Professor Miriam Golomb Receives Writing Intensive Teaching Award
April 24, 2015
The University of Missouri has named Miriam Golomb, associate professor of biological sciences, as the recipient of the 2015 Win Horner Award for Innovative Writing Intensive Teaching.
Dr. Win Horner was a nationally known and respected pioneer in “writing across the curriculum” and chaired the Composition Task Force that formed MU’s Campus Writing Program. The annual award is presented to a faculty member who demonstrates the same pioneering spirit in their teaching of writing intensive courses through developing a new and innovative WI course or implementing new approaches within their teaching.
Golomb was recognized for her development and teaching of Genetics and Society (Bio_Sc 3050) and The Human Microbiome (Bio_Sc 3075). Both upper-level courses explore the science and medical significance of genetics and the microbiome (the microbes that inhabit our bodies), respectively, and the role of each in health and disease. Students in the courses are introduced to challenging molecular genetics, with an emphasis on humans, and then asked to apply what they learn to interactive discussions and writings on topics of social significance, ranging from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa to growing use of “smart drugs” on campus and the role of microbes in asthma and obesity.
“The excitement of these subjects, and their integrative potential, make them ideal for writing-intensive courses for life science majors,” says Golomb. “There are immediate applications to health care and many overhyped or commercialized claims, such as probiotics in cosmetics and even as treatment for autism. Students can exercise critical thinking about claims for which the jury is still out.”
The course topics are only part of the reason the classes are innovative. Golomb also employs a number of approaches to deliver the course content to her students. In Genetics and Society, student groups lead classroom seminars on timely and controversial topics such as race and heath care disparities. For the online The Human Microbiome course, she integrates short videos that serve as the equivalent of a mini-classroom lecture with blog-style discussions. Students also are given reading assignments ranging from the class textbook to scientific journal articles and news stories.
“By pairing up newspaper stories with corresponding stories from the scientific literature, students start to appreciate how, as a consumer of news, they need to learn to separate fact from hype or opinion,” says Thomas E. Phillips, who is also a professor in the Division of Biological Sciences. “I think it is incredibly innovative to interweave these two types of information in a science course, and I don’t know anyone else doing this on a regular basis in their courses.”
Another innovative tool in Golomb’s writing “arsenal” is the use of microthemes. These are short, problem-based writing assignments that are drawn from current debates in science and medicine — for example, “should whole-genome sequencing of newborns be mandated as the technology becomes affordable?” or “should antibiotics in feed be banned?” Though Golomb does not look for a right or wrong answer to these questions, she says she does expect students to consider, and effectively challenge, the strongest opposing arguments when constructing their own response.
“The prompts of microthemes are carefully chosen to make them aware of current controversies and to encourage rigorous and critical thinking,” Golomb says.
The Campus Writing Program sees Golomb’s microthemes as a valuable “thinking tool” for students. “With these short but complex writing assignments, Dr. Golomb fosters the thought processes we all would like to see in students,” says Amy Lannin, assistant professor and director of MU’s Campus Writing Program.
Student responses to Golomb’s courses have been overwhelmingly positive. Students say her courses have taught them to grow as scientists and as writers by teaching them to critically evaluate everyday issues involving science in new ways. As a former student shared in a letter of support, “her emphasis on writing and using it as a tool for self-reflection contributed to my self-growth and learning in her class.”
As this year’s recipient of the Win Horner Award, Golomb was recognized at the Campus Writing Program Recognition and Awards Ceremony on April 24, 2015, in Memorial Union’s Benton Bingham Ballroom. The award comes with a $1000 cash prize.
The mission of the Campus Writing Program is to support faculty as the primary agents of writing across the curriculum theories and practices in educating students through principles of “writing-to-learn” and “learning-to-write.”
Written by: Melody Kroll
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