Course Design and Planning
This page is dedicated to courses that I've developed.
Specifically, I designed an introductory course on evolutionary biology called "Evolution: Facts, Theories, and Hypotheses." Download the syllabus here. My main goal for the course is to provide all students with the necessary skills to discuss, analyze, and evaluate cultural uses, arguments, and scientific literature about the theory of evolution. My secondary aim is to provide students with foundational knowledge in three main topic areas: (1) evidence, patterns, and processes of evolution; (2) the predictive power and applications of evolution; and (3) the use of evolution in society and culture. I believe that the purpose of introductory courses should not be to cover the entirety of a field in one course (especially one as broad as evolution), but to provide the foundational knowledge that can then be built upon in other courses. Even more importantly, I think that introductory courses should prepare students to think critically about science and to familiarize themselves with finding, reading, and evaluating scientific literature. Fostering these critical thinking skills in introductory courses should help students to excel at more complex assignments in higher level courses.
After identifying my goals for the course, I crafted each learning outcome to reflect the main goal, and tie into one of the major topic areas. By the end of the course, I expect students will be able to:
1.1) Find, summarize, and critique scientific literature on the topic of evolution
1.2) Discuss the history of evolutionary thought by describing the major contributions of different scientists
1.3) Compare and contrast the major processes that contribute to evolution
2.1) Apply the basic principles of systematics to appraise literature and create a basic phylogeny
2.2) Analyze the importance of evolution to all aspects of biology
3.1) Critically evaluate evidence for and against evolution by identifying the assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses of the arguments.
3.2) Identify common misconceptions about evolution and formulate strategies to correct them
I designed this course so that it could easily be scaled up to a large classroom size. Evolution is an exceptionally important concept that can be useful for both biology majors and non-biology majors alike. This course could easily fill a science requirement for non-majors and still provide the important foundational knowledge for biology majors. In-class clicker questions are easily transferable to a large classroom setting and short think-write-pair-share exercises would be well-suited to small discussion sections. The focus on writing also means that the course would be accessible for non-science majors.
Many of my learning outcomes emphasize critical thinking skills, such as critiquing arguments and evidence, and integrating facts about evolution into a conceptual framework for its importance to all biological disciplines. Most of my assignments focus on written and oral communication of ideas because I think that it is critical for students to be able to communicate effectively about science (find out more about how I design assignments on the Assessing Student Learning page). The first series of assignments is designed to give students practice at finding, summarizing, and evaluating scientific literature. These research skills will then be put to use in the following assignments, where they will need to research arguments for a debate, and papers to introduce their topic in the phylogeny assignment. By focusing on research and communication skills rather than exams, I hope that students have a better sense of the broader concepts and how each section of the course integrates with the others. The assignments that I designed for this course all focus not only on the content, but also the communication of content, and will hopefully foster skills that will be broadly applicable after the course ends, no matter what the major of the student.
My teaching approach can be applied not only to introductory courses, but also to upper-level, lab, and field courses. In addition to Evolution, I anticipate teaching introductory courses in Ecology, Genetics, Comparative Zoology, Invertebrate Zoology, and Insect Biology. I am also in the process of developing syllabi for several higher-level courses. I anticipate teaching upper-level courses in Biogeography, Molecular Evolution, Phylogenetic Methods, Chemical Ecology, Science Communication & Outreach, and various advanced topics in Entomology.