To explain too much is to steal a person’s opportunity to learn
– Thomas Buckley (explaining Yoruk ways of knowing)
For every course I teach, my first goal is to clearly define the expectations I have for students and what they can expect from me. I am an organized person… to put it mildly, and I do think it helps for students to know what to expect throughout the course. I draft a comprehensive syllabus that provides students with a reference for any question they may have about the types of assignments, grading, the format of exams, and course policies on topics such as dishonesty and disability needs. Most importantly, I outline the course objectives, which in my courses, include learning and understanding important anthropological principles related to the class as well as learning broader concepts useful to students regardless of academic and career interests. Anthropology is a holistic field that has something for all students. It’s just a matter of showing them that.
I strive to create a dynamic classroom that brings together multiple teaching tools and resources. I do this for two reasons: to prevent monotony and to ensure that the information presented is being understood at a meaningful level. I also make use of web-based teaching resources to encourage interaction outside the classroom and provide opportunities for web-savvy students to display their skills in online forums and activities. In many of my courses, I use field trips and hands-on experiences to offer students the opportunity to apply their new knowledge and to encourage them to make connections between what they are learning and other areas of their lives, both academic and non. The use of multiple teaching methods and environments allows me to present information in several formats, ensuring that students understand the concepts and information and their applicability.
In addition, I evaluate students in multiple formats through quizzes, exams, research and opinion papers, and class participation. The combination varies depending on the level and topic of the course, but I always incorporate at least three different formats. I do so because everyone learns in different ways. This approach allows students to showcase their strengths while improving their weaknesses. It also allows me to evaluate their learning on different levels. I want to ensure that they are not only learning necessary facts and concepts but that they also understand the material enough to synthesize and apply it.
Throughout my own education, I was taught to apply the anthropological concepts of holism and relativism to my own life, not just memorize what they mean. I was taught see the interconnectivity of different disciplines and how lessons in the classroom can help me navigate the world in which I live. I feel that my role as an educator is to provide my students with the same tools. Students should be intellectually challenged with the goal of making them both better students and better members of society. I believe this is achieved by stressing communication skills, encouraging critical thinking, and showing students the utility of anthropological concepts in their academic, professional, and personal lives. To improve students’ communication and interpersonal skills, I create a comfortable and interactive learning atmosphere. This begins with making students feel comfortable in the classroom setting. I learn students’ names so that everyone is included in discussions and no one can fade into the background. I strongly encourage everyone to participate. I also have them do group work early in the semester giving them the opportunity to get acquainted with their classmates. I feel students are more willing to answer questions and voice their opinion when they are comfortable with their audience. I also encourage participation by designing interactive lectures. I often start by asking what they already know about the topic from readings or prior experiences, and I ask questions designed to encourage participation by all students. Although I also ask questions about content and comprehension, these opinion-based questions are less risky for students, so they are a way to get conversations started and encourage everyone to participate throughout the class, regardless of the type of question being asked.
I encourage critical thinking by constantly challenging students to apply the material learned to actual anthropological questions. I do not want students to simply memorize facts and concepts. I want them to learn, synthesize, and apply them. Therefore, I intertwine lecture material with examples or questions that require the use of recently presented information. I believe that if students think beyond the facts and theories presented to them and begin to see how they are used, they truly begin to understand anthropology. I periodically present students with archaeological evidence and ask them to interpret it and provide possible explanations. Or, I present them with a question or problem and ask them what evidence they would want to find. This encourages students to think from an anthropological perspective, and I believe it helps them understand theories and concepts instead of simply memorizing them. I also regularly assign research articles and have the students discuss their thoughts and opinions on the findings and merit of the work. I want students to evaluate the sources of the information that are presented to them in textbooks and that we discuss during class.
In line with my overall approach, I believe that one of my most important roles is that of a mentor. Undergraduate students should be encouraged to participate in mentored and independent research regardless of their field of interest. These experiences provide excellent environments for students to apply their knowledge and produce new and valuable research. In addition, they get an opportunity to experience every aspect of anthropological research including generating a research question, conducting background research, and presenting their results (in addition to the data collection and analyses). For students interested in a career in anthropology or related fields, this gives them valuable experience doing anthropology. For students interested in other career paths, the experience and lessons of successfully planning and executing a research project are broadly applicable. In addition, the experience of producing original research helps students understand the anthropological perspective and why it is important and relevant to modern people and the problems we face.
Both inside and outside of the classroom, I always try to remain flexible and open to the changing learning environment. In my view, a significant part of being a good teacher is being extremely attentive and never ceasing to be a student. Thus, I am always trying to learn how to be a better teacher—how to improve my teaching skills and my approach to education.
Finally, I believe that educators have a responsibility to share their knowledge with more than just the student body of their employing institution. I also believe this extends to our students, and it is important to incorporate service opportunities into courses when applicable. These types of activities offer great opportunities for students to share their knowledge and for them to see how it can be useful and helpful outside of an academic setting.
I currently teach the following courses:
ANT 112: Introduction to Archaeology
ANT 374: North American Prehistory
ANT 358: Native Peoples of North America
ANT 381 & 382: Summer Archaeology Field Program in North Carolina
FYS 100: Wide World of Sport
Seminar on the anthropological study of Conflict and Warfare