Peter White is the 2018 recipient of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) North Central Branch Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching. White has a dual appointment in the Department of Entomology and Lyman Briggs College, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. He has used this unique appointment to bring together these two disciplines: illustrating general concepts in his biology course for non-majors through some insect-based examples, and bringing cutting-edge teaching methodologies into his entomology course.
White models his teaching on the three principles of modern pedagogy: an interactive learner-centered environment, a backward design curriculum development process, and student-driven engagement with authentic scientific investigation. These three principles are regarded as best-practice principles, supported by a wide array of empirical studies.
His learner-centered undergraduate teaching uses a “flipped-class” approach. In class, students participate in peer discussions, hands-on activities, problem solving and debate. Outside of class, students watch an instructional video by White and complete the related homework (view one of the videos).
The backward design means he develops a set of learning outcomes that drive the interactive interventions of his flipped classroom. His assessments for determining student learning are based on the intended outcomes. His goal is to turn the classroom and lab-room into dynamic learning spaces where students learn how to think like biologists rather than simply assimilate information about biology. Students generate hypotheses, apply knowledge and investigate scientific questions.
White encourages the students to engage in the scientific process of discovery and hypothesis testing when they conduct lab work. He presents a general theme at the beginning of each semester and encourages them to work in teams to pose scientific questions around this theme for exploring throughout the semester.
Similarly, in graduate-level teaching, White’s course on insect genetics requires students to design and execute their own research projects. Entomology graduate students tend to come from a broad background so White’s course helps students with an ecology or macro-biology background become proficient and familiar with standard and modern genetic techniques, from PCR and primer design, to NextGen sequencing. The students isolate DNA from an insect species of their choosing. They then amplify and sequence a gene of interest to them. This lab work is paired with seminar-style classes where each person in the class takes turns presenting relevant papers in the field of insect genetics.
White will be nominated for an ESA national level teaching award this fall.