Pedagogical Approach

Teaching biology and ecology at the university level is important in ensuring that students are able to think Dan Kashian shows students evidence of past bark beetle activity in Yellowstonecritically, solve problems, communicate clearly, and - perhaps most importantly - appreciate ecological issues. College teaching demands a serious and conscientious effort, especially because it may inspire students to pursue careers in biology, ecology, and natural resources. It may be equally important in guiding non-majors or elective students to clearly communicate biological and ecological issues, because many will become influential public voices in the near future. Finally, though students are the primary benefactors of effective teaching, teaching also benefits the teacher as it fosters clear, critical thinking about their discipline.

Our lab's pedagogy emphasizes an enthusiasm for the material and approachability to the students, effective learning based on free and open communication between instructor and student, and an understanding that student respect is to be earned and not demanded.  A class made “fun” occurs not only when the teacher Dan Kashian discusses landscape history with Terrestrial Ecology class in northern Michgancan effectively untangle complex ideas into threads of discernable understanding, but also when the teacher can cultivate the students’ thinking as part of both the teacher’s and students’ life-long learning.  The teacher is not just the bearer of facts, but a veritable keystone of the teaching-learning process.  We prefer to approach teaching with the idea that although we may know more about the subject matter than the students, we can and do always learn from them.  This philosophy has worked well in multiple classroom settings, from large (>300) introductory lecture courses to small (20-25) advanced undergraduate and graduate coursework.

On a personal level, I simply love to teach, especially in the field. I have been lucky to have studied with several fantastic instructors throughout my career thus far, who showed me that teaching is an opportunity rather than a burden. For ecology, teaching is about being outside in the natural world, where learning is most effective and most enjoyable. Dragging a group of students to the tree outside the window is always more effective than showing its picture. I have a career goal of teaching field-based courses whenever possible, and this is even more critical at an urban university – though it may not be intuitive. Field learning is crucial for learning ecology, as it forces students to think critically about the real, uncontrolled, often chaotic natural world, particularly those students who otherwise may never have done so.


Teaching Field Ecology at an Urban University

Most undergraduate students are drawn to the Department of Biological Sciences at Wayne State as Terrestrial Ecology class studying in the field in northern Michganpreparation for medical- or health-based fields.  In addition, the university’s location in an urban area is often perceived to preclude its effectiveness in training students in field biology, and few students enroll at Wayne State intending to emphasize ecology in their degree program.  At the same time, however, studying ecology at Wayne State offers many opportunities not likely available in other environments.  Wayne State’s Environmental Science Program, a burgeoning degree program offered by faculty from the Biology and Geology Departments, has begun to annually attract strong students specifically interested in field studies in Environmental Science.  With support from the Biology Department, our lab has been integral in broadening the Department and University course catalogue by developing new courses in ecology.  Perhaps most importantly, we have been given the chance to inspire a curiosity for the natural world in students who may have otherwise have spent little time outside of an urban area.  Drawing from my own background, – as a college student raised in the Detroit area who pursued a career studying natural areas – inspiring “urban kids” to be interested in ecology has proved to be incredibly rewarding.



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