Biology lecturer inspires a ‘spirit of inquiry’ in her students

Kelly Hogan is an award-winning biology teacher who uses innovative methods to make a big classroom seem small. (Photo by Mary Lide Parker.)

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Kelly Hogan teaches a biology 101 section that enrolls nearly 400 students. But Hogan, an award-winning UNC teacher, is constantly striving to find new ways to make that big class seem small.

Hogan is a senior lecturer and adviser in biology who also co-chairs a task force set up by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Karen Gil to highlight innovative teaching techniques across the College. And she sits on the advisory board for the Center for Faculty Excellence.

In her fall 2010 course, Hogan changed the way the course had been taught in the past in order to improve learning opportunities for all students. Historically, a disproportionate share of minority students and first-generation college students had struggled in the large science lecture.

Course changes included an online homework system that provided students with structured feedback on their understanding of key course concepts and allowed Hogan to track of student progress throughout the semester. Hogan contacted students who performed poorly on the first exam and asked them to meet with her. She promoted extra help sessions and guided them through study techniques.

She also used interactive learning strategies in her large lecture class that were generally reserved for smaller classrooms, and she provided students with a list of guided reading questions for each assignment.

Hogan won the 2011 Spirit of Inquiry Award from the John William Pope Center for Higher Education. The award honors faculty at North Carolina colleges and universities for teaching rigorous courses that emphasize open intellectual inquiry.

Kelly Hogan won the 2011 Spirit of Inquiry Award from the Pope Center. (Photo by Mary Lide Parker.)

The revamped course included “mini-activities,” small-group problems and even interaction through students’ cell phones. Hogan would ask the class a question, and students would send their answers to her electronically through text-messaging and other technology. Then she would put some of the answers on the screen so students could evaluate and compare answers and debate the pros and cons of each.

The result was that “I talked a lot less and the classroom was a lot noisier,” she said. “The student feedback has been wonderful, and I am more inspired than ever to keep learning about how students learn best.”

Hogan believes you don’t have to use the latest technology to make things more interactive in the classroom. Sometimes, good, old-fashioned teaching methods work well too, like having students work at the board.

“Students love to see other students perform for them,” said Hogan, who was referencing some of the fun, low-tech activities students will sometimes do in her course. Hogan did her graduate work at UNC, receiving her Ph.D. in pathology and lab medicine. “It’s fun and introduces variety in the classroom.”

She also loves to share examples of student work with the whole class.

“I walk around and look for good teaching moments,” she said. “I ask for student examples. … I am pretty anonymous, but I put things on the document camera which is projected to the whole class. I am teaching students to evaluate other students’ work.”

Hogan has won a number of UNC teaching awards, including the Biology Department Instructor of the Year and the Chapman Family Teaching Award in 2011, and a Student Undergraduate Teaching and Staff Award in 2010. She created a blog called Instructor Exchange. It’s a place where teachers can share and exchange classroom materials and ideas with their colleagues. She is expanding her role as a teacher to include students all over the nation, as she has recently taken on a co-author role on a well-established introductory biology textbook, Campbell Biology, Concepts and Connections.

“Ultimately, I hope to make an impact broader than my classes, helping to retain students in science beyond their first introductory biology class,” she said.

Hogan is featured in a number of short videos on the Center for Faculty Excellence’s YouTube Channel:

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