As a professional educator in the disciplines of conservation, forestry, recreation, and environmental studies, I have accumulated teaching experience with students of various cultures, ages, and backgrounds. My main objective as an educator is to help my students become effective critical thinkers and communicators with practical, environmental problem-solving abilities. To meet that objective, I often engage students to challenge me or share their thoughts on complex subjects. I teach both large lecture courses with enrollments of over 200 students; and several classes with enrollments of 15-40 students. Whatever the enrollment, it is important to me that students understand the basic concepts from several points of view, and then form their own thoughts. Much of the challenge has been to convey the different perspectives of issues, especially in the environmental discipline. This is particularly important in the interdisciplinary program at the Huxley College of the Environment where I am a member of the Department of Environmental Studies.
I bring examples from my research into the classroom, and these examples keep my enthusiasm for teaching high and therefore my energy in the classroom and with students high. As a professor of policy, enthusiasm is the key to keeping students awake, interested, and engaged. Outside the classroom, I also enjoy working with students and see it as important to maintaining their enthusiasm and engagement in policy issues. Thus, I spend a great deal of time working one-on-one with students to further explore disparate and complex resource issues in which they express an interest.
I believe that academic research should enhance an individual's and a community's quality of life.Thus, research, in my field should be viewed by the public as necessary and important. Research and teaching both should also add to the body of knowledge we have about how people interact with their environment. Every individual has a stake in the success of natural resource management and every individual has a right to expect professionals in public institutions to respond to their needs by carrying out research that is timely and needed. Because of that, much of the research I have conducted has been to garner opinions of resource users and their experiences with the environment.
Although both academic and lay definitions of "sustainability" abound, my personal definition of sustainability centers on the notion that we should leave the Earth in better shape for future generations. I encourage students to think about the personal impacts of their everyday activities and how they might contribute to or detract from environmental quality. From this personal perspective, imagine how a community, region, or country might multiply the individual impacts. Because of this notion, sustainability is highlighted in the discipline of Environmental Studies. Not only should students understand the natural science of global climate change, pollution, population, and natural resources, they should understand and apply the social science to human problem-solving approaches. I joke that the students probably aren't thinking about having children but that they need a future world for them. Would they want their children, grandchildren (or other future generations) to inherit a more polluted world in which they experience a decreased quality of life? I think that this reasoning resonates with them.
I hope to inspire and challenge students by experimenting with different teaching and learning methods. I believe that a strict lecture-style format is efficient and can be effective, but I think the talking-head approach is not enough. Depending on the class, I generally talk for about 35-45 minutes and then engage students with various techniques to engage them. These include think-pair-share exercises, case studies, and role playing. For example, in a lecture about pollution I organize students in groups and ask them to describe personal examples about how pollution has affected them. From that point, I use their examples to engage them in a discussion about the policies that are in place to combat pollution as they relate to their lives.
One activity I have used with success is a mock town hall meeting. Students are assigned random viewpoints on an environmental issue. For example, I have used the example of coal-bed methane mining in which students play the role of developer, environmentalist, county commissioner, or local citizen. Students then research the particular viewpoint of their role, and act out their position.
Another successful pedagogical tool has been my use of case studies. I have used case studies my entire career. I find that the case study approach places responsibility for the learning process on the students themselves (see "Not in my backyard case study assignment"). My early success in this is evidenced by the online publication of a case study at the prestigious SUNY Buffalo National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. In activities such as the town halls, debates, or case studies, I expect the students to conduct independent research and use their own creativity to decipher the complexities of an issue. In particular, as a teacher of environmental policy, I believe that students must understand multiple perspectives. I also have been able to integrate my research into case studies.
By using examples from my field and research experience with the Forest Service, I am able to convey the "real-life" dilemmas encountered by the agency. In the case of wilderness management, where motorized vehicles are prohibited, I present the scenario of how to treat life-threatening injuries, and students deliberate on rescue outcomes. I have found that these stories and anecdotes give legitimacy to material presented in the classroom.
To motivate students, I use a variety of strategies that involve the students' own interests. I encourage them to think about their ambitions and desires. Rather than simply conveying information, I ask them "What do you care about?" and, "What inspires you?" in the context of environmental issues. This encourages them to connect their views into otherwise academic material. Although teaching is primarily about empowering students with knowledge, ultimately it is an essential component of my identity as a scholar and citizen. I hope my efforts lead them to be involved citizens who realize their potential for contributing to civic engagement and environmental advocacy.
Since coming to Western Washington University, I have taught a wide variety of courses. These have ranged from a large general education course (Environmental Studies 202), upper-division core classes (Environmental Studies 304), to a capstone (Environmental Studies 442), as well as electives in the Planning and Environmental Policy program. I'd like to briefly describe my approaches in each of these courses.
I regularly teach Environmental Studies 202, twice during the academic year, as well as summer session. Because this course is a University general education option, it always has a high enrollment. Although it is often taught in a lecture format, I try to make the material more accessible and integrative. I base my teachings on resource use characteristics in the United States, and focus on solutions to mass consumerism. Even in a lecture hall, I encourage dialogue and discussion. This is particularly valuable to students who are just entering college because I challenge them to be more aware of their individual actions and effects on the environment (e.g., Ecological Footprint Quiz). Since Environmental Studies 202 is a service class, students from all majors across the University take it. As a result I try to introduce a number of different teaching techniques to try and reach the variety of learning styles.
Due to the success of Environmental Studies 202, I designed and facilitated a two-credit companion course for summer 2005, Environmental Studies 397 titled Consuming the Environment. The course was specifically requested by former students to further investigate consumer culture in the United States. Course enrollment exceeded my expectations, and dialogue and discussions during class were lively and highly interactive. Students commented that "the material was easy to relate to because of the real-world examples" and "thought-provoking material led to good student involvement."
I'm most proud of a course I've developed on measuring sustainability. Beginning in 2005, I taught the course "Explorations in Environmental Studies" (Environmental Studies 320) which takes a large-scale case study to another level. I use the Cascadia Scorecard developed by Sightline (a think-tank in Seattle) to analyze indicators they have developed to measure "progress" in Cascadia, which is a bioregion consisting of the coastal areas of British Columbia, Canada, and the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and northern California. The students found the class both timely and enjoyable. One student sent a note about the course:
"I liked how we use the Cascadia Scorecard as a starting point and have so many other articles and resources presented along with it. Thank you. This class is set up really nicely. I like it. The guest speakers have been wonderful to hear."
I have used this module in Environmental Studies 320 to get students to develop indicators of sustainability. Students identified:
The students are assigned into groups because I feel strongly that students can learn a great deal from each other. These groups of 4-6 students address a real world sustainability problem. In my experience, the group projects are better than when students work individually. I also have students anonymously evaluate each other, which keeps students motivated to do a good job.
I believe students should appreciate the complexity of natural resource decision-making and the efforts of their actions on the larger landscape. That is, the technical decisions they make have cultural, historic, political, and economic connections and should be addressed in that context. To appreciate these connections, students need and want to be involved in classroom activities that bring in the "real world."
Environmental Studies 304 is always a pleasure to teach, and for many students, it is their first exposure to what "policy" is. I try to make adjustments each time I teach it, responding to student evaluations about content. I am pleased that students continue to be active participants in the course. Topical areas include environmental media such as air and water; toxics, scientific risk, and energy policy.
One section of the course addresses human "body burdens," and students are highly engaged in the topic. I ask students to keep a journal about what they put into their bodies–eating, drinking, showering, other everyday activities that may expose them to synthetic chemicals. It's eye-opening to students to realize that even if they consistently eat organic food, there is constant exposure to toxics.
Environmental Studies 442 focuses on the administrative histories of the various resource management agencies in the United States. As in the past, course content focuses on case studies from the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management. It is most often taught as an elective, but in winter of 2005 it was a "capstone course" for graduating seniors. In part because of the capstone requirement, I worked with staff from the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Whatcom Parks, and the Whatcom Land Trust to develop management plans for the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve in nearby Sudden Valley. Collaboration means working closely with the community. Students developed management plans addressing recreation, invasive species, and communications strategies. As a local case study, students were able to access the Reserve quite easily, and felt that they contributed to local resource decision making.
Similarly, I teach Environmental Studies 467 I feel that I can convey the topic of both environmental and natural resource policy in an enthusiastic manner. I rely on a great deal of class discussion, using a variety of teaching techniques (e.g. lecture, discussion, small group interaction, and debate). In this course, I also rely heavily on current events to elucidate natural resource policy issues. As it is in my area of expertise, I feel that I can teach it with passion.
Outreach is also another way to give something back to the community and to involve students in service learning activities. Students in all my classes have opportunities to engage in outreach both through the University and the community. By working with the service group LEAD (Learning Environment Action Discovery), I offer extra credit for students to volunteer in environmental restoration activities. Many of my students work with the Center for Service-Learning in Earth Day activities.
I have been an active member in professional organizations and have formally and informally mentored students over the years. I encourage students to join and become active in these professional organizations as well. I believe strongly that becoming an environmental citizen involves active participation in academics, community service, and professional involvement. Being an environmental citizen means that we as individuals are part of a larger community that involves our ecosystem; maintaining economic, social, and environmental sustainability depends on all of us.