Teaching Philosophy

Statement Of Teaching Philosophy & Activities

            I came relatively late to the teaching environment as in former positions teaching in a formal setting was not a component of my duties. I gladly accepted the challenge and I have enjoyed my first three years of teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. In many respects, teaching to a large student body is a natural extension of my published work in that it is a way of imparting knowledge but in a somewhat different format targeting an audience with a different knowledge base.

            The main role of an instructor is to lower barriers to learning and to place students in an environment where, in the correct frame of mind, they can absorb knowledge easily and readily. Many students confuse learning with the art of memorizing facts; while certainly beneficial, a good memory does not invest the student with an understanding of systems behind the processes encountered in the biological sciences. How many students do we see that think preparation for an exam involves merely reading class notes over and over again? Apart from a range of abilities, individuals use different routes to take in information, whether visual, audio or kinesthetic (touching/ doing) or a combination of all three. What works well for one student may not necessarily work for another. Therefore it is essential for a number of teaching techniques to be tailored by the instructor to enable individual students to first take in the information, and then be able to use this to address problems faced in the laboratory, questions raised in the classroom and in society as a whole. In the first class period of each semester I like to give the students a toolkit of different approaches in which to study for the sciences. The majority of students have a negative feeling towards taking exams, so in addition the usual strategies of revising class notes and accessing the class textbook, I carefully encourage my students to actively to form “study groups,” find a “study buddy” and/or other mentors to make the art of learning more enjoyable and productive.

            In addition, I have embraced classroom technology such as “student response or clicker” systems. I have found this extremely useful in keeping the students attention and as a tool for class quizzes and for monitoring class assignments. Likewise, the Desire-2-Learn web-based university system for electronic access to grades, reports, class notes has been very useful in the organization of classes and the provision of rapid feedback to the student body. While the “gifted” student will, no doubt, be a success in almost any classroom or laboratory, it is gratifying to see the “average” student making progress, improving his/her grades and having that “eureka” moment of understanding from the success of an experiment in the laboratory. This experience in the “laboratory” is fundamental to the learning and understanding of the biological sciences and as such must be protected. While there is some evidence that certain institutions dropping laboratories due to cost, it is very refreshing to find OU has a very well respected senior microbiology laboratory.

            I like to set challenging standards while providing the students with an array of tools in an environment that enables critical thinking, problem solving and ultimately a rewarding outcome. Communication between the instructor and student is important. This each-way passage of information is critical to the development and evolution of courses taught.

            Teaching in the classroom and the laboratory has the potential to be synergistic with its affects on the research being undertaken in my own laboratory. Students with a particular gift for the laboratory or have an interest in one’s own research can be invited to take part in “Independent Study” activities. Some may ultimately progress to enrollment as graduate students in my own laboratory, OU Graduate Degree programs or programs at other institutions.

            We are preparing students for the challenges of the modern society and all that it entails with the problems of managing the planet’s resources in a responsible manner for generations to come. The University has an obligation to encourage its students to be critical thinkers with an ability to address issues encountered in the “real world.” An environment should be made available to them where they should not fear errors or failure but utilize these encounters as a learning experience to assist in overcoming the future challenges. Such trial and error scenarios build both confidence and competency.

           Whether taking that first step into the classroom or attaining the highest achievements in one’s chosen profession, “Learning” is a lifelong endeavor and we are all students on our journey through life.


Classes Offered

Dr. Lawson teaches two courses.

MBIO 4823 » Pathogenic Microbiology and Infectious Disease
Prerequisite: 3812 and 3813

Study of pathogenic microorganisms and the diseases they produce. Morphology, physiology and pathogenic mechanisms of specific microorganisms are introduced. Modern diagnostic and culture techniques are covered to illustrate the importance of the clinical and reference laboratories. Host resistance, control and epidemiology. Basic immunologic concepts, principles and an insight into how microorganisms overcome the body’s defenses. “Hot topics” that appear in the lay press are also reviewed in class discussions. The structure and function of the health service is discussed with an overview of the different departments at both state and federal levels that serve to monitor disease outbreaks and alert both health professionals and the public to good hygiene practices. Prevention is always better than the cure!

MBIO 4810/5810 » Microbiome & Microbial Systematics
Prerequisite: MBIO 3812,3813, either CHEM 3013 or CHEM 3053 or permission from the instructor

The purpose of this course is to introduce how modern day microbiomes are characterized from initial sequence information to the living organisms that make these complex communities. The term microbiome is mostly associated with the human microbiome consisting of the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space. However, “microbiome ” can be used to encapsulate any ecosystem or microbial community contained from anything from a few square centimeters to geographic locations to include “country” and “earth” microbiomes.

Systematics is the study of the diversification of living forms, both past and present, and the relationships among living things through time. The subject embraces the related but quite distinct processes of classification (and the analysis of phylogeny), nomenclature and identification. The advent of Next generation sequencing and development of multi “omics” analysis sequence data allows genes; proteins and microorganisms to be identified. The majority of studies on microbiomes are focused on this “omics” approach but of course each community investigated is much more than a collection of genes; living processes are at work with complex ecosystems often containing a huge number of microbial species. Sequence data provides a powerful roadmap giving tremendous insights into a microbial population but this is only the first step in the investigation of complex microbiomes.

Systematics gives organization and a better understanding of the int er relationships between microbial taxa, metabolic capabilities and characterization of individual strains present. This course will explore how these “omics” are augmented by cultivation and identification methods are used in the transition of sequences to living organisms that can be described to the scientific community. The course will be composed of lectures, literature reviews, and discussion groups, written reports and visual presentations by students.