As a trained scientist with a passion for the scholarship of teaching and learning, I feel that teaching at a post-secondary institution is my greatest 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, biochemistry, molecular biology, integrative physiology and health science-related research, I regularly incorporate the most current scientific discoveries, disease entities and modern therapeutics as way to teach students how core course material can be applied in a real-time context.
The basis of my teaching philosophy encompasses an active student learning approach that encourages social involvement and inquiry-based learning to complement independent student studying 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 in science. With this approach, my overall goal is to transform students from surface-learners, where students learn by using the basic principles of rote memorization, to deep learners, where students actively engage in subject material and extract meaning that they can integrate with their previous knowledge-base, a learning strategy that I identify as Cross-Disciplinary Curriculum Integration (CDCI). This in turn will facilitate the development of problem-based and critical thinking skills that students will need in order to excel in scientific careers after receiving their degrees. Due to my strong leadership in teaching and learning at McMaster University, I was appointed to be the inaugural Life Science Program Coordinator in the School of Interdisciplinary Science. This is the largest undergraduate program in the Faculty of Science and has a strong mandate for continued advances in curriculum design and implementation, along with being a leading program for institutional pedagogical innovations. Most recently, I have been appointed 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 live applied lectures along with other resources that stimulate inquiry-driven approaches to learning in my students. My teaching strategies largely incorporate translating the scientific discoveries in current primary journals articles to my students using a variety of media including illustrations, animations and concept maps. It is this manner of instruction that encourages my students to not only engage in discussions pertaining to core course content, but also propose other questions that can be addressed and that can also complement or build upon course material. 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 add further excitement to their laboratory exercises by reminding them how these experiments tie into the course lectures and how they relate to applied research in the scientific community.
As a complement to my teaching practices, I believe that there is no teaching without learning on both ends of the student and instructor. 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 any of my courses. Most recently (2015), I was awarded with the McMaster Student Union Teaching Excellence Merit Award, in recognition of my significant and effective teaching abilities, in addition to my contributions to the greater McMaster community.
Technology in the Classroom
Technology can greatly contribute to teaching and learning. As such I strongly believe in actively engaging the tech savvy student to contribute to the class curriculum through the use of online and blended learning platforms, in addition to social media tools. These initiatives have facilitated peer-peer networking in my classrooms, while bringing to light a wide sampling of the most recent scientific discoveries that complement core curriculum. Examples of virtual tools used in my classrooms include: virtual office hours (available online); discussion board forums for each lecture; and the use of Twitter in my undergraduate classrooms. Students actively engage in all three virtual teaching strategies, but are particularly enthusiastic to use Twitter to “tweet” and share amongst themselves various scientific articles, news reports, and animations and videos that enhance the curricula being taught, and which I also highlight during my lectures. As a university instructor, I have established research projects that evaluate how emerging technologies may facilitate student learning. This is imperative to understand as a means of evaluating how best to incorporate the use of technology as a teaching tool in the classroom.
Teaching Beyond the Classroom
In addition to my expertise in creating and implementing project-based lab courses, I have had the opportunity to provide mentoring and training to a plethora of students pursing applied research projects and placements under my supervision. While mentoring these students, I have been successful in instilling in these students strong skill sets that include, but are not limited to: laboratory research techniques with an advanced understanding of ethics, safety compliance and regulations, and quality assurance; team approaches for problem-solving; presentation skills; excellence in scientific writing; and networking with peers and professionals. It is particularly satisfying for me to observe my previous students now excelling in a variety of science-related careers including teaching, research, medicine, pharmacy and nursing. With a wealth of mentoring experience, I am one of four core teaching faculty that have developed a McMaster Mentoring Action Plan (MMAP) mentoring program to provide undergraduate science students with support related to undergraduate degree mapping and career action plans.
As a complement to my teaching practices, my pedagogical research interests are primarily focused on facilitating scientific literacy and translational skill development of undergraduate students. I have approached this goal via the discipline-related mentoring of undergraduate students in the laboratory (i.e. the McMaster Stink Bug Project, the Applied Learning Lab for Undergraduate Research Excellence (ALLURE)) , and through pedagogical research evaluating methods that can be used to enhance student engagement within the science classroom. Through my recently appointed MacPherson Institute Learning Portfolio (2014) and Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellowships (2016, 2018), I have focused my research efforts on evalating undergraduate student outcomes that can best identify the successes and challenges that students face throughout their undergraduate programs. I anticipate that we will acquire further evidence from the meta-analysis of learning portfolio student data that will further support best practices in teaching and learning.
My vision is set on maintaining a teaching career where my approachable demeanor and student-centric mentality will enhance student participation in the classroom, and will encourage their development of careers in science. My goal is to inspire and challenge students to look beyond their textbooks and course notes and bring the most current scientific discoveries and technologies into the classroom, while simultaneously developing their scientific literacy in a digital age. It is in this manner that I can influence my students to apply their knowledge and critical thinking skills to solve complex problems in their future careers. Having seen many of my past students successfully enter into post-graduate science programs and careers, I am determined to continue providing academic leadership, developing effective inquiry-based learning environments, and encouraging students towards the successful completion of their scientific undergraduate degrees.