Second successful teaching workshop at ICAR 2013

A Teaching workshop for early career scientists took place for a second consecutive year at the 24th International Conference for Arabidopsis Research 2013 (ICAR), held in late June at the The Sydney Convention Centre. This concurrent session was co-chaired by ASPB’s Dr Mary Williams and ASPS’ Dr Gonzalo Estavillo.

The workshop was designed to help developing basic higher-education teaching skills to early career plant biologists (PhD students and post-docs) seeking for academic career or outreach. The format of the workshop was highly interactive and allowed participants the opportunity to engage in, plan and practice diverse forms of pedagogy.

After introducing her professional background and teaching experience, Mary presented different teaching approaches that are currently used for science education. “We like to practice what we preach…we are proponents of engaging students when we teach” Mary said. The topics of her presentation included defining learning objectives, inquiry-based learning, scientific teaching, and integrating research into teaching. She also encouraged attendees to “…read the pedagogical literature but don’t be too intimidated by unfamiliar language” to draw more ideas for the classroom. She also highlighted that it is crucial for the teacher to think what she wants to accomplish “before you start teaching” in order to effectively balance concepts, competencies, and assessment.

In one of the activities, participants were asked to highlight the qualities of a great teacher based on their own experiences as students. The qualities of this ideal teacher were: engaging, knowledgeable, passionate, helpful, caring, fair, enthusiastic, inspirational, logical, respectful, interactive, dedicated, challenging, organized, patient, and humorous. Interestingly, this list of qualities repeats during different workshop sessions.

The second part of the workshop featured/consisted of the description of the award winner Arabidopsis Detectives activity developed by Gonzalo and colleagues at the ANU. Gonzalo presented a case study where he “translated research into the classroom” to teach students basic concepts of plant physiology and the genetic basis of underpinning phenotypic changes, while also developing laboratory skills competence.

The workshop was attended by almost 80 people in spite of being held at one of the last sessions in the last day of the meeting. The cosmopolitan audience of early career researchers and established academics had the opportunity to share different points of views and concerns about higher education in plant science.

Thank you again for the excellent workshop that you ran at ICAR yesterday. After a few days of talking about my research, I had forgotten what an important part undergrad teaching plays in my life! Your presentations were very inspiring, and I feel reinvigorated to pursue teaching as part of my career.

 The workshop received an immediate, positive feedback and it was defined as inspirational by some of the attendees who said they would consider applying some of the tools described in an attempt to improve their teaching skills and the learning experience of their students.

  • Chairs bio

    Mary, a former chair Professor of Biology and Chair of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Education Committee, is also the author and editor of “Teaching Tools in Plant Biology”, a publication of The Plant Cell and ASPB. In 2011, Gonzalo received several teaching awards for contributions to student learning from the Australian Society of Plant Scientists (ASPS) and a citation from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (shared). He is also the teaching representative for ASPS.

  • Contact information

    Please contact if you would like to receive PDF packets of materials discussed in the workshop or for more information about the ‘Arabidopsis Detectives” teaching activity.
  • We need your feedback

    Please let us know your opinion about this workshop. Copy the questions below into a new email, and send your feedback to This will help us to secure the continuity of the workshop and improve this type of activities.

    1. I am: undergraduate; Maters student; PhD student; Post-Doc; Lecturer/Assistant Professor; Professor, Other
    2. My teaching load is (1 =“no teaching”; 5 “heavy teaching load”).
    3. Did you find the workshop useful? Write out Yes or No
    4. Has the workshop encouraged/inspired/empowered you to consider teaching in your future career if you are not teaching? Write out Yes or No. Why or why not?
    5. Would you recommend this workshop to your colleagues? Y, N
    6. How would you rate the workshop from 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding)?
    7. What would you like to learn about or discuss if this workshop were to be repeated?
    8. What do you think are the most important obstacles in teaching plant science to university students? Any suggestions for overcoming those obstacles?