Meta-Teaching: A Philosophy

As an undergraduate in the 1980s at Occidental College in Los Angeles, I had some great teachers. Marty Morton, Jon Keeley, Tetsuo Otsuki, and Bryce Harris are a few names that come to mind.  At that time, nobody was using clickers, and if a classroom was flipped, it was not necessarily flipped consciously. What made them great teachers was their ability to meta-teach, which is to say that they taught not so much the subject matter of the course but rather how to teach oneself that subject matter. This was accomplished by fostering student passion and sparking in students the curiosity to take it upon themselves not only to study the right material for the upcoming exam but also to continue learning and teaching oneself well after the course had concluded and the degree was conferred.

Meta-teaching should be the goal of college teachers generally. Students learn the most and they consolidate that learning the best when they are passionate and self-driven—when the learning comes from within. But initially, students usually lack awareness of the field and the tools to access it. Meta-teaching gives students the exposure that brings awareness and gives students the tools so that they engage in learning voluntarily not only for the exam but well after the course and their college experience conclude. It requires teachers that are passionate themselves and is most effectively accomplished not by trendy approaches in pedagogy but by sparking interest, with an outcome measured not by test scores but by a lifelong intellectual passion and desire to effect positive change in the world.


BIOL 474 Evolution of Vertebrate Life. Evolutionary history of the vertebrates. Emphasis on anatomical, physiological, and behavioral adaptations accompanying major transitions, including the move from water to land and the development of complex integrating systems. Fall semesters, every other spring semester, Summer Session II (online).

BIOL 476 Avian Biology. Avian physiology, behavior, evolution, ecology, and conservation and field identification of North Carolina birds. Every other Spring semester (with 476L lab co-taught with Allen H. Hurlbert), Maymester (sole-taught).

BIOL 295/395 Undergraduate Research. Independent research under the guidance of a laboratory mentor. Fall and Spring semesters.