Every scientist can identify past interactions with passionate, patient mentors that fundamentally altered their career trajectory. This is the beauty of teaching; the opportunity to interact with and inspire students at pivotal points in their lives, to observe the ‘light bulb’ go off, and to positively impact students’ futures by building skill sets and confidence. The diverse teaching experiences detailed below have provided many important lessons, yet two central themes of successful teaching strategies have emerged in every setting. The first is that active learning involving application of classroom concepts to real world examples strongly reinforces the learning process. The second is when students grasp the entirety of a knowledge body, including the most current aspects and knowledge gaps, it naturally follows that they recognize their own potential to contribute to scientific progress in their field. They then think more critically, are more motivated to complete tasks thoroughly, and gain confidence in their potential to meaningfully participate in scientific research.
My goal is to cultivate young scientist who are thinking critically and actively evaluating the validity of scientific information with a healthy skepticism. To develop students into creative problem solvers, my strategy is to transfer knowledge by regularly using the most recent technology in the classroom.
Active learning & technology
Students are more engaged and interested in classes when they include regular use of active learning approaches and technology. My experience limiting lectures to no more than ¼ of an allotted class period helps keep students absorbed in subject matter.Participation and knowledge retention increase when remaining ¾ of class is dedicated to activities such as student led group discussions, collecting live specimens, and presenting overviews of concepts by students. My past students loved finding, identifying, and discussing wild, fresh fungi because physically seeing concepts they had read or heard about, piqued their interest and enthusiasm in the topic. In this model, committing the related facts to memory for later application is easily achieved when real world examples are included, and the class moves from memorizing facts to applying concepts to reality. A second successful approach for me has been the implementation of technology in the classroom. This is because today’s college students are very aware of and completely immersed in how to find and create many forms of web-based, digital information. Additionally they know their original web content is viewed and assessed by their peers creating a community evaluation based, quality control process. For example, in past courses a digital syllabus and communal class blog using the website generation service Word Press has helped achieve maximal participation and engagement. Students were tasked with contributing mushroom identification blog posts including citations, microscopic images, and DNA sequence data to the class Word Press.
A sample fungal identification post by a previous mycology student on the class communal blog
While nearly all colleges and universities use course resources sites such as Blackboard, information flow in that format is uni-directional. When students are invited to actively contribute posts and content, they produce higher quality assignments because the communal blog posts create an atmosphere of information exchange between equals. Their second main assignment was to produce a project in any preferred format on a mycological topic. Among others, I encouraged creating educational YouTube style short films, and used my own YouTube channel as a model template. When students are encouraged to communicate in ways they find modern and fashionable they often create higher quality products and enjoy the associated learning process.
My teaching philosophy results from my past interactions with students in several diverse settings.
For instance, during a fungal biology and identification workshop in South America, I was teaching a group of Guyanese students most of whom completed high school.
Then at Humboldt State as a teaching assistant for introductory Botany, I worked with college freshman in a small, primarily undergraduate, liberal arts university setting.
Later I taught an upper division Biology course (Mycology) at Duke University to college seniors, largely aiming to attend medical schools. The diversity in and between these student pools taught me many things about being an instructor.
One poignant fact in my mind is that students with varied backgrounds, learning styles, and future goals require equally varied teaching approaches. For example, effective communication styles and relevant, interesting applications of biology to these populations mean very different things. In the future I plan to continue contributing to diversity in the sciences by using this experience to create an audience tailored, stimulating learning environment.
I am committed to being a life long learner and constantly contributing to that process. For instance, as a masters student I took a course on effective visual and auditory presentation formatting. As a PhD student I am participating in the Certificate in College Teaching (CCT) and a workshop that facilitates constructive feedback based on observations by visiting graduate students. The observation & feedback program, called Teach Triangles, involves graduate student instructors from various disciplines who attend and critique each others teaching environments to obtain diverse, outside opinions on and strategies for successful application of teaching strategies. To build relationships with my colleagues and stay up to date with current research I maintain a presence on professional social media outlets such as LinkedIn, Research Gate, ScoopIt and Twitter. Additionally, I had the chance to lead and communicate with many diverse personality types when I helped initiate and later chaired the Mycological Society of America Student Section. I plan to continue these efforts to develop myself professionally and become an engaging instructor and mentor for my future students.