Over the course of seven semesters of teaching experience during graduate school, and mentoring two undergraduate interns as a postdoctoral fellow, I developed my skills by emulating my own favorite teachers/mentors and by trial and error. I take student evaluations seriously and am always striving to grow as a teacher, recognizing that students have different methods of learning. The following points constitute the core values of my teaching philosophy:
- Foster an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and respect, particularly regarding race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, age, gender, gender identity, marital status, citizenship, sexual orientation, or disability. This philosophy is essential to create a safe learning environment for all students.
- Integrate evolutionary theory into all courses. Evolution is the unifying theory of all biology and students will be exposed to evolutionary thinking in all my courses ranging from general education classes to graduate seminars in genomics. My students come to appreciate that evolutionary theory has direct applications to their everyday lives, for example, fighting the spread of antibiotic resistance and novel viruses and understanding global patterns of biodiversity.
- Focus on computational skills. In the era of next-generation sequencing and '-omics' technologies there is a high demand in industry, government, and academia for skilled computational biologists and bioinformaticians who can analyze big NGS datasets. I hope to introduce students to open-access databases, programming languages (e.g. R, python), Linux, high-performance cluster/cloud computing, ecological niche modeling, and other types of spatial analyses to analyze a variety of biological data. Students will develop their own research questions, formulate hypotheses, download and analyze data with custom pipelines, and present their findings in the form of a paper, poster, or oral presentation, possibly forming the basis of a thesis project or peer-reviewed publication.
- Encourage collaboration among students. The ability to work as part of a team is essential for success in all types of careers. I seek to encourage altruism through group projects and study sessions. Ultimately, students realize that by helping their classmates who are struggling with the material, they learn it even better themselves.
- Venture outside the classroom. I remain a firm advocate of the importance of natural history and organismal biology, and am dismayed by the national trend of eliminating these types of courses from biology curricula. When I taught at SDSU, I led field trips to coastal tide pools, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Zoo/Safari Park, Palomar Mountain State Park, and a camping trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. My evaluations highlighted how influential these trips were for the students.
- Minimize the use of textbooks, use active learning techniques instead. Admittedly, textbooks remain useful teaching tools at the lower division level, when students need to focus on rote memorization of the rich vocabulary of biology, and class sizes are often large. But biology textbooks typically distill the scientific method down to a series of dry facts, and too often portray the history of science as a linear process when in reality it is far more circuitous. Thus, for upper division and graduate courses I prefer to rely on primary literature and independent research projects, enabling students to develop their creative writing, analytical, and problem-solving skills, even if it results in more work for me. I would rather have my students save their money and learn how science works.
- Use technology in the classroom to evaluate student learning in real-time. When teaching large general biology classes, it can be difficult to evaluate student comprehension of the lecture material. My master's advisor made use of remote-control 'clickers' to partially overcome this problem. She was able to quickly and efficiently take attendance and quiz students on the fly to determine which concepts students were having trouble with. Student attention and engagement seemed to increase. I will adopt her active learning approach when large class sizes are unavoidable.
- Evaluate student performance throughout the semester. I strive to give students the chance to measure their success early in the semester so that struggling students have plenty of time to adjust their study skills and time commitment to still get a top grade in my class. If I see that students are struggling with a concept or subject, I often go out of my way to develop additional materials or resources (such as study sessions, study guides, and mock exams) to prepare students. Student evaluations have confirmed that this extra effort is greatly appreciated.
- Recognize that making mistakes is a critical part of the learning process. I encourage my students not to fear failure and to learn lessons from their own mistakes. My philosophy is, if I'm not failing occasionally, I'm probably not challenging myself enough. In the context of computational biology, this is especially relevant when designing an experiment or writing code - if it doesn't work, change something and try again. My high school computer science teacher was a master at this style of teaching - he frequently frustrated us trying to solve difficult problems - but I credit him for teaching me how to think like a programmer.
- Keep it fun. In my experience, students are more curious and better able to focus on challenging concepts when their natural curiosity is intrigued and they are enjoying themselves. I accomplish this partly with a sense of humor and partly using field trips and other active learning techniques when applicable. But most importantly, I simply enjoy teaching subjects that I am passionate about, and watching students improve and succeed is satisfying to me.
Selected feedback from anonymous SDSU student evaluations
- "Best TA at SDSU. Very student friendly and extremely helpful."
- "Andy was awesome. He really tried to help us learn and improve on our practicals. He was really enthusiastic about the subject and always shared his traveling stories and photos that were relevant to the subject. One of the best TAs I've had!"
- "May seem hyperactive but is passionate about his chosen field. The out of class trip to the tide pools was awesome and it even showed his intent on helping as many students to pass as he can along with the extra study sessions for the practicals. Definitely a TA that should be brought back to teach the next semester labs."
- "I thoroughly enjoyed Andy's section because his enthusiasm for the material was very enriching, his use of powerpoints and study guides were extremely helpful, and his overall willingness to help was greatly appreciated."
- "LOVED the weird cool and freaky slides... or whatever they were. By far my favorite and most exciting lab. I loved how you were always so excited about the lab and so helpful with everything. Keep it up Andy! I am going to highly recommend your lab to other students!"
- "thank you for the study sessions every other week, they were very helpful and prepared us very well for the practicals. thanks for making lab fun and interesting"
- "Very helpful and I really feel like he cares, needless to say he mastered the material"
- "Best TA I've ever had at SDSU!!"
- "Best TA ever! Very helpful and approachable, always willing to help students further understand topics. Makes the class fun and a class you want to go to and look forward to."
- "The cheat sheets Andy compiled were insanely helpful for the practicals. All the documents he took the time to upload to Blackboard were greatly appreciated."
- "Very understanding and knowledgeable of the subject matter. He went out of his way to help students with extra study material."
- "Best TA ever! Andy had extensive knowledge in this subject. He was extremely helpful throughout the semester."
- "Wow Andy was an amazing TA, he really showed a passion for the class and the material. He taught an amazing lab and made me want to learn all the material. The trips he planned were also amazing, especially being able to pet the Galapagos tortoises truly an amazing experience. Andy really taught the material well and was extremely helpful, great TA!"
- "Obviously passionate about his subject which made learning about his species more enjoyable."
- "Andy is young, passionate and very helpful. He is kind, patient and often goes out of his way to connect with students."