John Pickering -- 5-year teaching goals -- April, 2008

My teaching interests center on the following:

  1. Natural History

    I am extremely excited about the how new digital technologies will improve the teaching and study of species distributions, abundances, and interactions over space and time. Digital cameras, video recorders, wireless handheld devices, GPS units, on-line databases, and web tools will revolutionize the way we collect data and, as a consequence, the questions we can answer in environmental research. Rather than teaching a conventional ecology class, for example, I envision students in classes all over the world being able to collect data and compare field sites via a collective network of classes. Such work will enable us to understand and manage the impact of invasive species, weather, fire, pollution, and other environmental changes on biological systems in ways never before possible.

    For the past several years, I have been incorporating such methods into my courses (Insect Diversity, ECOL 4110/6110, and Ecology Internship, ECOL 4940). With colleagues at other universities, we are about ready to apply these methods to other courses around the country and build a network to both teach and study biological communities over space and time. Our efforts include teaching students to build on-line identification guides so that others can learn to identify species and, in turn, help study them. They also allow students to take digital photographs to document the occurence of particular species rather than physically collecting them. Our initial efforts focus on ants, arthropods associated with goldenrods, and ladybugs. However, our methods are general and could be applied to studying a vast array of environmental systems.

    For the next five years, I propose to teach at least one course a year in which students use such technology to document and compare the natural history of Georgia and Costa Rica. I envision alternately teaching courses centered at the University of Georgia in San Luis (ECOL 4940) and in Athens (ECOL 4110/6110). The San Luis course will be taught to up to 20 students, primarily non-Ecology majors taking ECOL 1000 simultaneously. It will focus on building students' capacity to identify and monitor butterflies, birds, plants, fish and shell populations in Costa Rica. I will teach ECOL 4110/6110 in the fall, primarily to graduate students and Ecology majors, and focus on documenting plant-animal interactions at Georgia's State Botanical Garden.

    In a few years, when everything is running smoothly and digital cameras and other resources are available, I would like to develop laboratory modules for larger courses, such as General Ecology (ECOL 3500) and Ecological Basis of Environmental Issues (ECOL 1000L). These will allow students in these courses to learn digital methods as a modern, efficient alternative to standard sampling techniques.

    In Spring, 2009, I have arranged to teach ECOL 4940 in Costa Rica. If I help Diana Lieberman and other UGA faculty teach courses for our majors in Fall, 2008, because I will be in Costa Rica, I will also offer ECOL 4940 then. Thus, I would like to teach ECOL 4940 in both Fall and Spring quarters next year.

  2. Quantitative Methods

    With J Vaun McArthur, I propose to develop a new graduate 6000-level course to teach critical thinking skills; study design; data collection, management, and analysis. We envision a course aimed at first year graduate students in Ecology and related disciplines. This proposed course will have a lecture/discussion/computer lab format, be for 3 credit hours, and have an anticipated annual enrollment of approximately 20 students. We propose to teach it starting Spring, 2009.

  3. Tropical Biology

    Because of the outstanding facilities at University of Georgia's campus in San Luis, Costa Rica, we should now

    • build a world-class teaching program in tropical studies;

    • develop a showcase of how to integrate sustainable community development and tropical conservation;

    • conduct research to measure and understand the impact of potential climate changes along the elevational gradient of the valley and surrounding mountain ecosystem.

    I would like to take a lead role in developing these opportunities. In addition to teaching in the proposed tropical studies program, I envision helping to develop the team, financial support, knowledge base, and infrastructure to succeed in integrating these endeavors.

    The opportunities arise because of UGA's substantial institutional support for the campus and the combination of geographic, biological, social, and logistical factors associated with the Costa Rican campus, surrounding San Luis valley, and its community. To build a successful team, we need to combine the expertise of the recently formed Tropical Biology Interest Group with other units from across the University of Georgia and partner organizations elsewhere, most notably ones in Costa Rica.

    With help from Georgia's State Botanical Garden, Museum of Natural History, Discover Life's Center for Public Health and Environmental Research (PHER), and other taxonomists, I envision being able to develop web identification guides and databases that will give students working in Costa Rica the ability to identify and study the diversity of life around them. When the fiber connection to the San Luis field station becomes a reality later this year, we will be able to provide students with the unique learning opportunity at a tropical field station to be creative, independently study the mysteries of life, and put their findings on the web for others to use. In addition to teaching students, our undergraduate courses could thus contribute original findings to our fundamental scientific understanding of the tropics.

    Towards building a first rate teaching, outreach, and research program for UGA and Costa Rican students, I recently helped organized a meeting to form a Tropical Biology Interest Group. At this meeting the participants resolved to

    • develop an "Undergraduate Certificate in Tropical Studies"

    • start a "Graduate Faculty in Tropical Studies" to support and oversee graduate degrees

    • organize an "Annual Tropical Studies Symposium" to increase intellectual interactions among individuals both here and abroad.

    I would like to take a lead role in developing our teaching program in Costa Rica. In addition to teaching ECOL 4940 and other courses in Costa Rica, I see a potential role for myself in helping to organize our program for Ecology majors, whether taught in fall semesters or in Maymester-summer sessions. To fill the San Luis EcoLodge year round, I plan to help Quint Newcomer recruit faculty and organize additional non-Ecology courses, ranging from Scientific Illustration, to Microbiology, to Statistics.

Updated: 2 May, 2008

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