Learning through Collaboration and dialogue
As an educator in the field of anthropology, my main objective is that my students gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. My courses, regardless of specific topic, are structured to highlight preconceptions about humanity and to encourage students to consider how the world might be understood differently. My teaching philosophy is rooted in the belief that the classroom should be a venue for growth through dialogue. I guide my students as they collectively explore course concepts and discover how they are relevant to their own lives. In smaller classes, I manage class conversations to create space for all students to contribute and gain clarity on difficult topics. In larger classrooms, in which open discussions are more difficult, I use online forums to facilitate conversational learning and to give students the chance to exhibit their comprehension of course materials outside of the classroom.
While my classes emphasize collaborative learning, they also encourage engagement with diverse perspectives that sometimes challenge dominant interpretations. I assign texts that cover issues relevant to disempowered groups such as indigenous peoples and nations of the Global South, as well as those authored by scholars from these groups. This teaches students to interrogate issues from multiple positions. In the class “Trojan Archaeology,” students explored the history and archaeology of Los Angeles. Invited speakers, including a Native American archaeologist, taught students about the ethical and legal dilemmas concerning archaeological remains. Students also visited the Natural History Museum-LA and analyzed the glaring underrepresentation of indigenous and other minority groups in the “Discovering LA” exhibit. Inspired by these experiences, many students designed their final projects around the subject of decolonizing archaeology. They created a wide-range of non-traditional mechanisms—including a board game, a comic book, and a television script—for teaching non-academic audiences about the archaeology and history of Los Angeles. I co-authored an article for Anthropology Now (published September 2018) that details the design, execution, and efficacy of this course.
I assess my students in different ways, balancing some traditional testing with long-term projects that provide opportunities to apply course concepts to complex issues. These projects emphasize critical, deliberative thinking and facilitate thoughtful engagement with class materials. I find projects that slowly build over time and incorporate collaborative elements as well as opportunities to work independently are very effective. One example is an activity I incorporated into my Introduction to Archaeology course, which focused on the ethical concerns of archaeologists. I presented small groups with various ethical dilemmas facing real archaeologists all over the world, and also provided them with a copy of the Society for American Archaeology’s “Principles of Archaeological Ethics”. Groups then decided how they would navigate these scenarios and shared their solutions with the class through short presentations. Flipping the flow of information, and placing students in the position of teachers activates a different kind of learning, and encourages students to use critical reasoning skills. I particularly like this project because it illustrates the challenges faced by archaeologists today and illustrates the salient but paradoxical point that although archaeologists study the past, the implications of their work have weighty consequences for living people.
Learning That Lasts a Lifetime
The pursuit of knowledge, while deeply gratifying, has its most worthwhile expression in service to others. After students leave my class, I hope to have ignited a sense of social responsibility and equipped them with the skills to contribute to our world. While specific terminology may only stick with some students for longer than the semester, my hope is that broader anthropological concepts and self-reflexive skills will last them a lifetime. I recognize that teaching is a process that is continuously developed and improved upon and I look forward to continuing to evolve as an educator over time.