Biology is the most popular undergraduate degree among the natural sciences, as a degree in biology is preparation for entry into a diverse number of careers. Since few biology majors eventually become academic biologists, excellence in teaching biology must take into account the wide variety of motivations that drive students to pursue the subject, while at the same time focusing on the core knowledge and critical thinking skills that are central to the discipline. I am capable of teaching introductory biology and environmental sciences, but my area of teaching specialization is in biogeochemistry and ecology. These systems sciences sub-disciplines are broadly conducive to developing advanced critical thinking skills that are applicable in other disciplines and careers. Accordingly, my objectives in teaching are as follows: a) develop students' critical thinking abilities, through the lens of biology, so that they may become responsible citizens; b) help students to attain competency in methods that are widely applicable across the gamut of careers that students may pursue (e.g. clinical medicine, environmental consulting, pharmaceuticals;) and c) foster a holistic understanding of biological principles with an understanding of evolution as the central organizing concept of the science.
In pursuing these teaching objectives, I have employed a variety of active learning techniques to foster student engagement and reinforce comprehension. In class discussion sections that I have led, I ask that students critically evaluate primary literature in small groups and then in classwide discussion, allowing students wide latitude in developing their ideas among peers before reporting back to the class as a whole. The attainment of learning objectives stemming from these reading groups is assessed by short writing assignments that ask students to synthesize knowledge between sources. I also promote the application of biological principles to real-world debates by asking students to apply their insights to popular journalism and literature. For example, I led a multi-week discussion group centered around the forest preservation policies of Gifford Pinchot, described in the popular book The Big Burn, as seen through the light of our modern understanding of fire ecology. Students read this text alongside contemporary articles on fire ecology, synthesizing knowledge using a “jigsaw” approach, and then engaging in classwide discussion on contemporary fire ecology policy. Here, the attainment of learning objectives was assessed by reflection essays written after the discussion.
I have also worked to use emerging online teaching methods to enhance learning opportunities for non-traditional students. I have taught multiple online classes through videoconferencing, leveraging a “classroom-flipping” strategy by pre-recording lectures and then developing online collaborative activities for students to perform. I also have a longstanding interest in developing innovative data visualization practices that can translate current research into compelling visual scientific presentations for introductory college students and the general public. As an example, I have developed mentored three undergraduate students to create an online data visualization platform that allows exploratory data analysis of the long-term dataset from Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. I am currently working with undergraduate instructors to incorporate this platform into activities for introductory ecology classes.
I have experience both introductory and advanced classes for undergraduate and graduate students. I was a teaching assistant for undergraduate Introduction to Environmental Science, a class of one hundred and twenty students. Here, I led a weekly discussion section, gave two guest lectures, and wrote and graded exams. I have also been a teaching assistant for an online class for non-traditional graduate students, Ecosystem Science and Management. In this class, I led online disucssions and prepared video lectures. Finally, I have been a teaching assistant for undergrad/graduate-level Biogeochemistry course of around twenty-five students. In this role, I led a weekly journal discussion, gave multiple guest lectures, and mentored students to develop independent literature synthesis projects.
Throughout my time in graduate school, I have taken numerous opportunities to improve my teaching and student mentorship practice. I have participated in Duke's Certificate for College Teaching, in which I received both discipline-specific and general training. I completed a course on Teaching College Biology, in which I learned pedagogic techniques that highlighted novel ways to engage diverse learners in the field of biology. Further, I completed a course, Teaching Diverse Learners and Contentious Issues, that focused on teaching practices that enhance inclusion and equity in academia. In the future, I hope to develop my teaching skills further by teaching full classes as an instructor of record, and engaging more fully in curriculum development.