Monday, 29 September 2014

do we need to teach everything that we know?

The Faculty Focus website just re-published an old post from the Teaching Professor which asks the question: why don't we teach the telephone book? It relates back to thinking about learner-centered teaching and using disciplinary content to teach skills that cut across disciplines: thinking, researching, communicating, inter-cultural competence, citizenship, to name a few. The argument here is that for many disciplines, and in particular the sciences, the amount of knowledge to be learned has increased to such a great extent that it is no longer possible to teach or learn it all. So why do so many of our science courses try to do this? I am torn because I teach molecular cell biology and biochemistry and these are very content heavy courses. I appreciate how Maryellen Weimer in her book, Learner-Centered Teaching argues that we should not do away with content but rather need to think about it as a vehicle to also teach students the other transferable skills I listed above. In my courses, students need to have a grasp of biochemical language and concepts, but learning this should not interfere with students ability to learn how to learn. Students still need to be given the guidance and time to become metacognitively adept about how, why and what they learn. I am still not sure how to do this in my content-heavy courses, except that I will provide metacognitive prompts for students to consider how we know something and how they learn the material. And perhaps along the way students might even consider the real reasons they are taking my class.


Daniel J. Klionsky. (2006). Why Don’t We Teach the Telephone Book? The Teaching Professor, 20(3), 7. Retrieved from

Weimer, M. (2013). The Function of Content. In Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice (2nd ed., pp. 114–142). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.