Asee peer logo

A Course in Biomaterials Taught Using the Socratic Method

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Innovations in Pedagogy

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.38.1 - 24.38.15



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


William H. Guilford University of Virginia Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Will Guilford is an Associate Professor and Undergraduate Program Director of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia. He received his B.S. in Biology and Chemistry from St. Francis College in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and his Ph.D. in Physiology from the University of Arizona. Will did his postdoctoral training in Molecular Biophysics at the University of Vermont under David Warshaw. His research interests include the molecular mechanisms of cell movement and muscle contraction, and effective means for education.

visit author page

author page

Michael B. Lawrence University of Virginia

Download Paper |


A Course in Biomaterials Taught Using the Socratic MethodAn undergraduate course in Biomaterials had been taught at XXXX University since 2005, andhad been done so in a lecture format guided by a textbook, and using homework and periodicexams as tools for summative assessment. The emphasis was traditional – the material propertiesof (primarily) musculoskeletal tissues.As part of a major course redesign, we wished to embrace a broader definition of “biomaterial”that included materials of biologic origin as well as exogenous materials used during clinicalpractice. We wanted students to synthesize knowledge ranging from chemical properties to theimmune response to understand how clinical problems are solved (or caused) by a variety ofmaterials. Finally, engineering requires an understanding of what information is relevant to theproblem, identification what information is missing, and discussion of these issues in groups.Thus our learning objectives included: 1. Knowing and comprehending how biomaterials of natural and synthetic origins interact with and are recognized by cells; 2. Analyzing how the physical and chemical properties of biomaterials lend themselves to specific clinical applications; and 3. Synthesizing knowledge to use materials in novel ways for clinical applications. 4. Explaining, defending, and forming positions on technical matters via oral argument.To meet these objectives, we used the Socratic method. There were no lectures; rather,instruction relied entirely on questioning of individual students by the instructor. Students wereprovided with a clinical case study one week before class in which the treatment of a patient’scondition involved a specific material (e.g. stainless steel). Students prepared for class usinggeneric questions to help guide their approach, but were otherwise left to their own devices.At the beginning of each class the students were quizzed to ensure they had prepared for theday’s discussion, and to ensure that they learned during the preceding class period. Six studentswere randomly selected at class time to be discussants for a given period, meaning they neverknew when they would be called upon. The instructor spent the remainder of the periodquestioning these six students while the remainder of the class watched and listened. When thediscussants were unable to answer a question, discussion was opened to the entire class.Summative assessment was based on four factors; performance as a discussant, classroomcontributions on days when one was not a discussant, quiz scores, and peer evaluations.Student course evaluations were far above average compared to others of comparable level(4000) in all but two categories – grading policy, and instructor approachability. We arecurrently conducting a 9-month post-test of the students from the inaugural class to determinewhether learning in the Socratic format improves retention and recall.A typical student comment read, “It was nerve-racking, intellectually satisfying, and the materialwas incredibly engaging. The challenge of having to integrate knowledge on the spot, at thewitness of your peers has been the single most effective method of learning I've had in any of ourcoursework. It forced us to integrate knowledge from our research experiences and priorcoursework to understand all the aspects of a case.”

Guilford, W. H., & Lawrence, M. B. (2014, June), A Course in Biomaterials Taught Using the Socratic Method Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--19930

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015