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Faculty Experiences - Robert B. Goldberg

Robert Goldberg - photoROBERT B. GOLDBERG

Molecular and Developmental Biology

Interview Topics
What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

Show what you're talking about

Create closer community

Group projects

Student Creativity

Student Participation

Multimedia presentations

Television Overhead


Computer classroom/lab

Class website

Online lectures

Online lab book

Keeping Students at the Edge of Their Seats

The most important thing about teaching is to teach students how to think and excite them about what you’re doing. This means not only teaching them the basics, but keeping them on the edge of their seats.

I’ve been using technology for over thirty years to bring the classroom alive. When I first started teaching, there were no computers, no digital media, no PowerPoint presentations -- nothing like that. I gave students access to ¾-inch videos of all my lectures. I was involved in designing all the south-campus classrooms that were outfitted in the 80s and late 70s with microphones and television cameras, so I could have Oprah-Winfrey type interactions with students before there was an Oprah Winfrey. I showed films in  my classroom to demonstrate the relationship between science and society. I played the loudest rock and roll music you could ever imagine. I used  every type of media available to produce the maximum interaction and involvement of my students, the maximum big show, the maximum bang.
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In teaching, as in research, you want to be imaginative, you want to be innovative, you want be experimenting. Anything you can use to get the students’ attention and to get them immersed in the class facilitates your educational goals. My class is bigger than life, and I’m not exaggerating. The media has always been my way of getting students’ attention, not only to teach them the material, but also to model creative thinking. Because if they see something being done in the classroom, they think, “Ah, someone had to be creative to do this, and that means that someone had to think about doing this kind of stuff.”

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For lectures and discussion I use a  television overhead, which allows me a lot of flexibility. You can write things on it, you can bring in your handouts, your diagrams, and anything you might use in the classroom, and project it live. The unit I currently use functions as a hub that allows me to switch back and forth between live video and audio, an  electronic blackboard, and my computer. This flexibility is particularly important for connecting to classrooms in Japan. The past two years my Honors Collegium course has been streamed live to students in Kyoto. The connection allows the students in Kyoto and at UCLA to communicate via blackboard and the microphone.

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 Fostering interpersonal communication among the students – group learning – is one of my main goals, so I use media in the classroom to give them something they want to talk about with each other. I show thought-provoking films like Inherit the Wind and Lorenzo’s Oil and Gattaca.
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Starting 30 years ago I made it a requirement that  all the students in the class make a movie. The students had to write it, produce it, act, film it, and put it on at the end of the class. The idea is not just to catalyze an interest in the material, but to  spark creativity among them so that they see that there’s a different way to get an education. It’s a group learning experience – they’re interacting with each other, they’re talking with each other, they’re trying to be creative, they’re trying to do something that they’ve never done before

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The assignment always involves the whole class, no matter the size. It can be 200, it can be 40. I have videotapes going back 30 years of all these class projects, and some of them are really good--some of them have been spectacular-- but that’s not the point. The point is to get them to interact with each other and to think about science. It has to have some redeeming connection to the subject matter in class--generally it takes the form of a mystery. Three years ago the plot involved students trying to protect me against people who were against plant genetic engineering that were threatening me. They formed a little militia, and went out and searched for these people, and they actually had guns -- and all kinds of creative stuff.
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The cooperation required by the video project lets them form intellectual connections with each other that are unlikely in other classes. At UCLA students sit in their seats, they’re afraid to ask the professor a question, they don’t talk to their classmates, and they will finish the quarter not knowing more than three students in the class. When they leave my class, they know every single one of their classmates. I think that over the years my students have always considered my class to be an extremely unique experience.
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Because my classes involve so much  interpersonal participation, most students don’t need to communicate on virtual discussion boards or chat rooms or email. All assignments are take-home, and the questions are so hard that they have to work together in groups. They only have to email each other to ask, “When are we going to meet?” I’m not a big believer in email, because I think it depersonalizes the educational experience. I mean, they do email me, and I email them back, but generally they’ll come and talk to me personally, and I think I prefer that.
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I use my  lab and  class web sites to distribute information that the students can use in their studies. For example, I  record all my lectures, and the recordings are converted to a QuickTime digital video stream, to which students have 24-hour access over the web. I also put all the articles covered in my discussions on the web site.
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The latest tool we’ve been using in lab courses is the  live web book. It’s an interactive web site where students can post all their experiments, so that they can access one another’s results and data. It’s built on an Oracle relational database. And it’s not just for teaching -- we manage my laboratory with this thing on the web site. When I showed it at the Howard Hughes meeting last year, I’d never seen so much excitement.
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One of the things that I always thought was - and still is-- phenomenal about UCLA is the opportunity to use the media in teaching here. Even thirty years ago there was a little media center, and you could go in and say "Here's my idea, and why don't we do this stuff?" and they'd be enthusiastic and help you out with everything. I think that's really something I always loved about this place.
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Oral Interview, March 3, 2004
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