R. H. (Dick) and Pat Richardson
Illustrated Version

  • Office: Biology Lab, Room 114AA
  • Phones: 512-471-4128 (office); 232-3402 (fax)
  • Office hours: Call me to make arrangements.

Personal goal in teaching (Dick)

After teaching high school chemistry for a year, I changed my mind about many theories for learning and teaching. I have experimented with different approaches to university-level teaching. Every semester is a new research project, built upon the experiences of the previous semesters. The result is that I learn a lot; the class is organized to give students an active role  in maximizing its effectiveness. Life is full of mistakes, and we generally move ahead by what we learn from them. Many of the most important benefits come with unexpected results. Experimentation is expected to produce unexpected results -- "mistakes" sometimes. The same principle holds for each student in the class. We do the best we can, and learn from the mistakes and unexpected results revealed when we experiment to improve. Learning how to identify these experiments and monitor their results is a part of the class. Grading is weighted much more heavily by the lessons learned in response to taking risks in learning than by avoiding mistakes by continuing to do the things we've done before.  We succeed more by the responses we have to "mistakes" by turning them into "successes." In all parts of the course, however, I greatly appreciate and suggestions from members of the class. With all of the complexities of managing our lives and our natural resources practice is the best way to learn. The way I can do this in a large public university is to encourage teams of mixed graduate and undergraduate students from several academic disciplines to work on projects in the "real world". In regular lecture courses, such as genetics, this is more difficult. However, in a new writing component version of genetics, advance in the "right" direction is possible.

I want each student to learn things and develop habits that will be of great personal value for the rest of their lives. I want them to realize that the "facts" and theories that they learn today are useful, but will be modified or discarded tomorrow. I want students to become life-long learners, and enjoy the process. I want students to be prepared to lead successful professional and personal lives, which requires skills and attitudes that will develop for many years. I hope that a course that I teach always will be a catalyst and aid to this development. I'm pleased to have responses from former students that they have found this to be the case in many instances.

In this class I encourage you to learn by trying nontraditional academic experiences as well as absorbing "facts" and demonstrating "skills." For example, traditional educations considers collaboration to solve a problem to be "cheating" whereas in this class collaboration is a skill to develop when needed to progress in a project. In both cases being trustworthy and dependable are values of great importance -- only the learning objectives differ. However, "nontraditional" is not the same as "irrelevant" for scientists -- and any other practice of an academic discipline. I believe all we do you will find essential for your success and your team mates moving into careers in science and in management. With some exceptions, many of the skills you will develop are absent in other courses. Therefore, from your perspective, this course will initially seem strange. I hope that this is a good thing, and that you will increasingly appreciate these tools as you enter professional careers.

Personal odds 'n ends

I'm very pleased that my wife, Pat, is a part of both my teaching and research activities. She has been a great critic and supporter in many previous classes. She also is the creative source in many improvements made in the courses. She is an active teacher in many aspects of the classes, particularly this class. She developed a pair of freshman classes about the American West, "Manifest Destiny: Fur Trade to Globalization," that we have offered each year since 2000. She has the "lead" role in the educational outreach to elementary and other students, and actively supervises and catalyzes graduate research. We are scheduled to offer a new Studies Abroad field course in Costa Rica in May 2006. She has been a productive scientist for almost as long as have I, and remains active and internationally respected as a soil ecologist.

Our present research on prairie restoration focuses on the beneficial effects of dung beetles on soil health, and on restoration of the biodiversity in soil. A healthy soil has a complex community of organisms. The ecological services of the soil are free, and replace the need for commercial fertilizer, many pesticides, and irrigation through better utilization of rainfall. The plants are "fed" by beneficial organisms in the soil, such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, and earthworms. There is a community complexity in a healthy soil that is equivalent (maybe exceeds) to species diversity to an ancient rainforest. The soil foodweb is one way we relate healthy soil to healthy plants and animals on the surface. Dung beetles and earthworms move food from the surface of the soil deep into the soil where these organisms live. We have observed their activity increasing the rainfall infiltration up to 10-fold, and they aerate the soil in the process. Technology has not begun to approach the effectiveness of the ecosystem in bioproductivity, and the Cornucopia is free! The first rule of successful management is to maintain this system and its productivity.

A significant portion of our activity is channeled through the Center for Environmental Research, co-located with the City of Austin Biosolids Management Facility at Hornsby Bend. We conduct research, use it as a field lab, and collaborate with the teachers to mentor elementary school children at the Hornsby Dunlap Elementary School (Del Valle ISD). We are fortunate to have many informal colleagues there associated with Travis Audubon Society, Travis County Natural Gardeners, Colorado River Watch Foundation, Texas A&M Cooperative Extension, and other groups.

Pat and I have worked with a variety of governmental, NGO and private land managers over the past several years, ranging from the US Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service (US Public Land issues) and the Texas agencies such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the General Land Office. We frequently collaborate with the Texas Nature Conservancy, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Asso., Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Asso., Holistic Resource Management of Texas, Savory Center for Holistic Management, and other organizations. Pat is a former member of the EcoFair Board of Directors, and presently serves on the HRM of Texas Board of Directors. I am a former member and re-elected member of the Board of Directors of Holistic Resource Management of Texas and also serve on the Advisory Board. Several years ago I was the editor of the newsletter for the Native Prairie Association of Texas, and we presently are members of NPAT. I also served on the Texas Ag Summit III sponsored by a coalition of agricultural organizations and Texas A&M University. In June 2005 we were Plenary Speakers and held a Workshop at an international conference in Canada, "Rethinking Development: Local Pathways to Global Welbeing" (presentation) (also natural history video of "soil critters").


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Last modified 11/25/2008