Open, Empathetic, Critical, Applied
My approach to teaching and learning is based on four pillars — open educational practices, empathy, critical pedagogy, and constructivism.
I believe teaching and learning are inevitably and organically conjoined. I do not think teaching can or should be sanitized. After all, learning is best when we roll up our sleeves and pant legs and dive into the wonderful morass of life. As educators, we share what we have learned and we continue to learn through praxis and listening to learners. We collaboratively map and explore ways to arrive at a destination even while knowing that the shared map and destination may change along the way.
In my experience, learning and teaching processes are adaptive relations between learners, educators, subject matter, and lived contexts. Responsibly enhancing these relations is one of my main roles as an educator. I recognize that learning and teaching are political acts. So, in my courses, I underscore that critical thinking and praxis be applied not just to the subject matter but also to the learning environment. I introduce resources that help learners transform the structures underlying our current political economy of education. Open educational practices, listening and empathy, critical pedagogic framing of roles and knowledge, and constructivist learning activities (e.g. creating learning objects, undertaking research, and reflective service learning) form the foundation for a learning environment in which we flexibly adapt our processes to our learning objectives and human needs.
Based on the above pillars, this statement outlines principles that have helped me mentor undergraduate and graduate students to be more independent, informed, and resourceful people. Using the below principles, I have designed and delivered successful courses on a wide-variety of subjects including human geography, environmental science, political ecology, food systems, environmental assessment, and GIScience. While these principles have helped me teach and learn, they are not perfect and they will continue to evolve over time.
Mutual learning objectives and evidence-based assessment.
I start courses by establishing agreement with learners on learning objectives that are important for their success within and outside the course. By clarifying expectations, we proactively identify need for additional help and resources. We contextualize their course in their life. Assessment tools are then oriented towards these objectives and treated as learning experiences in themselves. Project-based assessments allow students to better display their knowledge than exams. If exams are required, I implement two-stage exam processes and learners often help build the assessment tool (e.g. they contribute exam questions). Technology is used when needed to enhance rather than replace learning relationships.
Learners feel challenged by the subject matter, not by the learning environment.
Learning environments should encourage mutual respect and critical thinking through diverse activities. For example, in many courses I use debates to tackle complex issues such as genetically engineered foods. This format encourages learners to research opposing positions and hone the rhetorical skills necessary to cogently present their arguments to colleagues and the broader world. I also use scalable processes for undergraduate, team research projects. In advanced GIScience courses, learners conduct projects that build on their individual interests. These individual projects as well as an open data project on agricultural lands in British Columbia involving over one hundred students from an introductory GIScience are published as public scholarship. In another example, in an environmental management course, I developed a semester-long, staged research project resulting in teams publishing openly-licensed environmental case studies. A well-structured learning environment provides space for growth from mistakes, reflection on those mistakes, and the ability of students to share their learning journey and final creations (no more disposable assignments) with selected audiences.
Open educational practices lead to better learning relationships.
I am an open education advocate. Open educational practices (OEP) often involve engaging with open education resources (OERs), open science, open access, open data, open policy, and open pedagogy. The openness in all of the above refers to more than free or online; openness is an approach that provide practical,ethical guidelines and tools for encouraging transparency, trust, and institutional support for learning relations from start to finish. OEP often involves working with OERs created through Creative Commons licensing structures.
The ethos of open education is well-stated in the Cape Town Open Education Declaration of which I am a signatory. My work on open education has been featured in international media (e.g. University Affairs) and in university teaching materials (e.g. the University of British Columbia). I have received provincial and international awards as well as grants to fund development of OERs (e.g. learning modules and 3D spatial environments). I co-authored an open textbook and am currently leading open textbook projects funded by provincial governments. My course materials are openly licensed. Learners use and develop OERs in my courses. For example, since 2015 my students and I have used free and open source software for geospatial (FOSS4G) analysis to develop openly licensed GIScience labs for our course. Most importantly, engaging in open education helps learners understand their own rights and think critically about the political economy of education.
Education is a core pillar of an open and democratic society.
A central role of education is to help people “learn how to learn” so that they become well-balanced humans and informed citizens in our contemporary world. This is not just about identifying learning styles. It is about understanding the political economy of learning. I teach geographic literacy, geographic thought, data literacy, and geospatial technologies that allow learners to frame and take actions on complex issues. However, I do not just teach concepts. I teach students how to access and evaluate resources and how to build communities of knowledge seekers. We live in an unparalleled age of information. Understanding the contours of information access, creation, and control is critical for informed citizens. If learners leave my courses with a better understanding of how they interact with the world and how to access, conscientiously participate in, and critically reform the information landscape in which we live then we will have accomplished a major learning objective. This objective requires that I fully engage in critical, constructivist, and open pedagogies that allow me to be a empathetic guide and mentor rather than a gatekeeper.
I am proud to be part of a process that inspires and facilitates other people’s search for knowledge in life. I hope to continue to dedicate my life to creating environments that enrich people’s vision and ability to change their world.