Matthew Chmielewski, Ph.D.

Portland State University

Department of Biology

Center for Life in Extreme Environments


During the course of my graduate degree I had the opportunity to teach extensively, and have found it to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my graduate experience. In order to enhance my abilities as teacher, I have completed a Certificate of Innovation in College Teaching (CICT). The goal of the CICT is to prepare educators to build a teaching practice that incorporates best practices in higher education, includes research-driven innovation, and addresses questions of equity and access within academia. While working toward including these goals into my own practice, I have benefitted by attending workshops run by the Office of Academic Innovation, learned by applying methods in the classroom, and taking a full quarter course to better understanding the principle of scientific teaching. I have applied what I have learned to my courses, and have also reflected on how this impacts how I approach teaching by incorporating them into my philosophies of teaching and equity and inclusion.

Philosophy of Teaching and Learning

The findings of a study commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities regarding college learning and career success state (emphasis mine):

“The majority of employers continue to say that possessing both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of knowledge and skills is important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success. Very few indicate that acquiring knowledge and skills mainly for a specific field or position is the best path for long-term success…The learning outcomes they rate as most important include written and oral communication skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings.”

I maintain that these are the same skills that make informed voters, engaged community members, and lead to a personally enriching life experience. Therefore, my teaching practice centers on using subject material in a manner that explicitly emphasizes skill growth in a number of key areas.

Primarily, I want students to come out of courses that I teach with a better understanding of how critical thinking and evidence-based decision making can improve their personal lives as well as the choices that society makes. It is important, therefore, that my students come to see science as a process of production and revision, rather than a semi-mystical field full of “eureka” moments. This normalizes the scientific process and demonstrates how scientific progress can be made by a wide variety of people. I have found this goal to be of particular importance when teaching introductory biology to non-majors, as they are often attempting to fulfill a requirement and may be apathetic toward science at the start. By highlighting how scientific discoveries are actually made, I can make the best of what is potentially their only formal academic exposure to the subject.

A second goal that runs in tandem with the first is to promote data literacy in my students. The volume of data that the average citizen is presented with continues to increase, and being able to critically assess these data is a vital skill. Third, I look for opportunities to encourage writing practice. Science communication can be a difficult task, and proficiency is gained by repeated exposure, practice, and revision. Finally, I aim to increase natural history knowledge, and emphasize how the human endeavor, despite increasing urbanization, is still fundamentally tied to ecological systems.

To achieve these goals, I apply techniques informed by the principles of scientific teaching. I run a student-centered classroom, in which students have the opportunity to build on a previous knowledge base via engaging in active learning. I use group activities and also model expert thinking on the subject matter in order to assist students in making these connections, allowing them a variety of resources to use in order to develop subject knowledge and critical thinking skills. My experience teaching field and laboratory aspects of Plant Ecology exemplifies this model. Working together over a term, students formed interconnected learning units that work to solve problems together. This project work allowed for improvement and reiteration over time, rather than simply relying on a summative assessment at the end of the course. By using repeated assessment check-ins, I functioned in an advisory capacity toward and end product, helping to steer students toward approaches that overcame their particular group/individual difficulties.

All of these activities are contextualized within an open syllabus, including a transparent rubric along with materials that address metacognitive learning concepts. By framing course activities within a framework that explicitly emphasizes student understanding of the broader learning goals surrounding the discipline-specific material, I aim to help students leaving my classroom further develop the tools necessary to be successful in subsequent courses, society, and their chosen profession.

Equity and Inclusion

Diversity, whether it be gender, class, race, culture, ethnicity, or any other dimension of categorizing human identity and experience, serves to strengthen STEM fields by providing a range of ideas and working approaches that would be absent in a homogenous population. With the benefits of diversity, come some challenges in the classroom, as students approach academic material in various ways. In order to address these challenges, I rely on methodologies that have been shown to increase classroom equity. Using diverse human and ecosystem examples when creating materials, I try to address familiarity bias as well as provide relatable content for a variety of backgrounds. The activities themselves are also varied, including active learning methods that vary student roles, ensure broad participation, and involve open ended questions. Individuals that don’t come from an academic background may have a comparatively increased academic burden in understanding how to prioritize the learning process toward performance success. In addition, these students may not take advantage of soft learning opportunities such as office hours or open labs. I am therefore careful explicitly outline a path to success relative to a class rubric, and to be clear about fuzzy learning opportunities (open labs, office hours, etc.). In this manner, I hope to undermine cultural and class biases in the classroom.

Teaching Experience

Portland State University:
BI 204 Fundamentals of Biology I Lab (2 years)
BI 205 Fundamentals of Biology II Lab (2 years)
BI 206 Fundamentals of Biology III Lab (2 years)
BI 251 Principles of Biology I Lab (2 years)
BI 252 Principles of Biology II Lab (2 years)
BI 253 Principles of Biology III Lab (2 years)
BI 301 Human Anatomy and Physiology I Lab (5 years, lead TA 2 years)
BI 302 Human Anatomy and Physiology II Lab (5 years, lead TA 2 years)
BI 303 Human Anatomy and Physiology III Lab (5 years, lead TA 2 years)
BI 399 Human Anatomy Dissection Technician (1 year)
BI 471/571 Plant Ecology (2 years)
BI 473/573 Field Sampling (1 year)

Course Field Support:
BI 410 Bird Banding (1 year)
BI 414 Ornithology (2 years)

Portland Community College:

BI 231: Human Anatomy and Physiology I Lecture & Lab Instructor of Record
BI 232: Human Anatomy and Physiology II Lab
BI 233: Human Anatomy and Physiology III Lab

Innovation in College Teaching in Biology

I often hear people express that out of all of their coursework, undergraduate biology was their most frustrating and unrewarding experience. Upon inquiring further, the common response I receive is that the discipline is seen as largely comprised of the memorization of tedious facts for regurgitation on exams. This reflects a pedagogy that primarily engages in the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in asking students to remember and understand discipline-specific concepts. By engaging higher order thinking, I ask students in my courses to regularly apply their knowledge and to analyze particular scenarios in the context of course objectives. In Human Anatomy and Physiology, one way I achieve this is by asking students to use their knowledge to analyze case studies. In both Field Methods and Plant Ecology, students create knowledge by planning out field sampling regimes, collecting data, and interpreting the data to produce data products and final, journal-style papers.

While these approaches have proven to be effective in eliciting more complex engagement with the course materials, I would like to improve upon them in future coursework in which I have more creative control as the instructor of record. In both Principles of Biology and Human A&P, I would like to formally demonstrate metacognitive concepts related to Bloom’s Taxonomy, and then ask students to create suites of study and practice questions that engage a variety levels of thinking. I would then like to draw from this question bank for summative assessments, making the classroom a more collaborative space. In upper division courses that focus on data collection and analysis, I plan to further engage student thinking by starting peer review of papers prior to a revision and resubmission step.

Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning

My approach to student assessment varies somewhat with relation to the objectives of the course, and tends to fall into one of two categories. In subject content-heavy courses (Human Anatomy and Physiology), I take an approach that involves multiple low-stakes formative assessments. Quizzes are modeled after practical questions, and are limited in their individual impact on grades. Lab tickets are exit assessments that are worth a few points for completion, and allow students to leave the classroom with an understanding of how their personal knowledge relates to course objectives. This framework serves a dual role in that it allows me to gauge gaps in effective information transfer, as well as gives students the opportunity to reflect on their progress in learning the material. These allow me to address common misconceptions, and can also open a door to conversations about metacognitive concepts around personal learning style with individual students. These conversations frequently result in a student and I identifying additional study approaches that they can add to their educational repertoire.

Summative assessments follow the format of formative assessments, but writ large. By covering a wide variety of course concepts, my summative assessments provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge drawn from many different course objectives. Alternately, in upper-division ecology courses (Plant Ecology, Field Methods), I typically run a project-based assessment model. Here, formative assessment takes the form of group and individual work aimed at delineating the steps necessary toward producing a successful final product. Summative assessments involve student presentations as well as final papers that require students to engage with the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in that they are producing original work reliant on data that they collect in the field. Students submit final research papers, which are then evaluated and returned to them. Following this, I encourage revision and resubmission, a process which not only provides students with the opportunity to examine areas of personal improvement, but also directly reflects the manner in which scientists produce literature within their field.

Some examples of formative assessments include quizzes, lab tickets, and data analysis assignments.

Summative assessments include practicals, as well as research papers.

Assessment of My Teaching

I have been fortunate enough to be able to use the resources provided by the Biology Departments of both PSU and PCC, as well as PSU’s Office of Academic Innovation to assess my teaching via multiple avenues. Here I provide a number of assessment products that reflect the continued process of thinking critically about my teaching.

Video Teaching Consultations
Video Teaching Consultation Improvement Plan Human Anatomy and Physiology
Video Teaching Consultation Improvement Plan Plant Ecology

Classroom Observations
Human A&P Classroom Observation, Portland Community College
Human A&P Classroom Observation, Portland State University
Human A&P Classroom Observation Letter, Portland State University

Mid-quarter Review
Plant Ecology Mid-quarter Review

Role of CICT in My Future Career

I intend to use the teaching and research skills that I have gained during my graduate career to continue teaching in a university setting. The CICT process has provided me with guidance toward making my classroom a more student-focused space. In addition, it has provided me with a theoretical framework and actionable tools in order to address issues of equity in the classroom. As the culture and role of the college classroom continues to reflect changes related to advances in social equity, these tools will serve me well in adapting my teaching approach to better translate course design into meaningful student skill acquisition and domain knowledge.

Teaching-Related Professional Development

Conferences Hosted by the Office of Academic Innovation

Office of Academic Innovation Mini-Conference: Building Community In The 21st Century. January 19th 2019
Office of Academic Innovation Mini-Conference: Wellness in Your Professional Life. September 21st, 2018.
Office of Academic Innovation Mini-Conference: Graduate Teaching Assistant Professional Development Workshop September 20th, 2017

OAI Professional Development Workshops

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion: Microaggressions November 28th 2017
Building an E-portfolio November 19th 2017
Women in STEM Meeting: Imposter Syndrome November 2nd, 2017

Discipline-specific Pedagogy Training

Weekly TA Meetings:

Principles of Biology: 3 hours x 10 weeks x 3 quarters x 2 years = 180 hours
Human Anatomy and Physiology: 3 hours x 10 weeks x 3 quarters x 5 years = 450 hours

Pedagogy-Focused Coursework

Scientific Teaching (Syllabus)