Beth A. Kaplin, PhD

Core Faculty and Director of Conservation Biology Concentration
Department of Environmental Studies

Program Director
Center for Tropical Ecology and Conservation

My Teaching Philosophy

My approach to teaching has been shaped by my experiences as a researcher and as a student. I find the natural world to be filled with wonder and I try to infuse that wonder into my teaching. I am actively engaged in several research projects, and I strive to bring these experiences into class discussions. Several years ago I received feedback from students in one of my classes indicating they wanted to hear more of my stories, more of my voice. I had been refraining from that, thinking it was too personal and I would be bragging. Their feedback represents a pivotal moment for me: I have taken their comments to heart, and I make the content in my discussions and lectures personal where appropriate now by offering my stories of studying ecological systems or of working in the field. Students can connect more readily to the material when I do this. I want to make sure students carry wonder, discovery and passion for their work as they learn. I believe this is one of the best ways to encourage learning ; by having a passion and care for the material. I love teaching science courses; as an ecologist and conservation biologist, I love thinking about how systems function, how nature works, and how to study it.

In the classroom, I combine textbook readings with recent publications in the primary literature. I like to give students a taste of the kinds of research and essays being published now in the field. I love searching through the databases as I revise my syllabus for a new academic year, searching for recently published articles that will exemplify and apply concepts and theories we cover in class. I believe this gives students an opportunity to apply their knowledge and critical thinking skills to real research problems. I also introduce new approaches or hot topics into my discussions and lectures when I can ; for me this means tying my professional life into my classroom teaching. For instance, when I attend a talk at a conference and learn about a new technique or theoretical approach, I incorporate it into my lectures and tell students this is a hot new topic. I offer them additional resources and contacts if they want to pursue it. I believe this keeps the material fresh for students ; they realize that everything is not known, that there is a place for them to make a difference in their field with their research and projects. I emphasize that ecological systems ; nature ; is not black and white; I consciously work to get students comfortable with shades of grey in science, and with finding their voice and opinion on topics in conservation science.

I strive to create an open, seminar-style classroom setting where students freely ask questions and pose arguments for the class to consider, where we have an opportunity to develop lively discussions. Articulating ideas clearly and succinctly during a discussion or debate, and defending arguments in a give and take discussion are important skills to learn, and I try to make space for this to happen in the classroom.

I enter the classroom with a lot of energy. This is because I love teaching, I love engaging with the students. The act of keeping up with the current literature, translating it for students new to the field, and listening to the stories of more experienced students, energizes me. I infuse a sense of humor into my lecturing, which is just part of how I communicate with people. I also hold very high standards in the classroom, and I demand attention and high quality work from the students. I tell them from the start what I expect and why I think its important. I don’t mince my words, and I have observed that students respond to this and appreciate having high standards placed on them. Then we can get down to the fun work of learning and teaching each other about the natural world.