More Inspiring Minds
By Mary Alice Casey
It's 8 a.m. on the Monday after the Super Bowl. A PowerPoint slide explaining how microbes get energy to do their biological job illuminates the front of Grover 205E. At the controls is Calvin James.
The associate professor of biomedical sciences progresses through his slides, scribbles supporting illustrations on the chalkboard and inquires about the quizzical look on a student's face. Despite the late night many must have had, students are engaged. It's obvious there's no risk in asking or answering questions. It's equally apparent that this Ohio University faculty member of 13 years wants to accommodate all learners -- and all learners' styles.
"I know you've heard some of this before," he tells students, "but it's important for all of us to be on the same page before we move forward."
Sophomore John Madden, a biological sciences major, appreciates James' diligence in making sure all students absorb the messages.
"A lot of teachers go straight through the material. But he takes time to make sure you understand it before he moves on," says Madden, recalling the day James explained how the electron transport chain operates within a cell. "He said, 'Imagine that you're importing material in the classroom door, and that each of you is a molecule within a cell. You need to pass the material on to the next person, and you can only hold one thing at a time.' It slowed everything down a little bit so we could understand all the parts."
Leaving no one behind in such lessons, which one day will help these biology, chemistry and premed students solve problems in the workplace, crosses James' mind every time he's in front of a class.
"My job is not to stand there and mystify them," he says, "but to demystify this complex thing. You've got to read them. Their faces give you messages."
James approaches teaching from many directions: His PowerPoint slides are posted on the Web so students can refer to them at any time. He repeats and rephrases the "take-home message of the day," leaving no doubt about his expectations. He makes sure the four hours that students spend in the lab each week let them put into practice the theories he's covered in class. He encourages them to drop by during office hours and attend the study sessions he holds before tests, and he pushes them to experience a "horizontal transmission of knowledge" by studying with one another.
"When you leave my class you should be able to have a comprehensive discussion with anyone who's had a microbiology course," James says. "You should be able to tell Grandma about it. That's what I tell them."
Mary Alice Casey is editor of Ohio Today.