• nhilliar@purdue.edu
  • (765) 494-3569


Teaching Philosophy

After spending so many years across such a wide swath of my life engaged in learning, I have come to appreciate the sheer diversity present in today’s college students, the extensive changes in what these students have experienced in regard to instructional approaches and preparatory programs, and the wide variation in learners’ motivations for and expectations from continued education.  The uniqueness this induces amongst students and their needs cannot be overstated. Constraints on time, attention, relevance, and engagement are experienced differently by nearly all contemporary students.  Effective education must consider these constraints and balance them against the concurrent demands of what is to be learned and how best to learn it.

I personally advocate for a considered approach, realizing that my learners may have very different needs and tolerances, deeply rooted in their own lived experiences.  I feel a cooperative, peer supported environment may yield the most satisfactory result in both learning and promotion of student self-efficacy.  For this to materialize however, students must be able to align with both the learning environment and the instructional techniques, as well as feel that the process respects their commitment toward education.  My approach must have purpose and promote an efficient and effective use of the learners’ time to maintain engagement and foster peer engagement.  In addition, clear consideration and understanding of selected instructional strategies is vital to ensure proper alignment between my objectives as an educator and any outcomes realized by my students.

Teaching Experience

My primary teaching experience relates to a Purdue University forest measurements course (FNR 353) for which I have been a teaching assistant since 2011. When I originally enrolled in this course as a student, I realized the assigned teaching assistant, who happened to be a friend, had no direct experience with the course content. As might be expected, this lack of prior knowledge and experience placed an unfortunate burden on both the teaching assistant and the students of the course. As a result, after completing the course myself, and as part of my permanent position among the Forestry staff, I offered to fulfill the ongoing role of a more knowledgeable teaching assistant for this course.

Since 2011, I have continued to support this course providing management of the field laboratory aspect and periodic lecture support when instructor conflict arises. This includes design of field labs to demonstrate proper techniques, illustrate the variation encountered in the natural environment, and provide assessment and feedback to students in realistic contexts.

Additional teaching experience has been gathered through opportunities to present various topics in a variety of graduate level courses.

In addition to a role in formal education, I have long been responsible for training undergraduate and graduate students and adult staff on a variety of topics including safety procedures, equipment or process operation and troubleshooting, and a broad array of field research related skills. This training may take the form of independent reference sheets or job aids, observational or modeling approaches, face-to-face instruction with feedback, or a something along the lines of a cognitive apprenticeship. The style employed varies with both the goals and experiences of the learners.

Questions such as these come into play: Does the learner merely need to perform a task competently as a step in a larger operation? Is this a task that will be repeated regularly or is it a very short-term requirement? Will the learning experience play an integral role in the development of future skills? There are some generalities across all cases, but often attention to the specific needs of the individual is quite valuable.


Foundations in College Teaching: Provides an overview of evidence-based teaching practices and strategies including making learning accessible, assessing student learning, creating a learner-centered environment, and applying the science of teaching and learning.

Indiana Project Wet: A water education professional development program for teachers providing exposure to water resource management practices, related scientific information, and teaching techniques for problem solving.

Presentations, Activities, Handouts, and Other Teaching Materials

I have worked to coordinate and lead the Forest Measurements field lab course component since 2011. I have designed and installed all of the field-based laboratory activities, and created supplemental and reference handouts for several of the computer lab-based sessions as well. The elements of concept illustration and career relevance are maximize through careful selection of both example and non-example specimens. This aspect is contextually influenced and very site specific, requiring ongoing analysis of all available resources.

I typically do a traditional classroom lecture in Forest Measurements on the classification and quantification of downed-woody debris (i.e., dead tree and shrub materials on the forest floor). In an attempt to better engage the learners, I reworked the presentation into a version of the flipped classroom model. Students were provided a brief handout discussing the topic and asked to review it prior to class. The lecture period was then utilized for interactive group-based peer teaching, discussions, and debate on the costs and benefits of downed-woody debris.

Also include here is an experimental asynchronous module incorporating some 360-degree images. This module may be used as a self-directed course supplement as the Downed Woody topic, while important, is losing course time to make way for newer technology topics.

As a part of Advanced Instructional Design Theory, students were asked to assemble a classroom lesson plan and engage in peer teaching a topic related to one of many instructional models. Working together with another student, I prepared the linked materials to support an active learning lesson on stream restoration using the flipped classroom model.

I was the sole designer of the various worksheets and case study activity. I assembled the bulk of the lecture slides with input from my co-teacher. The lesson was co-delivered by both of us.

As a part of Introduction of Learning Theories and Instructional Design, students were asked to engage in peer teaching on one of several learning theories and its associated theorists. Teaching was done in pairs. I chose cognitive theory and my contribution focused on the contributions of theorists other than Piaget toward cognitive learning theory.

As a part of Instrumentation and Data Acquisition, students were asked to engage in brief peer teaching lessons on one of many data acquisition devices. I opted for a lesson highlighting humidity measurements and device options.

Training Materials/ Job Aids

This is a simple job aid for molecular biology lab users to design their own mutagenic oligonucleotides (used to introduce desired mutations into a piece of DNA). There are a myriad of automated tools and websites to do this, but users of these gain little appreciation for the considerations that may impact the effectiveness of a suggested solution. This aid helps the lab user to better understand what they are actually trying to do when they employ their designs.

This job aid helps lab users understand and execute their desired protocols using an environmental growth chamber. This controller unit is much older in design than most users are accustomed to (or than most users are themselves). The lack of intuitive design in relation to modern electronics poses a significant problem for many users, even after proper operation has been demonstrated face-to-face. This aid attempts alleviate this problem.

This job aid for an atomic absorption spectrophotometer helps users to work through the proper operation and troubleshooting of a relatively complex piece of equipment. This is another item of advanced age with a very unfamiliar and non-intuitive user interface for most users. This aid uses relies on a number of visual cues to help users focus on the key points most relevant to successfully reaching their goals.