Since Fall 2011, I have been a teaching assistant for the Principles of Biology Laboratory I and II at Iowa State University. The responsibilities of this appointment include presenting short introductory lectures, demonstrating and facilitating laboratory activities, interacting with students, and providing feedback to students on assignments and practical exams. Science is becoming increasing collaborative, so I try to promote a collaborative learning environment within my own laboratory sections by facilitating communication amongst heterogeneous groups of students. For example, I assign partners and an “ice breaker” question every week, which helps the students become acquainted and feel more comfortable approaching one another. Since partners are assigned weekly, no student is left out and all students are challenged to work with a variety of people. Additionally, I encourage collaboration amongst groups when students are unsure or have disparate answers. This approach helps students clarify ideas through discussion and stimulates critical thinking. As the semester progresses, students develop oral communication and social interaction skills necessary for collaboration. My efforts as a teaching assistant have been acknowledged through positive student feedback (e.g. “always positive and enthusiastic”, “challenged my learning”, and “always prepared, explained well, and answered our questions”) and reception of the Iowa State Teaching Excellence Award from the EEOB department and the BCB program. Through this assistantship, I learned how to effectively explain biological concepts, gained confidence lecturing, and deepened my interest in biological pedagogy.
Throughout my graduate career, my interests in pedagogy have deepened, which I have been able to pursue as a teaching assistant for introductory biology labs. Through these previous assistantships, I gained confidence lecturing and deepened my interest in biological pedagogy; however, they do not compare to the experience of being a Knaphus fellow. Through the Knaphus Fellowship, I gained insight into what it takes to be an instructor: initial preparation for the course, development of lecture material, delivery of lectures, and self-evaluation of the effectiveness of my instruction. The challenge of the introductory biology course for non-major students is to bolster interest in students that do not necessarily want to take biology or felt that they were not good at the subject, so I focused on enlightening students on how biology impacts the world around them. This course was a journey for both the students and myself, which resulted in not only improved biological knowledge but also effective communication and problem-solving skills. In the end, I learned that instruction is not just about getting the material across to students; it’s also about developing well-rounded students that are prepared to meet future challenges. This unique, once in a lifetime, experience has solidified my career goal to teach biology at the college level with an emphasis on integrating computational and mathematical sciences.
January 2014, I assisted with the Software Carpentry Boot Camp at Iowa State University, which teaches basic software skills to researchers in science, engineering, and medicine. Additionally, I worked with the BCBLab (a student-led organization that works with life science researchers at Iowa State to create and apply computational and bioinformatics solutions to biological problems) to provide a seminar series for participants of the Software Carpentry Boot Camp. This seminar series will reintroduce concepts covered during the workshop and build on this foundation to teach more advanced programming skills.
Summer 2013, I developed a two-day highly-interactive wiki workshop for the EEOB department. The first day of the workshop focused on the administrative side of wikis. Participants installed and customized their own wiki using Dokuwiki, an easy to use open-source wiki software. Also in this session, we discussed administrative controls such as user management, website access control, and configuration settings. The second day of the workshop focused on the user side of wikis. Participants learned how to create, edit, and delete a web page for their wiki. From these opportunities, I acquired valuable experience developing engaging activities for students with various backgrounds.