As a trained scientist with a passion for the scholarship of teaching and learning, I feel that teaching at a post-secondary institution has given me the greatest privilege and opportunity to influence the next generation of undergraduate and graduate students to pursue careers in scientific fields. Through my strong training in cell and systems biology, molecular biology, cell physiology and neuroscience-related research, I am an avid proponent for using the primary literature as a key resource during the learning journey of students in my classrooms. This is accomplished by my ability to translate the complex material in scientific studies into tangible units that are easier to understand by a student audience. As a result, I regularly incorporate pioneering biological techniques together with the most current scientific discoveries into my lessons, in order to teach students how core course material can be applied in a broader context and can be utilized to solve real-world questions or problems.
The basis of my teaching philosophy encompasses an active learning environment, which encourages social involvement and inquiry-based learning to complement independent study outside of the classroom. When teaching students, I attempt to help them build a “Toolbox of Resources” that they can maintain and build upon throughout their degree, including: (1) a substantial knowledge-base of the course material, (2) conceptual and critical thinking skills, and (3) the ability to communicate science. With this approach, my overall goal is to transform students from surface-learners, where students learn concepts by employing basic rote memorization, to deep learners, where students actively engage in subject material and extract meaning from course topics that they can integrate with their previously acquired knowledge. To a great extent, my broad scientific expertise has enabled me to focus a great deal of my teaching towards an interdisciplinary level of instruction. It is using this approach that I am able to provide students in my cell, molecular biology or genetics classes with perspectives on how molecular regulators of cell function impact physiological systems and functions as a whole in various organisms, and vice versa. Using case-studies and examples of clinical applications, I am also able to encourage students to approach learning from a problem-based and critical thinking-based perspective. These strategies have facilitated the development of skills or strategies in my students that are positively correlated with deeper learning of course concepts. These are skills that will be especially beneficial in preparing students for scientific careers after receiving their degrees.
My strong leadership in the development and implementation of innovative pedagogical techniques in the classroom has grown tremendously during my time at McMaster University as an Assistant Professor-CLA in both the Department of Biology and School of Interdisciplinary Science. In particular, I have played pivotal roles in: the implementation of technology-enhanced learning (e.g. Blended Learning in a First Year Biology Course); interdisciplinary curriculum design (e.g. Drug Discovery modules developed for the iSci2A18 course); and project-based laboratory design (e.g. The Living Systems Lab Course- LifeSci3L03), in both small and large classrooms. Furthermore, I have served in various leadership positions involved in the development of pedagogical advancements at McMaster University. These include being the inaugural Life Science Program Coordinator in the School of Interdisciplinary Science, in addition to my most recent appointment as a Distinguished Teaching and Learning Scholar and Mentor through the McMaster MacPherson Institute.
My teaching practice encompasses creating a compelling active learning environment for all students, while respecting their diverse backgrounds, academic experiences and individual learning styles. When approaching instruction in my classrooms, my teaching style is largely inclusive of a blended learning approach to course instruction, where I have developed online modules and use curated animations and videos, together with applied in-class lectures, to stimulate inquiry-driven approaches to learning. Through my use of alternative teaching techniques, I am able to provide students who may come from diverse academic backgrounds with an equal opportunity to excel in all of my classes. My teaching strategies also largely incorporate translating the scientific discoveries published in current primary journals articles to my students using a variety of media, including using illustrations, animations and concept maps. By framing the teaching of course material through the lens of an academic study, I have found that students become more engaged in discussions pertaining to core course content, and propose more intricate scientific questions that complement and build upon course material. Specifically in the laboratory setting, I make a point of visiting my students during each session (e.g. within BIO1A03, LifeSci2L03, LifeSci3L03 and ISCI2A18) so that I can help to add further excitement to their laboratory exercises by reminding them how these experiments tie into the course lectures, in addition to further discussing with students how these experiment relate to research currently being conducted in the scientific community.
I believe that there is no teaching without learning, for both students and instructors alike. When I teach, I open myself to new ideas, questions, and the curiosities as well as inhibitions of my students. I encourage students to provide continual feedback (via emails or anonymously through course evaluations) as to the general format of my courses and on how they feel my teaching methods are helping them learn and integrate course information. I take this feedback into serious consideration, and in turn utilize this information to improve upon the delivery of material within any of the courses that I teach. For example, over the last few years, I have designed the curriculum and evaluations within my courses to be more streamlined and flexible by design. In particular, I structure my assessments in many courses so that I administer tests of a smaller weight several times throughout the semester, instead of administering one or two large midterms prior to a comprehensive final exam. In addition, I have designed my assessments such that I often drop the worst score for a specific assessment category (eg. Top 3 out of 4 tests count towards final grade). I have found that these types of flexible course assessment strategies have encouraged my students to stay on top of their learning. Students have specifically reported that this approach encourages them to keep reviewing and studying material more consistently as the course progresses instead of cramming material review just before a large assessment. In addition, students have also reported that this assessment approach has contributed to a decrease in their overall stress levels during course assessments.
The feedback that I have received from students in the form a formal course evaluation, or through informal in-person communication has greatly influenced my pedagogical approaches and classroom interventions. This feedback has enabled me to continually strive toward better teaching practices and more effective course-related student outcomes. In 2015, I was nominated for and was awarded with the McMaster Student Union Teaching Excellence Merit Award, in recognition of my significant and effective teaching practices, in addition to my contributions to the greater McMaster community. This was a student-adjudicated award, and is very special to me as it is a direct reflection of how students perceive my teaching practices. Currently, I have been informed that on March 15, 2019, I will be receiving the McMaster Student Union Innovation Award together with the team of the LifeSci2L03 Living Systems Laboratory course. This student-adjudicated award is given in recognition of the innovative pedagogical approaches and curriculum design of this course and how it has improved undergraduate student outcomes and engagement as a whole.