Saturday, January 12, 2013

Survived a Semester of Professing

My first semester as an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University was busy (it’s now the second semester and I’m just getting a chance to blog about the first), but it went pretty well. The classes I taught were:

Marine Ecology- An upper level undergraduate elective with 31 students. This was my big lecture course, and the one that required the most preparation and grading. It was fun getting immersed in marine biology topics that I had always loved but which hadn’t been part of my own research. I spent late nights making slide presentations and writing test questions about deep sea hydrothermal vents, whales, coral reefs, sharks, sea turtles, barnacle sexual behavior, etc. My students were mostly junior and senior environmental science or marine science majors. There was a wide range in their readiness for the class, but they all managed to pass with at least a C. One weird-but-good teaching technique that I got from another FGCU professor was to give the students a lot of hard study questions with no answer key, but to select their test questions from the pool of study questions.

The best part of the semester was when we took a snorkeling field trip to the Florida Keys Marine Lab in early November. We spent all day on the boat, visiting some shallow nearshore habitats, and a nearly-pristine offshore reef with water as clear as the sky. A photography student, Samantha Oliver, came with us and took a lot of cool pictures:

Current Topics: Seagrass Ecology- The other two classes I taught were short “discussion” courses, where the students had to read a scientific paper about seagrass each week and then we would talk about it. One of the two classes was a graduate course with two students, and the other was an undergraduate course with 18 students. The grad student course pretty much taught itself, but I kind of struggled to get some of the undergraduates motivated. In the undergrads’ defense, they hadn’t known what the course was going to be about when they registered because it was just listed as “Current Topics: Biology, Instructor: Staff” and they assigned me to it at the last minute. If that happens again I’ll be loose with the topic and not try to stick with just seagrass.

Besides the courses I taught, I also sat in on a rigorous computer mapping (GIS) class taught by another professor in the Marine and Ecological Sciences department. That was to better qualify myself for research funding in the form of government contracts for seagrass monitoring. Environmental monitoring contracts typically require maps and spatially-explicit data analyses among their “deliverables.” It was good that I took the class, because I now have a grant now to do a year’s worth of seagrass monitoring in the Caloosahatchee River Estuary, and I’ve recruited some of the hotshot snorkelers from my Marine Ecology class to help with that. The project is related to something called the “Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan,” which aims to improve the health of estuaries and wetlands by restoring more natural patterns of freshwater flow from central Florida to the everglades.

There’s a lot more that happened in my first semester, too, but I don’t want to go on and on about it in my blog. My strategy for blogging this year will be to have more frequent but shorter / sloppier posts about whatever is on my mind at the moment.

Happy New Year.


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Johnny Douglass said...

Great informative blog post. My compliments to the photographer.