Teaching How To Learn

CTL Faculty Stories: Chris Harmon

Dr. Chris Harmon, Chemistry Department

Dr. Harmon credits much of his success in reducing equity gaps to having participated in the ESCALA program that has been part of an HHMI grant in CNRS. “Before attending ESCALA, I believed that science isn’t inherently racist, so race doesn’t matter. I was not aware of the variations in learning beyond that of just putting in hard work, and I was convinced I couldn’t change the way I taught.” 

ESCALA and collegial relationships provided Dr. Harmon with the context to critically reflect on various dimensions of the teaching and learning ecosystem. It also presented numerous ways he could intervene to address inequities and generally improve student success.

He started with course design. He created learning goals that aligned with subject specific competencies, developed a substantial bank of test questions for student exam preparation, and refined the exams to align with the theories and applications covered in the test bank. In class, students are challenged to assess the extent to which they were on task and moving forward on building understanding. He also asks students to explicate how the course has changed them.

Dr. Harmon argues there is a false juxtaposition between equity and developing emerging scientists. “As scientists, we are poised to solve problems and that’s what I did; I set out to solve a teaching and learning problem.” In essence, Dr. Harmon embedded dual level agency where in-class reflections on learning gave students regular practice in self-monitoring coupled with maximizing choice in how students can prepare for assessment.

“I teach students how to learn.” What makes this so rewarding is seeing that simple structural changes can lead to that “aha” moment. At that moment, learning moves beyond the classroom.

Another example of teaching excellence at Humboldt.

Video transcript