Teaching

Currently I am the co-supervisor of several honours and PhD students in the Insect Behaviour and Ecology Lab, and main supervisor of one honours student.

 

STATEMENT OF TEACHING INTERESTS

Growing up in a rural and isolated community, I have been fortunate enough to benefit from excellent teachers and access to long distance education (through the Australian School of the Air program). This has inculcated in me a passion for science and a fervent desire to impart to students the passion and the skills to advance their careers, lives, and scientific knowledge. Throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate experience, I have been exposed to a wide range of pedagogical approaches, many of which I incorporate into my teaching whilst continuing to research new pedagogical techniques. I aim for my teaching to evolve and adapt, centered around my students needs and understanding, to provide the most comprehensive education I am capable of presenting.

Despite being hired into a research only position in my current role, I have actively sought out many and varied opportunities to teach, as I am passionate about education and wish to maintain teaching as a central focus of my academic career. I am currently a course co-coordinator and lecturer for a fourth year entomology course, and am involved in community outreach through recurring radio interviews, public lectures, and volunteering. My teaching philosophy is based around four basic tenets:

  1. Education promotes scientific growth;
  2. Content should be accessible for everyone, regardless of background or ability;
  3. Critical thinking and an understanding of the core principles of scientific research are vitally important;
  4. Cultivating an appreciation of the scientific value of invertebrates.

 

Teaching approach

Not everyone learns the same way. Growing up with a dyslexic family member, and in an area with a high proportion of Indigenous Australians, I witnessed first-hand the constraints imposed by traditional teaching methods. Whether a student requires an idea to be explained in a different way, or has a limited understanding of the English language, there are different tools and methods that can be utilised to facilitate learning.

Teaching should not have a one size fits all approach, and as such, during my teaching I aim to develop diverse and dynamic techniques to maximise student engagement and learning. My lectures incorporate many different types of media, with videos, multimedia images, diagrams, discussions, and I have often found that students respond well to live animals or objects to pass around the class or observe.

I am passionate about encouraging students to speak up, to interact and develop their ideas and opinions. My lectures encourage active discussion, I want my students to ask a question if they don’t understand, or to share an idea if they have been inspired by the topics I am covering to think about a subject from a different angle. If my students can understand the core principles of scientific research, they can apply those lessons to practically any branch of science. With this in mind, I also encourage my students to appreciate the diversity, not only of invertebrates, but of the scientific value they present. Not only can we learn about biology and ecology, but invertebrates can give us insights into broader areas, such as physics, psychology and civil engineering when examined through the prism of collective behaviour, seen in many social insect species, and can draw comparisons between lessons learnt here and the behaviour of particles, or people, or human infrastructure.

To complement my teaching, I prioritise my own continued education and research. This keeps me on the cutting edge of new ideas and developments within the scientific field. I seek to challenge myself and provide my students with the newest innovations and developments, acting as a role model for an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Further, I believe an interdisciplinary approach to education provides the most comprehensive understanding of the topics at hand. As such, I utilise the expertise of scientists from other fields within zoology, such as guest lectures by a leading expert in mosquito ecology, management and disease transmission, Dr Cameron Webb, for the Integrated Pest Management course I am course co-coordinator for.

I feel that students benefit from a diverse approach to teaching, and strive to provide an opportunity to learn in many different scenarios. Lectures provide the basic information, but hands on experimentation within the laboratory and out in the field, give students an opportunity to place their knowledge and skills into practice, and potentially determine the kind of scientific research they are most interested in. Finally, teaching does not stop once the students have left the class. I am committed to the success of my students, and continue to support my students’ education outside the classroom setting. As previously mentioned, students may require different approaches in order to facilitate learning, as such, I do my best to support each students educational needs.

 

TEACHING EXPERIENCE

Upper year undergraduate course coordinator

I have recent experience as a co-coordinator for a fourth year undergraduate course, Integrated Pest Management for 2015 and have been invited to return for 2016 in an expanded role. This involved delivering half of the lectures shared with my co-coordinator and guests, administering and designing curriculum, supervising field trips and leading practicals, marking assessments and presentations, and dealing with student inquiries and issues. This year I will take on more of the lectures and design a new practical providing students with hands on experience of biological pest control in a commercial plant nursery.

Undergraduate teaching assistant

I was also heavily involved as a teaching assistant for two large first year courses (more than 300 students per course) at The Australian National University. This involved supervising practicals and field trips, and marking assessments and final exams within strict time constraints. 

Systematics

I have a long standing interest in taxonomy, and my skills and attention to detail were essential in my position as a teaching assistant for laboratory classes for the University of Sydney second year undergraduate course, Introductory Entomology (ENTO2001). As part of the course assessment, students must gather and present an invertebrate collection, displaying examples of each of the major insect families, identified to at least the genus. Students would bring their collections to the allocated laboratory practical and would work on identifying their samples. My role was to assist in difficult identifications, as well as general guidance to ensure students understood how to key out their samples. This was a major assessment, contributing 30% to the final grade.

Indigenous and disadvantaged student engagement

Growing up in a rural and predominantly indigenous community I have always been passionate about access to education. I was proudly involved in the Wingara Mara Bunga Barrabugu summer camp, 2016. This program was designed to build motivation and confidence for students from Indigenous Australian backgrounds to participate in higher education. The lecture I gave and hands-on workshop with the students allowed me to develop my understanding of Indigenous culture and connect with students from different backgrounds. I tailored my approach based on my audience and the cultural training I had completed leading up to the camp. By utilising live insects, as well as edible insects, in this lecture generated great engagement from the students.

Further to my commitment to education equality and teaching experiences, I became a Smith Family iTrack Mentor. The iTrack program is aimed at high school students from disadvantaged schools across Australia, connecting a student with an adult for weekly online chats. During these meetings, my student and I would discuss career interests and potential avenues, sharing my experiences and knowledge of university enrolment and course information, as well as alternative careers to academia. I undertook training beforehand to learn about protecting students, pedagogy techniques to engage with students depending on their personal circumstances. For example, many of the students involved in the program were refugees recently settled in Australia, though often awaiting visa approval, or from an Indigenous Australian background.

Education program initiative

As further evidence of my dedication to education and accessibility, during my PhD I designed, coordinated, and presented an outreach program, “Ants in Schools”, aimed at taking science to remote schools in New South Wales. I sought funding from The Australian National University and was successfully granted $2000 to fund the campaign. From 2012 to 2013, a colleague and I visited 5 remote schools in rural New South Wales. I shaped the program to be not only engaging for the students, using live insects, but to fit in with the current New South Wales school syllabus. The program was well received by students and teachers alike.

Public appearances

I am very experienced with the media, with many newspaper, television and radio interviews relating to my research. I am an excellent communicator and am able to present complicated ideas in an approachable way for audiences of all backgrounds. This is demonstrated by my invitation to become a regular guest on a nationwide radio station. After an initial radio interview for a segment called “Self-Improvement Wednesday”, I have been invited to return due to the success and great reception of my interview. On this program I cover topics relating to invertebrates, from my current research on resilience in social insect infrastructure and integrated pest management, to the role of invertebrates in ecosystems.

I enjoy giving lectures on my research, and engaging not only with the public, but with my peers in the scientific community. I gave a well-received open lecture on collective animal behaviour at an event for the BioFoundry Community Lab. I have also presented many talks at national and international conferences. I relish the opportunity to engage with other researchers at these events, not only to improve my research through critical discussion, input and collaboration, but to take the opportunity to learn from the teaching styles of other researchers in my field.

 

 

EVIDENCE OF TEACHING IMPACT

My teaching has resulted in not only positive feedback on my personal style, attitude, and techniques, but tangible positive results amongst my students and within the community.

Course feedback – Integrated Pest Management

Course feedback showed that students found the course intellectually rewarding (80%) and were satisfied with the quality of my teaching (100%). Students also found they developed critical and analytical thinking (90%) and the assessment tasks challenged them to learn (90%).

Feedback from students of The University of Sydney

 “[Eliza] created a supportive, collaborative environment in which I felt very included. She encouraged me to express my ideas and involved me in decision making, resulting in me feeling like a valued team member”

Jessica Boyes, previously supervised 3rd year student

 

“Eliza takes the time to explain and ensure you understand the project we’ll be working on. She will identify a problem in the experimental design and ask how I might solve the problem. This has really taught me to think critically about the experiments I’ve been involved in and feel like a part of the lab.”

Rebecca Hartstein, currently supervised laboratory volunteer 

Research Student Results

In Australia, Honours students undertake a year-long research intensive project that is similar to a Canadian Masters. The highest mark awarded for an Honours thesis is a First Class, designating an overall score of greater than 85%. I have co-supervised two students at the University of Sydney in 2015, Lucinda Ann Dunn and Danya Luo, both of whom were awarded First Class Honours. Lucinda was further recognised for the statewide AIAST Chris Russell Medal of Excellence for her work. I aided these students in the design of their experiments, as well as analysing results and presentation of their work. I am currently co-supervisor of a Masters student and two undergraduate third year Animal Ecological Physiology students.

Teaching Assistant at The Australian National University

I taught students in two large first year undergraduate courses, specialising in teaching genetic, molecular and cell biology techniques within the lab, as well as field ecology and evolutionary experiments in the field. I was responsible for supervising up to 30 students during practical classes. I was friendly and approachable, patient, and worked hard to explain difficult concepts in language that students from diverse backgrounds could understand. My students were efficient and returned a solid standard of research reports and final exam marks. I was quite popular with my students, who insisted on a group photo with me at the end of the year, and some have kept in touch for further advice with their academic careers.

Community involvement

As part of my commitment to education accessibility, I was proudly involved in the Wingara Mara Bunga Barrabugu summer camp, 2016. The week-long immersive program was designed to build motivation and confidence for students from Indigenous Australian backgrounds to participate in higher education. My role within the program was to provide students with examples of pathways into science, specifically the study of entomology and work within my faculty of Agriculture and the Environment. Further, I detailed my own education background, connecting with students through shared experiences of rural life as many students came from the area I grew up in, by way of an interactive lecture. The course was highly successful, with students reporting the development of strong links between their interests and potential career pathways (from 66% before the camp, to 99% after). Students also reported a strong increase in the understanding of university faculties and entry pathways (from 56% to 99%).  At the end of the week, 91% of students reported that they were more confident to study at university, 96% of students agree that faculty content encouraged them to achieve academically at school, and 86% were more confident in planning for their future. Supporting students to learn and grow does not stop at the classroom door, many students benefit from a more holistic approach where the educational setting is tailored more to their learning styles and circumstances. This is an incredible program of Indigenous community involvement that I would be greatly interested in continuing in my next role.

Working at The National Zoo and Aquarium during my PhD (2014), I gave free talks and demonstrations to the public on a wide range of animals, from lions and bears, to snakes and sharks. I also took small personal tour groups around to visit animals behind the scenes, and throughout my time in this position, I received overwhelmingly positive feedback about my presentations and tours. People were engaged and interested, learnt new information, and left excited and happy with their experience.

Ants in Schools Outreach Program

“Activities were planned to create interest and generate curiosity. Appropriate and effective questioning techniques were applied from the facilitators to uncover what the students knew about particular concepts and skills. The students were successfully encouraged to work together without direct instruction and probing questions were asked to redirect the students’ investigation when necessary. Pupils were given opportunities to explain concepts and definitions in their own words and to listen critically and question one another’s explanations. The students applied and extended concepts and skills to new situations and were able to draw reasonable conclusions from evidence. They evaluated and reviewed their learning and reflected on their new understanding and skills.”

Scott Law, Assistant Principal, Mount Austin Public School, Wagga Wagga, Australia

Media popularity

I have received a lot of positive media attention regarding my research and my ability to communicate science to the general public. I have been invited to give many radio interviews, guest lectures, and publish news articles through online media, including The Age and The Conversation.

I was invited to give an interview on ABC radio 702 Sydney, for a program titled “Self-Improvement Wednesday”. This program is a weekly lesson spanning diverse topics taught by experts. As a result of great public feedback, I have been invited back for a recurring segment. This reaches a national audience, and is available as a podcast online.

Overall I have received fantastic positive feedback regarding my teaching style and my impact upon students and the general public, crossing all ages and backgrounds. It is very encouraging to see that my passion for education, for teaching, comes through in my presentations. I actively seek and welcome critical feedback in regards to all aspects of my teaching, from the presentation content, pace of new materials learnt, accessibility of language used and information provided, to keep honing my skills and improving my work. I research new pedagogical techniques to incorporate into my teaching to ensure I am providing the best education to my students and the public, and also to build engagement between and within the scientific community.

 

 

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