I had it all figured out by the time I was twenty, or at least I thought I did. I was a first-generation college student and one of a handful from my high school that made it to a university. Yet I barely passed my first anthropology class. It was not the professor’s fault; he eventually chaired my dissertation many years later. I struggled because that class challenged everything I thought I knew about the world. I may have earned a low C, but I gained a completely new insight as my fears of the ‘Other’ transformed into a curious desire to understand difference. Anthropology became my major, and I went on to learn languages, study abroad, earn fellowships, and eventually acquire a PhD in the discipline. My small world became an enormous field of international opportunity. This first-hand experience with the way a single anthropology course can impact the mind of a student informs the way I plan, design, develop and deliver anthropology classes today. I view each semester as a chance to provide students with anthropological tools they can apply for the rest of their life, perhaps not as a professional anthropologist, but as individuals seeking opportunities to understand, explore and appreciate human diversity.
In lieu of pushing the old anthropological trap of magnifying human differences, content in my classes relies on theoretical approaches from the four fields of anthropology that emphasize what we share as human beings with an analysis of the social and historical contexts that create differences. I warn students in the beginning that the class is not going to be an episode of National Geographic, and that they will be pushed to move beyond memorization of names, structures, and groups and toward applying a critical analysis of human phenomena. I never expect students to remember the ‘kinship system of the Arawak’ years from now, but I do anticipate that they will always consider how kinship systems are socially constructed in dynamic ways that create different meanings for ‘family’ and ‘marriage’ that vary through history, across cultures and even between individuals. I also rob and steal theoretical contributions from other disciplines salient in anthropology such as geography, sociology, political science, communications, zoology, digital arts, and health sciences; this demonstrates the wildly interdisciplinary nature of anthropology and its applicability to a broad range of academic majors and career goals.
I design class activities with a learner-centered approach with the intention of creating an engaging learning environment through experiential interaction and engagement. I aim to build on students’ existing knowledge, experience and interests in order to demonstrate the relevance of anthropological inquiry in day-to-day living while also challenging assumptions through reflexive exercises and critical analysis. Class discussions prompt students to formulate a point of view using terms and concepts introduced in lectures and readings with the idea that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ responses, only well or poorly formulated arguments. My goal is not to change a student’s perspective to conform to my own, but to challenge each student to evaluate their own ideas while listening to and learning from others. I believe the debate that takes place inside a student’s mind can be just as fruitful as the conversation that takes place in class or online. Through reflexive writing activities I encourage students to evaluate abstract anthropological concepts by drawing from their own experiences and observations. I lead the way with examples from my experiences conducting ethnographic fieldwork in an Amazigh (Berber) village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, documenting oral histories in a Tlingit village in Alaska, collecting standardized questionnaires at a NeoPagan nudist retreat in Tampa, or researching archives from Hurricane Opal in the Florida panhandle. I use extra credit bribery to push students to explore anthropology outside of the classroom at local events and venues. I end each semester working with students to design a final project that applies anthropology to their major or interests. I consistently redesign activities in my classes to better motivate students to become active participants in the construction of anthropological knowledge that is uniquely relevant to their lives and educational goals.
To enhance student success, I push myself to go beyond simply being a subject matter expert by seeking new and innovative ways to enhance the learning experience in my courses. I use Instructional Design (ID) techniques, such as ADDIE, to plan, design, develop, deliver and evaluate my courses with a learner-centered approach that accommodates the different needs, strengths, and experiences of a diverse body of students. I integrate Universal Design strategies that incorporate multiple modes of content delivery to account for different learning styles and cultural differences and to create a more inclusive learning environment for students with disabilities. My instructional lessons are always scaffolded to guide students from simple to more complex information to account for differences in previous educational backgrounds. Each class includes an array of diverse artifacts (quizzes, discussions, papers and projects) to ensure an accurate measurement of student capabilities, and I work with professional instructional designers to ensure objectives, instruction and assessments are in alignment. I use dynamic open educational resources (OER) when possible to mitigate educational expenses, and I make full use of the learning management system to facilitate prompt feedback, monitoring, and evaluations so I may modify instructional instruments when necessary. I have also learned through experience that many students enter the classroom without the necessary tools to succeed in higher education. In light of this, I provide instructional resources to improve research, writing, studying and test-taking skills. I invest in student success because I consider it a measurement of my own success in the classroom.
Student success outside of the class is also important to me. My goal is to give students more than a few credits on a transcript, I want to open doors to possibilities. I passionately promote fellowships, scholarships and study abroad opportunities by holding info-sessions in and outside of class and by assisting students with their applications. I encourage students to pursue international education by sharing my own story as a low-income single-parent in college who was able to study abroad and learn languages with fellowship money. Last year one of my students became the first at Santa Fe to receive the Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship at the University of Florida with an essay she wrote in my class, and I learned recently that she is preparing to study abroad in Tanzania. Her story reminds me of why I chose this vocation. By teaching anthropology today, I get to launch students into a new world in much as the same way that many years ago an anthropology professor launched me.