Demystifying biology with “pen lectures”
Rachel Simons is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Maine. .
Rachel Simons is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Maine. She teaches biology, anatomy and physiology – subjects that involve lots of complex diagrams and vocabulary. In other words, subjects that are ideal for pencasts. Rachel calls them “pen lectures,” which she makes and posts for her students as a supplement to class labs and lectures.
“I can draw the lab set ups and draw diagrams to explain ideas. It’s especially valuable for topics that are particularly complex,” Rachel says. “The students can then replay the pencast as a review.”
Rachel also uses pencasts for students who miss class, ensuring that they can see and hear her explanation – and are not relying on other classmates’ to explain the complicated class material. Even students who attend lectures often ask for a “pen lecture” so they can review them later.
“Diagrams are so much more useful than words alone to explain many of the concepts in class,” Rachel continues. “Pencasts give students the best of both. They can follow along as I draw anatomical diagrams, or diagram sequences of events that occur inside cells, for example. Pencasts allow me to show the student how to work out problem sets that involve equations or genetic crosses.”
Students have told Rachel that studying challenging subjects like human anatomy or cell biology with the benefit of “pen lectures” adds an enriching dimension to the material, and have urged other instructors to adopt the technology as well.
“I’m in favor of anything that helps student comprehension and enjoyment of science,” Rachel concludes. “Pencasts are a great tool in that regard because they’re so quick and informal. The students like them and they truly help.”
Even if you’re not a student yourself, you can learn something about human biology from Professor Simons.