“Everyone wins” in this education research with a TEACH Mentor
By Adele Lopes
It’s a sunny afternoon at the Office of Science Education office, and I’ve just sat down with Dr. Jasmin Chahal and Alex Wang to talk about the education research they undertook when they teamed up to assess how self-reflection and pre-lab activities affect students’ confidence levels and success in a Microbiology and Immunology 384 Lab course. So, how did this project get started?
Both Jasmin and Alex have a passion for science pedagogy, and they first met through their mutual participation in Let's Talk Science/Parlons Science, a youth science outreach program, as well as their work in the lab of Dr. Selena Sagan, Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology (MIMM).
When Jasmin saw that Alex had applied for a TEACH Mentor position in the course she was teaching, she was already aware of his strong work ethic and dedication, and after reading a well-written paragraph on his interest in improving pedagogy in science, Jasmin knew he would be the perfect partner for her upcoming project. TEACH Mentors, now known as TEAM Mentors, are undergraduate students with a demonstrated interest in pedagogy, and experience with the course material, who assist the instructor and support other students in a course. Jasmin emphasized remembering that Alex was a student first, and then a TEACH mentor. This meant always respecting Alex’s workload.
Jasmin knew she wanted to explore whether a self-assessment form led to increased student self-reflection during her course, and so, in September 2021, the project was off to the races.
As they moved forward, the duo started to develop a weekly schedule. Self-assessment forms were filled in on Wednesday and Friday at the lab by students. On Monday, Alex would pick up the completed forms from the class, and Alex and Jasmin completed data entry during the week, using qualitative research strategies to interpret keywords and phrases in the forms and enter them into a database.
Both Alex and Jasmin said that an essential part of their partnership was clear, open, and consistent communication. They made sure to keep each other informed and updated on anything relevant to the project throughout the semester. Jasmin highlighted how educational projects are a major time commitment but stressed that there are ways to make it more manageable, for example, by shortening survey length and teaming up with an enthusiastic student.
A key result for Alex and Jasmin is that of the 87 students in MIMM 384 who were surveyed, most students who completed all the pre-lab work successfully also completed the lab. Moreover, as students performed the labs each week, their confidence increased. Finally, they found that by completing self-assessments, students were increasing their self-awareness and were able to reflect and prepare for the subsequent lab in a better way. Thus, their success in the course improved as they completed the self-assessments.
Overall, both Jasmin and Alex enjoyed the project and working with each other. Jasmin says it’s a “win-win situation,” benefitting both the students, who reported increased enjoyment of the lab, and the instructor, who gained a better understanding of the value of student reflection and preparedness.
In February 2022, Alex presented the research he and Jasmin had completed at an OSE Breakfast Club event.
So, now what? Alex has started a Master's in Biochemistry at McGill, where he hopes to be a TA to continue feeding his passion for pedagogy. Meanwhile, Jasmin will continue to push for an increase in self-reflection and pre-lab videos as teaching tools in the MIMM department. Jasmin and Alex would also like to present their data to more departments in the Faculty of Science to increase awareness about the importance of self-reflection in student confidence and success.