Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2010

Faculty Award winner

John F. Weishampel

 College of Sciences


In the end, we conserve only what we love We will love only what we understand We will understand only what we are taught - Baba Dioum, Senegalese ecologist

As a biologist who focuses on conservation issues, I thumb-tacked this quote to the bulletin board above my office desk. It continually inspires me to improve my teaching and to encourage excellence among my colleagues and students, who regularly assume the role of teacher or communicator of conservation principles. However, I believe there often is a gap between teaching and understanding, i.e., not everything that is taught is understood. My teaching philosophy adheres to the maxim: “The best way to learn science is to do science.” Thus, my teaching and research interests are intertwined relating to the complex nature by which ecological systems are organized across land- and sea-scapes.

Because science involves the active process of investigation, my teaching stresses higher-order intellectual skills over memorizing a static collection of facts. To do this, I decrease the emphasis on descriptions and terminology and increase the emphasis on process and methodology. Following this pedagogy to explore nature, students acquire scientific, critical, and creative reasoning skills, including the ability to work collaboratively, to raise questions, to formulate hypotheses, to generate multiple tentative answers, and to test these through logical deduction from an examination of the evidence. My courses make connections among science, technology, and society. Through my courses, students gain an understanding of how science can make societal contributions by offering an important way of knowing and interpreting the natural world. Central Florida is replete with biodiversity in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Local examples of natural (e.g., fires, hurricanes) and anthropogenic (e.g., suburban development, invasive species) disturbances provide an ideal backdrop to study ecological dynamics.