Succinctly stated, my goal in teaching is to encourage students to become engaged global citizens. This goal emerges directly from my work in Gender Studies, Philosophy, Ethics, Religion, and Cultural Studies. My religious studies training prompts me to emphasize changed worldviews over memorized facts. My cultural studies work motivates me to challenge students to think about the ways that their own media consumption and consumer habits shape their lives and the world. My gender studies training compels me to include in my challenge to students’ worldviews and to their consumption habits questions about how they might themselves be participating in structures of sexism, heterosexism, racism, or classism. All of these questions are then framed by philosophical analysis on how these views, habits, and structures impact identity formation, community building, and global events and politics. While learning course content is, of course, important, the core objective of my teaching is to have students leave the classroom with a new perspective about themselves and their place in the world. With this goal in mind, I employ three pedagogical strategies that incorporate elements of all of these commitments and concerns.
First, I always work to create a safe, open, and respectful learning environment. Because of the personally challenging and very interactive nature of my courses, students can and do articulate their deeply held beliefs and discuss personal experiences that are relevant to the topics at hand. Therefore, at the beginning of each course, I encourage our classroom community to consider establishing a confidentiality agreement. Such an agreement sets the tone for safe and open discussion. Furthermore, my discussion facilitation consistently shows students that intelligent and ethical people can view topics from a variety of perspectives, thus underlining that no one’s views are “wrong” but perhaps only in need of additional reflection. In this way, students learn to understand and analyze differing perspectives, while also being empowered to decide for themselves which perspectives are most compelling or most helpful to them personally.
Another important aspect of my teaching strategy is that I embrace innovative teaching methods and enjoy bringing new forms of technology and media into the classroom. By bringing technology into the classroom, I believe that I am helpfully challenging students’ assumptions about technology’s role in the world. For example, when I make use of Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube in the classroom, students begin to see that these technologies are not simply trivial forms of entertainment, but are tools for engagement with social and political issues. Students have responded well to this strategy, and one student even created a Facebook group so that our in-class topics could be addressed by her larger network of contacts.
Thirdly, I challenge students to break down the perceived boundaries between academic pursuits and daily life. This strategy is manifested in the semester long projects that I assign in my “Sexual Ethics” course. That project requires students to research and present on a sexual ethics topic of their choice (for example, the sexualization of violence against women in print advertising), then to research and present on two activist organizations that are working on that issue. At the end of the project, students are asked to write an essay that explains whether or not they would personally become involved with either of the activist organizations that they researched. This assignment helps students learn about a real-world problem and the ways that it is already being addressed, but it also challenges them to think about what they can personally do to impact the issue.
In summary, by employing these strategies, I nurture a safe and open environment where students are encouraged to critically examine their use of technology (and media in general) and where they learn that they can personally impact change in the world. Each of these strategies grows organically from my academic training and research commitments, and I believe that these strategies are important for helping students become engaged global citizens.