Pedagogical experience and Approach

Education is a deeply-held passion of mine, and it was through the pursuit of teaching opportunities that I was first introduced to ecology. During my graduate and postdoctoral training, I worked to build my pedagogical toolkit through varied teaching and mentorship experiences. Indeed, I pursued educational opportunities despite never holding a position with teaching duties. I applied these tools and experiences to design highly-rated courses and lectures in statistics, R programming, and conservation biology.

First, I designed and taught a statistics course for upper-level PhD students at the University of Louisville (Advanced Applied Analysis – BIOL 671). The goal of this course was to demonstrate how to analyze and present real data including all of the problems and errors that typically are not covered in statistics courses. I began with interactive lectures to review statistical theory, and then I flipped the classroom for the rest of the semester.  I helped each student analyze one of their dissertation chapters outside of class and then they presented their analytical approach to their classmates.  Students learned how to apply their conceptual knowledge of statistics to real-life situations and gained practical experience with a wide variety of statistical tools.

Second, I taught half of a lecture-based Conservation Biology course (BIOL 567) for graduate students and upper-level undergraduates.  This course applied ecological theory to understand how anthropogenic activities are disrupting natural ecosystems.  We then focused on how conservation professionals work to restore and protect our planets ecosystems and biodiversity.  Although this was a lecture-based course, I organized my lectures to require continuous student interaction, including group discussions and active learning modules.

Undergraduate research assistant Riley Kneale attaches a respirometry collar in Panama.

I also enjoy mentoring undergraduate students.  My experiences as an undergraduate research assistant shaped my future career and I want to provide similar opportunities to the next generation of scientists. Although my experiences are primarily within academia, most individuals will not pursue academic jobs and I work to prepare my mentees so that they can ask and answer questions in any future career path. Ultimately, mentoring undergraduate students is an excellent medium for combining my interests in research with my passion for education.

I have gained a variety of other educational experiences with students ranging from graduate students to elementary school students.  Through the Jefferson County Public Schools, I have worked with elementary school educators to organize field trips and develop content for lessons. Because I lived extensively at a field station, I regularly give guest lectures about tropical forest ecology and ecosystem processes to visiting field courses. I also worked with the Glenwood High School to provide visiting high school students with their first research experiences. At the university-level, I served as a consultant for the redesign and implementation of an R-based curriculum in a graduate-level course covering statistical analyses and experimental design. Additionally, I waived a semester of my fellowship to make myself available to teach an introductory biology lab and gain experience managing undergraduate teaching assistants.

Matthew (orange) and William (green) are high school students from the Glenwood School in Smith’s Station, Alabama who learned about ecological research as my field and lab assistants during a field course in central Panama.