As a lifelong learner, I am motivated to acquire and create new knowledge, and to share these gains through my commitment to lifelong teaching. This desire to learn and teach propels me towards a career that combines my enthusiasm for researching coastal geomorphologic change, for communicating my science, and for inspiring others – namely college students – to pursue a life of inquiry and interest in the natural world. As a professor, I envision myself teaching a wide diversity of courses including undergraduate and graduate level; in-person, field, and online; and large- and small-enrollment. As an earth scientist, studying the societally-relevant topic of coastal geomorphic change, I seek a career that allows me to continue my outreach and engagement with the public.
Higher education should seek to provide knowledge, skills, and experiences for students related to their chosen career path, but more importantly teach students how to acquire new knowledge, skills, and experiences for themselves. Higher education must also provide students with life experiences that allow them to be informed and engaged citizens. Further, higher education must afford students with tools to improve their lives and those of others. These goals should be universal to higher education; thus, I will focus on my personal goals as I strive for excellence in teaching. (1) Perhaps most importantly, I strive to create equitable teaching and learning environments for my students pursuing earth science degrees and careers. (2) I also seek to be a teacher that provides students with transformational learning experiences. (3) Lastly, through incorporation of best teaching practices including careful, frequent evaluation and revision of my teaching, I hope to constantly improve my teaching.
1. Equitable Teaching
I seek to create equitable learning environments. Implicit bias, though sometimes subtle and difficult to measure scientifically, is pervasive; it hinders the success of those it targets throughout their entire academic careers. As a woman in science, I have experienced and witnessed this first-hand. As a White scientist, I feel I must use my privilege to dismantle socially unjust systems. There unfortunately exists no simple solution that will eliminate implicit bias and the issues it poses. However, teachers must recognize the social hierarchies, even those that are implicit, and those that students may be unaware of, and mitigate inequity as much as possible. The focus of higher educational institutions must shift from recruitment and retention to attracting and producing a thriving diversity of students. The learning environments should be equitable, meaning that students should feel safe, validated, supported, and challenged.
My participation in seminars and workshops has enlightened me towards the importance of teaching within a diversity of contexts. Changing contexts change how we see ourselves and our students, and how our students see themselves and us. The importance placed on different aspects of our identities will change with time, location, etc, which may refer to interpersonal, community, structural, and/or domestic/international contexts. The workshops I have attended taught me practical strategies for teaching within different contexts. These included learning to communicate within the context of other cultures, using student-centered and culturally mediated instruction, and viewing oneself as a facilitator of education.
Moreover, towards applying this knowledge, my work with the Oregon State University (OSU) Science & Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) program aimed to increase participation of traditionally-underrepresented children in earth sciences. SMILE provides underrepresented Oregon K-12 students with pathway programs to degrees and careers in STEM. My hands-on activities guided high school students, elementary school students, and K-12 teachers in the SMILE program through an experiment investigating organic carbon burial in salt marsh cores at the OSU Marine Geology Repository. This experience not only exposed the SMILE students to earth science content, often lacking in current K-12 curricula, but also engaged them as scientists in exciting, societally-relevant research happening in their region.
2. Transformational Teaching
I seek never to suffer from “narration sickness”, wherein teachers are tasked with depositing their information into students . I have witnessed this phenomenon often as a student in my STEM courses. Too frequently earth science professors approach difficult, societally-relevant issues, such as those related to climate change, from only the scientific perspective. By not incorporating students’ experiences, the significance of the issue is often lost in this method of teaching. Higher education, when viewed as a process of critical inquiry performed by students and teachers as equals can be transformative and lead to social change. I therefore intend to teach content centered around discussions on complicated and controversial issues related to earth system processes that draw upon the students’ experiences. This form of progressive, problem-solving education provides a means of empowerment for and increases participation by under-represented groups in lifelong learning.
As a GTA for an advanced oceanography course – geological oceanography – I worked to narrow the perceived intellectual gap between myself and my students through careful redirection of questions. Additionally, supplemental to my GCCUT curriculum, I elected to learn about difference, power, and discrimination through inclusive classroom coursework (OSU GRAD 542). In association with this class, I designed a proposed course investigating the intersection of global change, natural resources, and socio-economic inequality. As an example lesson plan, I devised a discussion exploring environmental injustice surrounding preparation, mitigation, and perception of large storm events, with a focus on Hurricane Katrina. I am eager to deliver this and similar content in my future position.
3. Evaluation & Growth
I additionally strive to incorporate best teaching practices in my classrooms. For instance, despite the challenges associated with connecting students with their natural environment, especially in online and large-enrollment courses, we as educators must incorporate more of these experiences into our lesson plans to combat poor retention of students in the earth sciences. Authentic experiences are especially crucial in introductory earth science courses, as these experiences tend to be the most impactful. Towards accumulating transformative teaching experiences during my graduate degree, I developed and implemented authentic learning activities that enhance how my students view, value, and interact with their natural environment.
As an example, I helped develop laboratory assignments for a newly offered laboratory-based course for undergraduate students. All activities and laboratory assignments were developed by me (as a graduate teaching assistant) and the primary instructor to provide students with authentic learning opportunities that emulate real, scientific data analysis. For instance, I helped develop a laboratory activity for students to analyze real-world stream gauge data maintained by the US Geological Survey. The project asks students to analyze stream discharge and suspended sediment time series data, develop a research narrative that integrates the peer-reviewed literature, and present their findings in a report format. Each student was assigned a unique river and was given freedom to investigate any aspect of interest related to the record of sediment discharge. This authentic learning experience provides students the opportunity to work with real-world data and to communicate a final research product.
Virtual learning is becoming increasingly more prevalent in today’s academic environments. Online learning provides the opportunity for students from around the world to acquire a low-cost, flexible, convenient education. Large enrollment courses are becoming more popular as online courses become more common. Though these courses are efficient and cost-effective, students are often placed in a passive role. Because it is unlikely that large institutions will reduce class sizes, we as educators must find instructional techniques to increase active and cooperative learning. I have therefore sought opportunities to gain practical strategies to facilitate engaged learning in large-enrollment, online courses. As a graduate teaching assistant, I have assisted in teaching a number of high-enrollment, introductory courses, introductory online courses, and writing intensive, online courses. These experiences taught me valuable, practical knowledge applicable to future courses I will teach. To further my knowledge of instructional strategies important in maintaining an active learning environment within large-enrollment and online courses, I participated in workshops, seminars, and short-courses during my graduate degree. In an effort to continue improving my teaching skills within the virtual environment, I have also paid careful attention to assessments I receive from my online students.
To achieve excellence in teaching, we must constantly evaluate our pedagogy. The importance of self-evaluation cannot be over-stated – simply put, it allows us to understand what has been working and what needs revision to ensure our students’ success towards becoming individual thinkers and learners. As an example of my thoughtfulness related to evaluation, as a GTA for an introductory geology course for graduate students I evaluated end-of-term student evaluations of my teaching and created a detailed, analytic rubric to incorporate into laboratory exercises. Not only does this rubric make grading more efficient and less biased, it more clearly states the expectations for the students, who in response rose to my expectations and improved their performance.
Through my teaching, I strive to provide students with the skills and experience to be independent learners once they have graduated. My ultimate goal is to be a teacher who provides her students with experiential learning that is transformative to their world-views. I want to be the type of educator that inspires students to become teachers themselves.
 Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, Continuum.