Photo of a woman speaking in front of classroom chalkboard.

MIT Professor Hazel Sive teaching 7.013 Introductory Biology.

The lecture continues to be a mainstay of college education, and every college graduate knows that a good lecturer can make a huge difference in how well students learn.

Professor Hazel Sive has been teaching 7.013 Introductory Biology at MIT for more than a decade, and she shares her thoughts about how she teaches a class with upwards of 400 students on the course’s Instructor Insights page.  Professor Sive has done a lot of reflecting and revising over the years, and her Instructor Insights contain a wealth of information on very practical concerns, such as why she uses a combination of slides, handouts, and chalkboard in class, how she designs assignments, and how she coaches students to attempt them.

She sees the lecture not simply as a way to impart knowledge, but as a group dialogue or conversation, in which she challenges students to think in practical and creative ways about the information they are learning. She makes a habit of responding in class to student questions that she receives from multiple channels: during office hours, by email, in an online discussion forum, and during class time and informally before class starts. Professor Sive makes a habit of walking up and down the aisles with a microphone. “I throw out challenges and give the class opportunities to think about and discuss them,” she says. Challenges are not the only things she throws out. She is famous for distributing at a distance toy prizes to students with the most intriguing questions and remarks. She likes toy sharks that squirt water, nose-shaped pencil sharpeners, and other quirky rewards.

Perhaps most important is her approach to the course material itself. In keeping with the MIT motto Mens et Manus, or “Mind and Hand,” she wants students to learn not just the terminology and facts of biology, but how to solve biological problems. Even as students are learning how proteins are assembled and how DNA replicates itself, they are being encouraged to think how to apply this knowledge in the real world in ways that can make a difference to people’s lives.

You might like other Instructor Insights pages. They are part of the OCW Educator initiative.

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director