Students of YuYe Tong (Chemistry) are often overwhelmed by the broad scope of his research on metal nanoparticles. Tong realizes that to cover all of the relevant material in lectures would be impossible; instead, his aim is to teach students how to learn.
While the challenge of synthesizing information from a variety of fields can be daunting for the new student, YuYe Tong strongly believes that involving undergraduates in real-life research is the best way to prepare them for life after graduation. Says Tong: “We need to make science education more student-centered, self-driven and research oriented. Science is a language; you have to practice it in real life it to have truly learned it.”
Tong believes in prioritizing the development of critical learning skills over the teaching of particular content. Content provides the training ground for developing active learning skills, but ultimately the process of gathering, synthesizing, and applying information to new situations is more important. This learning process, often downplayed in the scientific community, is a critical component of modern science education.
Working with CNDLS, Tong has experimented with a teaching method called POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning), which has challenged both him and his students to rethink their approaches in the classroom. But the increased level of student engagement has made the adjustment well worth it.
Students seeking a model for independent learning need not look further than their own professor. With advanced degrees in nuclear physics and experimental condensed matter physics, Tong never received formal training in chemistry and instead absorbed the discipline by working with colleagues and doing research. Similarly, Tong now inspires his students in to engage in active scientific research outside the classroom.