Faculty Experiences - Ralph Frerichs

Ralph Frerichs - photoRALPH FRERICHS

Epidemiology








Interview Topics


What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

How could the University better facilitate the use of technology in instruction?


Pedagogy


Class Discussion

Different Learning Styles

Review Materials

Technology


Animation

Class Web Site

PowerPoint

Conveying Complex Ideas Using Animation


What I value most in my teaching is being able to present complex ideas clearly and provide value to individual students that want to learn.

The field of epidemiology like many other fields is a complex one. Often I find myself using technology to overcome the constraint of being able to cover all the material. One of my specializations in epidemiology is dealing with problems in developing countries. What I found out over the years when I’m giving presentations in these countries is that technology can help me accurately share ideas with populations where English is not their first language. I rely on visuals and formulas in PowerPoint to bring home concepts to the audience. I was able to transfer the skills that I picked up from teaching and presenting in developing countries into my teaching methods for the students at UCLA. This approach is helpful for my students who are visual learners because they need a visual representation of information.
My presentations are always in English because it’s the Universal language. Even if my students in other countries can speak this language, they may translate my concepts incorrectly. That’s why it’s helpful to use visuals for complex ideas in my presentations to demonstrate the exact meaning. Then there’s added value when I use figures and show relationships. What makes me effective is using the animation feature that is available in PowerPoint. It enables me to use a more traditional teaching approach where students can see an idea evolve on the chalkboard. For example, if I show a graph during class, the lines appear one by one so that the concept of each line can be addressed, just the way it would traditionally be done with chalk and board.

The fun thing about epidemiology is that students watch Crime Scene Investigation on television and I can relate it to class concepts. Even though the underlying patterns of what I teach don’t change much, tying in real life examples helps my students become more interested in class discussions.

I don’t want to get away from the traditional aspects of a lecture, yet sometimes I offer a distanced learning option. In the classroom setting, it’s important for students to relate directly with each other rather than me stopping the whole class (?what does this mean?). During breaks they can ask each other “what did he mean by that” and discuss among themselves. Someone learning from home wouldn’t have this benefit, but on the other hand technology allows for an almost authentic classroom experience. By posting material on the web, I can give every student in my class a chance to keep up with the material and benefit from the full value. I reach out to students who might not be able to attend class by posting lecture slides on my website. It’s terrific to have packages that allow me to upload files onto the web and share course materials with students.

Each class has a top end and a bottom end of students. Generally classes revolves around having the bottom end to keep up with the material and in these situations the top end ends up getting bored or restless in class. I try to focus on the top end to prevent boredom among any of the students. On the other hand, it’s not right to leave the other students behind so I provide a structured outline for each lecture and also post the slides on the web. Slower moving students can then review material. The beauty of all of this is that they can continue to run the lecture over and over again until they understand the concepts presented. One group is the fast movers but another is the slower movers who value education in the deep, individualistic component sense. In this class with this technology method, it’s empowering for the well motivated student. I get a number of students who don’t do to well but I don’t get complains because we can see that they are not taking the opportunities to succeed. Even if life kept you from class for a week, everything is there for you to succeed so the blame should be put on them. The self realization is there for them; I couldn’t have gotten there without technology so I’m a big fan

Each class has a top end and a bottom end of students. Generally classes revolve around helping the bottom end keep up with the material and in these situations the top end ends up getting bored or restless in class. I try to focus on the top end to prevent boredom among any of the students. On the other hand, it’s not right to leave other students behind. I provide a structured outline for each lecture and also post the lecture slides on the web. Students can then review material at their own pace. The beauty of all of this is that they can continue to run the lecture over and over again until they understand the concepts presented. These learners value education in a deep, individualistic sense. It’s empowering for the well-motivated student because they are taking the opportunities that are available for them to succeed. The self-realization is there for them. I couldn’t have gotten there without technology, so I’m a big fan.

The emphasis by the University is bringing better technology into the traditional setting, such as better software and hardware, but we have humans who are need to learn how to use it. It’s too much to expect faculty who are comfortable with their traditional in-class teaching style to switch to bring technology into their teaching. There should be someone teaching faculty how to use new technology and integrating it into their teaching.

I have also created a website that focuses on the individual John Snow, the father of epidemiology.


Oral Interview, March 2007
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