As an educator with over twenty years of experience at all levels of education, I believe that effective teaching is a constantly shifting and evolving praxis that nonetheless proceeds from a few key pedagogical strategies to support successful and transformative learning environments.
EQUITY, DIVERSITY, AND INCLUSIVITY
Participating in professional development programs such as the Agile Teaching Academy (ASU, 2020), Inclusive Graduate Teaching Certificate Program (UCSC, 2019), and Diversity & Inclusion Certificate Program (UCSC, 2015) has allowed me to deepen my understanding of the ways in which boundaries based on gender, class, race, social capital, and physical, emotional, and cognitive capabilities impact learning. I have actively implemented strategies to protect against structural inequities and micro-aggressions in my classrooms, including generating group agreements with students to build safe and brave learning spaces. I incorporate Universal Design for Learning principles for inclusive teaching to vary the ways in which content is delivered, options for student engagement, and opportunities for students to demonstrate learning. I scaffold assignments so students can build on new or developing skill sets that complement classroom instruction. And I target different learning strengths by folding in a variety of activities such as small group work, reflection exit tickets, peer review, class blogs, and non-graded short writing assignments.
The most rewarding aspect of teaching is that learning is generative and operates in all directions. I build a collaborative and dialogical space inside the classroom where my students and I learn from one another. For example, in courses such as “American Identities on the Margins” at SFSU and “Activist Art in Mexico” at UCSC, I used in-class cooperative discussion groups to allow students more intimate, non-hierarchical venues to discuss the material, to encounter shared values, and to respectfully acknowledge each others’ perspectives even when there is disagreement. Each student served once as a discussion facilitator alongside one other student in the group, posing points of discussion and questions and offering related information, texts, or visual material. Student facilitators thus develop skills in encouraging and sustaining discussion and have the opportunity to share their own reflections on and challenges around course material. As an instructor, I gain crucial insight into the ways in which my course content intersects with my students’ lives and their most pressing social, political, and personal concerns. I also incorporated class blogs with weekly assignments for students to both post writing reflections and to read and comment on other students’ posts. Taking into account differing learning styles, assignments like these make room for those who are uncomfortable participating in in-class discussions to contribute in other ways.
Thinking critically across disciplines supports fruitful connections between fields, offers a variety of methodologies from which to draw, and fosters innovative approaches to material. I model interdisciplinarity for my students in the organization of my courses. In my Humanities classes at SFSU, “Mapping Selfhood: Identity and its Connection to Place” and “Outsider Narratives, Outsider Voices,” a handful of thematic units were explored through various media. Each unit typically included a visual artist study, a film, and a work of literature, diversifying modes of learning for students who have strengths in different knowledge areas but also challenging students to critically engage with a topic from several different formats and perspectives. This approach was further supported by writing assignments encouraging students to analyze not just to the content of material but also the ways in which its presentation and display impacted the production of meaning. Thus interdisciplinary inquiry allowed students to assess the ways in which form and content are dynamic and co-constitutive elements of a work and to understand how as media makers and consumers, they are both constructing and constructed by culture.
VISUAL THINKING STRATEGIES
As a scholar of visual culture, I aim to disrupt passive consumption within what is commonly referred to as our “image-saturated society” by encouraging more critical, socially aware, and historically grounded engagements with visual materials. To facilitate this process with those uninitiated into the practice of thinking about visual culture and media in relationship to critical theory and to avoid the forced approach of “applying” theory to visual culture, my courses proceed from the understanding that interrogating the visual must begin with a renewed praxis of looking. I employ tactics modified from Visual Thinking Strategies to facilitate discussion with clear, unintimidating questions like what’s going on in this image? followed by what visual evidence can you cite to support your assessment? I find that such questions establish an immediate entry point for discussion based on direct observation wherein attention to detail in form, materials, and basic content sets the groundwork for more sophisticated questions about concepts, aims, audience, and historical, political, and social contexts. From there, I encourage engagement with critical theory using these foundational visual observations and the questions they generated as gateways into complex theoretical precepts. For example, in a course like “Approaches to Visual Studies” at UCSC, we may begin discussion about postcolonial theories by looking at contemporary British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shinobare’s installations of British empire-building scenes performed by mannequins wearing gentry attire fashioned from Dutch print West African textiles. Observations about hybridity in fashion may lead to questions about how visual and material culture circulate, which forms a basis for discussion about the colonial encounter and the complex relationships between the formations of colonialism, postcolonialism, and globalization.
I strive for greater transparency with students regarding my course expectations and try to support the success of all students regardless of their backgrounds, identities, or learning styles with multiform approaches to assessment. I develop rubrics with student input when practicable and combine traditional modes of evaluation such as quizzes and exams with assessment of class participation, presentations, written assignments, and interactive out-of-class activities like blog posts and field research. I also incorporate some low-stakes grading and peer-to-peer evaluation. For example, in my advanced Humanities writing seminar at SFSU, I used a contract grading policy. Students could enter into a good faith contract whereby as long as they completed and turned in each of the writing assignments on time, they would get at least a “B” letter grade for each assignment. They could also revise and resubmit as many of the assignments as they wished as part of a writing portfolio at the end of the semester. We practiced peer-review and immediate decision grading, a process that allowed them to observe and employ the tools of assessment. A few students would volunteer to have their paper evaluated during class time, similar to a critique in a studio class setting. After having their peers evaluate their paper, I shared the grade I would assign and provided thorough justifications and feedback. By the end of my course, the majority of students showed vast improvement in their prose, enhanced proficiency in starting and completing assignments, and greater overall confidence in their writing acumen.
Experiential learning strategies in my courses enable students to become active participants in their learning process through meaningful interactions with instructors, peers, and other members of society. I encourage students to extend our learning spaces beyond the classroom and to explore the ways in which the pursuit of knowledge finds some of its most meaningful expressions in service to others. For their final projects in my “Activist Art in Mexico” course at UCSC, students could choose to write research papers analyzing the art and visual culture of a social justice struggle in any place and time period or they could produce visual material responding to a socio-political issue in their own communities. Several students formed collaborative groups to create art projects addressing critical on-campus issues that mattered to them such as trans inclusivity in calling for all-gender restrooms. One student whose parents were farmworkers at local farms that were exploiting migrant labor rights created posters for a boycott of the national company the farms distributed to. Her intervention led to the county’s participation in a national boycott that pressured the company to implement sweeping labor reforms at their farms. In putting the methods we study into practice, learning becomes explicitly intertwined with how we engage with our communities and in exploring how we can individually and collectively become change agents in world.