In his influential book, Scholarship Reconsidered (1990), Ernest Boyer proposed that we expand our view of academic scholarship. Boyer noted that universities prioritize what he called “the scholarship of discovery,” also known as “research.” However, he also identified another important academic pursuit called “the scholarship of teaching.” According to Boyer, “teaching is a dynamic endeavor…that builds bridges between the teacher’s understanding and the student’s learning.”
I consider myself to be a scholar of teaching. Like other forms of scholarship, this requires an investment of time and effort to develop the relevant knowledge and expertise. When I was training for my Ph.D. in chemistry, I spent many months learning new experimental methods in order to become an effective researcher. Today, I take the same approach towards the development of my “teaching toolbox.” I read journal articles and attend conferences on teaching and learning. I have become skilled at engaging students during my lectures by using active-learning techniques. When I found that no suitable textbook existed for a course that I wanted to teach, I teamed up with an NYU colleague to write and publish my own textbook.1
Scholars recognize problems in the field and seek creative solutions. I encountered a problem while teaching Molecules of Life, a non-majors science course in the College Core Curriculum. Despite my best efforts, I found it very difficult to help my students visualize the three-dimensional structures of molecules. Knowing the 3D structure of a molecule is essential to understanding its function. It enables us to explain why an overdose of an opioid drug, such as oxycontin, can put a person into a coma, while another opioid drug, naloxone, can revive the same person from near death. Traditional types of chemistry instruction use 2D surfaces such as textbook pages and projection screens, which are ineffective at communicating 3D structures. I needed a new tool for my teaching toolbox.
To meet this need, I reached out to Craig Kapp in the Department of Computer Science. Scholarly collaborations are common in research, so why should teaching be different? Craig and I developed a suite of visualization tools that display the 3D structure of molecules using virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D printing. Scholarly teaching is based on educational evidence, so I assessed what my students are learning with these new technologies. In a feedback survey, 93% of students (42 out of 45) agreed that the augmented reality (AR) activities in lecture helped them gain a better understanding of the 3D structure of molecules. They also provided the following comments:
I can directly observe the molecule with its 3D dimensional structure instead of merely its 2D chemical formula. It helps me understand the position of various atoms.
It’s interesting to see complex molecules represented in a computer model. AR is the future and I’m glad we’re embracing it.
This technology project is an example of scholarly teaching in practice, which identifies an educational challenge and utilizes creative strategies to enhance students’ learning.
1 T. Jordan and N. R. Kallenbach. Chemistry: The Molecules of Life. Oxford University Press, 2017.