As a veterinarian with a focus on zoological and conservation medicine, I have the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of students. Whether teaching veterinarians, graduate students, veterinary students, undergraduates, or younger students, my overarching goal is to encourage critical thinking and problem solving. Knowing where to look for answers to a problem is important, but most facts can be easily looked up or memorized. The ability to think for oneself is key to lifelong learning and necessary in this field, where the problems often do not have known answers. In my classroom, my goals are to give students multiple ways to access the information by keeping students engaged in active learning, providing supporting experiences, and offering multiple ways to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
It can be difficult to maintain an active learning environment, especially during lectures. Showing and asking questions about examples that relate to concepts presented in the lecture helps keep students engaged. When lecturing on wildlife disease and epidemiology to undergraduates, we discussed several examples throughout the presentation, such as chronic wasting disease testing that was being undertaken in the state and an unusual mortality event involving bottlenose dolphins on the Atlantic coast. These examples got students to think about the science behind current events and also sparked further discussion, questions, and involvement from the students.
I believe that any teaching methods that give students a tangible experience will help cement knowledge, have greater impact. For the Introduction to Conservation Health course I created, I incorporated a visit to a waterfowl conservation park with discussion afterwards and cleanup of a local creek as a service activity. These activities were a welcome sojourn from the traditional classroom, were well reviewed by students, and I hope will also be a lasting experience that incites thought later in the students’ lives. Students in my classroom also participated in discussions on potentially contentious topics, such as climate change, land use, and bush meat. These discussions not only helped me determine where there may be confusion on a topic, but also opened students’ eyes to differing opinions amongst their classmates and the difficulty of communicating science to the public.
While using examples, group discussion, and relatable or hands-on experiences are some of the methods I use to provide my students multiple ways to access content, I also give students multiple ways to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by incorporating a variety of classroom assessment techniques. Classroom assessment techniques, such as word summaries or 1-minute papers, provide feedback on my teaching effectiveness and can be used as starting points for group discussions. For my conservation health course, we read Aldo Leopold’s “The Land Ethic” essay, viewed a documentary about his life, and then discussed the land ethic as a group. Prior to the discussion the students completed a word summary activity about the concept of a land ethic. The results of this activity allowed me to determine how well the students were grasping the concepts presented and helped tailor the group discussion to working through difficult aspects and addressing areas where students disagreed. I may have to put more effort and thought into organizing my presentations when using a variety of teaching and assessment approaches; however, this increases accessibility for all students and often forces me to examine the material in new ways, leading not only to more effective teaching, but also new ideas that can be useful outside of the classroom.
I want to be a teacher that goes beyond disseminating facts and testing students’ memorization ability. Students in my classroom will find an environment that is open, engaging, and encourages active learning. I believe that my presentation skills and patience help to create this, in addition to the use of less traditional assessment techniques, and my reviews reflect this. In addition, I will continue investigating new teaching technologies, attending workshops that add to my teaching techniques, and collaborating with my colleagues. Veterinary medicine is a career where one has to be committed to a lifetime of learning and teaching it should be no different.