^ Memories of teaching food microbiology at The University of Melbourne – with some of my undergraduate students near the end of second semester in 2008.
We are (re)launching our academic support services (Figure 1), which include tutoring and guidance for research students. It therefore seemed appropriate at this stage that I share my teaching philosophy, so basically how I approach teaching of food microbiology. Without any further ado, here is my teaching philosophy.
Teaching is a passion for me. I thoroughly enjoy contributing to students’ acquisition of knowledge and feel truly satisfied when they have really understand a topic or even a concept.
My main area of teaching focus is microbiology, particularly in food and industrial microbiology. However, I am able and very much willing to teach a diversity of courses in different areas of microbiology, immunology, pathology or biochemistry, for example.
It is imperative to ensure that material presented is relevant to what is currently practiced in industry or in a research setting. Therefore, the course content I deliver is always up to date with present trends, methodologies and thinking. For example, in 2011, I overhauled the advanced undergraduate level Food and Industrial Microbiology course I was co-ordinating at Monash University, to ensure the lectures included coverage of rapid, molecular identification techniques (among other alternative approaches to microbial identification) in addition to the diversity of non-thermal processing methods, some of which were in commercial use already.
I am a strong believer of problem based learning teaching methods, but acknowledge that this approach isn’t suited to all topics and subject areas. In those cases, I would use the traditional lecture format to deliver the basic concepts and then use problem based learning to reinforce the fundamental knowledge. I feel this is particularly suited to food microbiology (but not general microbiology) and food processing/manufacturing technology. Related to this approach, I also like to try and teach from original research papers on a particular topic, especially when considering foodborne disease outbreaks or incidents of food spoilage. Using this approach previously, I have allocated a particular research paper to a small group of students and asked them to read it and present relevant details (according to a specified set of questions) to the class – a short discussion session follows presentation of each paper. To enable students to consolidate their newly acquired theoretical knowledge, I believe that the theoretical material for a practical class must be presented in the week of the practical class. To ensure this, I would carefully structure a course so that students gain benefit from this. Furthermore in practical classes, unless all students are given the opportunity for “hands on” experiences, holding practical classes is pointless. This is because, to me, practical classes are the times when all students must have the opportunity to get close to the real science and the real technology and actually do it. Therefore, I would carefully consider the type of exercise, class scheduling and class numbers to guarantee the effective learning experience of all students.
I believe that group work has a place in tertiary education today, but consider that it is an area that isn’t a high priority. In my opinion, students must be able to work on their own first and recognise their own strengths and weaknesses and be competent independent workers, so that they can contribute fairly to group work. Therefore, it would be important to incorporate group work for a “taste” of what is to come in the workplace, but to ensure a system such that group work is not assessed solely on the product, but that some weighting is given to the process as well.
There is no point in teaching without determining how effective the teaching is. Formal course evaluations of teaching quality provide an indication as to the general areas where improvement is best directed. However, I enjoy casual interactions with students after class and during practical sessions as this is when I can really gauge their understanding of the material and provide direct and personalised information to a particular student to fill a deficiency in their knowledge. I also value the use of practice exams, to gain an honest assessment of where the students are with the material, both individually and as a class.