Dr. Forrest Bradbury awarded Comenius Teaching Fellow
AUC tutor and lecturer Dr. Forrest Bradbury was recently announced as one of the recipients of a prestigious Comenius Teaching Fellow for his project “Flipping the physical science lab course and making critical researchers”. Dr. Bradbury’s proposal looks to develop, implement and evaluate a new type of inquiry-based lab course that favours using readily available solid-state sensors and open source software to allow students to design, research and engage with scientific inquiries while forgoing the high costs of traditional lab facilities.
Comenius Teaching Fellows
The Comenius Teaching Fellowships are an initiative of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) that looks to support professionals in higher education who want to implement innovative educational methods or techniques in their classroom. The proposed projects must fall under one of three set themes (International Classroom, Smarter and better learning with technology or Focus on student well-being) or an open theme that contributes toward the strategic agenda set by the NWO.
The submitted proposals are judged based on the innovative nature of the project, expected result, quality of the project plan and the experience of the applicant. Accepted proposals then take place over the course of one academic year and are granted a budget of EUR 45,000 – 50,000. The Fellow is responsible for the preparation, implementation and follow-up on the result of the project.
The idea behind Dr. Bradbury’s proposal is that of an open lab. Rather than students being given a specific, step-by-step plan on how to conduct an experiment and arrive at a designated conclusion, they are instead challenged to develop their own methodology in testing certain research questions. This in turn increases the students’ engagement with the scientific method and experimental design.
Borrowing from the ‘flipped classroom’, which sees time in class dedicated to actively applying concepts introduced outside of the classroom, Bradbury will be implementing a ‘flipped lab’ as a learner-centred model to challenge students to think critically about the process of experimentation more generally. This breaks traditional models of lab education where students repeat conditions given to them and looks to better replicate real-world problems and situations where the challenge is often not only in identifying the subject of the experiment, but also how to measure, test and draw sound conclusions regarding said subject.
Dr. Bradbury’s proposal is also unique in that it is scalable, making scientific design and experimentation accessible to students and teachers working in colleges or universities that may not have access to extensive lab equipment. The imagined flipped lab relies on hardware and software that is readily available (e.g. sensors found in mobile phones and open source code for using Arduinos and analysing data) which helps to eliminate possible barriers of cost that can arise with scientific exploration in more traditional (and frequently expensive) lab facilities.
“Maker Lab” at AUC
The course for which Dr. Bradbury will be implementing this new concept is the open-ended “Maker Lab” set to debut at AUC in Spring 2020. The course will be open to sciences, humanities and social sciences students and will focus on encouraging the practice of scientific thinking through designing, carrying out and analysing experiments conceived by students. The course will further the liberal arts and sciences philosophy at AUC where the scientific method is central and not limited to disciplines related to the hard sciences, but serves as a way of critically thinking about subjects in the humanities, social sciences and beyond.