Teaching

Synopsis:

The course offerings, syllabi, and personal statement on teaching goals that comprise this page reflect the guiding principles that I discuss on my Teaching Philosophy page. Some of these courses have been offered only once (though soon to be twice in the coming academic year), so I have not yet had the opportunity to test the success of incorporating my reflections as an instructor and the student evaluation comments into my design of these courses. Other courses, however, I have been fortunate enough to be able to offer three or more times (under different titles/numbers), which has permitted me the chance to review and refine the strategies, activities, and learning assessment tools from these courses. For further discussion and summaries of teaching evaluations, student work, and curricular revisions, visit the Teaching Development, Student Work, and Innovative Pedagogy pages, respectively.

I. Statement of Teaching Responsibilities:

2013-Present Instructor, Western Michigan University

  • ANTH 3470 (Honors): Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (Spring 2015, 2016):
    • Enrollment: 12-15 (capped at 25)
    • Demographics: Typically taken by undergraduate non-majors for the General Education requirement; Mixture of sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
    • Departmental Objectives: Although also offered as a non-honors section in the department, this course serves the function of preparing Honors College students for the intensive, high quality writing expected of them for their senior theses. It also fulfills the Department of Anthropology’s goal of students understanding the diversity of this multicultural nation and world along with the cross-cultural tensions that arise and how the anthropological perspective addresses these issues.
    • Instructional Approach: Given these goals, my teaching methods combine broad historical and case-study-based readings, weekly lectures, visual media, and class discussions with biweekly annotated bibliography assignments, written reading questions/comments, formal student discussion leading in pairs, and final research papers incorporating course (anthropological and sociological) concepts.

  • ANTH 2400: Principles of Cultural Anthropology (Fall 2014, 2015; Spring 2016):
    • Enrollment: 25-35 (capped at 45)
    • Demographics: Typically taken by undergraduate non-majors for the General Education requirement; however, there are proportionally more majors in this required course for a major in anthropology; Taken predominantly by freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.
    • Departmental Objectives: This course is designed to give students an introduction to the the methods and theories underpinning the discipline (particularly the subfield of cultural anthropology) through cross-cultural case studies.
    • Instructional Approach: My methods for this course involve a combination of weekly course lectures, brief clips and longer videos with viewing guides to illustrate concepts, interactive board exercises to gauge understanding, longer (periodic) group activities, online discussion board posts over the readings, and an in-depth observation assignment with field notes to develop students’ ethnographic skills and awareness of cultural assumptions. I also administer three exams (multiple choice and short essay) to ensure the students are able to recall and apply key concepts in the lectures and readings.

  • ANTH 1200: Peoples of the World (Summer 2014 -16 – Hybrid; Fall 2015):
    • Enrollment: (a) Summer Hybrid 15-25 (capped at 25) (b) Semester length traditional (in-class) meeting: 130-140 students (capped at 150)
    • Demographics: Typically taken by undergraduate non-majors for the General Education requirement; however; Taken predominantly by freshmen and sophomores.
    • Departmental Objectives: Give majors and non-majors an understanding of global cultural diversity and the impact of culture on human thought and behavior.
    • Instructional Approach: Through three exams, lectures, in-class activities, video, and in-class writings, my goal is to engage students in reflection upon these questions: (a) Given these shifts in communication and interaction, how do anthropologists now examine the nature of local and global influences on the belief systems and daily practices of various cultural groups? (b) How have social and geographic contexts influenced the values and behaviors taken for granted within our own and other societies? (c) What happens in moments of cross-cultural contact, when different cultural values and perspectives collide? How can we address the issues that arise in these moments?
  • These questions are less about students memorizing a range of different cultures than understanding the core ideas of the anthropological perspective as applied to modern day interactions between ever-changing societies and their cultural norms and ideals. To illustrate these key questions, though, I introduce a variety of briefly and more extensively described cultural case studies via readings/lectures.

  • SOC 2000: Principles of Sociology (Fall 2013, Spring and Fall 2014):
    • Enrollment: 65 (capped at 65)
    • Demographics: Typically taken by undergraduate non-majors for the General Education requirement; however, there are more majors in this required course for a major in sociology and/or criminal justice; Taken predominantly by freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.
    • Departmental Objectives: This course serves as both a prerequisite for sociology majors to take upper level courses and a broad survey of the core theories, methodologies, and concepts of social behavior in the discipline of Sociology, which fulfills a general education requirement.
    • Instructional Approach: For this course, I follow a lecture-oriented style with visuals and video, full class discussion questions, textbook and short article readings, and biweekly in-class writings that asked students to reflect on material being covered and its connections to the assigned readings for that week. I also administer three exams to check for understanding of essential sociological ideas. The exam questions – much like many of my lectures – use examples/scenarios that students would then connect to a key course term or case study/reading discussion. Students are less familiar with this style, but my rationale is that application of concepts exceeds memorization of definitions with respect to depth of comprehension.

  • SOC 2820: Methods of Data Collection (Fall 2013, 2016):
    • Enrollment: 30-45 (capped at 45)
    • Demographics: Largely filled by upperclassmen (sophomores, juniors, and seniors) as a required course for those majoring in Criminal Justice/Sociology.
    • Departmental Objectives: Provide majors in the discipline (or related fields) with the basic qualitative (and some quantitative) methods – along with the rationale behind the selection of different methods – applied by social scientists.
    • Instructional Approach: I presented material through PowerPoint lectures with visuals/examples to illustrate each method discussed. Students demonstrate understanding of these methods through three exams and applied knowledge through two methods projects. A few of the adjustments I plan to make to my approach when I offer it in Fall 2016 are to update the ethnographic examples I use as case studies; revision of some of the multiple choice questions that proved difficult for even the most successful and diligently prepared students in the class; and revising/adding more in-class discussions of concepts each week.

2012-2013 Future Faculty Teaching Fellow, Indiana University South Bend

  • A385: Racial and Ethnic Identities (Spring 2013):
    • Enrollment: 10-15 (capped at 25)
    • Demographics: Mostly upperclassmen enrolled, though one or two first year students did take the course. This course fulfilled a general education requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences, so a majority of the students were non-majors (in the Sociology and Anthropology Department).
    • Department Objectives: Similar topics courses had been taught before in the department in order to define and discuss race and ethnicity for majors and non-majors, but this was a new title, design, and organization of the course.
    • Instructional Approach: Almost identical to my approach in offering ANTH 3470 as an Honors section at Western Michigan University (above). Aside from developing my skills as a facilitator for student discussion leading days, the aforementioned design worked so well here (see student feedback) that very little was changed (with the exception of updating some readings).

  • E105: Culture and Society (Fall 2012, Spring 2013):
    • Enrollment: 40-50 (capped at 50)
    • Demographics: This is a course meant to be more accessible to non-majors, so mainly freshmen, sophomores, and a few upperclassmen majoring in other disciplines enroll in the course.
    • Department Objectives: See above discussion of ANTH 2400 (though E105 attracts more non-majors).
    • Instructional Approach: This was the first time I taught an introductory course in Anthropology, so I stayed fairly close to the brief introductory text that I assigned when preparing my lectures and lecture examples. It is worth adding, though, that nearly half of the class meetings involved either an in-class activity (adapted or self-designed) or video with viewing guide to illustrate the lecture concepts discussed in the previous class period that week. I evaluated students through midterm and final exams along with in-class writings and an ethnographic project (that I later realized expected too much methodological work for the course subject and level).

  • A390: Racial and Ethnic Humor in the U.S. (Fall 2012):
    • Enrollment: 10-15 (capped at 25)
    • Demographics: Mostly upperclassmen enrolled, though one or two first year students did take the course. This course fulfilled a general education requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences, so many of the students were non-majors. I did owe some enrollment to intradepartmental (Sociology and Anthropology Department) word of mouth/advertising.
    • Departmental Objectives: This was a topics course for the department that was only offered once (as I designed the topic and original syllabus). The course fulfilled a general education requirement, which did assist in attaining the enrollment necessary to allow it to be offered.
    • Instructional Approach: I applied some non-traditional instructional strategies with this course. Most class sessions involved either an in-class writing or an introduction of relevant terminology, full class discussion of comedy/humor clips, occasional lecture and blackboard demonstrations of concepts, and group-based discussions of readings that each group later presented and discussed with the other discussion groups. A semester-long humor journal (written with a visual component), three papers (reading analysis, humor composition, and ethnographic observation project), and weekly in-class writings comprised the tools I used to evaluate their learning. The papers required students to use readings from the course along with lecture vocabulary to inform and help them to analyze their own humor compositions, journals, and comedy performance observations. I am tentatively scheduled to offer this course at Western Michigan University in Spring 2017 and plan to reduce the load of writing assignments modestly as well as the disproportionate amount of discussion time (in favor of a little more lecture/context) given student feedback on these points.

II. Representative Course Syllabi:

III. Personal Statement on Five-year Teaching Development Goals:

The past five years of teaching as a doctoral student and later as a professional with a Ph.D. in Anthropology have provided me with the opportunity to identify both my strengths and weaknesses as an instructor, as well as how well assignments and different teaching styles work depending on a variety of contextual factors. In the statement that follows, I will detail three core areas of my pedagogical approach that I intend to refine and improve over the next five years. Some of the discussion below may be found reiterated in other pages on this website (as noted in the “Synopsis”), though I have endeavored to make the information provided in each location distinctive with a minimum of redundancy.

One of the core goals of my teaching has always been to ensure my students do not simply memorize information presented in lectures and discussions, but make it their own, framed and constructed within the context of their individual familiar references and knowledge bases. This requires frequently assessing their thought processes through in-class, short, and research-based writing assignments, as befits the course level and objectives. While I have largely succeeded on this point with my smaller courses (ANTH 3470 and Hybrid ANTH 1200) with enrollments that rarely exceed 20 students, I have long felt frustrated with improving the writing and critical thinking skills in my classes with 50+ students, where individualized attention and grading time has been limited due to the lack of a teaching assistant to take on some of the load. For introductory courses like SOC 2000 and to a lesser degree, ANTH 2400, I have a tendency to reduce their writing load to either biweekly in-class writings or quarterly discussion board posts. Through interaction with other award-winning instructors at Western Michigan University (particularly, David Paul) and attendance at the annual Teaching with Technology Symposia sponsored by WMU, I have gathered some strategies I plan to implement/test within these courses. First, though still labor intensive, I plan to integrate weekly in-class questions, requiring only 3-5 minutes, meant to measure degree of comprehension/attention during class. While this is ostensibly for working on their writing and retention skills, it also will aid in identifying where my lectures and discussions could use some greater clarity and accessibility. Another possible solution to this situation, perhaps more applicable to the somewhat smaller ANTH 2400 course, would be to apply a smart phone-based technology like Socrative, as discussed by Dr. Sue Caufield at the most recent TwT Symposium, that enables the instructor to pose questions and receive instant feedback from students during class as well as to set up forums for students to pose questions during and outside of class time. This could be rather less intimidating for many students than composing an email to the instructor.

A second objective for my teaching development is to find more effective ways to give feedback on student writing. Students at Western Michigan University range widely in their writing skills and the amount of encouragement and constructive critique they have received before entering one of my courses. With such diversity in writing preparation, I have found it a challenge to adapt the level of detail and focus of my feedback to each individual. Frequently, I suspect some students have felt overwhelmed with the number of grammatical, stylistic, organizational, and content-based comments I have made on their written assignments. My goal over the next few years is to develop a system for more effectively assessing the level of writing preparation of each student, so that I can tailor my suggestions to what they most need to work on, while offering encouragement on what they are doing well. Toward this end, I am enrolled in a workshop entitled, “Writing to Learn,” to be facilitated at Western Michigan University by the Lee Honors College and Office of Faculty Development in August/September 2016. The workshop text, “Embracing Writing: Ways to Teach Reluctant Writers in Any College Course,” should offer pointed insights on best practices for developing the talents of students who lack confidence in their ability to write well. This, of course, is only a first step, and I plan to further develop my competence as a writing facilitator through incorporation of supplemental resources students may reference when writing papers. These include: Grammarly, NoodleTools, and Mendeley, which provide everything from assistance on writing mechanics and formatting to guidance in annotating articles for use in research papers.

Finally, a more specific goal of mine is to improve my skills as both an instructor and facilitator of discussion with respect to the related subjects of race and ethnicity. I have taught courses on race, ethnicity and racial and ethnic humor (my research area) over the past five years. While I have adapted an array of activities and pedagogical styles to open up a safe space for students to discuss the topic in an informed and respectful manner, I plan to take the next five years building upon my prior attendance and presentations at professional conferences, symposia, and workshops in anthropology and sociology by participating in more of the innovative pedagogy workshops and panels offered. I also recently became aware of the annual National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE), which would provide more focused research and insights into creating a classroom and campus climate that welcomes, includes, and supports students who might otherwise feel left out of the higher education community and culture.

As I work on the above three major foci for teaching development, I will pursue greater engagement with Office of Faculty Development (OFD) on campus and the forthcoming part-time teaching fellow appointee. I have not been observed in the classroom since my position as a teaching fellow at Indiana University South Bend, and this would be an excellent time, as OFD develops its staffing and opportunities offered for teaching development, to seek constructive suggestions through professional evaluation on how better to achieve my instructional goals.