Higher education is undergoing a revolution. There is a nationwide push for active learning, flipped classrooms and distance learning. Many instructors have the interest and motivation to flip their classrooms and incorporate active learning strategies, but lack the time or financial support required to build these pre-class and in-class materials themselves. There is an increasing need for ready-made educational tools and resources to communicate material to students in a clear, engaging, and accessible manner. These tools need to include assessments that assist students in applying and contextualizing the material and inform the instructor of student comprehension without increasing the grading burden on the instructor. Moreover, though these strategies often work best within small groups, they are being implemented most in large classes because these courses are the only ones with TA support for grading. A research faculty member cannot manage the time required to provide meaningful feedback on 50 free-response assignments, twice a week, in addition to preparing their pre-class and in-class activities. However, it is very difficult to automate grading of written or illustrated answers and this presents a barrier to the implementation of active learning strategies on a small scale.
Furthermore, the applications of digital educational tools and resources are not limited to institutional education. I was home educated through most of elementary school and all of high school. While I built a strong theoretical understanding of the biological and physical sciences, I was limited by inability to practice and apply the material in laboratory exercises that usually accompany such courses. Even the theoretical knowledge that I derived was significantly contextualized by the narrated animations that complemented the textbook. I am pursuing a career in developing educational materials and organizing opportunities for in-person and distance learning. These resources greatly broaden accessibility to knowledge by students of different mobility, finances, learning modes, learning ability, language ability, daytime availability, and more. Such tools can be developed as complements to an online or personal study course, or complement an in-person course as points of engagement, clarification, or explanation for course material. I think that independent educational laboratories and virtual classrooms will be a major component of future educational approaches.
To prepare for a career in curriculum development, I completed the Certification in College Teaching program through Michigan State University. While participating in teaching pedagogy courses and workshops, I found a particular interest in lesson planning and professional communication. I enjoy the process of identifying the core principle and learning objective underlying a lesson, finding real-world applications with which to engage students, and preparing active learning exercises to engage students and facilitate knowledge transfer. These processes are fundamental to the development of effective learning resources.
My Teaching Philosophy
“Scientific thinking” is a structured application of critical thinking through iterative development and testing of hypotheses. In our modern society, everyone encounters situations requiring critical thinking skills, regardless of lifestyle or career, whether via media, conversation, or in the workplace. The sciences are a useful medium for learning, developing and practicing this life skill. Teaching is the means by which knowledge and skill are transferred between individuals. Without this transfer, cultural progress is impossible. The manner in which material is taught has a profound impact on the degree to which the learner recognizes, assimilates, retains, and uses that knowledge. Regardless of subject, the most impactful courses I have experienced or heard others reminiscing about were those that imparted a new perspective and understanding of the world, they changed the way students see and think. I want to inspire and engage students, affirm their curiosity and train them to perceive, question, and relate to a new aspect of the world.
For these reasons, I most enjoy teaching introductory undergraduate biology courses, particularly in the fields of microbiology and ecology. These courses often have a highly diverse student population composed of both majors and non-majors fulfilling a general education requirement. I have found that students in introductory, foundational courses can impede their own learning due to preconceptions regarding the relevance and perceived difficulty of the material. For students in the major, these courses lay the foundational knowledge base and provide context for deeper, more focused study; students often feel pressured to achieve particularly high grades in these core requirements. For non-majors, general education requirements are often viewed as unnecessary and unreasonably difficult. My objective as a teacher is to present material in a variety of formats and contexts such that students of all learning modalities, abilities, and backgrounds have the opportunity to understand, appreciate, and utilize the fundamental principles in their lives and feel respected and fairly treated throughout their learning process.
To achieve my objectives, I will utilize active learning strategies such as pre-class and in-class engagement using real-world problems and case studies, in class discussion and analysis of data, hands-on kinesthetic learning activities, and several types of modeling. These approaches give students the opportunity to practice iteratively proposing and analyzing hypotheses and present concepts in forms accessible to a variety of learning modes and student backgrounds. I will employ structured group work to foster a community learning environment, student accountability, and increased opportunity for discussion and adaptation of material for individual understanding. I would employ formative assessments during and between classes to assess student understanding and the effectiveness of my teaching methods. Several summative assessments, such as reports and exams would be focused on data analysis, development of hypotheses and predictive models, and design of experiments to test their hypotheses.
Most introductory courses tend to be very large. To manage a large class, I would rely on a high degree of structure to manage the grading load, ensure student accountability, and foster a sense of community. Group work during lectures allows students to collaborate and explain ideas and reduces the grading load on the instructor. Further, it helps students practice collaboration with people not necessarily of their choosing, an inescapable part of most employment opportunities and critical to achieving tasks that are impossible for an individual to complete alone in the time-frame available. I would build groups of 3-4 students by interest, personality, learning style, technical resources, and skill level in key areas. I would use iClickers to quickly assess student understanding and carbonless notebooks for group members to record their work on in-class problems. These formative assessments would help me evaluate student understanding of the material and identify points of confusion, while also helping train students in metacognition to identify their own misunderstandings.
Regardless of class size, I think that it is important to incorporate a larger out-of-class project to drive synthesis of ideas, exploration of applications of course concepts, and deeper collaboration within a group. Students would be assessed based on both their individual and interdependent work with peer evaluation and mid-project check-ins to ensure fair treatment and division of labor. This project would have formative evaluations to coach students in their thinking processes and ultimately serve as a summative assessment of their ability to think critically and to apply course material.
Looking forward, I think that virtual laboratories and classrooms will be a major component in the future of education. These resources greatly broaden accessibility to education by students of different learning modes, limited finances, mobility, learning ability, language ability, daytime availability, and more. They can be developed as complements to an online or personal study course, or complement an in-person course as points of engagement, clarification, or explanation for course material. My passion for advancing these educational tools is motivated by my experiences with home schooling through most of elementary school and all of high school, especially studying for Advanced Placement exams. While my technical understanding of the concepts was reasonable, the biggest disadvantages I faced were due to limited access to labs in which I could practice and apply the knowledge I had learned. Even the theoretical knowledge that I derived was predominately developed from the narrated animations that complemented the textbook. With an interest in programming and a personal perspective from which to evaluate tools, I am highly motivated to develop and improve distance learning resources.