Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
This page is dedicated to my research on effective teaching practices.
My research centers on the theme of building community, for both faculty and students, in the classroom and the university at large. I address both quantitative and qualitative questions about the effectiveness of educational strategies, the importance of student background and motivations, and the role of faculty engagement in building effective learning communities. My research is designed to evaluate the learning experience at every stage of the course, from the design and planning stage to the evaluation of student learning, which provides a more comprehensive view of its effectiveness. Below, I describe three areas of research that I am pursuing/planning to pursue:
Building community into course design through service learning
The benefits of service-learning are well established for students and for the community where the service happens, yet there are relatively few opportunities for students to engage in these opportunities. The necessary complexity of these courses can be daunting, and greater inter-dependence between academics and community leaders means instructors have less control over course outcomes. It also means that these projects have the capacity to evolve beyond their initial plan and have even greater impacts than anticipated. My work in this area focuses on three components. First, I am currently developing a citizen science project that is aimed at monitoring nesting sites and habitat for wild bees. This project can easily be incorporated into multiple biology courses allowing students to gain practical research experience, as well as to engage with the community scientists. My research would assess how effective this project is at improving student and public scientific knowledge. This project will also provide opportunities to study how engagement with research affects public science literacy, which could make excellent student-led projects. Other citizen science projects could easily be added to this research to ask broader questions about community-led research. Second, I have developed a flipped-course, entitled “From the tower to the crowd: how to talk about science with anyone and everyone,” on effective science communication, where in-class activities are devoted to workshopping science presentations for different audiences (i.e. scientific, general public, and elementary-school).
A major goal of this course would be for students to give their presentations at “science nights” in public venues or in local schools. My research would assess how effective these service-learning components are at improving student learning, motivation, and confidence. Finally, I intend to incorporate smaller service-learning components into other courses in the form of short writing assignments, such as public blog posts, Wikipedia articles, or guides to local insect/animal fauna. Developing these assignments in my own classes would allow me to assess their effectiveness and improve them over time.
Engaging students through classroom community
One of the major factors affecting student outcomes in a course is the classroom climate. Understanding the impact of classroom climate is often difficult because it is based on student perceptions, which are influenced by many different factors, such as aspects of the course’s design as well as the student’s own personal background. My research in this area is aimed at assessing how a sense of classroom community affects the perception of classroom climate. My approach here is twofold. First, I intend to study how aspects of student’s academic and personal backgrounds, such as prior misconceptions and the level of ‘personal and societal importance’ that a student attaches to the subject matter, affects their sense of classroom community and their learning in class. Once I have established some basic patterns, I will design teaching interventions to remove any barriers to learning, such as identifying and correcting misconceptions and adding reflection assignments to increase the ‘personal importance’ of the subject matter.
I will also include group discussions of these ideas so students can see that nearly everyone holds misconceptions, and that the subject matter has importance to people in different ways, and by doing so I aim to improve a sense of community in the classroom. My research will then focus on the effectiveness of these interventions, through the use of student evaluations and comparisons of student learning before and after the intervention. Second, I intend to assess how educational tools (such as research experience in the classroom) differ in their effectiveness for students across multiple axes of diversity and what teachers can do to improve their effectiveness for all students. This work will utilize both student evaluations and focus groups as well as assessments of educational tools’ impact on student learning. My work will identify strategies to increase a sense of community for students belonging to traditionally under-represented groups, with a special focus on the importance of intersectionality.
Evaluating faculty learning communities for teaching innovation
While it is wonderful to establish that a teaching technique is particularly effective, it is meaningless if faculty do not adopt it in their own classes. My research in this area will aim to assess the factors affecting the willingness of teachers to incorporate new teaching techniques. Two areas that I am particularly interested in are developing short training sessions on specific techniques, and establishing colleague teaching teams meant to provide feedback on teaching strategies. As a graduate student at Cornell University I developed workshops on teaching techniques for graduate students and postdocs, and I would like to build on this foundation to develop several workshops for faculty. I would then assess if these workshops increased the likelihood that faculty would integrate new teaching techniques into their courses.
I also intend to develop a program where faculty can join a colleague teaching team that would involve either reciprocal classroom visits to provide feedback on teaching techniques or a working group to provide detailed feedback on more extensive course adjustments, to allow for different time commitments. I would then assess the effectiveness of these teaching teams on improving teaching outcomes for the involved faculty through both student evaluations and faculty self-assessments. In conjunction with these programs, I would like to assess different methods for evaluating faculty teaching beyond student evaluations, including developing ideas for how great teaching can be further incentivized among faculty.