Featured Teacher: Patrick Brown
The CTE is happy to feature Dr. Patrick Brown and welcome him as a new CTE Faculty Fellow. An East Tennessee native, PhD. in Cellular
Biology from the University of Georgia, recipient of many teaching awards and honors
including the ETSU Distinguished Faculty Award in Teaching , Dr. Brown is Associate Professor of Health Sciences with the College of Public Health
at ETSU. Much of his scholarly work focuses on the application of student-centered
active-learning pedagogies in undergraduate science curricula.
With his sparkling quick wit and matching bow tie, Brown is a familiar and welcome
presence to students and faculty in the College of Public Health where he teaches
several courses on biology and anatomy and physiology. His infectious enthusiasm for
cellular biology is matched only by his passion for teaching. He brings the diligence
of a laboratory scientist to bear on the scholarship of teaching and learning. Also,
he just plain loves teaching and cannot imagine doing anything else.
If you were one of the hundreds of students who have taken anatomy and physiology
or clinical parasitology with Dr. Brown, you would know there is never a dull moment
in his class. This is because Brown is a master of making students take control of
their own learning. One of the first activities students do in the lab section is
write out descriptions of the various organs and tissues in the human body using analogies
and descriptive phrases that are familiar to them. This simple practice illustrates
one of the key tenants that drives the way he teaches. “All students come to me with
diverse life experiences, unique perspectives, and previous knowledge that varies
widely from student to student,” says Brown who explains that students don’t speak
“nerd”. Not yet. But once they can view a concept through the lens of their own knowledge
and experience, they can incorporate that concept into their fund of knowledge and
make it their own. “Then you give them the ‘nerdy’ words and definitions,” he says
with a grin.
Using POGIL (that’s Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) the teacher sets up and facilitates
the learning environment and guides students through by asking them questions and
forcing them to figure out how to solve problems without necessarily having all the
knowledge they need. While this may not always be easy, it mirrors the way scientists
actually acquire new knowledge. “What better way to teach science, than to have students using the very cognitive processes that scientists
use to do science?” The entire course works from this principle. Each new topic approached like
a strange new city students explore with the aid of only a few hints and landmarks.
By proceeding this way and articulating what they see in a way that makes sense to
them, they get to know their way around the city very well by the end of the semester.
Brown is convinced this kind of inquiry-based approach is the best way to design courses
for optimal student learning and persistence, especially in STEM fields and especially
for traditionally underrepresented students. There is good evidence to support this,
some of which Brown himself has published. Part of the reason may well be in the “process
oriented” part of POGIL. Here students practice many of the core skills educators
and employers alike expect from well-rounded graduates: they help each process large
amounts of information, they problem solve, they work together and communicate and
overcome differences, they encourage each other, they see they are in this together
and they can do it.
“Teaching is not my job, it is my vocation.” Says Brown, “There is no joy like hearing
two students argue over a concept, figure it out, and say to one another ‘that makes
sense’.” Makes sense indeed!
By Phil Smith
The Center for Teaching Excellence will feature a different faculty member each month.
If you'd like to nominate a teacher to be featured on the site, contact Phil Smith.
See past featured teachers here.