I fulfill the responsibilities of my appointment by teaching each year a one-term (Winter) graduate and senior undergraduate course entitled Fisheries Oceanography. I also contribute to Biological Oceanography lectures and contribute to and coordinate Tools and Concepts in the Ocean Sciences Degree programme. I continue to provide lectures to Marine Science and Technology, a core-course taken by Master of Marine Management candidates in the Marine Affairs Programme. In addition, I regularly contribute guest lectures for other courses at Dalhousie and elsewhere.
Teaching Philosophy and Methods:
My teaching is more or less Socratic – “the oldest, and still the most powerful, teaching tactic for fostering critical thinking“. Through stimulating questioning, with the aid of relevant information (existing theory, empirical relationships, known functions and processes etc.) detailed or summarized graphically, students are better able to grasp concepts and gain new insights that they are less likely to forget nor to easily dismiss. This works because students are motivated to make the effort to arrive at the concepts and/or reach conclusions themselves. I see my role primarily as motivational and secondarily as guide and constructive critic. This kind of teaching is not necessarily appreciated by all students. For lecture material I draw primarily on quantitative examples from the literature that are provided online; each of which are examined and critically evaluated in lectures. I supplement some lectures with teaching-videos on specific topics or through guest lecturers who have an expertise relevant to the lecture topic or series. I also encourage graduate student Teaching Assistants to provide one or two lectures, generally in the area that is mutually relevant to the course content and the TA’s research area. This serves to provide the TA with lecturing experience and allows the students to gain insights into the realm of graduate research.
This course focuses on the ecology of marine fish (including advances made in freshwater systems) from an oceanographic perspective and on the biotic and abiotic influences on marine fish population dynamics and production, distribution and abundance. Lectures include distribution (range and abundance), reproduction (fecundity, spawning etc.), early life history (feeding, growth, mortality) and some aspects of physiology and metabolism (physiological cycles and condition) and recruitment variability and forecasting. Emphasis is placed on the hydrological and meteorological processes influencing the above, and the majority of the material is drawn either from the primary literature (papers provided online) or from a series of texts that are on permanent reserve status in the library during the course. For the majority of lecture topics I attempt to focus on current problems and hypotheses and fruitful research directions, approaches and techniques. I also place some emphasis on the application of scientific insights to fishery management and assessment techniques (e.g., the fundamentals of virtual population analysis). I do not require the students to purchase a particular text. However, several chapters of Rothschild’s (1986) “Dynamics of Marine Fish Populations“, Cushing’s (1995) “Population production and regulation in the sea: a fisheries perspective“, and Ricker’s (1975) “Computation and Interpretation of Biological Statistics of Fish Populations” are mandatory reading and several lectures are developed from and around them. The course also includes a series of tutorials and assignments that focus on applied statistics and an introduction to time series analyses. For this I rely on Legendre and Legendre “Numerical Ecology“. Other significant texts are recommended and placed on library reserve.
Students are required to write a primary-publication-style research paper using original data extracted directly from the literature, technical reports, and known databases. Several colleagues at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography have been exceedingly generous with their time and data in assisting some students to secure the data necessary to address their particular question/hypothesis. This research paper has proven successful as the students appreciate this opportunity to write (for many the first time) a quantitative treatise in a scientific format. Several research papers have led directly to graduate studies based on insights gained through the research paper and/or a primary publication, e.g.,:
- Enin, U. I. 1993. Biomass spectrum analysis of the Nigerian inshore demersal fishery. Journal of Applied Ichthyology. 9:171-174.
- Jones, M. and C. T. Taggart. 1998. Distribution of gill parasite (Lernaeocera branchialis) infection in Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and parasite- induced host mortality: inferences from tagging data. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 55:364-375.
- Ward, P.J. and R.A. Myers. 2006. Do habitat models accurately predict the depth distribution of pelagic fishes? Fisheries Oceanography 15(1):60-66.
Some Comments From Student Reviews:
- The way the course was taught was interesting and quite different from any other class I’ve taken at university. We were always asked questions and involved in the lecture, which helped keep my focus. He also really emphasized that we need to think critically, and that not everything published in the literature is good, valid work, which was a good perspective that is often not taught. He always encouraged us to ask questions if we didn’t understand something as well.
- Never have I been so awake for an 8:30 am class! Chris asks questions to keep the class on our toes and will walk us through a concept if there appears to be a lack of understanding.
- Taggart has a unique teaching style where he basically puts you on the spot until you answer the question he is asking, or until someone else pipes up. Although some people find this intimidating I thought it was a great way to keep the class on its toes, especially at 8:30 am.
- The assignments were very useful for applying statistical knowledge, which I think was one of the best parts of the class. Learning to work with time series in a step-by-step fashion made it less daunting and manageable.
- The research project I think is also great for getting us to apply our statistical knowledge and is the first project of its kind that I have had in university (where we had to collect published data from the literature, which is harder than it seems!)
- Engaged the class in discussion and explained concepts well. Made sure we understood. instead of standing behind a podium and lecturing, he was trying to teach and explain the concepts. You can tell that he really cares about student education. He has a no bullshit personality and I really appreciate it.
- Despite initially being intimidating, bordering on terrifying Chris Taggart is an exceptional professor and truly goes above and beyond. He cares about students, there performance and what they take away from this course. I feel he cares more than almost any other professor he does not simply want us to do well, but to learn and comprehend the material present. He is very passionate about the class and the subject matter with has a excellent grasp on how to teach, he does not waste time with trivial information or ineffective teaching practices. I would say his class is a perfect model of how an upper year class should be taught and evaluated. I truly feel as though I learned skills in this class that will be applicable alter in life.
- Overall I felt that Taggart really wanted everyone to do well, and is clearly passionate about the course material, which made the lectures interesting. His expectations were high but I think that this is a good thing because you knew you couldn’t get away with not knowing your stuff.
- This was one of the top 5 classes I’ve taken at Dalhousie. It’s definitely not an easy A type class but the tools I’ve learned from this class will be extremely useful throughout the rest of my career in science.
- Great Class, probably the most I’ve learned in any of my University classes so far.
- This was one of my favourite classes I’ve taken at university. The content was really interesting, and made me want to learn a lot more about fisheries oceanography!
- Chris is one of the best professors I’ve had at Dalhousie. I’ve learned so much from this class.