Joseph “Joe” Lachance is one of three College of Sciences junior faculty to win Georgia Tech’s 2019 CTL/BP Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award. Jointly supported by the Center for Teaching and Learning and BP America, the award recognizes the excellent teaching and educational innovations that junior faculty bring to campus. Lachance is an assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences and a former Class of 1969 Teaching Fellow.
As a teacher, Lachance believes his primary role is to help students learn. To accommodate students’ different learning styles, he integrates lectures with a various activities. These can be discussions of the literature or computer simulations of real data. Because empirical datasets can be messy and complex, Lachance says, students must apply critical thinking to get meaningful results, “as opposed to just applying techniques by rote”
Two examples demonstrate the innovative spirit Lachance has brought to the teaching of population genetics and other topics in biology.
For the course Mathematical Models in Biology (BIOL 2400), Lachance organized an iterated Hawk-Dove tournament. Each round involved pairs of students choosing to be aggressive (Hawk) or cooperative (Dove). As the tournament progressed, students adapted to the behaviors of their classmates. “Not only was it fun,” Lachance says, “but the evolving strategies that arose were evidence that every student had gained a deep understanding of game theory.”
"[I]t’s my role to do the best I can to facilitate student learning. Besides, what could be more fun than having a chance to share cutting-edge details about subjects you love?”
For the course Introduction to Evolutionary Biology (BIOL 3600), Lachance hosted an evolution-themed festival, modeled after the annual film festival held by the Society for the Study of Evolution. During the semester, students produced short videos to illustrate concepts of evolutionary biology. On the penultimate class of the semester, Lachance held a film festival featuring the student projects, complete with popcorn, ballots, and a trophy for the top video.
Lachance’s passion for teaching doesn’t go unnoticed. Students note his excitement, enthusiasm, and innovation in class. “His classes have given me and my peers unique opportunities to exercise our creativity with what we are learning,” one student says.
Lachance demonstrates his care for students above and beyond what students expect, this student adds. “He goes out of his way to express his vested interest in his students’ achievements and well-being in the classroom and beyond.”
“It is an honor to be one of this year’s recipients of the CTL/BP Teaching Award,” Lachance says. “As an instructor, it’s my role to do the best I can to facilitate student learning. Besides, what could be more fun than having a chance to share cutting-edge details about subjects you love?”