LAMP Fellow of the Month (October, 2018)

Libby works with her team of educators at the 2018 Summer Institute.

Libby works with her team of educators at the 2018 Summer Institute.

Libby Megna, a PhD student in the Program in Ecology was selected as the LAMP Fellow of the Month for October. Libby began her LAMP journey in an intensive weeklong summer institute. From June 4th through the 8th, Libby joined 24 other educators from UW, LCCC, NWC and Sheridan College to immerse in Team-Based Learning (TBL), Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and other active learning strategies.

Libby was immediately attracted to the philosophies of PBL and throughout the month of July she wrote a detailed instructional strategy proposing the use of PBL in the Discussion section of Genetics for which she was slated to be the graduate assistant. Libby was deeply motivated to change the style of instruction for the discussion because in her many teaching experiences she had observed that students were not retaining their genetics knowledge 

from their coursework. Thus, Libby’s philosophy was to make genetics more personal and imperative through asking students to solve real life problems. In her instructional strategy, Libby beatifully implemented backwards design. She was guided by learning outcomes and the following large instructional goal, “Students will be able to analyze real-world, human problems related to genetics and make an informed decision or action. Students will demonstrate their recall of basic genetics concepts and processes via higher-order analysis of problems.” For example, in order to examine population genetics, students would be asked to decide how to manage hunting of elk, given that overhunting could lead to decreased antler size, but under-hunting may have negative consequences for local vegetation. Further, Libby created a table in which she aligned the learning outcome with a corresponding assignment and assessment! This careful alignment is generally only accomplished by advanced teaching and learning practitioners.

Libby’s instructional strategy also elagantly attended to inclusion. She wrote, “I plan to encourage students to think about how their decisions would change if they came from a different place, time, or situation. I want to cultivate an environment where students who are in a minority or represent a minority opinion feel safe enough to explain their point of view. I plan to design the problem scenarios in a way that there is no one clear-cut "correct" decision. I do want the students to think clearly and carefully about scientific knowledge, and make evidence-based decisions, but the problems are real-world and complicated enough that depending on the priorities or ethical framework of the students, there are multiple reasonable decisions that can be made.” This attention to standpoint and the welcoming of multiple solutions to a problem are essential to welcoming underrepresented students into science.

After Libby submitted her instructional strategy in July, she was given the last-minute option to become the instructor of record for one section of General Ecology. Libby sprang into action. She took all of the work that she had done on the Genetics Discussion instructional strategy and rolled it into her Ecology lesson planning. That is, while content changed, she converted every Friday class session into a PBL activity. For the content covered on Mondays and Wednesdays, she posed a real, imperative problem for students to solve on Fridays. Libby knew that with a full class of 40 students, she would need some help implementing these sessions. Thus, LAMP was able to fund a Learning Assistant. Brett Ralston assists Libby in facilitating the students’ small group discussions and problem-solving. Libby has served as an incredible mentor and role model for Brett. He states, “Libby is very enthusiastic and cares a lot about students. She always comes to class prepared; she is always willing to try new things to help students get better on their exams. She now makes videos and study guides based on students’ muddiest points.”

When Libby was asked what has changed for her since she arrived at the Summer Institute, Libby said, “Thinking about PBL definitely changed my perspective on what I want my students to learn and experience in the course. I am still committed to improving scientific communication skills of my students and improving their confidence with quantitative methods, but I emphasize values and philosophy much more than I would have without LAMP.” To an educational developer, this quote is an inspiration because unless we can connect with students at the level of values and philosophy, content learning is unlikely to ‘stick’. 

Libby has gone above and beyond the requirements of LAMP. She has joined the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Learning Community. In addition, she attends nearly every session offered by the Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning (ECTL). Libby’s passion for students is matched by her own passion for discovery, both extrinsic and intrinsic. I will forever recall long conversations with Libby as she grappled with the important questions, asking how she can facilitate students in making the hardest connections, for example the link between their own behaviors and exponential population growth. While Libby asks her students to go outside of their comfort zones, she challenges herself to do the same. In this she has become an outstanding educator and we are very lucky that she is a part of the LAMP Team! Congratulations Libby, we are proud to award you the LAMP Fellow of the Month distinction!

~ Rachel Watson



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