I believe in the importance of students gaining experience as well as knowledge in classes. The standard lecture format for a class is important in providing the students with basic information, but it needs to be mixed with approaches that involve the students more directly. In my own teaching experience and plans, I pursue this goal through the use of discussion-style classroom teaching, computer simulations and demonstrations to give students an experience of the principles they are studying, and involving students directly in professional research. A good teacher is not an isolated figure at the head of the classroom, but an active participant in the students' experience with their field of study.
The techniques that are available to some extent depend on the type of the class. I have taught both large freshmen classes with more than a hundred students per section, and small upper-level classes with 10-20 students. Such different circumstances require different approaches. In a large class, it is not often possible to engage the students in open discussion; in those classes I lecture using Powerpoint slide presentations, mixed with computer animations of my design and demonstration programs I have written to illustrate various points. In the smaller classes, I format each class around a discussion in which all students actively participate. Students work directly with my computer programs and I present lecture materials and examples in an interactive format. I involve students in my own research whenever possible.
In the classroom, I am interested in teaching evolutionary biology at both introductory and advanced levels, as well as behavioral ecology, population genetics, and related fields. Classes I am prepared to teach include Introductory Biology, Ecology, Evolution, Animal Behavior, Zoology, Animal Physiology, Computer Methods in Biology, Statistics for Biologists, Modeling, and Web-based Teaching of Biology. In particular, introductory courses in general biology or any more specialized field present a crucial opportunity to make a "first impression" and kindle students' interest in pursuing the biological sciences. Such an opportunity to demonstrate the excitement and fascination of biological research is not to be missed.
I have taught majors classes in Introductory Biology, Evolution, Ecology, Behavioral Ecology, and Comparative Animal Physiology. I have also taught non-majors classes in General Biology and in Evolution, and have shared teaching responsibilities for an Advanced Evolution class in which students read and discuss papers from the primary literature.
In addition to standard classroom experience, I have considerable interest and experience in the use of computer simulations as demonstrations to enhance teaching. Simulation programs can provide useful demonstrations of otherwise abstract principles, either in-class or as homework. Information resources online can be developed to provide students with experience in researching a topic. In my own teaching, I plan to develop and use software tools such as those I have written for classes here at Rice, and use them to illustrate and enhance the information presented to students.
I have developed the following software for use in labs or as homework assignments to demonstrate evolutionary principles:
Except for Evolution jeopardy, these programs are available for download at my software download site (Jeopardy is omitted so as not to infringe any copyright on the Jeopardy game). They are free for use by any teacher who finds them helpful. I have plans for more such programs in the future.
Ecological principles such as competition, predator/prey interactions and others can be readily demonstrated by simulations allowing students to experiment with the parameters and compare the results to theoretical predictions. Many public-domain programs exist which provide such demonstrations, but much more can be done.
Almost any basic evolutionary principle can be put to the test by simulating the relevant factors and seeing if selection follows the predicted course- sexual selection, life history strategies, foraging, social behavior, etc. I have explored these areas, as well as the "genetic algorithm" approach in computer science, with plans to develop my ideas into new teaching programs. I plan eventually to build a library of such programs that can accompany the full syllabus of a course in behavioral ecology, ecology, or evolution.
Though computers can enhance the classroom and provide an analog of actual research, they cannot substitute for a genuine research experience. Neither classroom nor teaching lab can match the educational experience of being fully involved in an actual research program, leading to professional publications. Inviting undergraduates to participate in research not only enhances their own education but also contributes to the research itself. This is a practice I intend to follow in my own teaching.
The social insect research which is my focus provides opportunities for students to gain field experience observing and collecting colonies in the wild, laboratory experience in a molecular biology lab working with DNA microsatellites, and theoretical experience in formulating hypotheses, designing projects and analyzing and interpreting data. An important component of such research experience is calling on the student to participate fully in the planning and execution of an original research project, from the review of the literature behind the project to the writing of the publication that results.
All three areas of involvement- classroom lecture and discussion,
demonstration and experiment by computer simulation, and direct
research experience- will be a part of the teaching program I
plan to implement in my future career.
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