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My Approach to Teaching
I am a dedicated teacher with significant experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels. After receiving my Ph.D. in 1994, I taught for seven years at a large public research university, serving as an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Florida International University from 1994-2001. More recently, from 2008-2011, I taught as a Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. Beginning in Fall 2012, I will teach neurobiology courses in the Zoology department at the University of Oklahoma.
My teaching experience spans two disciplines (biology and psychology), undergraduate and graduate instruction, and courses ranging from large introductory sections to small, intensive laboratories for seniors. Early in my career I taught six semesters of Introduction to Psychology in sections with enrollments of 250+ students. Most recently, I have taught 6 semesters of an undergraduate neurobiology lab where fifteen students learn to patch-clamp hippocampal neurons in vitro on five research-grade electrophysiology rigs (www.bio365L.net). Between these extremes, I also have taught more than a dozen semesters of upper-division undergraduate courses in biological psychology, and principles of animal learning and conditioning. My graduate courses include History and Systems of Psychology, Research Methods, and Biological Bases of Behavior.
One important measure of the quality of my teaching is the structured student evaluations of my courses. At FIU, my Biopsychology course twice received perfect evaluations (5.0 on a 5-point scale) from all enrolled students despite the fact that it was widely regarded as one of the most difficult classes taught in our department. In five semesters of teaching Introduction to Psychology the lowest evaluation my course ever received was 4.23 on a 5-point scale. Across six semesters teaching upper division neurobiology labs at UT, the average student evaluation of my performance was 4.94 on a 5-point scale. Of course, student evaluations alone do not fully represent teaching accomplishments.
Positive student evaluations certainly are not the goal of my teaching. They are a byproduct of my approach to teaching. Importantly, I do not achieve these results by handing out easy grades and teaching soft classes. I am a demanding teacher and my courses carry higher-than-average workloads. My success as a teacher stems from my commitment and ability to structure and execute courses in a way that maximizes students’ motivation to succeed and their ability to meet the standards that I set. The foundation of this approach is a relationship with students that is supportive and respectful yet firm.
Upon this foundation, my general approach to teaching any subject, regardless of class size, centers on the relationship between questions, evidence, and theories. In the classroom I enjoy teaching courses on animal behavior, neurobiology, biophysics, and animal physiology. For any given topic I want students to engage material critically and analytically: Are we asking the right questions? How well does the available evidence address those questions? Do available theories derive in a sound and logical way from existing evidence? This approach serves to foster critical thinking, and it also serves as an important organizing structure for the content that must be mastered as part of any course. Facts do not exist in isolation, they are part of the scientific discourse. Even the foundational, canonical knowledge we must teach entering freshmen was derived through an empirical enterprise: someone must have asked the right question, conducted the right experiment, and synthesized data to theory.
For me, this approach to teaching extends beyond the classroom. Mentoring undergraduate and graduate students is a critical part of a department’s teaching mission. I bring experience, dedication, and enthusiasm to mentoring students at all levels. I have advised dozens of undergraduate students conducting independent projects and senior theses and I am delighted to have the opportunity to continue this work at the Univiersity of Oklahoma. As I establish my laboratory, I also look forward to advising and mentoring graduate students in our department as they engage with the ongoing research in my lab.