding. This study examines where the students and instruction of JCSU are in this transition from memorization to understanding.

Black university students have been underrepresented in the biological sciences and are less likely to complete college than Whites (Hoffman \amp; Llagas, 2003). To address this problem, the natural sciences faculty at JCSU, a historically Black university, developed programs to both attract and sustain undergraduate majors in the sciences. Using as a model a program developed at Xavier University (Carmichael, Labat, Hunter, Privett, & Sevenair, 1993), die Minority Biomedical Research Support-Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS-RISE) program offers not only financial aid, but also tutorial sessions and research opportunities to qualified students.

The heterogeneity of learning styles among Black students presents the challenge to provide a variety of instructional strategies so that all students can be successful (Alcock & Melear, 1998; Matthews, 1995). This requires a faculty to examine and revise teaching methods. To reach one of the "hallmarks of the new science of learning"-understanding-students also need to develop learning techniques that take more time, use meta-cognitive strategies, and are harder to accomplish titan memorizing. (NRC, 1996, 2000).

METHODOLOGY AND FINDINGS

During the 2002-03 and 2003-04 academic years, 9 faculty members and 40 students in the Natural Sciences Department completed interviews and questionnaires. When possible, interviews were conducted; however, the same questions were also presented to students and faculty as a questionnaire if interviews were impractical to schedule. The interview questions are presented in the Appendices of this article. Rather than using a learning style inventory, the students were interviewed and asked, "Describe how you go about understanding (not just memorizing) new material. What needs to happen in your college level science courses to help you achieve a high level of understanding?" The professors were interviewed and asked to describe their teaching methods. The transcribed responses and questionnaires were analyzed to determine student learning preferences and identify faculty teaching methods.

Current Instructional Practices

Studies have found mat the lecture-recitation method of instruction is still prevalent in college science classrooms (Walczyk & Ramsey, 2003). …

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