Faculty Experiences - Steve Strand

Steve Strand - photoSTEVE STRAND

Life Sciences

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?


Ask good questions
Bring an experience to the classroom
Exercises & assignments
Peer review
Sample exams & papers
Show what you're talking about


Calibrated Peer Review (CPR) (project)
Class web site
Discussion board
PowerPoint (software)

Getting Students Really Excited About a Topic

Teaching for me has always been very special because of my teaching position at UCLA. It is a major research university, but faculty in general pay minimal attention to teaching in my opinion. So we get some of the very best students, but we do not carry out the criteria of balancing our research with quality teaching. I always felt that part of my calling was to address this issue--to provide as many students as possible with a high quality education in the classroom.

I find that students are first interested in a subject such as biology because it is part of getting into medical school. Indeed they find out as they take the course how enjoyable it can be; they may have thought they wanted to be a physician but may be interested in being a biologist. My time with them is a chance for me to get them really excited about a topic.

Students taking science courses mostly think that in order to pass the class they have to memorize a bunch of facts. I try to convey to them two things: (1) that biology is fascinating and (2) that biology is a bunch of ideas. The ideas are really interesting and we don't have all the answers, so it's a very vibrant and alive field. The students who stay in academics can make a contribution oftentimes much greater than they can by being a technician in the medical field. The students who are motivated can do something intellectual for the rest of their lives.

One of the problems in biology is that there are some things you cannot bring into the classroom or places you cannot go. So with technology we've been able to bring things to the classroom that we couldn't before because they were too dangerous, too big, or too expensive. Likewise, we've been able to take students to places virtually that they could not have gone because it's too far or difficult to get there. For example, with technology we can show bacterium growing or elephant mating behavior and so on. I'm using video and still images in my PowerPoint presentations in my daily lectures, and this creates a whole new dimension because our brains were designed to work with moving images. If a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth a hundred pictures, we are able to see the world a lot more clearly with the new technologies.

PowerPoint is the tool that I use to deliver my lectures. It's such a versatile program and the one I know how to use best. It didn't take that long to learn. Like everyone else probably, I started slowly and did things very badly. But because I decided it was such a powerful tool, I invested the time and got better at it. I think students are now able to ask more questions and more in depth questions because of the PowerPoint lecture format. Students asking better questions means to me that the teaching is better.

My class is between 350 to 400 students. Technology has helped me out a lot. Even if it's just being able to produce and project a graph. To put it up bit-by-bit and talk about it is so much better than using an overhead or a chalk board where students can barely see your writing. I do complete multimedia presentations, and I do use a device where I can write on the notes as I am lecturing. Everything is on the screen for the students to see. I'm using a single medium that allows me to simulate the chalk board style as well. I don't have to leave one spot and go to another. I've found that the use of a remote control is extremely helpful. A large screen is useful. So, in Moore 100 where the screen is 10' x 12' you can stand right there and just point to areas without having to use a pointing device. It's really an unbelievably powerful way to present material to students.

When we first started using video images in class, I specifically asked students to comment on whether they found it useful. It was literally rave reviews. Since that time, I simply assumed the response is strong and that students still like it. On the occasions that the videos aren't working, which is happening less and less, the students have expressed disappointment. How much it affects their learning is an open question. Certainly they enjoy it and it gets their attention. The technology gets them excited and this is valuable.

I have collaborated with other professors in the department, and we are working on a digital library that we are sharing among ourselves. What we're trying to accomplish is simply to collect video images to share what others have done. For example, I've done a lot of under water video work. We can gather from current commercial DVDs, original research work of colleagues, cinematographers, etc. I've contacted others about their work and asked them to use it in our educational collection and most of them have said yes. So far, we've only used the collection for faculty to use for lectures. We haven't made it accessible to students except for professors providing excerpts or links on their class web site.

At first it was difficult to start this collection because scanning technologies were not as good, but now you can get good images off the web. We've been collecting for about three years and have over a thousand images in our library that we often use. Now with two clicks on the web you can basically get any image you want. The process has gotten fabulously easy.

All science courses have class web sites. I post all of my lectures on the site after the live lecture. I usually give my students before class a PowerPoint print out with half or two thirds of the information on it. So they have to take notes during lecture. Afterwards I post the complete notes, but I strongly recommend to students to not just print my notes but use it to add to theirs. This way they can have one complete source where most of it is written in their own writing.

Also, I use the class web site for the grading which is a nice feature. Students have instant access to their grades. The piece I find most useful is the discussion board. Either I or my TAs respond to their questions every day. It's a very powerful technique to learn. It provides a lot of interaction. Everyone gets to see what everyone else writes. I don't really use the class web site as a virtual office hour; I hold regular office hours because I prefer face-to-face interactions. Because not all students have equal access to the web, while we occasionally put links to materials I want them to read, mostly I try to give them hardcopies to try to make it an even playing field.

The one major exception is that we use the web in LS1 for CPR (Calibrated Peer Review). All of their writing assignments are on the web. CPR was developed in the chemistry department by Orville Chapman. Arlene Russell and he have been the main advocates of the program. I started using it about a year ago. It's a completely web based series of assignments where students are given writing prompts and directions. They write an essay and submit it. After they submit their work, they look at a series of sample essays ranging from bad to good. Once they learn how to evaluate those essays--we call that process calibration--they then grade three of their peers' essays and grade their own. It's a chance for them to do some writing and also some critical analysis of writing. And we use topics that we deem are very central to life sciences. The idea is that they are writing to learn, but also learning to write. We've found with classes as large as ours, we as professors and TAs don't have the people power to address these writing issues in any other way.

My TAs are as sophisticated with technology as I am. It's still a case of a generation thing. They grew up with it. Some of the simulations that we developed are completely computer based. The TAs are comfortable with them. It's funny that when we first started doing these demonstrations, TAs grumbled that we were trying to replace them. Now they simply realize that these computer simulations allow them to teach better.

I think in the future all lectures will be videotaped and stored digitally and will be available online to be accessed. I don't think there's any way around that, but I don't know if this is the best way to go.

Oral Interview, May 7, 2003