Spreading the word

In my last blog I mentioned a few of the final projects my ENV104 Introduction to Environmental Issues students completed last semester. Both semesters the assignment was to take an environmental issue, create something, and share it with the world! To spread the word and share some “ENV104 Optimism.”

Well, they were awesome last semester and they were awesome again this semester. So awesome, I wanted to find a way to share them with an even wider audience and to archive them for future students and others to enjoy and appreciate!

And now, thanks to the University of New England library’s Scholarly Communication Librarian Bethany Kenyon and the Digital UNE platform, some of these final projects are available online and available for download! So far we have children’s books and artwork and I’m hoping there will be a few others added soon. You can check out the collection here:


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In addition to my Introduction to Environmental Issues class I also taught an upper-level science elective class called ENV398 Pathways of Pollution. If you would like to know more about this class please check out our class blog here:


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My first semester teaching solo

Last semester was my first semester teaching on my own and I’m really glad I never have to do it again. Don’t get me wrong, on a whole it was awesome and my department and my students were great. I saw tremendous growth in my students, I know I had an impact on my students, and I know that they have all changed their behaviors in response to our time together. But, on the other hand it was also really difficult.

I accepted the Visiting Assistant Lecturer position at the University of New England about two months after the inauguration of the new president and therefore a new era for the political climate regarding environmental issues and science in general. I knew I would be teaching about environmental issues at an interesting time for the climate, both politically and obviously in the actual atmospheric sense. At a time when science feels so undervalued, and some people still claim that climate change is “a hoax” I knew I was going to be doing important work at an important time. I knew I would be helping my students be better citizens of the world, to be more respectful, to make sustainable choices and to be messengers of the wicked environmental problems of our day. And I did that, I know I did.

But, it was also very challenging to teach 91 students about the wicked problems of our day. I had four sections of Introduction to Environmental Issues which as you can tell from the title of the class is one dedicated to teaching students about problems. Problems like marine debris, noise pollution, waste, etc. and of course the big one, climate change. There were moments last semester when I saw how hard that was on my students and I told them how hard it was on me too… I felt like I was dragging them through at times. At one point in the semester after teaching about noise pollution, something that hardly any of them had ever thought about before taking class with me, I approached one of my students who was looking very concerned. I asked her if she was alright. She said, “Great, another thing I have to worry about…”

I took these reactions and feedback as cues and made changes throughout the class last semester and also made big changes to my two sections of the same class this semester. Instead of calling them “Current Event Reports” I call them “Optimism Reports” and have students share optimism to start our class instead of reporting on hurricanes, fires, floods, extinction, etc. This has completely changed the tone of the first part of our class. I also had a member of the counseling center visit class to discuss some of the feelings associated with these topics and responses to our class.

I tried my best to focus on action, to focus on solutions, and to be hopeful. Instead of writing a journal on climate change I had them write comments in response to the repeal of the Clean Power Plan. Comments that some of them officially submitted. I had them present on specific climate change solutions during class to share people, companies, technology that are working to make a difference in climate change. And for their final, I had them create a message of ENV104 Optimism for their final exam project. Instead of giving them a normal exam, I gave them a chance to share a message of their choosing. I was pretty free-form with this final exam. I told them to find something that spoke to them and share it with an audience. Some of them chose local Kindergarten classes. Some of them chose to stand outside the dining hall and share climate change facts and solutions. Some of them sent letters. Some of them made artwork, raps, song parodies, websites, and hosted cleanups. Here are some of those final projects.

Two pieces of art using collected marine debris:

An original rap, A song parody, website A cleanup.

The semester ended with a presentation symposium where my students shared these projects. What an inspiring way to end a semester!

Also, in the last week of class during a class discussion on moving forward and taking action, one of my students told a story about his little brother’s elementary school class. He talked about how they had a compost bin in the classroom and had earthworms in that bin to break down the food. All of the students helped maintain the worm bin throughout the year. Then at the end of the year, each student was sent home with some of the earthworms to be able to start their own compost bins at home. After he finished I told the class, you know, you are my worms. They laughed. But it’s true. I have sent them off into the world with our experience from the semester. I will never know if they start their own “worm bins.” But I have sent those 91 students out into the world with knowledge about problems and their solutions. And I do like to think about all of the proverbial “worm bins,” the straws they’ve skipped, or plastic bags they’ve avoided, or compost bins they’ve started since our class and all of the people that are now part of this network of people I have reached through my first semester teaching.

This semester I am teaching two more sections of this course and an upper level science elective course called Pathways of Pollution: Science, Service Learning and Solutions. For this course I wanted to use my coursework in college teaching from Duke University and develop something that even further represented my teaching philosophy and the type of experiential, field-based and service-learning course that have made such a difference in my own academic career. This class is an upper level science elective course in Environmental Studies and I am taking a service learning and hands-on approach. Students are working with scientists and their data and getting out in the field as much as possible. Our “authentic assignments” with real datasets are helping the students learn and be engaged with the various pollutants we are covering but also benefit local organizations and agencies like the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve and the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

My students and I are contributing to a class blog which can be found here: https://sites.google.com/une.edu/pathwaysofpollution 

I encourage you to check it out to see what we’re doing in that class!

Back in the Northeast

It has been a bit of a whirlwind since the beginning of April when I successfully defended my Ph.D. but I wanted to take a bit of time to write a quick update on where I am and what I am up to.

After a wonderful set of defense and graduation celebrations in NC and NJ, many tearful goodbyes to friends and colleagues at the Marine Lab, and with the most gracious help of my wonderful family, me (and all of my stuff) moved to Falmouth, MA in June to start a year-long postdoc at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, MA with Sofie Van Parijs. I was so lucky when a few months before my defense, my wonderful committee member Sofie informed me should would like to have me in Woods Hole after defending to work for her in the Passive Acoustics Group. She said she was doing what she wished someone did for her as she was finishing up her dissertation. She wanted me to focus on finishing and not have to worry anymore about what came next. My emotions usually manifest as tears (happy, sad, angry) and Sofie and I cried happy tears on the phone that day. I was so happy and relieved to know I knew what was coming next and that I was going to work with someone as wonderful as Sofie. Not to mention that Sofie has a wonderful group up in Woods Hole and I was going to get to work with all of them too. I was getting my “dream postdoc.”

My first day on the job, which never felt like a first day at all, Sofie and I had a meeting and she outlined three major things she wanted me to focus on. Many people I encountered as I made the move from NC to MA asked me what I would be working on when I got to NOAA… I replied, well, I don’t really know, I think I remember something to do with cod fish, but I have all the faith in the world that Sofie, knowing my strengths and weaknesses extremely well would find some great things for me to work on. And boy was I right. She started by telling me that part of my job was to work on my chapters and getting them published. So far, Chapter 1, check! 3 more to go! Then I heard about the cod fish, I would be helping process automatic cod fish detections from two years of recordings. Year 1, done! 1 more year to go! Then third, Sofie told me that she wanted me to coordinate a new passive acoustic monitoring program for humpback whales in the Caribbean. Wait, what? Yes, you heard right, I am working on a multi-national, ten recording device, six site Caribbean Humpback Acoustic Monitoring Programme, what I have dubbed “CHAMP.” So I’ve been busy! Between work and presenting at a week-long conference in Dublin, Ireland, “The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life,” it has been a whirlwind but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

2016 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Yesterday I received word that I would be a recipient of Duke University’s Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. The email I received from Dean Jacqueline Looney said that a “review committee of deans, graduate faculty, staff, and graduate students chose you from a highly competitive pool of nominees to receive this award, which this year will recognize two graduate students who best exemplify the characteristics of effective college teaching.” And that’s when the tears started.

When my desktop notification told me I had an email with the subject line “Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching” I took a deep breath, clicked on my email and opened the message. When I saw “you have been selected to receive” I screamed “I GOT IT!” It didn’t really sink in until I went back to the email and gave it a good read with my sister and then my parents on the phone and when I got to that sentence above.

I’ve applied for a lot of things, some I’ve received and many I haven’t. But this award, this one is very special and carries a lot of meaning for me. You see, I love teaching and I hope to teach for the rest of my career.  I continued in the Ph.D. program at Duke because I knew I wanted to teach at a college or university when I was done. And for that, I’ve gotten some pretty strange looks when I’ve professed my love of teaching and mentoring students. Don’t get me wrong, I love my research but I always thought my strengths and passion lied in the teaching side of things. So to receive an award for something I’m so passionate about and for something I’ve dedicated a lot of time, effort and energy to. It’s validating and meaningful in a way I probably can’t describe very well in words. This is like my Golden Globe or my National Championship Trophy.

After I got the news my Director of Graduate Studies emailed the Duke Marine lab and my Mom took to Facebook to share the news and the emails, likes and comments poured in from friends and family all over the country and the world. And that’s when the tears continued. To hear people that I respect and admire tell me that this was richly deserved and that they’re proud of me. To share their support for me and ultimately for what I love to do. It’s completely overwhelming (in a very good way)!

I added a message on Facebook and again the response, I can’t even describe it. But I want to echo something I wrote there, here in this blog. And that is THANK YOU. So I’ll take the next bit as my acceptance speech.

I couldn’t have gotten here without the support and love of a countless number of people. I’ll start with My Mom, Dad and sister Kaitlin. I have learned from the best and can’t thank you three enough for everything you do for me and for everything you’ve taught me. This is your award too. I have friends, family and teachers I’ve known as far back as Kindergarten to thank for inspiring my love of science and for showing me the power of teachers. I have so many people at UConn and specifically the Honors Program at UConn to thank for giving me a chance to start pursuing research and for giving me my first mentoring and teaching experiences. That’s when it started really, when I caught the bug. And my set of beautiful, smart and amazing friends from both UConn and Duke, I’m really extremely lucky to have some of the best women and so many of the best women in STEM I’ve ever known as my best friends. You ladies inspire me every day. And at Duke. All of my students in all of the classes I have TA’d, taught and guest lectured in. My advisers, mentors, committee, teachers, everyone (and I mean everyone) at the Duke University Marine Lab. If I didn’t have such an amazing place to learn and grow and develop as a teacher, I wouldn’t have received this award. So thank you, thank you. This is exactly the inspiration I need to finish off this dissertation of mine. So I should probably get back to that 🙂


An Early Career Academic’s First Instructorship


Before the holidays my adviser Dr. David Johnston asked me to be a co-instructor for the Marine Megafauna class on main campus for Spring 2015. He told me that I would be responsible for the first third of class and the first exam’s worth of material between January 9th and February 9th while he was in Antarctica doing fieldwork. Marine Megafauna was my first (of nine) Teaching Assistantships in my first year as a Ph.D. student. I have since been the TA for classes like Marine Mammals (two times), Marine Ecology (two times), Fisheries Ecology, Marine Policy, Marine Conservation Biology and Caribbean Invertebrate Zoology. Since I will be completing my tenure as a TA this spring with the Marine Conservation Biology travel course to Hawaii, a course I took as a Master’s student, I viewed this first instructorship as another incredible way to wrap up that tenure. Dave and I went through the lectures I would give and he provided me with the materials he used for teaching the year before but I knew I wouldn’t and couldn’t just give Dave’s lectures, I knew I wanted to be purposeful about my time with these students and to treat this class, as much as I could, like my own.


Since student responses are included throughout this reflection I wanted to introduce my evaluations first thing in this reflection. I included two rounds of evaluations, one 2 weeks (4 classes in) and the other on my last class. The first evaluation was used to touch base with the students, find out after add-drop had ended who was in the class, why they were taking the class and how things were going for the first bit of the course. I will get more into this later but I made sure I read all of the evaluations and responded to them in the following class. On the second evaluation I wanted to know how they responded to me over my time teaching. I also wanted to specifically focus on parts of the class like the personal connections, activities, and group discussions to see how the students thought they were or were not helping their learning. I also made sure, before I had the students complete the evaluations, that they understood why I was doing them. I told them I wanted to see how certain parts of the class were going and to find out how I could improve. I also told them that these would be invaluable for me moving forward. I have included statistics and quotes from these evaluations throughout this reflection.

Pedagogy of Presence

One of my major goals was to be present and personal throughout the class. James Lang in his article “Waiting for Us to Notice Them: This is how we can begin to practice a ‘pedagogy of presence’ in our classrooms” wrote, “personal relationships are what students document as the most profound and memorable aspects of their college experience. In order to have that powerful impact on our students, we have to be truly present in our classrooms” and be more present to the students, their questions, and what is going on in the classroom, and actually respond to it. It means checking in with them and making a connection with them.

I chose to make these connections and make the science we were learning about personal by incorporating pictures, videos, stories, etc. I tried to incorporate these personal connections and stories in every single class and the students responded extremely well. One student wrote that seeing people’s personal connections to the specific areas of study in such a large subject as marine megafauna was the most valuable part of his or her learning experience. Another wrote that the most valuable part was “when we couple learning w/ videos pictures to see what we’ve learned in action.”

The following evaluation questions and the two results below came from a discussion with one of the faculty at the marine lab. I told her about the Skype and personal connections I was using and how the students were really just eating them up. She asked me if I thought they were helping them learn the concepts or just getting them excited about the topics. I thought for a second and said both, and I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. So, I asked my students.

96% of the students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I find the personal connections (e.g. guests, Skype, stories) to the course material help me understand course content.”

100% of the students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “The personal connections (e.g. guests, Skype, stories) to the course material spark my interest for the topic.”

One of the student’s favorite activities, which we did on three different occasions over my nine lectures was Skyping with an expert in the group of animals we were learning about and, in addition, for two of these three Skype connections, also an author of the paper they read for class. We connected with an extinct shark researcher Catalina, who was also the first author of one of the papers the students read. This gave them the opportunity to ask her questions about her work and to connect with her in real time. The students wrote,

“The Skype stuff is really cool and unique, really cool to talk to experts about what we are studying”

“It’s really cool interacting with the actual people responsible for the content we’re learning”

“Really enjoyed the skypes, I’ve never had a prof do them before.”

Another way I tried to make a class present was to incorporate pop culture and current references to the material. At the beginning of each class I shared information I found on social media, Huffington Post, etc. to keep the material we were learning about in the present and keep it relevant to their lives. One student wrote:

“Keep up the humor and lighthearted comments! Love the news articles, social media stuff, etc., makes it fun and relevant”

I think that these not only show they responded well to the personal connections but also the innovative and high tech teaching techniques I used throughout the course.

High-Tech Teaching

Most of the classes I taught were set up in this way: Lecture for about a half hour and then move to a case study and activities. My lectures were Keynote (PowerPoint for Macs) driven but always included discussion questions, poll everywhere questions, my version of the clicker question without the clicker, and breaks for videos, personal stories etc. I didn’t realize it until I read the article “Professors Know About High-Tech Teaching Methods, but Few Use Them” by Casey Fabris on the Chronicle of Higher Education that I am apparently very high tech! I used many of the “high-tech and innovative” techniques listed in the article. These high-tech techniques included incorporating group projects (more so discussion in my case), incorporating experiential learning, using open-source materials to augment content (all the readings we use are open access PLOS One articles), using tools such as Skype or video to encourage in-class or real-time interactions, using tools such as social media or discussion forums to encourage participation outside of class (Twitter mostly in my case), and using “clickers” or other means (I used poll everywhere) to obtain student responses in real time.

Table modified from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/professors-know-about-high-tech-teaching-methods-but-few-use-them/55777

Included are the techniques I used in my class and the percentage of respondents in the survey who were not familiar enough to rate the technique, familiar but not relevant or haven’t tried, tried, or actually adopted the technique in their classroom. For most of these techniques the majority picked the “familiar but not relevant, or have not tried” option.

Not familiar enough to rate Familiar but not relevant, or have not tried Tried Adopted
Incorporating group projects 2% 20% 18% 56%
Incorporating service learning or other experiential learning 14% 49% 13% 23%
Using open-source (free) materials to augment content 14% 42% 16% 27%
Using tools such as Skype or video to encourage in-class or real-time interactions 9% 63% 13% 15%
Using tools such as social media or discussion forums to encourage participation outside class 9% 56% 12% 20%
Using “clickers” or other means to obtain student responses in real time 11% 64% 10% 12%


I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to some of these techniques so early in my career and that I have implemented them without very much trepidation. I know I will continue to use these techniques in my future classes because I saw the effect they had on students and know they are a great way for students to learn and engage with the material.

When I asked my students on the first evaluation “Do you like the incorporation of videos, discussion and other activities? Why or why not?” this is a word cloud of how they responded.


When I asked students about what their favorite activity in the class so far, this is the word cloud of how they responded to that question. (More on jigsaws later!)


In their second evaluation one student wrote in response to these techniques,

“Interactive course setup helpful for retaining info and maintaining class interest.”

As a further call for more innovation one student wrote in response to “What is one thing you would change about the instructor’s teaching style/methods that would improve your learning?” “b/c you are so open to videos/jigsaws etc., don’t supplement w/ boring powerpoints. This class would be a good one to learn through group projects”

Course Readings

Reading scientific articles is an important skill and one that takes time to develop so I had my students read a paper for most of the classes. To help them read the papers I provided a set of questions that they should try to answer with each paper they read. I use questions like this myself when I take notes. These questions developed from my time reading articles and were very popular with students (76% wrote that the guiding questions helped them with their course readings). When I asked my students about how specific strategies helped them with course readings, more than half pointed to think pair share or small group discussion (74%), providing guiding questions (76%), whole class discussions (68%), and Skyping with authors (68%)

I tried to make it clear that I expected students to come to class prepared by having read the articles assigned to them. I tried to choose those articles carefully, thinking about why I wanted students to read them, and prepared them for those readings with the guiding questions mentioned above and a “How to” session during our second class. I made the readings an important part of the course and chose not to tell them what was important from the readings. If I lectured on the readings and gave them the important concepts listed on a slide, what would be the point for them to spend additional time reading by themselves? Instead, I tried to create spaces where students answered other students’ questions and discussed major results. I also made sure that the readings were on the exam because they were an important part of the course material. In addition, they were held accountable for reading the material because we incorporated discussions and activities that took the knowledge gleaned from the papers one step further. We did this through our Skypes with the authors. I had the students bring a question to class that they could ask our Skype guest so they were prepared for the discussion. We also did this through jigsaws. I’ll explain the jigsaw here with one of the examples, the penguin jigsaw.

We had four different open access penguin papers published by a set of authors over about 4 years. I encouraged the students to work through our guiding questions before they got to class. Our first task in class was to give students time to meet with the other students that read that article. This was their expert group.  This gave students the chance to talk about the paper, ask questions, get clarifying information, and build confidence around the paper. Then we split the expert group up and students joined a home group. This home group was made up of people who read all of the articles. This home group discussion gave students the chance to get content from the four different articles but only read one saving students time and encouraging discussion. During these student activities I circulated between the different groups, addressed misconceptions, preconceptions, and muddy points, answered questions, kept students on task and added details where necessary. In addition to discussing some of our major guiding questions, when the students got to their home groups they also filled out a timeline of the penguin research and discussed how the findings, results, implications and conclusions changed over time. They also discussed their thoughts on the emperor penguin’s fate with climate change.

The jigsaw was very well received and is an activity that created “active experts” one of the principles of inclusive teaching (see the 4 part Stanford Teaches series “Closing the Gender Gap in your STEM Classroom.” https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/teaching-talk/foundation-understanding-gender-differences-part-1-series).

“An active expert role is one in which the student answers questions, makes comments, teaches others, or expresses their voice through presentations (Hazari et al., 2010). It has been shown that students who teach their classmates more frequently can develop a stronger identity in that subject (Hazari et al., 2010) (see Post 1, Common Metrics Table), as “taking on the role of an expert through teaching others might make students feel like they belong to the expert group” (Hazari et al., 2010). Since this feeling of belonging is what girls often lack in STEM fields, active expert roles may help girls in particular to enhance their sense of belonging to their classmates and to the material they engage with.”

One student wrote that the jigsaw chats “helped me improve communication skills.” As a Girls and Women in STEM advocate it is extremely important for me to incorporate principles of inclusive and accessible teaching. I see this is a challenge for not only gender inclusivity but for learning styles and other aspects of positionality and background the students bring to the classroom. One student wrote,

“You are fantastic! I love having all these female role models in the animal sciences!!”

21st Century Skills

My sister pointed me to the 21st Century Skills and I wanted to talk about a few of the skills I tried to implement in the course briefly here. http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/P21_Framework_Definitions.pdf

I tried to give my students practice doing things that scientists have to do every day to help build confidence (and to give them tools that can help them do this) for those students who will enter a STEM major but also things that are beneficial to all students, whether they choose to pursue STEM fields or not.


Communicate clearly

  • Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts
  • Listen effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes and intentions •

Collaborate with others

  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

I wanted to give them practice collaborating and working in groups. The days of science being done by one person are long gone and I tried to give them practice working in groups and discussing science (e.g. jigsaws). I hope that I started to achieve the last objective “Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member.”

Creativity/Innovation/Critical Thinking

Think creatively

  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)

Work creatively with others

  • Develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively
  • Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; incorporate group input and feedback into the work

Critical thinking

  • Effectively analyze and evaluate evidence, arguments, claims and beliefs
  • Interpret information and draw conclusions based on the best analysis
  • Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes

I also wanted to give them practice thinking critically and creatively. I encouraged the students to think about limitations of the methods they read about, to think about things that the papers didn’t do and to think about whether they were convinced by the paper “do you buy it?” In the jigsaw about mega-fish species we did in our last class, I could tell that they were being more critical about the papers they were reading than they were in the beginning. I also had them respond to a “Request for Proposals” for the Heenehan Foundation and to think about what they might do next with the knowledge from the four jigsaw papers moving forward. What type of question would you want to answer next, how would you do it? This is how scientists get new ideas and progress their research programs, and I had my students do it in my class.

Student response to active learning

Over the last couple of weeks I have sat in some online webinars and have started to follow some of the teaching and learning centers around the U.S. on Twitter and sign up for various listserves. What I have learned is that I am so thankful that I “grew up” into an early career academic at Duke. I was fortunate enough to take classes that helped me develop my skills, learn about active learning techniques and approaches, and creative and varied ways to assess my students. I read an article called “What if students revolt?”—Considering Student Resistance: Origins, Options, and Opportunities for Investigation. http://www.lifescied.org/content/12/4/586.full

It was all about students revolting against active learning in the classroom. I’m glad I didn’t read this before my class, in fact it made me think, no wonder professors are hesitant to break from the status quo and incorporate some of these active learning or innovative teaching techniques in their classroom if they think there is going to be a coup! For me the status quo has always been active. But back to the article. What might students do? What can you do to curb some of this student resistance? Maybe it was naïve of me to do so, but I went in full-tilt with my active learning teaching style. I didn’t even think about the fact that the students might “revolt” as the article suggested. But as I continued to read I realized that without knowing it, I was implementing many of the strategies they review to help curb some of this resistance. These included:

  1. Practicing Instructor Immediacy- Decrease Social Distance between Yourself and the Students

I practiced instructor immediacy by doing many of the things the article mentioned without even knowing the term “instructor immediacy.” First they defined instructor immediacy as “the presence of behaviors by an instructor that effectively decreases the social distance between themselves and their students” (Mehrabian, 1971; Science Education Research Center [SERC], 2013). The behaviors that they point to are both verbal and nonverbal. These include simple things like smiling! Why wouldn’t I smile in class? Knowing students names, again I only had the students for a month and there were 48 of them but I tried my best to learn as many names as possible and to use them in class when I called on students. I tried to make myself look comfortable with the students, make eye contact, I MOVED around the classroom especially when they were working in groups to check in, answered questions, and listened to their conversation. I did all of these things but mostly because they are part of my personality and my inherent teaching style but it also turns out that these things can help curb student resistance to active or innovative teaching techniques. In fact, some of my students called for more innovative teaching and moving even more away from “boring powerpoints.”

  1. Be explicit with students about the reasoning behind your pedagogical choices

I tried to do this as much as possible but could have been even more explicit about my choices. I know that I chose to have them participate in class through various active learning techniques but I didn’t always tell them why. One example of when I did tell them was when I put up a table, a memory matrix, and as a class we spent time filling it out. I wanted to give them that study skill and to encourage them to use tables like that to summarize information and study for the exam (and then I actually put some memory matrix questions on the exam). I also showed them through my first lecture that they wouldn’t just be sitting and listening. I did this by asking them questions, incorporating activities, poll everywhere questions and showed them what they could expect moving forward. If it were my class for the whole semester I might have framed this even more on the first day in addition to throughout the course. I also had them think about the different types of activities and techniques I was using and asked to reflect on their learning. Overwhelmingly all of the active learning techniques I implemented as well as “breaks” during lectures were extremely well received. I actually didn’t have to tell them why it would help them learn, through my evaluations and time spent on getting feedback in class, they came to it on their own.

  1. Structure student-student interactions to promote fairness

Social loafing is one of my favorite terms I have learned over the last few years and I combated social loafing and structure student-student interactions in the class in a few different ways. A simple way was through think pair share. This simple structure helped the students work through a question and give them time to turn to a neighbor and talk. An even more structured way was through the jigsaw. I found that holding them accountable to each other helps the discussions and helps them engage in the readings beyond just talking about the results. It also encouraged something else I have read about called “active experts” discussed above.

  1. Vary the teaching methods used

I tried to do this in every class and tried to make the class more accessible to everyone and tried my best to give everyone a technique or activity that suited them, their personality, their studying preferences, their extro or intro-vertedness, etc.

One student wrote that “The variety of teaching methodology” was the most valuable part of his or her learning experience.

One other point the article made is that it is important to have some “resistance” and that resistance can even be positive. I tried to encourage constructive student resistance in my class since I hoped to use the students’ opinions and experiences to further improve the class and make the techniques used in class even more effective. I also wanted to know which of the activities or techniques I used worked the best so I can try new ones in place of ones that students didn’t like in the future, and continue to use the techniques that are most effective for the students. One of the most important things for encouraging this constructive student resistance was to show the students that I care about their responses. I did this by talking about the first round of feedback and told the students what I was doing in response. These students get surveyed all the time, so it was important for me to explain to them why I was giving them the survey and then to show them what I was doing with it. Their feedback affected the rest of my time teaching them and will certainly affect the next class I teach.

Challenge of Telepresencing

I was responsible for nine lectures, six of which I visited main campus, a 3.5 hour drive from the Duke Marine Lab. The other three I used the telepresence system we have to connect main campus to the marine lab. I found that this was one of the most challenging aspects of the course for me. When I took the Myers Briggs Type Indicator I was overwhelmingly an “E” for extrovert. This means I draw my energy from others something that can be both good and bad. If the energy in the room is bad then I feed off of that and if the energy in the room is good and positive I feed off of that as well. But what happened when I wasn’t able to get any energy?

The telepresence system worked really well. I could share my content with the students and they could see me at the same time, except I wasn’t able to hear anything the students were doing unless they pushed a button on their desk. This meant that when I told a joke or used some light-hearted comments during the class, sometimes I could see students who sat in the front smile if it was a big enough smile. One woman who usually sat towards the front had a big enough smile that her .5 inch face on the screen conveyed something to me. But it is so hard to tell body language when your students are less than an inch on a screen and when you can’t see all of them because the camera can only pan out so wide. I could tell they were turning to their neighbors and reacting to what I was saying, I just couldn’t hear any of it and it was very hard to gauge how things were being received. In addition, when I went back and watched one of my telepresence lectures I could hear students talking at the same time I was, but I couldn’t hear them when I was talking. So I responded to this challenge by incorporating as many things as possible to get students to press the button. I had one of the authors of the sea turtle paper telepresence with me and had the students ask him questions they brought written down on a piece of paper. I also did my extinct shark expert Skype on a telepresence class. I asked the students questions that required them to press their buttons to answer and I also used poll everywhere questions, something I used while in the room too, to get quick feedback from them. I found I had to be more purposeful about these types of interactions during my telepresence classes, because otherwise it would feel like talking to a wall.

More innovation!

As a way to support my approach to teaching and some areas for improvement (namely pace) I would like to provide all of the student’s responses to the question “What should the instructor do more of?”

“example videos and pictures to exhibit behaviors and traits”

“More summaries, those comparison charts are awesome!”

interactive/clarifying charts”

“I like that you post the powerpoints”

“Poll everywhere- nice tool to quickly assess and reinforce understanding”

“explaining what may be unfamiliar terms”

“talk a little more slowly sometimes”

“Keep up the humor and lighthearted comments! Love the news articles, social media stuff, etc., makes it fun and relevant”

“same thing”

“keep the skype sessions and jigsaws”

“talk slower during PDFs and more videos”

“personal connections”

“videos interspersed within slides”

“keep doing jigsaw and author skypes”

“media integration”

“keep tying material to learning objectives and exam material”

“everything is good, maybe more test prep questions”

“tables of differences”

“videos, those are great to illustrate concepts”

“slow down talking”

“clarify exam points/expectations”

Some more Reflection from the evaluations:

Evaluation 1 (39 respondents)

92% of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I find the format of this class helpful to the way that I learn.”

100% of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel this class engages my interest.”

92% of students either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I learn better when the instructor presents key learning objectives from a class session.”

100% of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I learn better when the instructor summarizes key ideas from a class session.”

38/39 responded strongly agree or agree to “I feel comfortable approaching the instructor with questions or comments” The one remaining respondent wrote “Neither agree nor Disagree.”

Some things to improve on or think about

There was more spread in how students felt speaking in class. I would likely try to accommodate the students who didn’t feel comfortable speaking in class by incorporating some online discussions, back-channeling during class, etc.

I also speak quickly so I have to think about speaking more slowly, taking pauses to check in with students, etc.

Evaluation 2 (27 respondents)

When I asked the students to describe me and the class in one word, here is how they responded.

Instructor in one word…


The class in one word…


And when asked if they would recommend this instructor to fellow students? Why or why not? This is a word cloud about how they responded.


Below are all of the student responses to the most valuable part of this learning experience…

The variety of teaching methodology

seeing the different perspectives on certain papers

the sheer amount of information/broadened understanding of a very diverse subject


The informative lectures

Talking to authors

Videos and jigsaw groups

“seeing people’s personal connections to the specific areas of study in such a large subject as marine Megafauna”

“jigsaws and pdfs”

“personal connections”

“Further excitement about topic”

“first-hand knowledge of the subject through research connections”

“understanding the methods and approaches used to tackle research questions”

“when we couple learning w/ videos pictures to see what we’ve learned in action”


“Personal interaction with heather, enjoyable class discussion”

“diverse introductions to such a vast field”

“reading and analyzed the scientific papers to be comfortable with that kind of reading”

“jigsaw chats-> helped me improve communication skills”

“Hearing about new research! -> also limitations-> success stories vs. failures are interesting/important”

“seeing examples”

“getting excited about marine science”

“Real life examples.”

One student wrote: “you really do care about the marine environment and it shows.”

In response to “What is one thing you would change about the instructor’s teaching style/methods that would improve your learning.” The response mostly center around going more slowly through material although two students note that lecture speed improved from when they took the first evaluation and wrote that on the first one as well. They also wrote about making clearer connections to what will be tests and finding the connection points between the topics and lectures.


Happy End to 2014

2014 ended in a flurry, but with good news all around.capturecpr

On December 17th I had my first paper published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism.This paper was one that I started as a Coastal Environmental Management Master’s student. I took Policy Analysis of the Commons course with Xavier Basurto way back in the Fall of 2010 and started this project as a class paper so it was quite rewarding to finally see it published!

I am quite proud of this paper for many reasons, but here are three. 1) Because of how we all stuck it out. I know publishing takes a long time but still I am appreciative everyone hung in there and put up with my persistence on this one. 2) Because it is interdisciplinary. I have always seen science as part of a bigger picture, which was one of the major things that attracted me to the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Marine Lab in the first place. So having worked with social scientists and natural scientists on this paper, made it really rewarding for me and another great product that stemmed from my Master’s work. I was very lucky to have a great set of co-authors along for the ride on this one who made this a great learning experience for me and one that taught me a lot about navigating the publication process. 3) Because of the press surrounding the paper and the effort everyone took to get the message out there (and toget it right!). Dave Johnston and I wrote an opinion piece for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. We also worked with the Nicholas School and Duke News team on a Press Release that was picked up quite a few different news outlets. You can check out the release here: http://nicholas.duke.edu/news/federal-and-local-action-needed-protect-hawaiis-spinner-dolphins

T2014-12-16 15.33.01hanks to all of these efforts and the many Tweets and posts about the article, Taylor and Francis made the paper free until the end of January. After only a few days the paper was performing as the top paper in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism and within the top 5% of the 3 million articles being tracked by Altimetric. As of today, the article has 480 views!

Here is the link and citation for the paper is below: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09669582.2014.986490#tabModule

So that was certainly good news. But there’s more. In the mix of all of this I also found out that my Spring Teaching Assistantship would be the Marine Conservation Biology travel course to Hawaii with one of my committee members Dr. Andy Read. I have been fortunate to have gone to HI three different times for my research, once for a family vacation, and another time for the Marine Conservation Biology travel course to Hawaii and Midway when I was a Master’s student in January 2011. So it seems fitting that I return and come full circle to TA a course that I took as a Master’s student and one that played a large part in staying and pursuing a Ph.D. In addition to TA’ing this course I was also asked by my adviser David Johnston to co-instruct the Marine Megafauna spring course. He is in Antarctica for the first third of the course so I will be stepping in and teaching until the first exam. I am so excited to have this opportunity to be the instructor and look forward to interacting with the students and getting feedback that I can use moving forward. Between the Hawaii course and instructing Megafauna, I couldn’t really ask for a better way to cap off my tenure as a TA.

Yes, I said cap off because on the day after Christmas I also received word that I was awarded a summer research fellowship from the Duke Graduate School. This means, that my stipend for the summer will come from the generosity of the Michael Robison Memorial Fellowship Fund. What this ultimately means is that after after my 10th course, the Hawaii travel course, I will be done! Which is honestly a little bittersweet because I have loved teaching and interacting with the students but mostly sweet because it means that I can finish, publish articles, and set myself up for jobs and life after Duke!2015-01-06 16.52.26

And, add in the fact that the SciREN team received $5,000 from the Kenan Biddle Partnership to work on our web presence and an online network directory!

I would say it was a good end to 2014! Here’s to a happy and productive 2015!

Citation: Heenehan, H., X. Basurto, L. Bejder, J. Tyne, J. E. S. Higham and D. W. Johnston (2014). “Using Ostrom’s common-pool resource theory to build toward an integrated ecosystem-based sustainable cetacean tourism system in Hawai`i.” Journal of Sustainable Tourism: 1-21.


HuffPo Blog 3 is a Go!

On Saturday my latest blog for Huffington Post went live! I chose to write about my experience with the NC Science Festival Invite-a-Scientist Program! You can read my blog here! And check out my friends at the NC Science Festival here! Registration is now open for their 2014-2015 programs.

My favorite part of the blog are a selection of student drawings from Ms. Lawrence’s classes at Beaufort Middle School so I’ve included them here too! The prompt was, “What does a scientist look like?”

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Take time to listen.

Yesterday I returned home from the Ecology and Acoustics meeting in Paris, France. It was a wonderful meeting full of people thinking about sound, soundscape, and ecology from many different perspectives. I met and heard from many of the scientists who wrote the first papers on soundscape ecology and many of the papers I read for my 2014-06-15 20.13.48preliminary exam preparation. I also had the chance to meet the one and only Bernie Krause (see right). I had breakfast with Bernie and his wife. Turns out, Bernie was good friends with Kenneth Norris. Bernie is considered the father of soundscape ecology and Kenneth Norris is a pioneer marine mammal researcher and started the research on Hawaiian spinner dolphins.

I gave a presentation on our Sound in the Sea Day outreach event called “Promoting marine soundscape awareness in middle school students.”  On the Metro home from 2014-06-16 16.55.55dinner the day of my presentation, one of the attendees leaned over and said, “Heather do you know what the most memorable part of your talk today was?” I said, “No, what?” And he said it was the story I told about the boy at Sound in the Sea Day. The story goes…

I brought one of the groups of middle school students outside to take time to listen to their terrestrial soundscape. I said, I wanted them to just listen. One of the boys said to me, “To what?” I said, “Just listen.” He replied, “I don’t understand, to what?” So I told him he didn’t need to speak to just keep quiet and listen. And that’s when he started to hear the wind on the flagpole, the seagull nearby, the lawnmower, the boats…

He said they talked about that story throughout their lunch break.

After the conference my sister and I did some visiting and touring and went to Avignon for a few days. We went on a lavender tour and I will never forget the sound of the bees. I sat in the field and just listened to probably millions of happy bees as they buzzed around the fields. The sound was absolutely beautiful. And as my sister and I sat in the field and listened to the bees I was reminded what beautiful soundscapes exist in the world and how important it is to take time to just listen.

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Lifelong learning

I think it was during undergrad at UConn when I first heard the term “lifelong learning.” I can’t remember exactly when or where I heard it but I do remember hearing it quite a bit.  I had professors who explained their hope that their classes would help instill a passion for learning that would persist throughout our lives. They hoped we would see how powerful knowledge can be and that we would seek out new knowledge and learning whenever we got the chance.  This was lifelong learning, not letting the learning stop after we got our degrees.

Since I graduated from UConn I have since pursued my Master’s degree and am now a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University and if it is one thing I have learned over the last five years since I got my Bachelor of Science is that there are always things to learn. For almost my entire life, minus the first few years, my title or you could think of it as my job has been “student.”  My job has been learning. On top of that, my funding for my Ph.D. comes from being a teaching assistant.  I have had seven extremely rewarding and all very different teaching assistantships in the last three years.  And these, on top of my coursework for my degree, have given me incredible opportunities to learn.

On Sunday I returned home from the Caribbean Invertebrate Zoology travel course in the Bahamas with Dr. Brian Silliman, Ph.D. student from Duke Liz Schrack, Ph.D. candidate from UNC Rachel Gittman and Dr. Fred Diehl from the University of Virginia.  What a learning experience that was and I am so thankful to Brian for bringing me along.

In just a couple of days the seven students on the course and I all learned all the species of corals that we would see on our snorkels to genus and species (in addition to all of the fish families). We knew the corals so well that we could snorkel and point to the different species as we swam.  I cannot tell you how powerful this learning experience was for me. I have been fortunate enough to have gone snorkeling on many coral reefs before. My fieldwork is in Hawai’i and whenever I get the chance, I get in the water. In the past, I have focused on the “big” things. I would snorkel around and pay most of my attention to the fish and the turtles and the other vertebrates for the most part. But now, the reef is so much more alive and towards the end of the course with this new knowledge and this new apprecaition I found myself looking at the big stuff but also taking the time to appreciate the corals, to try to get as close as I could to look at the individual polyps and to appreciate the more subtle parts of the reef.

As we wrapped up the course in San Salvador, Bahamas, the faculty of the course, including me, had the time to share our reflections with the students.  I told them to always take the chance to learn new things.  These chances don’t have to be three week intensive field courses. They could be taking the time to read a newspaper article, watch a TED talk or go to a lecture.  And given that I hope to work at a college or university after I finish, I will be lucky to have lots of opportunities to continue to learn. And these are the opportunities or the chances that I will always take because what better investment of time could there be?

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