"Weather Safety" activity at a local elementary school.

"Weather Safety" activity at a local elementary school.

I believe the goal of teaching is to help students make meaning of their world. Students come to the university focused on a degree, the credential that will hopefully lead them to a career. Course completion, then, sits at the center of their concern, and in the day-to-day workings of the classroom, they have been taught to focus primarily on grades. As a teacher, I face the challenge of transforming students’ education from an activity of simply checking off criteria on their slow march toward a degree to an experience that connects in significant ways to their daily lives. I see my role in the classroom as a facilitator of this process in three ways: by creating activities that encourage critical thinking and reflection, by focusing on students as the center of our learning enterprise, and by encouraging the use of diverse strategies that enrich their understanding.

Critical Thinking

In my courses, I work with students who may one day work as weather forecasters. While they spend the majority of their classroom time learning the physical aspects of the atmosphere and the technical mechanisms of prediction, I help students understand the human and societal impacts of weather and ethical dimensions of forecasting. In addition to discussing historical cases of disasters, students are responsible for creating a persona journal that they keep throughout the semester. In this journal, they create a fictional persona who experienced a particular weather event or significant development in meteorological history. They research their chosen event/time period (Hurricane Katrina, for example) and write weekly entries from the first-person viewpoint of their respective character. Part of their job is to detail these events as though they experienced them, including interviews with relevant figures, observations of societal impacts, all in the context of a particular cultural and historical time. During the last week of class, students appear in front of their peers in the guise of their persona, performing a reflective monologue about what they’ve learned through their journey. This activity helps students develop empathy for those who survived or witnessed a disaster or great invention, and it creates a space where they can envision the complex sociopolitical, technical, and ethical dilemmas that comprise meteorological controversies.

Intellectual and Personal Interests

Like many educational scholars in critical pedagogy who emphasize the importance of putting the learner at the center of pedagogical praxis, I design my courses to meet students where they are. That is, students formulate and pursue their own intellectual interests, which form the basis of our class discussion.  For example, I have students select seminal texts, current newsworthy items, and other documents, images, and videos relevant to their interests. Throughout the semester, they become increasingly responsible for presenting their choices and the reasons underpinning their selections to their peers.  I help them scaffold these ideas and concepts in small and large group discussion, building a network of interdisciplinary knowledge on which they can draw throughout their careers. After several weeks of discussion, I introduce them to a case study that speaks to the content we’ve created together; they work through the case in small groups. My aim is to show students how issues of weather and forecasting involve knowledge that is contested by different groups, situated in particular histories, and privileges certain points of view.

Technological Creativity

Technological tools, such as social media or digital devices like iPads or iPhones, offer interesting ways for students to engage course material even as they develop technological proficiencies. In my undergraduate courses, whether online or face-to-face, students learn about geospatial techniques, communication strategies, and representations of their world through maps. One assignment, for example, takes them on a scavenger hunt across campus with their cell phones, which act as GPS devices. They are encouraged to walk diverse paths toward each new goal as they record periodic geospatial points that are aggregated in the classroom. They use iPads to photograph their points and, back in the classroom, they assemble all of their GPS points on a comprehensive GIS map. This hands-on activity also acclimates students to technologies that may at first seem prohibitively complex. And they also learn about the limits of geospatial documentation and why mapping particular points can be challenging—both technically and ethically. How much and to what extend do we want to make available the details of our neighborhoods and communities? Who might use this information and to what end? Translating this type of digital expertise into an online curriculum is more challenging, but it is possible. Besides relying on photographs and videos, students in online courses can complete virtual scavenger hunts with Google Earth, an activity that orients them to the use of maps and encourages them to question the validity and reliability of data.

Regardless of the type of course I teach or the level of a student in their program, I believe it is my responsibility to engage students in learning that challenges their assumptions about the world and their role in it. To get at this purpose, my courses are discussion based and interactive. Any mini-lecture I give provides context to class discussion; exams are open-ended and completed in an essay format that encourages students synthesize larger themes and connections made throughout the semester. My objective is to integrate the technical and the social, the historical and the political so that students can better negotiate meaning even as they develop their own disciplinary knowledge and individual scholarly integrity.

Courses for Meteorologists / Forecasters

  • Cultures of Meteorology, 1870 to WWII

  • Social, Cultural, and Historical Issues in Forecasting

  • Environmental Studies: Disasters and Resiliency

  • Intro to Disaster Studies

  • Human/Environmental Interactions: Weather and Society

  • Remote Sensing Policy and Ethics

Courses taught at Virginia Tech

  • Constructing the Weather (Geog 4984)

  • Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies (IDST 1114)

  • Senior Seminar in Interdisciplinary Studies (IDST 4114 / online)

  • Humanities in the Modern World (HUM 1324 / online)

  • The Creative Process (HUM 2204 / online)

  • Sex, Lies and Identity (IDST 3114 / online)

  • Women and Creativity (WGS 2224)

Courses taught at Kansas State University

  • Written Communication for Engineers (Engl 415)

  • Written Communication for the Workplace (Engl 417)

  • Introduction to Creative Nonfiction (Engl 465)

  • Practicum for Graduate Students (English 805)

  • Expository Writing I (Engl 100 / hybrid)

  • Expository Writing II (Engl 200)

  • Advanced College Writing (Engl 300)

  • Honors Expository Writing II (English 125)

  • Modern Humanities (English 234)

  • Freshman Seminar (DAS 100)

  • The Short Story (Engl 253 / online)

  • Writing Women’s Lives: Autobiography and Identity (English 295)

  • Introduction to Poetry Writing (Engl 463)