- 2016. Comparative Anatomy lab. Auburn University.
- 2009–2015. Human Anatomy & Physiology I lab. Auburn University
- Summer 2016. Guest lecturer for Human Anatomy & Physiology II
- Fall 2015. Guest lecturer for Evolution & Systematics undergraduate class
- Fall 2012. Guest lecturer for Evolution & Systematics undergraduate class
- Spring 2011. Graduate student lecturer for Developmental Molecular Biology graduate class
Outside the Classroom
- 2011–2016. Mentoring of undergraduate researchers, including a student who led an independent research project and was awarded an undergraduate research fellowship.
- 2015–2016. Biology Tutor for Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, Auburn University.
- 2016. Instructor for R workshop at Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
The Role of the Instructor
I see my role as an instructor is to help students teach themselves. When students engage with the material, as encouraged by active learning methods, they demonstrate higher mastery of the material, and this has been shown to be true in the sciences. Most students do not become scientists, but scientific literacy is a powerful way to see and learn about the world. My goal is not only that students will learn the materials, but that they will be able to apply the strategy of observing the world using the critical scientific method to understand it, which they can carry on into the future as educated citizens.
Philosophy Informed by Experience
My teaching philosophy is informed by my multiple teaching experiences, in the lab (cumulative over 1,100 students), in lecture, as a tutor, and in a workshop. In addition, I also have educated children and adults of broad educational backgrounds through outreach events held at Auburn University’s Museum of Natural History, where I have displayed my passion for sharing my love of learning about the natural world with others. At these events, I used collections to help inspire curiosity and teach about about fish biology and natural history. Through these diverse teaching experiences, I have refined my philosophy of teaching as a guide to knowledge.
Lecture: Providing the Foundation
To accomplish my teaching goals, I combine lecture and active learning in my teaching. Lectures are an important tool to lay the foundation. Critically thinking about scientific ideas requires the basic building blocks in terminology and facts, and lecture is a natural format to instill these concepts. To care about material requires knowing something about it. In labs and workshops, lectures are a briefing that provides students with the knowledge, tools, and a road map for the exercises they are about to do. Like language, fluency in thinking about science requires the basic building blocks; words can be used to string sentences, and facts can be used to infer knowledge. Hence, I believe that lecture can help to provide a foundation for students to engage with the material.
Actively Engaging Students
Rather than only feeding students information, I encourage them to figure it out themselves, because this leads to better learning. While students engage with materials or computer exercises (e.g. in a bioinformatics workshop), I encourage them to work in teams to solve problems, and ask questions. I also act as a knowledgeable and approachable guide, which comes across in my student evaluations of my teaching, which highlight my knowledge, willingness to help, approachability, positive attitude, and enthusiasm. One student evaluation stated, “Milton is very intelligent, and can convey his knowledge to the class in a clear way that inspires us to become a better student and study more.”
The Role of Assessments
I also assess students by discussing and questioning them about the material. This is to make sure they are on the right path, to provide feedback to students on their progress in learning the material, and to guide students in how to ask their own questions to think scientifically about the content. I am a firm believer that assessing students often is important to help guide students towards the learning outcomes. While some students are intrinsically passionate and engage with the material, many students are motivated by assessments that provide clear feedback both to motivate students and to guide them in how to learn. These assessments can be formal graded quizzes and tests, but can also be informal discussion and questioning. I believe this is one of the better tools to help motivate students to actively engage in a way that has little risk for their grade.
I have had the privilege of supervising many talented people when working with multiple undergraduate volunteers and researchers. I have taught undergraduates how to collect data and work with specimens, and I have learned to effectively communicate with my mentees to clarify expectations and resolve issues. While not everyone is looking to do a career in science, engaging in research is one of the most direct methods to learn critical thinking skills and the scientific method. I have also developed potential in people. One of my undergraduate mentees, was interested in furthering her research experience for a career in science. I helped mentor her on an independent research project that she presented at multiple conferences, both internally at Auburn University and externally at a regional professional meeting. With that experience, she successfully applied for an undergraduate research fellowship through Auburn University and a summer research internship through the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, and started Fall 2017 as a Master’s Student at Central Michigan University. I have continued mentorship afterwards, working with students during my postdoctoral experience at George Washington University. Most recently, I have mentored students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.