Fundamental to my teaching philosophy is student-centered, inquiry-based learning within an interactive lecture. To encourage critical thought and inquiry, my pedagogical approach incorporates scientific research, quantitative reasoning, modeling, and communication skills, all core competencies outlined in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education (AAAS 2011). I strive to make my courses inclusive and equitable. By incorporating discussions of ethics in biology within my courses, I foster citizen scholars.
Because of the difficulty of measuring teaching effectiveness, I use a comprehensive approach that includes assessment through pre- and post-course surveys and review of course materials from students and peers. I developed course surveys with feedback from an education and engagement specialist. In response to these various assessments and self-reflection, I invest considerable effort in revising my courses. I stay current on pedagogical approaches by participating in training and reading the literature.
I integrate a variety of teaching approaches to engage all students in the learning process. The lecture component of a course disseminates information to those students who learn best by listening or writing notes. To accommodate visual learners, I use presentations that conceptualize ideas with diagrams, pictures, and short videos.
Throughout lectures, I ask students questions, integrate individual and group activities, and facilitate small group and classroom discussion for students who learn concepts more easily by verbalizing them. In larger courses, I use a catchbox (throwable microphone), which enhances the liveliness and ease of large classroom discussions.
In addition, I facilitate asynchronous discussions among students and instructors outside of the classroom, in which students verbalize complex concepts either orally (Flipgrid via videos) or through writing (via discussion boards).
“She taught the course in a way that all students were able to best learn from and made learning very interactive so you were never ’blindsided’ in exams. I loved how much preparation she put into class− and ALL her slide shows were immaculate!”
“Despite this being an online class, Dr. Beckman had quite a bit of interaction with her students. It is clear they felt comfortable asking questions, because they would sometimes unmute themselves to ask a question. This would often lead to a back and forth discussion that also involved other students participating through the chat. Dr. Beckman seemed to welcome these discussions and used them as a way to assess learning and revisit concepts that required some additional explanation. ”
- Faculty Observer
I emphasize the scientific process in all my courses and discuss the benefits of integrating empirical and quantitative approaches to formulate hypotheses and design experiments. Students learn how to ask essential questions, aiding them in becoming life-long learners. In Tropical Ecology in Panama (OSU), undergraduates with diverse academic backgrounds developed hypothesis-driven questions, designed field experiments to test their hypotheses, analyzed data, and interpreted their results. In Theoretical Ecology (USU) and Quantitative Population Biology (OSU), undergraduate and graduate students developed independent modeling projects related to their research interests. By building independent research experiences into my courses, I aim to make undergraduate research more equitable.
Within my upper-level courses, students research, evaluate, and synthesize information in scaffolded assignments that simultaneously introduce them to a disciplinary writing style. For my courses, I developed a series of scaffolded assignments that leads students through the development of a research proposal, beginning with how to read a paper from the primary research literature and formulate a research question to developing hypotheses and methods. In Theoretical Ecology, students use the scaffolded research assignments to explore ideas related to their research interests. Students gain feedback on research proposals and project reports from the Science Writing Center, peers, and me. Proposals and project reports are reviewed following the peer review process in ecology, and I assess the quality of the peer reviews. Hence, students gain practice and feedback in conducting peer reviews, an essential component of the scholarly process.
In my courses, students acquire competency in data literacy and quantitative reasoning. Students engage in the modeling process through verbal, visual, experiential, symbolic, and numerical representations of models (“rule-of-five” framework; Diaz Eaton 2019). For example, students develop hypotheses for research questions in notebooks and research proposals (verbal), describe models schematically or graph data (visual), and experience concrete case studies (experiential) by, for example, observing population through time-lapse videos. After watching the videos, we discuss how we can translate these dynamics to a model and relevant assumptions. Students learn and apply mathematical representations of ecological interactions (symbolic), such as predator-prey dynamics, and simulate data from models (numerical). As students come from diverse quantitative backgrounds, I structure my courses with the aim of meeting the students where they are so that all students can maximize their learning and succeed. For example, in Theoretical Ecology, students practice applying modeling techniques through problem sets. After the first submission, I provide students with the solutions; they have the option to work through the solutions and submit revised problem sets for partial credit. Through this revision, students identify and correct their mistakes, facilitating student learning and accommodating a range of quantitative backgrounds. Finally, students delve into quantitative modeling in ecology through an independent research project
“I enjoyed this class. It challenged me in new ways and introduced me to new mathematical concepts. I now feel more comfortable reading papers with mathematical models; my eyes no longer glaze over when I see them, I’m now able to appreciate them and approach them with (relative) confidence. I also appreciated the modeling assignment − it was WAY more challenging than I expected, and thus was a really neat learning opportunity. I’ve got a long ways to go before I’m ready to create any publish−able models (and so it was also a humbling experience), but I do feel empowered to maybe accomplish that one day. Thanks for teaching the course Noelle!”
Within my courses, students discuss and apply biological concepts to stimulate critical thought, internalize concepts, and build fundamental skills for communication essential across curricula. To maximize this learning, I integrate multimedia approaches within my courses, including informal and formal writing and video assignments and student presentations. Informal assignments encourage brainstorming and reflection on course content and include freewriting in notebooks, exploratory essays, and short videos. Formal assignments include research proposals, research reports, in-class oral and poster presentations to peers and external reviewers, or engaging and informative videos for a public audience (examples from Tropical Ecology in Panama). In General Ecology, students gained confidence presenting scientific arguments orally. In Theoretical Ecology, graduate students gain comprehension and ownership of content through peer teaching. Each graduate student presents a peer-reviewed modeling paper, explaining the significance, rationale, assumptions, and ecological applications of the model, and then leads a class discussion. By holding students accountable for their own learning and transforming them into peer teachers, I aim to motivate student learning, inspire critical thought, and build confidence.
“The notebooks each week were a good, low pressure way to encourage me to do and review the assigned reading…The group presentation at the end of the semester was a great learning and presenting experience with a laid back presenting atmosphere. I really enjoyed that more than any presentation I had to do for any other class.”
I am conscientious of differences in academic, personal, and cultural backgrounds in order to create an equitable and inclusive community within the classroom. Given the diversity of student backgrounds, there will be a diversity of thought and problem-solving techniques that enriches each class session.Throughout the semester, I discuss the importance of diverse perspectives in collaboration and the advancement of science. All my syllabi include a statement of diversity and inclusivity that outlines expectations for myself and the students for maintaining a respectful classroom environment in which each student’s contribution is valued. To engender classroom discussion on the perceptions of ecology from students with various backgrounds, I inquire of students how ecology relates to their academic major and life outside of school in a pre-course survey. Drawing from existing resources (e.g., Project Biodiversify, Atlas of Black Scholarship), I highlight research from a diversity of scientists to create a sense of belonging and combat stereotypes. Students learn about the interdisciplinary nature of ecology and its relevance to their diverse academic and career interests. I invite guest lectures by trained facilitators that promote inclusivity and mental well-being, including topics such as the prevalence of interpersonal violence on college campuses and available services, how to manage stress and upstander training. By respecting students’ opinions, knowledge-level, various thought processes, and different communication styles, I aim to maximize student learning. By creating an open environment, students will gain self-confidence in thinking independently and communicating differing ideas.
““Lastly and unrelated, I really appreciated the many times I feel you went out of your way to talk about and acknowledge fairness, equity, diversity, and also the upstander training you set up in class. So far, you’re the only professor I’ve had at USU to mention those things, which definitely affect our experiences here and our field, and I really appreciate that. ”
Within my courses, I will promote an understanding of humanity’s dependence on Earth’s ecosystems, tolerance for a diversity of thought, and the confidence and ability to question and evaluate information in our increasingly global and informationalized society. Through mentorship on research projects and promoting a student-centered, inquiry-based classroom, I aim to enhance cognitive and communication skills and inspire stewards of our ecosystems.