Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned about inclusive pedagogy and case-/project-/problem-based learning. As we move to another professor and another section of the class, it’s time to reflect and figure out how to use what we’ve learned so far.
For inclusive pedagogy, the biggest thing that has stood out to me is the idea of fixing the system, rather than fixing the student. As a teacher, when I see a student struggling, my first instinct is to reach out to them and see what I can do to help them work past whatever barriers they are facing. But as long as those barriers still exist, they (and others in the future) will still need help. In addition to helping individual students improve, we must also critically examine our teaching and the larger academic system, identify barriers to student success, and work to dismantle them. One way that I would like to do this in my own teaching is to ask students to fill out a short survey at the beginning of the semester, with questions about their experiences in other classes, including what obstacles they have encountered, what (if anything) helped them overcome and/or helped remove those obstacles, and whether there is anything specific that I can include in my teaching and class design to help them prevent these same things from becoming barriers in my class. I also plan to ask what they have found helpful in other classes for their own learning. At the end of the semester, I would like to have a similar follow-up survey focused on their experiences in my class and what they would recommend changing for the next time that course is offered.
For case-/problem-/project-based learning, I am really excited to take advantage of the resources offered by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, and to use some of my own research experience to create useful case studies. During my time as a graduate student, I have collected lots of data and studied specific questions in great depth, and I imagine that I will continue to do so if I stay in academia. Using actual data from my work seems like a great way to get students involved and excited, and make sure that these studies continue to make a difference long after the research is completed. For example, my dissertation research is on predator ecology and interactions with a threatened prey species in a highly human-altered ecosystem. This work is directly relevant to several different courses in the undergraduate curriculum, and could be used to create case studies on predator-prey interactions, population dynamics, endangered species management, and other key topics in wildlife conservation. For our PBL assignment, I am working to create a case study based on my dissertation research, and hope to use the finished product in an undergraduate guest lecture.
Overall, I think that the biggest barrier to implementing these ideas and others that I have scribbled in the margins of my class notes is my fear of going too far outside the teaching norm. It’s easy to write about how I’m going to design the most inclusive, interactive class ever, but the reality of planning and executing such a class is much more difficult, especially if you are a relatively new teacher trying to prove yourself to both your colleagues and your students. I want to go beyond the traditional Powerpoint lecture-based, passive learning approach, but there is comfort in knowing that I can hide behind clearly organized slides and the steady one-sided stream of information that many students are used to. What if my case study is boring? What if my plans for a wider variety of assignment types to cater to different learning styles means that none of my students can learn effectively? What if nobody talks during class discussions? As I continue on my teaching journey, I aim to build the skills and confidence to take these chances and embrace the unknown.