MSA Inoculum Educator Spotlight October 2021: Dr. Brandon Matheny

MSA Inoculum Educator Spotlight October 2021: Dr. Brandon Matheny

Interviewed by Sara Gremillion of the MSA Education Committee 

Dr. Matheny’s shared course materials can be found here: https://msafungi.org/course-materials/

Interview questions: 

  1. What is your name and how long have you been teaching Mycology?

    Brandon Matheny – for just over 20 years in some form or other. I started out teaching mushroom identification and workshops in microscopy and macrophotography for the Puget Sound Mycological Society. These were evening courses for adults. 

  1. What is the title of your Mycology-focused course and what is the level of your course?

I do several and am fortunate to be able to do so at a place like the University of Tennessee (UT). The first is upper-division Field Mycology, which is a course intended for our concentration in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB), but students from a wide array of departments take the course – art, psychology, biochemistry, micro, and so on. The second is another EEB upper-division course called Fungal Diversity. This has been a writing-intensive course so it gets fewer students, but it generally garners my best reviews. In it I assign mostly current papers (including ones I want to read) that cut across different modes of fungal diversity. I have also taught separate graduate-level courses in fungal systematics on one hand and fungal fossils and time-trees on the other.

  1. What is your favorite activity taught in this course and what is the goal of this activity? 

I guess I really like taking students into the field to collect mushrooms for Field  Mycology. I emphasize with them how to use all of their senses – sight, smell, taste,    touch, audio (even telepathy for those who are gullible) – to help them discern different    mushroom traits. Being able to do so helps them identify mushrooms more effectively. You can see this when they try to key them out.

  1. How is this activity assessed? In other words, how do you know if it’s effective? 

See above. I see them navigating successfully through taxonomic keys.

  1. What advice would you give to someone who is new to teaching a Mycology-focused course or who is looking to update their previously taught Mycology-focused course? 

Mycology means different things. I don’t teach a fungal biology class like I used to as a TA at the University of Washington. That was a genuine fungal biology class covering the gamut of fungal phylogenetic diversity, including lab sections; mushrooms were only a single lab! No PowerPoints, just a chalkboard or a few slides time to time and lots of hands-on work with the organisms, which was made capable by an excellent support staff, who maintained and primed cultures for action. At UT, however, I focus on what I do best – mushroom systematics and taxonomy, which we call Field Mycology. This complements our other organismal-based, muddy-boot courses. So, I’d suggest focus on what you do best and, if you do research, integrate that into your teaching.