Jessie Turner, Women's and Gender Studies
Teaching is activism, and education is a vehicle to consciousness. With this goal
in mind, learners learn best when they are actively involved, challenged with a range
of perspectives and media on the same topic, and when they can see the relevance and
broader applicability of the subject, activities, and skills they are learning. Therefore,
three central values guide my student-centered teaching: 1) co-responsibility for
learning, 2) instructional variety, and 3) connection to and applicability of material.
First, education is a shared project for which students must also take responsibility in terms of preparation, participation, and evaluation. At the beginning of each course my students and I jointly develop course expectations as well as learn each other's names. My curricula always privilege student-led discussion and activities as well as allowing for "wiggle room" to respond to student suggestions (e.g. substituting a reading, working collaboratively rather than individually on a project).
This educational co-responsibility requires that various feedback fora be in place. Periodic, anonymous student evaluations are extremely helpful in gauging the activities, pace, and conviviality of a course. I compile mid-course evaluation responses and share them, along with my thoughts on them, with the class. In this way, students can see that their feedback is valued, as a base for, first, a basic conversation on pedagogy, and second, potential adjustment of my teaching. Also, strategizing the types of questions I ask in class (e.g. lower and higher order thinking skills) maintains productive dialogue, while quick check-ins—"thumbs up/thumbs down/thumbs sideways"—diffuse blank stares. In these ways students become further invested in the course and its communal success.
Second, instructional variety maintains student and instructor engagement by recognizing multiple learning modes and interests. I offer students various multidisciplinary epistemological modes of accessing and engaging information and for producing their own analytical work; these include video, internet, the visual and performing arts, and creative and "traditionally academic" writing. This variety broadens students' tool belts and facilitates application of theory to the day-to-day, multimedia world in which students operate beyond the classroom. A diversity of small and large group in-class and out-of-class activities creates dialogic, experiential spaces that allow students to actively and directly work with course material. Specific sample activities include: writing thesis statements that synthesize a set of readings (which can then double as a study guide or beginning of a paper); designing/disseminating fact sheets via social media; researching and presenting topic timelines; producing mock infomercials, movie trailers, and radio announcements; writing "letters to the editor"; and organizing debates.
Third, it is essential that students, whatever their background or initial investment in social justice, be able to find a connection to the material and apply course concepts to "real world" situations. As such, students find it helpful to practice "translating" discourse and specific theories into accessible language and examples for a variety of audiences and situations (e.g., frat parties, dinner with parents, job interviews), often coming up with ideas I had not thought of. Furthermore, while many of my students are WGS majors/minors, many are not. For the latter, whether they take my courses to fill a requirement or for exploration, it's crucial to create opportunities for students to understand, recognize, and critique the way that gender, race, and class, for example, play out in "far away" places as well as those "closer to home," such as USF.
In sum, the pedagogical values of 1) co-responsibility for learning, 2) instructional variety, and 3) connection to and applicability of material structure my teaching. As one of my greatest passions, I strive to continue growing as an educator. For example, I endeavor to further integrate technology into my courses, as well as improve my online pedagogy.