Statement of Teaching and Learning Philosophy
In the second chapter of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Freire critiques the ‘banking’ approach to education in which learners are considered passive, empty accounts that should be filled by experts. I agree with Freire’s critique. Learners’ agency is core to their acquisition and creation of knowledge.
In my experience, learning processes are adaptive relations between learners, teachers, contexts, and subject matter.This statement outlines the principles by which I endeavor to facilitate and enhance those relations in order to allow learning to flourish. These are 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.
These principles are constant reminders of my guiding sources of inspiration in critical pedagogy, open pedagogy, and constructivist learning theories. While these principles have helped me teach and learn, they are not perfect and they will certainly 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.
Open educational practices lead to better learning relationships.
I am an open education advocate. Open educational practices involve engaging with open education resources (OERs), open science, open access, open data, open policy, and open pedagogy. The ethos of open education is well-stated in the Cape Town Open Education Declaration. My work 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 three 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 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.