The overarching fundamental goal of all undergraduate education is to facilitate a student's rise from dependent to independent learning, so that they are then enabled for a lifetime of further advances in their understanding of themselves and the world around them. For me, the greatest pleasure and privilege of teaching is facilitating student self-learning.
Biology 411: Global Change Biology
Advanced undergraduate-level course in the Dept. of Biology (Next scheduled for Winter 2023)
This advanced undergraduate level course will focus on the biology underlying the major global change issues that our civilisation currently faces (e.g. land-use change including deforestation, biodiversity loss, invasive species, climate change, nitrogen pollution, antibiotic resistance). Strong emphasis will be placed on specifically highlighting the interconnections across all hierarchical organisational levels in Biology - from molecule all the way up to biosphere. The course will specifically address the following questions – What can Biology tell us about the patterns and mechanisms that have led our civilisation to its current environmental predicament? In what ways do these biology-based insights influence our perspectives on the future?
Pre-requisites: BIOL 300.
Course web page: BIOL 411
Biology 416: Terrestrial Ecosystems
Advanced undergraduate-level course in the Dept. of Biology (Next scheduled for Fall 2023)
The ecosystem approach to ecology treats organisms and the physical aspects of their environment as components of a single integrated system. Terrestrial ecosystem functioning is governed by interactions amongst animals, plants and soil organisms, as well as exchanges of energy and resources with the atmosphere, soil and aquatic environments and rock substrates. This advanced undergraduate level ecology course is focused on plant-soil interactions as being a primary factor in determining patterns of terrestrial ecosystem structure and functioning around the world. The course will attempt to synthesize recent advances arising from the ecosystem approach with established ecological theory to describe and explain ecosystem-level patterns and processes in the terrestrial environment. Since human activities are now having increasingly pervasive and dominant effects on natural ecosystems, the course will include an examination of global change issues in the context of landscape-level dynamics in space and time, and whole Earth biogeochemistry.
Pre-requisites: BIOL 300 (or GPHY 317). One-way exclusion: May not be taken with or after BIOL510.
Course web page: BIOL 416
Biology 303: Community and Ecosystem Ecology
(I co-taught or occasionally was the sole instructor on this course in many years from 2003-2018 when it was discontinued, and replaced by BIOL 300 taught by Dr. Paul Martin)
Community and ecosystem ecology addresses many of the mechanisms underlying biological patterns of abundance, diversity, and spatial and temporal distributions of biota and habitats. This course introduces students to the major concepts, themes and current issues within ecology at the community and ecosystem levels. Course content will be interesting and informative – our primary intention is to stimulate your own thinking on ecological ideas. Concepts will be illustrated with exciting, cutting edge examples from published research, case studies and student lab and field practicals.
Biology 510: The Biology of Sustainability
(formerly entitled Biogeochemistry and Global Change)
(Next scheduled for Fall term 2024)
This ecology course is aimed at identifying and critiquing potential mechanisms by which our civilization could most effectively move toward more sustainable living. Biology can explain current environmental sustainability issues, but is also at the fundamental root of their underlying causes – human behaviour. Therefore, the biology of sustainability incorporates biogeochemical, ecological, economic, social, genetic, and philosophical features and constraints. Each iteration of the course will focus on a unique specific thematic question related to at least some of those components.
The course is for final year undergraduates and is specifically aimed at enhancing their capacities for critical thinking, intelligent open discussion, group work, and independent learning. Emphasis will be on interactive discussions and student-led seminars in which participants will have ample opportunities to explore, analyze and synthesize scientific information, to learn how the scientific process works, to speak and write effectively, and to develop their understanding of the philosophies underlying human behaviour and how they relate to global change issues, and the sustainability of our current civilisation. Recommended background courses: BIOL 300.
Course web page: BIOL 510
2016 FINAL CLASS VIDEO (course synthesis)
Biology 200: Diversity of Life
Co-taught by Drs. Grogan and Birt (Winter terms 2022 and onwards)
This course provides a phylogenetically based overview of biodiversity across the Tree of Life including viruses, archaea, bacteria, algae, fungi, plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. Patterns of organizational complexity and species diversity are explained in the context of evolutionary processes, structure-function relationships and ecology.
BIOL 200 arose from a merger of BIOL 201 and BIOL 202, and I taught half of the former course almost every year from 2010-2018. Sample lectures from the previous version of my section of this course (i.e. BIOL201) are available for streaming:
BIOL 200 sample online materials
Video: Introduction to the Fungi - an online-delivered lecture (2021)
Podcasts: What is the extent of biodiversity across the Tree of Life, and How and Why did it occur? For the online version of BIOL200 in Winter 2022, I made the following short podcasts to help students grasp the principal over-arching concepts that we have covered in the course, and that no doubt will apply to much of the content of the second half. Each of the four short podcasts (7-12 minutes) contains two concepts. I really hope they are interesting and useful to you, and I strongly recommend that you take good breaks between each of them to maximize their learning potential for you:
- Evolution by natural selection; Diversity begets diversity
- Structure-Function inter-relationships and the ecological niche; Surface area-to-volume ratio as a fundamental property across the Tree of Life
- Evolution by natural selection produces new traits, but can also dispense with ancestral ones (e.g. flagellum); Trend in life cycle reproduction modes from primitive to more advanced organisms across the Tree of Life
- Adaptive traits are often the product of evolutionary trade-offs between differing components of an organism’s niche; The evolutionary pattern of diversification across the Tree of Life is a product of both predictable and random factors - it could not have been foreseen, and its future is unknowable
Biology 953: Advanced Studies in Plant Sciences
(Graduate-level course offered in Winters of 2006, 2012, and may run in Fall 2023)
Note: This graduate course varies substantially in subject matter and focus each year
The winter 2012 course was entitled "Seminal Readings in Ecology" and focussed on student-led seminars of a wide range of research and review papers that are considered really core to the advances ecology has made over the past century.
The winter 2006 course was entitled Soils: The Final Frontier and addressed various belowground topics (details on links in website below).
Course web page: BIOL 953
Biology 537: Undergraduate Honours Thesis
(Overall 537 course coordinator 2016/17)
This course involves supervision of an independent research project that is written up as a thesis. Every year I supervise 1-3 students taking this course.
NOTE In the spring preceding fourth year, students must select projects in consultation with potential supervisors. Registration is subject to availability of a supervisor. Work on the project during summer is advantageous if field studies are required. See also the statement on BIOL 501/3.0-BIOL 536/3.0 in the BIOL Department Information, preliminary information section.
Prerequisite: Admission to the final year of a BSCH program in Biology, and permission of the project supervisor and course coordinator.