My teaching philosophy

There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.

My goal as a teacher is to make students excited about the subject. In my classes, I DSC_0154combine classic and modern principles to reach all the students. I engage my students in active learning, connect the subject with their personal experiences, and use peer-based and flipped learning. My broad teaching experience includes labs, lectures,
workshops, and field classes, where my students and I camped in mountains for two weeks.

Teaching is efficient when students are engaged in active learning, and I use multiple approaches to achieve this. For example, my students solve short assignments in class or discuss open question topics. I once gave a lecture on individual identification of endangered cranes by their calls. Students were to identify crane pairs by their sonograms. They were competing to see who could identify the most pair correctly. Students like little challenges, and this exercise got everybody engaged. Several years later, some students still remembered having fun identifying cranes in the class. Another day I asked a discussion group how important a theory in ecology is: is a bunch of models enough (A.Ives)? Or do we need a rich theoretical background (J.Harte)? I could not stop the discussion! Afterward, one of the students told me that she wants to work for me.

I make the learning process personal for students. When teaching Vertebrate Zoology Lab, I told my students that, like fish, they used to have gills, which made them laugh. Another example would be talking about wildlife dynamics during the collapse of communism in former Soviet countries. I mention the moments of big political changes in the US to relate the topic to my students. At my informal workshop on R in Yakutia (Russia), my students used their own data in the class. My excitement about their data encouraged them to share their ideas and made them proud about their work. Afterwards, students told me how much they enjoyed the workshop. One even went so far as to hand make an amulet for me.

No single approach satisfies all the students, especially when they come from diverse background. That is why I use various approaches, for example flipped or peer learning. For some students, independent learning works better than group lecturing. In this case, flipped learning is helpful. Flipped learning also allows me implement peer learning: when students learn material independently, they can provide a peer tutoring for each other. In many cases, the students identify challenging content better than the professor, since professors know the subject in depth and do not always understand what might be challenging. When students explain those challenging moments to each other, it facilitates learning. Also, it helps to make my teaching reflective. Listening to students, I learn which parts I should spend more time on.

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My student with Caucasian toad Bufo verrucosissimus