TEACHING PORTFOLIO FOR
In large part due to the way in which I was taught, my emphasis in teaching is on important concepts and principles. It is these that are at the forefront when I develop a syllabus, and the examples I draw upon are selected to ‘hammer the concepts home.’ Bare facts are of little significance without a framework in which they can be embedded.
In addition, I seek to encourage a way of thinking that is problem-based. I make frequent use of phrases such as “imagine that…” and “what if…” My goal is to make people think, to consider alternative solutions to particular problems. I stress the value of scientific research in testing alternatives, and provide access to actual research data where appropriate. I believe that fostering such abilities not only aids in understanding the specific material at-hand, but also facilitates a lifetime of learning.
The courses I teach are aimed at a variety of audiences, and it is sometimes difficult to maintain distinctions. For my UCORE course, I believe it’s appropriate to sacrifice depth for synthetic/integrative breadth. At the 400-level, I do just the opposite. Straddling the divides between (my discipline) majors and non-majors, and between undergraduates and graduate students, is a hard challenge. As my teaching evaluations show, I never please everyone!
My goal as a research advisor is to help my students develop the various skills needed to be competent and independent researchers. I am something of a ‘hands-off’ advisor, but always ready to provide advice, direction and encouragement. I prefer my students to conduct work that, although within my sphere of interest, can stand outside of my personal research program. I am far more concerned that my students ask ‘good’ questions than work on any particular narrow concept. This general philosophy applies to both graduate students and undergraduates working under my supervision (the latter requiring more attention, of course).
COURSES RECENTLY & CURRENTLY TAUGHT
My typical teaching load is (xx) courses per semester, although I occasionally add a graduate seminar. The following is a list of all courses I have taught at WSU:
Spring 2015: Course name and number, number of students Fall 2015: Course name and number, number of students Spring 2016: Course name and number, number of students Etc.
1. WORK WITH INDIVIDUAL UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS
Number and name of students and projects working on or completed under your supervision.
2. WORK WITH INDIVIDUAL GRADUATE STUDENTS
Number and name of students or committees with which you worked.
3. SERVICE ON GRADUATE COMMITTEES
Number, type and capacity served on: i.e.: Master’s committees, Ph.D. committees, preliminary exams, etc.
4. UNDERGRADUATE ADVISING
Number and type of advising, i.e. certified or non-certified majors.
5. USE OF DISCIPLINARY RESEARCH, SCHOLARSHIP OR CREATIVE WORK IN TEACHING
I think it is crucial to present students with actual research data whenever possible, and do not hesitate to present work I have conducted for scrutiny. More specifically, I attempt to include novel experiments or ideas drawn from within my own research program.
6. SERVICE ON INSTRUCTION-RELATED COMMITTEES
I served as a member of the Department of committee and the eventual outcome.
1. STUDENT EVALUATIONS
Selected but representative quotes from student evaluation of all courses I have taught at WSU are included as Appendices. I have tried to be even-handed in selecting this material, including both negative and positive evaluations.
PRINCIPLES OF CONSERVATION (DEPT XXX)
As a UCORE course, Dept xxx is designed for non-biology majors. Nevertheless, the number of students majoring in biology/environmental science has grown steadily (about 50% in spring 1996). That these people find Dept xxx rather superficial or lacking in depth (as revealed in the evaluations) is no surprise. However, I am reluctant to change this course, as I feel an emphasis on synthetic breadth is appropriate.
Moves are afoot to revise Dept xxx’s syllabus, which will provide a greater opportunity for additional reading and discussion. This may increase the palatability of the course to biology majors, while retaining its appeal to non-majors.
BIOLOGY OF AMPHIBIANS & REPTILES (DEPT YYY): taught once
Dobzhansky once said that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. With this comment to the forefront when I received my own training, it is inevitable that it affects my teaching. I make no apologies for being unabashedly evolutionary and phylogenetic in my treatment of herp biology. I consider this to be the contemporary way in which the ‘-ologies’ should be taught.
I chose to focus on how herps have solved important biological problems, rather than on their systematics, and I think most people appreciated this focus (perhaps due to the very varied backgrounds of people who took Dept yyy). My most severe critic was a zoology grad student for whom systematics is THE big thing in evolutionary biology! I agree that I may have overly de-emphasized systematics and will provide greater balance in the future.
Many people criticized the lab associated with this course. In my attempt to move away from the traditional lab of gazing at pickled specimens and dissecting animals, I failed to devise a sufficient number of good alternative exercises. I intend to provide better labs when Dept yyy is taught again in fall 2012.
BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY (DEPT ZZZ): taught once
Dobzhansky’s comment holds true for behavioral ecology also. For this reason, I make no apologies for stressing evolutionary concepts, both general and specific. That I placed greater emphasis on ‘behavior’ than ‘ecology’ reflects my own expertise as well as the state of the field.
Comments that I had little understanding of the literature beyond the text are unfair. It is true that I could not provide detailed background information for every empirical example we discussed, but our taxonomic scope was very broad. One reason for the paper required in this course was to encourage people to explore areas that they found especially interesting and/or which I considered in lesser detail. Everyone wrote excellent papers.
Why did I emphasize the behavioral ecology of reproduction at the expense of other areas? To have covered more conceptual material would have been to sacrifice depth for breadth in a way that would not have been acceptable at the 400-level.
About 25 percent of students were undergraduates, and thus it was difficult to assume equivalent knowledge of basic behavioral, ecological and evolutionary principles. Without doubt, the undergraduates found this a difficult course, but they may have gained the most from it.
D. RESULTS: INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS
In the summer of 2012 I was awarded an instructional mini-grant to develop a discussion-based supplement to my course Principles of Conservation. Considering current conservation issues from both pro and con perspectives, I wrote an accompanying text of over 30 pages in length (copies available on request). I intend to incorporate this into my course in the future.