by Casey D. Allen, PhD
My overarching goal in higher education rests in teaching. Teaching represents the reason I chose to earn a master of education degree rather than a master of arts or science in a specific discipline. I often wondered what separated the “cream of the crop” teachers from the mediocre, and while earning my master’s degree, the reason became clear: the mediocre lacked training in pedagogical techniques. Along my pedagogical path, I intertwine a love of geography with the basic, transferable skills of listening, reading, writing, and speaking. As an educator, I work hard to provide students with the necessary skills to be active participants in the processes that shape our world. This ability – or at least, potential – is obtained by thinking spatially (a main tenet of geography), and requires students to be critical and creative thinkers with hands-on, applied experience.
I take my relationships with students very seriously and have high expectations for them, standing ready to help them succeed any way I can. Because I emphasize writing in my courses, students receive detailed, written feedback on each assignment – along with a detailed rubric – so they can play an active role in their success and perform better in the future should they choose.
I also strive to develop a clear understanding of each student’s perspective. When a student's view is respected, they will more readily share them and, if I can better understand their views, asking them questions that will provoke critical and creative thought, or directing them to other research they may find interesting becomes easier. In my classes, students quickly become aware of the unthreatening atmosphere, and find that integrating their views and perceptions into the learning environment, via student-instructor collaboration, enhances learning potential.
Working alongside students to develop their own well-grounded and scholarly perspectives on world topics (both physical and cultural) also remains part of my pedagogy, and I strive to balance the presentation of knowledge with teaching techniques that call for student engagement. To accomplish this, I may use interactive PowerPoint slideshows, in-class discussions and demonstrations, current (popular) media, interactive websites, and field observations. This helps bring geography alive, keepings students engaged in and motivated about learning. Geography knows no bounds as a discipline, and this point is emphasized in all of my classes.
My introductory classes give students a broad base of knowledge they can then apply to more advanced classes, regardless of discipline. More advanced classes give students a chance to “put into practice” the concepts, ideas, and theories they have (hopefully) learned in previous classes. For me, geography in education parallels the thoughts of Immanuel Kant when he said, “I treat [Geography] not with the completeness and philosophical exactitude in each part...but with the rational curiosity of a traveler who collates his collection of observations, and reflects on its design”. More to the point, I see the typical geographic exercise (i.e., field trip, or field-based learning) as the most essential part of geography. Through field experiences the World becomes a geographical pedagogy, exposing students to phenomena beyond “the four walls” of formal education, helping classrooms blossom with intriguing thoughts and discussions. Indeed, incorporating field trips into my classes – whether via the Internet, a slide show, or in situ – remains one of my greatest joys and strengths, for my own ideals, thoughts, and beliefs have often been molded by the artistry of fieldwork.
Utilization of this teaching philosophy has led to students creating profound ranges of visions and ideas capable of changing the World and powerfully-enriching any community. It also helps us remember, and sometimes realize, that at one time or another we are all asked to face the implications one person’s perspective may have for the rest of us, and those perspectives always includes a dynamic array of geography.