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Teaching and Learning, Courses, Evaluations, Research, and Helpful Links...

Teaching

Throughout my teaching I have used a variety of strategies as dictated by the subject matter and the student population I am serving. However, as with any professor, I have strategies that I prefer to use and I find most effective to enhance student learning:

  • Authentic Research Experiences - these range from guided inquiry and access to existing data sets/imagery all the way to student-generated questions and new-to-science results. This approach pairs well with service learning. I incorporate research in all of my courses: (a) Evolution and Diversity - guided bean beetle experiment, (b) Organisms and Their Ecosystems - independent experimental design using provided procedures, (c) Agroecology - class-wide soil nutrient testing project, (d) GIS/Remote Sensing - student led project of discovery using remote sensing methods, and (e) Zambia Course - class-wide project on forest carbon.
  • Service Learning - I am a firm believer that service learning helps the student both develop a working knowledge of a topic through repeated practice as well as gain valuable first-hand experience in how their expertise can be a force for change and good in the world. Service Learning poignantly connects the classroom and real world applicaiton. In some cases I connect the students with community partners and/or problems that need to be addressed (use of on-farm contacts in Agroecology and prior discussion with park managers in Zambia) while in others I provide a starting list of area partners and encourage students to make their own contacts according to their interests and abilities.
  • Swift, Frequent, and Effective Feedback - I have found that students benefit from frequent low-stakes formative assessments before the administration of a high-stakes summative assessment so that they have the chance to practice the material and cultivate a metacognitive approach to their learning. I find this cuts down on the sometimes common post-test reaction ``I thought I knew the material, but when I took the test my mind just went blank.'' In order for students to get their formative feedback quickly, I often use very meticulously designed multiple choice, multiple answer questions to maximize critical thinking and minimize guessing. I often utilize timed online quizzes to avoid using too much class time and allowing students to reflect on what they might not understand before coming to class.
  • Field-Based Learning - There is absolutely no substitute for real-world interaction. I try to get students out and observing natural systems as much as possible. Field studies allow students to take in a subject that is larger than themselves (a rock outcrop, a river, an entire valley) and integrate fragmentary information of different types from different localities and reason spatially to make sense of the landscape. I have seen students dissect a farm into functioning parts while investigating the pasture soils, the grain bins, and the milking parlor - and then step back and see the full integrated picture.
  • International Experiences - I am convinced that taking students to another culture/region of the world is invaluable to the their personal formation. Students are exposed to issues they have only previously been able to read about (lion conservation, subsistence agriculture in developing countries) and are invited to stretch their perceptions of how the world operates. I have enjoyed designing and teaching my course in Zambia and hope to continue bringing students to learn in other cultures/regions.
  • Evidence-Based Teaching/Teaching as Research - I lean on this rich body of research to incorporate teaching styles that have been documented to enhance student learning. While individual intuition can be valuable, I like to try to avoid ``reinventing the wheel''. I stay current in the literature and collect my own data (concept inventories, entrance/exit interviews, pre/post tests, etc.) when practical to determine if changes I implement do in fact enhance student learning.
  • Soliciting and Acting on Student Feedback - After every exam I ask for student feedback, display this feedback to the class, and act on the suggestions that have the most support and fit within my larger teaching philosophy (the inevitable ``offer more extra credit'' does not get much traction with me). Students do appreciate being able to take ownership of the course.
  • Effective use of Discussion - a properly pitched classroom discussion in which students are respectful and individually responsible for the material can help all members of the class connect the current ``state of knowledge'' on a subject to students' existing preconceptions as well as push students into a more analytical and critical mindset. Another major effect of discussions is the formation of a learning community within which students feel accepted, confident, and empowered to explore the topic. I often use controversial topics to spur students on to debate at the edge of knowledge, especially when there is no clear ``right'' answer
  • Clear and Explicit Learning Objectives and Assessments - students must know the exact purpose for each and every assignment/activity and how they fit into the larger course. They must also know exactly how they will be graded and what will be expected of them. I use explicit rubrics wherever I can when clear correct/incorrect answers are not applicable. Grading must be fair and as objective as humanly possible.
  • Explicit Focus on Transferable Skills - In addition to the content knowledge students develop in my courses, I also emphasize transferable skills that they can list on resumes and are seen as generally desirable by employers (teamwork, communication, problem solving, computer coding, etc.). This is especially important in general education courses. I sometimes hold oral exams where students come into my office one at a time and must be able to answer my questions succinctly, intelligently, and thoughtfully - a skill that is useful anywhere!
  • Trust - In my view students must take responsibility for their own learning. Part of this responsibility is conducting themselves as trust-worthy adults. I let students know that I am putting a lot of trust in them.
  • Resources
    How People Learn,
  • FALL

  • BIOL 113, Evolution and Diversity
    Syllabus, Course Schedule
  • BIOL 113L, Evolution and Diversity---LAB
    Syllabus, Course Schedule
  • ENST 350, Earth Systems Science (Lecture + Lab)
    Syllabus, Course Schedule

  • SPRING

  • BIOL 210, Organisms and their Ecosystems
    Syllabus, Course Schedule, Grades, Learning Groups
  • BIOL 210L, Organisms and their Ecosystems Lab
    Syllabus, Course Schedule
  • ENST 225, GIS/Remote Sensing
    Syllabus, Course Schedule
  • BIOL 401N/ENST 401N, Agroecology (Lecture + Lab)
    Syllabus, Course Schedule, Photos, Commentaries

  • RESOURCES

  • Field Geology
    Geology of the Wyoming Valley
  • Augmented Reality Sandbox
    Directions
  • Research Areas

    Students working in our lab design projects based on their own interests. That being said, historically our expertise has centered broadly around the intersections of biogeochemistry, agricultural land use, and disease. Current work in the lab includes:

    • Metabolic experiments on schistosome parasites and their snail hosts. Schistosomiasis is the 2nd most economically damaging parasitic disease in the world. These lab-based experiments investigate the effects of various snail forages on parasite emergence and infectivity. We are now linking these experiments with field-based investigations on the Nakambala Sugar Estates in Zambia
    • Nutrient runoff in tributaries of the Susquehanna River. While it has been established that the Susquehanna is a major source of harmful nutrients to the Chesapeake bay, it is not well known which tributaries are providing the bulk of these nutrients. We are beginning a systematic investigation into the nutrient fluxes of major tributaries along the Susquehanna in our area.
    • Citizen Science Project investigating water quality around a heavily built-up recreational lake (Harveys Lake). Harveys Lake has undergone drastic changes in water quality over the last few decades. Recently diversion of sewage away from the lake has resulted in decreased nutrient loads to the lake. Additional improvements to lake water quality can be made by identifying and mitigating nutrient runoff into the lake through high temporal and spatial resolution water collections by residents along the lake.
    • Trematodes as biodiversity indicators in the Susquehanna. Much like aquatic invertebrates, the biodiversity of trematodes can indicate water quality. We are investigating the effects of mine drainage and sewage effluent on trematode biodiversity in the river.
    • Distribution and prevalence of Lyme Disease in Northeast Pennsylvania. We are currently working with the Game Commission to pick ticks off of bears to determine tick diversity in the area as well as the prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacterium that causes Lyme)
    • The effects of the invasive Japanese Knotweed on biogeochemical cycling.
    • Sociological investigation into the failure of community gardens in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

    • Working with the The Nyanza Project to explore the sedimentology, ecology, and taphonomy of expansive shell beds in Lake Tanganyika. Our work has been published here.
    • Working in Mongolia with the Keck Consortium and the Mongolian University of Science and Technology on the geomorphology of the Jid fault based on its geomorphological surface expressions. Our work was published here.
    • Seismology of the Mid Atlantic Ridge - University of Rhode Island Bay Campus in Narragansett - SURFO program. Report here.
    • I collected neotectonic data on the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Montserrat and observed a plinian eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano on Montserrat. I worked with the MVO and the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences, a short report can be found here.

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