Professor profile: Engaging unique students

Pendergrass uses technology, hands-on learning to reach students returning to school

David Pendergrass’ classes don’t follow tradition.

Pendergrass, program associate in the molecular bioscience program at the Edwards Campus, teaches primarily nontraditional students, and he uses many methods and technologies somewhat new to the college classroom. In a new KU YouTube video, Pendergrass discusses the unique makeup of his classes, using technology to teach a complex class and his teaching style.

Most of the students in Pendergrass’ classroom are returning to school instead of taking classes fresh out of high school. Many have families, have been working for several years and are now furthering their education.

“Generally our students are nontraditional students,” Pendergrass said. “The average student is about 26 years old. They really come ready to work, and are very interested in the material. So while we have an atmosphere, I think that is light, in many ways, they take it very seriously and work extremely hard.”

Pendergrass doesn't just work with students returning to school or changing careers. He also works with students in the clinical laboratory sciences program at the KU Medical Center, students who take classes at the Edwards Campus before moving on to the medical center full time. The post-baccalaureate students from KUMC also go through his program. The students are mainly rural or minority Kansans who have been invited to the KU School of Medicine but spend a year at Edwards Campus taking high-level biology classes.

Technology is another tool Pendergrass uses in his classroom. With a microphone and video camera, he records every class and makes it available online. Not only does that make classes available for review, it helps accommodate the busy life of the working student with a family.

The recording allows students to focus primarily on the lecture and interaction, as opposed to furiously taking notes, and also allows them to review the lecture and re-examine any points they may need to spend more time on, he said.

In his classes, such as biochemistry, mammalian physiology, brain dissection and neurobiology, he says he wants to engage his students in the material. Simply lecturing is not the best way to accomplish this he says.

“They have to come to class prepared. So to do that, I insist that they do these online quizzes. It’s just a set of questions, they’re not hard, the idea is just to get them into a textbook. I actually ask them to do this in lieu of reading,” he said. “I think the key to learning is always actively going after information and repetition. So by getting them to open a textbook and answer some questions... it provides them with a first bit of understanding of the concept we’ll be covering.”

The understanding they gain prepares the students to further their education or join the workforce, Pendergrass said.

“I push them to work really hard so that when they get out, they’re well-prepared and they can enter into the work force knowing what they’re doing,” he said. “Every one of my students has either got into a graduate program or post-graduate degree or they’re working. I’m pretty happy about that."


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