While it seems important to some students to have the teacher be an authority on the subject matter (read as some students want to be able to tell everyone that “the teacher said so, it’s true!”), I’ve always found that it’s more important to know where to get answers instead of having them all. Knowing where to get the answer models good research skills as well as saving the trouble of having to tell that one hyper-inquisitive student in your class that you just don’t know the answer for the fifth time.
Another thought I’ve always held is giving students a connection to the real world. Apparently someone else was having these same two thoughts when they created this rather helpful (and highly cool) website – Ask an Expert. At first the site seems geared towards elementary aged students, what with the image of Professor McFleurg and all, but after clicking on the Expert Categories you’ll find that the site’s author has coordinated the efforts of several dozen real professionals ranging from Aerospace Engineers to Master Chefs. While many of the categories already have past questions and answers posted (to save time for the working professionals that have volunteered their time) almost all of the experts have their own web sites that you can peruse. There are also several experts in each area (I counted at least three Geologists) so if one doesn’t respond as quickly as you’d hope to e-mail, or if you’d like a second opinion, there are several people to contact. Having students use the Internet to communicate in an ethical and purposeful manner with professionals and others that enhance the learning experience hits upon so many standards and benchmarks I dare not list them here (not to mention a chance to use some really neat e-mail services geared specifically for students which I’ll write about later).
So the next time your Honors Biology students have a question you can’t quite answer, harness the communication power of the Internet and tell them to go ask a Microbiologist.