Teaching Philosophy

Goal: well-informed, critical world citizens

 

My teaching focuses on facilitating students’ development as well-informed, critical world citizens through learner-centered strategies. I want them to leave my classes with a renewed understanding of how their actions and decisions affect local and global scales so they can engage with their chosen careers in a constructive way. After my courses, students should be able to analyze evidence critically (such as that published in news media) and derive their own beliefs and opinions while respecting others’, striving for a more just world. This work is directed by the students’ interests and needs, building upon the skills they bring to class. I do this by guiding students through the processes of evaluating evidence, thinking critically, conducting research, solving problems, and effectively communicating. I draw upon my interdisciplinary training to teach courses that address both social and natural science approaches to geography and the environment.

Method: active learning strategies 

My classes move beyond the transmission of information through lecturing, instead focusing on facilitating ways that students can apply skills in class. For example, in my Field Study in Environmental Geography class, students were asked to create posters to display the results of their research projects. In order to instruct them on how to create informative posters, I broke the students into groups and gave them guiding questions to critique several posters created by my colleagues. Students then rearranged into their project groups where each brought insights from a different poster to their final project. While I continue to utilize lectures as needed, this application of analysis leads to higher student retention. My class periods are interspersed with other active learning strategies as well, such as the use of padlet for real-time written question response, think-pair-share activities, and debate-style discussion.

Method: place-based learning

Geography as a field lends itself to exciting place-based learning opportunities, which I use to foster a sense of curiosity in students that can lead to lifelong learning. One of my most distinct memories as an undergraduate in Houston is completing a “where you at” bioregional quiz, where my entire class and I had to collaboratively answer human-environment questions about where we were, such as where our municipal water comes from and goes to, what common bird and native plant species live in the area, and how the city’s land use history has led to today’s development patterns. I adopted this activity in my Introduction to Sustainable Development class, where students delved into these questions for Tucson and presented them to the class, leading us to consider our impact on and integration into the places we reside. I also organized a field trip in this course to a take a tour of a local nonprofit’s “learning lab” that demonstrates watershed stewardship as a component of sustainable development. In my Field Study in Environmental Geography class, I drew upon my experience as a biological field technician to help students measure the flow rate of our local river through a field trip to the riverbed.  I also integrated a political ecological approach into the course, where students learned to think about how the river’s features are shaped by social, political, and economic factors.

Method: assessment as learning

I see assessment in my courses as opportunities for continued learning and seek to make my courses accessible by providing a wide variety of assessments. In order to cater to different learning styles and educational backgrounds, I offer several types of assessment that play to different students’ skill strengths: daily low-stakes quizzes or minute reflection papers, oral presentations, group projects, online discussions, research papers, and paired exams. These give students the opportunity to earn higher grades in the skills they feel most confident with, allow me to monitor their progress throughout the semester, and reduce student anxiety on each individual assignment, all of which facilitate student learning.  I also give students agency in their assignments: in Introduction to Sustainable Development, students created a sustainable development plan for a component of chosen city, applying critiques learned in class to create better futures. Giving students choice and opportunities to apply skills promotes higher-order learning and student responsibility and prepares them for future careers.

I also see feedback as an essential component of the learning process, and as such arrange opportunities for students to review their peers’ work and to incorporate my feedback. Giving students a chance to rework assignments allows them to reflect on and building upon their learning. I additionally have students assess my courses directly through soliciting mid-semester and post-semester content feedback. This input gives students the opportunity to guide the course and provides me with much more specific feedback than standard university evaluations. I look forward to learning from my students and continually strive to improve my teaching.

Curiosity!

Using these methods focused on active learning techniques, place-based strategies, and assessment as learning, my goal is to foster a sense of curiosity and critical thinking about the world in students of geography. I came to this field because it offered an opportunity to explore local and global issues through an interdisciplinary lens, and I strive to convey my enthusiasm for this approach to my students.  

Photo: Atascosa Highlands outside Tucson, Arizona