Teaching Philosophy and Interests
I think that young scientists benefit most from a transformative learning environment. In such an environment the learner is challenged to become critical of their own assumptions and transform their initial frame of reference into a new or alternate place of understanding. As the educator, I see my role in the classroom as being a catalyst for these learning transformations. The three main techniques I use to facilitate a learning transformation are: 1. Building a trusting learning environment, 2. Incorporating experiential learning activities, and 3. Creating opportunities for constructively critical discourse. Ultimately, my goal as educator is to create autonomous thinkers who can apply scientific principles and critically evaluate information until they arrive at their own, sound, conclusions.
When I begin a class, I start by laying the framework for trust in the classroom. I discuss my expectations of the students – and what my students can expect of me; mutual respect, fairness, openness, freedom to think, and freedom to speak. I ask the students what they hope to learn from the course. I listen to students and respect their input. Then I present the course outline with a challenge to the students to learn to think critically and to see things from an alternate viewpoint – for instance, is this course outline complete? Do you think that something is missing? How could the course outline be improved? (I present an outline with something intentionally questionable) Then I explain that I think we can extend this type of reasoning further into the course. What about science? Is science always “right”? What is the best viewpoint for a scientist to take? Can a scientist be truly objective? What types of bias could affect a scientist’s thought processes? I ask these rhetorical questions to demonstrate that for the rest of the course I do not expect to be the curricular authority, rather, I expect to lead the students as participants in a critical discourse about the course material.
I try to plan at least one active learning experience within each of my lectures. Examples of active learning experiences include: a short review quiz where the students answer using clickers (personal response systems) so that the individual can anonymously compare their responses to those of the entire class; a question followed by a think-share-pair exercise; a brainstorming session; or even a game of “snowball” (participants write a question on a scrap of paper, crumple it and toss to another participant, who then opens the “snowball” and writes a response, and then crumples it again. All snowballs are then tossed at the discussion facilitator). Depending on the course subject, there are often opportunities to visualize scientific concepts by building 3D models, performing chemical reactions, or using software, for instance, which are also excellent examples of active learning experiences. Active learning experiences address different types of learning styles. The inclusion of active learning experiences also serves the lecturer by pacing the course material and creating natural breakpoints.
To encourage critical discourse, I try to include case studies about complicated issues related to the course materials, and/or include a formal classroom debate as part of the schedule with marks for participation counting towards the final grade of the student participants. Debates are excellent opportunities to challenge students to move out of their comfort zone, for instance, by asking them to defend an unpopular point-of-view. Finally, when I plan course outlines, lectures and grading schemes, I try to keep the individual learning experience in mind in order to encourage autonomous thinking. By creating independent research modules and allowing topic selection, personal meaning is conferred to the learner, thus encouraging independent thought and research skills. I have attached an example of a course curriculum that demonstrates how I provide my students the opportunity to shape their own course experience.
I am interested in the concepts of experimental design and the principles of the scientific method and how they are applied in science. Any subject I teach will emphasize the practical aspects of science and research. I am also passionate about the principles of scientific writing and communication of logical arguments. I would love design a course that incorporates these ideas and scientific ethics, which could be offered to first-year students as a foundational course (see example course curriculum below). My area(s) of teaching expertise include cell biology, microbiology, bio-analytical chemistry, aquatic ecology, environmental chemistry and toxicology, proteomics, and bioinformatics.
Biol4030 Advanced Topics in Environmental Toxicology
Winter semester. Highlights advanced concepts, techniques, research and industrial applications in the area of environmental toxicology. Selected topics include nutritional toxicology and food safety, toxicology of drugs, contamination of water resources, toxicity and biological fate of pesticides, herbicides, and other environmental contaminants, molecular toxicology, genetic toxicology, biomedical toxicology, and toxicological epidemiology. 3 cr, 3 lec. Prerequisite: BIOL 3020U. Note: An independent term project will be part of this course.