Highlights of Teaching Experience/Training
- Environmental Physiology (BIO 617, San Francisco State). 32 student upper level lecture class. Instructor of Record, developed and implemented all aspects of the course.
- Scientific Teaching Winter Institute. Five-day HHMI-funded workshop on pedagogy by SFSU’s Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory (SEPAL).
- Certificate in College Teaching (Duke University): Voluntary graduate program that involved coursework in pedagogy, peer and mentor review of teaching, and development of teaching portfolio.
- Teaching Assistant: Duke University. 4 years, multiple courses
- Teaching Assistant : College of William and Mary. 2 years, multiple courses
During over ten years of teaching experience as a lecturer, graduate teaching assistant, and research mentor to undergraduate and graduate students, I have come to regard teaching as fundamental to the intellectual growth of both students and educators. I believe biology educators should challenge students while instilling a sense of wonder about the natural world that drives them to want to learn more. However, in my experience students have the same effect on the educator. Students invariably ask insightful, difficult questions that challenge my view of a topic or cause me to consider it from a different perspective: I often do not realize the limits of my knowledge of a concept until I have attempted to teach it. Therefore, teaching pushes me to understand biology more completely. My experience has taught me to view teaching as a mutually beneficial practice that promotes scientific understanding for all involved, rather than a service that one group provides to another. Teaching is integral to the process of science itself.
My goal as an educator is to increase student understanding of fundamental biological processes while promoting the development of analytical and critical thinking skills that have broad applicability. To do so, I engage students as active participants in learning whenever possible. For instance, I developed and taught Environmental Physiology (Bio 617) at San Francisco State University during the Spring 2014 semester, an upper-level lecture course with about 30 undergraduate students. I applied a “flipped classroom” approach, where students read outside of class to gain content knowledge and primarily engaged in group-based problem solving during class. Short quizzes based on readings were administered at the beginning of every class to ensure students were prepared. I employed a number of techniques to involve students in the learning process, always with an emphasis on challenging students to articulate and defend their solutions. For example, I sometimes gave each group a separate problem to solve during the first half of the class period, and the students were subsequently placed into new groups where they have to teach others the solution to their problem. In other instances, all groups had to develop a diagram that outlined their solution to the same problem, such as an experimental design to test a particular hypothesis. These diagrams were drawn side-by-side on the board, and each group had to describe and justify their solution to the class. These exercises ensured students were active participants in learning and employed them as educators themselves. I viewed my classroom role as ancillary, guiding students but allowing them the experience of discovering solutions on their own. When I do employ the traditional lecture format, I do so as a tool for two particular purposes: 1) addressing common misconceptions; and 2) explaining particularly complex conceptual problems.
I have also found that technology can be used to great effect to engage students during lecture. For example, as a graduate student at The College of William and Mary I worked as a teaching assistant for two classes that employed clicker questions during lectures. Each question was worth one point, and students could talk to one another before answering. I saw two advantages to the clickers. First, the faculty were able to adjust their lectures to the student’s level of comprehension based on the student’s answers. Second, it got students to actually discuss biology amongst themselves several times per lecture, which was indeed rare in most biology courses I had taken. I employed a similar technique while teaching Environmental Physiology at SFSU. At the beginning of every class students were given a short quiz based on readings. They first took the quiz alone, then took it again as a group, both for credit. We then went over the answers together before proceeding. These quizzes not only ensured the students read the requisite material, but allowed them to teach each other material and allowed me to assess their understanding of certain fundamental concepts before moving on.
Another educational practice that I strongly believe can positively impact learning outcomes is formative student assessment. This was made particularly clear to me over two years of teaching a writing-intensive Animal Physiology lab at Duke University. In this lab students wrote five research papers over the course of the semester. Before the final graded copy of each paper was due, students submitted drafts for ungraded assessment. In some cases I assessed the drafts; in other cases fellow students, who were the target audience, assessed them. The student’s grasp of the material and the improvement in their writing skills over the various iterations was dramatic. I particularly liked this approach because the students not only increased their understanding of the focal topic, but gained a great deal of experience with the process of developing material that effectively communicates scientific information. I employed formative assessment of student work in Environmental Physiology at SFSU. The final project for the course was a grant proposal, for which students worked in groups to develop a research plan to further investigate a question of their choice. A draft of each proposal underwent peer review in class, as well as review by me outside of class, prior to the final due date.
I am committed to improving my skills as an educator throughout my career. During my dissertation at Duke University I not only served as a Teaching Assistant and volunteered to give guest lectures, but also completed Duke’s voluntary Certificate in College Teaching program, which seeks to improve the teaching skills of future faculty through course work, workshops, and assessment of in-class teaching by peers and mentors. In January 2015, I participated in a week-long HHMI-funded workshop devoted to the science and practice of active learning techniques at the Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory at SFSU. I sincerely hope to become a great teacher that inspires students to understand and appreciate biology.