Georgian Court University

Home Up Grants Publications Presentations My Students Service Activities Teaching Philosophy Admin Experience Admin Philosophy

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

After more than a decade of teaching I have identified three major objectives for my teaching:  The first is to transfer sufficient knowledge to allow students to successfully pass both in-class tests and those standardized tests required to allow them to meet their career goals (GREs, MCATs etc.). The second is to help students to develop the critical thinking and analysis tools that will allow them to become life-long learners. The third and final goal of my teaching is to help foster and grow students’ intrinsic love of biology as a topic so that majors retain the enthusiasm that made them choose that topic to study, and non-majors build new appreciation for the field.

None of these objectives is easy to achieve, and each goal is not necessarily equally important in each of the classes that I teach. For example, teaching of many of my lower-level majors classes requires a fair amount of memorization in order to master the vocabulary upon which the ideas are founded, which makes knowledge transfer particularly tricky. To facilitate this process, I try to incorporate a variety of teaching styles into every lesson, since every student learns differently. I create PowerPoint presentations that provide lots of images to stimulate students who are strong visual learners. These lectures are also recorded in MP3 format so that auditory learners can download them to their iPods for review at a later time. Lecture notes and review sheets, as well as copies of previous year’s tests, are provided to help students who thrive on reiteration of information, and laboratory experiences are designed to reinforce materials with hands-on experiences for tactile learners.  I also work to provide many different opportunities for in class participation. In its simplest form, this may involve “voting” on what they think the right answer is to a particular question posed in the lecture or encouraging students to share stories, observations or experiences relating to the material we are learning about on a particular day. Where appropriate, I also like to incorporate student presentations into my courses. Such presentations allow students teach each other instead of the instructor being seen as the sole source of information in class. In addition, presentations encourage students to use sources beyond those presented in class, as well giving them opportunities to practice their public speaking skills.   

Content-rich classes often don’t leave as much time for building critical thinking skills as I often would like. Fortunately, the biology core curriculum at my current university involves a variety of classes, some of which emphasize information transfer, and others of which allow more room for building critical thinking skills.  In addition, since graduate students have usually mastered the language and terminology of their sub-discipline within biology, classes within the graduate curriculum also provide many opportunities to emphasize critical thinking skills.  In recent years I have used such classes as opportunities to relinquish the role of “sage on the stage” in favor of a more collaborative learning experience. In most cases, these classes focus on the reading and critical evaluation of primary research articles, since the ability to read such articles and judge them for oneself is one of the skills which I believe is fundamental to a student’s ability to become a fully fledged scientist.  Reading scientific articles creates a “snapshot” of the scientific method in action, teaching students about this technique in a much more meaningful way than dry reiterations of this theory in the classroom:  a hypothesis is formulated and tested and the results analyzed and assessed to draw conclusions about the validity of that hypothesis. More importantly, though, by reading and analyzing such papers, most students quickly come to appreciate that not all such articles are of equal accuracy or have equal impact or relevance within their fields.  Before taking my classes, students generally assume that if something is published, especially in a well respected journal, it must be flawless and completely reliable and true. They are often astonished to learn that errors, bias and other such imperfections are depressingly common within even the “best” journals.  However, with practice, they develop the confidence to realize that they can and should judge any article and its claims for themselves and learn to approach everything they read with a degree of skepticism.  

Whatever the subject being taught, I endeavor to present information in such a way that it stimulates students to build a long term interest in the material beyond the confines of the curriculum. To echo William Butler Yeats, I believe that "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire". Like many, I learned to love science from teachers who cared deeply for the natural environment and passed that along through their teaching, as I hope to pass it to others. I have always relished any opportunity to communicate my enthusiasm for biology and the marine environment to others. I constantly strive to show students how the ideas and issues under discussion relate to their lives and those of the people around them. My students tell me that my enthusiasm is contagious, and has prompted them to become interested in topics that they had never found interesting before. When my energy flags, such feedback regenerates my enthusiasm, and strengthens my resolve never to become complacent in the classroom, but always to continue working to find new and better ways to teach and inspire my students. 

Page updated:  October 16, 2009