For more than two decades, University of Wisconsin-Madison animal sciences professor John Parrish has been a leader in the use of technology—from PowerPoint to podcasts to Google Glass—to teach the reproductive physiology of livestock. By embracing these tools, Parrish’s students spend less time sitting in a lecture hall and more time in the barn and lab involved in meaningful, hands-on activities.
This spring, Parrish’s efforts were recognized with a UW-Madison Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, an honor given out since 1953 to recognize the university’s finest educators.
“Based on exit interviews with graduating seniors over the last 10 years, they almost universally say, ‘John’s reproduction physiology course was so demanding, but we learned so much,’” says Dan Schaefer, professor and chair of the Department of Animal Sciences. “They all love the hands-on experience: handle a cow, inseminate, do ultrasounds. It’s valuable to them.”
In the UW-Madison awards announcement, Parrish was applauded for developing one of the university’s first “flipped classrooms,” a teaching approach where students do much of the routine reading and learning for a course on their own time, so that class time can be used for interactive group work and activities.
“We present [basic] material outside of class, and typically we do that with an audio and assigned readings of online textbooks I’ve written. Then, when students come to class, they do something active [such as] solving problems, working with animals or working with tissue,” says Parrish. “I think that is the future of a university education.”
Parrish emphasizes the importance of a global education, teaching his students to embrace technology to develop the critical thinking, language and literacy skills they’ll need as global leaders in agriculture and the economy. Parrish has also developed and taught a first-year interest group about biology, and led the development of a U.S. Department of Agriculture website that influenced how reproductive physiology is taught around the world.
He enjoys the various challenges that teaching presents, including working with the increasing number of animal sciences students who don’t have agricultural backgrounds. And regardless of the paths that led them to his class, Parrish finds inspiration in the students who take his courses and then go out and apply what they learn to their jobs and businesses.
“I had an interesting student early on in my career, and we were talking about things that happened on his dairy farm. I realized that from what we talked about in class, he had made a tremendous change in what they were doing [on the farm],” says Parrish. “So I’ve taken that, and I try to get students to think beyond the exact material here – how can I get them to change things?”