Seattle U professor wins award for lecture-less class



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Posted on November 24, 2011 at 6:49 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 24 at 6:57 PM

SEATTLE -- Think back for a moment to your favorite teacher and what he or she said or did that made you excited about your education. For many students at Seattle University that teacher is Professor of Biochemistry Dr. Vicky Minderhout.  It's not so much what she does, but it's what she doesn't do that has a lot of students energized.

"You're accustomed to having the information fed to you in a lecture format and here you really have to come to your own conclusions about the material," says senior Hannah Franklin.

Minderhout doesn't stand in front of the class. She doesn't lecture. 

"For some people it seems very foreign," says Minderhout.  "Physically I'm walking around the classroom."

The key is to have the students gather in small groups. Four students per group. And then there are the questions.

"We let our workbook ask the questions," she says. The workbook Foundations of Biochemistry was written with colleague Jenny Loertscher.

"She means so much to me as a mentor," says Loertscher who is thrilled but not surprised that Dr. Minderhout has been named Washington Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.(CASE). "She has a great effect on students in her own classroom but she also has a great effect on students, thousands of other students in dozens of other classrooms because of the professional development that she's with professionals across the country."

I made the mistake of asking Dr. Minderhout about that. My mistake was how I phrased the question: "Do you lecture other professionals?" Her response: "Why would I lecture them? They get to work in groups too!"

"Really you're trying to create a good learning experience for them," she adds. "Just answering the question is not usually the best learning experience for them. It would actually be more of a help for them to find the answers in the materials they already know. So starting with the simple question helps the student build up what they know already and establish connections to prior knowledge."

She has seen the effect in her classrooms.

"You can see the eyes light up and they go, 'Ahhh. I never thought about it like that,' because somebody else brought something to the table that other people didn't know," Minderhout describes.

Senior Brittany Sullivan didn't know what to think at first.

"I feel like in all our educational careers where we've had one format where you read something and you spurt it all out and get a good grade for it. Here you have to be outside of the box. You have to apply what you know. I love the process a lt more that I thought I would, "she says with a laugh.

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