On Teaching & Outreach

I have always believed that incorporating active learning while using practical examples is a very effective way to teach students about wildlife research and the scientific process. This can be particularly difficult to do in the field of population dynamics because wildlife students typically have a difficult time with the mathematical nature of the material. To that end I have completely reorganised and modernised my undergraduate course Population Dynamics and Estimation. Students must take conceptual material they learn in lecture and apply it to various real-world data sets that I provide. For example, students must use the actual Yellowstone grizzly bear data set to estimate population size and growth rate for bears in order to explain the population trajectory and the conservation concerns for this species in the future. This allows students to tackle difficult mathematical material in a real-world context.

To further advance active learning and the scientific process, I have re-organised Wildlife Field Techniques. Previously this course was taught as a lecture and lab course. Now the course consists of five labs followed by a ten-day intensive session at Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS). During the intensive portion, students conduct mini-research projects and take the scientific process from the preliminary stages to the final product. They are exposed to basic questions in wildlife research, then, they learn the techniques in capture and handling of wild animals necessary to collect data on numerous species. Students are then assigned groups projects and given three days to collect all data on their study animal and its habitat associations. Students must then analyse their results using the techniques they learned previously in my Population Dynamics course. They estimate population size and run statistical tests relating their animal abundances to their habitat variables. They then interpret results and present findings in both written and oral forms at the end of the course. Most students find this experience enlightening and rewarding, and evaluate it with 3.9 or 4.0 on a 4.0 scale.

I have developed a new graduate-level course, Advanced Topics in Applied Population Dynamics. This takes students much further into previous topics through analysis of the same grizzly bear data set in much more detail to determine whether or not density dependence is operating in the population. They must also conduct a complete PVA on this population and give management recommendations for the species. While this course focuses on parameter estimation (e.g. through logistic regression) and PVA, I also tailor the course to the individual student's needs. I survey each student at the beginning of the course so that I can understand their research questions and data analysis needs. For example in my most recent course, I had three students interested in occupancy modelling for presence/absence data. I added a week-long section on occupancy modelling (complete with a homework assignment) which also provided a bridge to the survival analysis topics we covered in the previous weeks.

I strongly believe that using active learning and real-world case studies is an effective strategy to render difficult, often mathematical, concepts into a more palatable form for wildlife students. I think it important and necessary to remain on the edge of my field's technology and techniques and to share this information in a participatory and interactive way with my students. My courses consistently score well above the department and college averages. In 2004, I received a Teaching-Learning grant from the Centre for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (CEUT) for my project “Remote cameras in wildlife studies: Teaching new techniques in a novel fashion.” I was awarded the College of Natural Resources and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Curriculum Club awards for excellence in teaching in 2005 and 2006.

My outreach activities focus on advising/consulting with local, national, and international conservation groups for wild cat conservation and on continuing education in remote wildlife detection technology and analytical techniques. To this end I have lectured six times about the ecology of predator co-existence at the Philadelphia Zoo, advised on jaguar habitat and viability analysis with an international working group (2005 through 2006) and talked with high school students about wild cat conservation (May 2006 at Rural Retreat High School). In addition, I was the introductory speaker for the recent camera trapping workshop at ZSL (Jan. 2006) and I currently advise 2 PhD students based at ZSL on their camera trapping projects. I offered my scientific opinion on the status of jaguars in Belize at the Chiquibul Stakeholders meeting (May 2005). As The Wildlife Society (TWS) faculty advisor, I instigated a long-term camera trapping wildlife survey based at MLBS, now run by the TWS student chapter. I also participate in the annual Population Dynamics Recruiting Workshops as an instructor and co-organiser for the National Marine Fisheries Service which has resulted in numerous excellent new graduate student additions to our department. I am a member of the Eastern Cougar Foundation advisory board and the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) cat specialist group. My work has been featured in venues from the Roanoke Times and Virginia Wildlife Magazine to National Public Radio and National Geographic.

I have been active in diversity outreach through lecturing for the McNair Scholar's program seminar series at Concord College, WV (April 2003). I also mentored a McNair Scholar at Virginia Tech (2002-03) through an individual camera trapping research project and I mentored a PhD. student from Belize in teaching a tropical ecology field course in Belize (2003).

© tboy 2012