Lessons & Syllabi

This section presents samples of my work creating syllabi and course materials. I provide an introduction for each sample and a reflection on the experience of creating these materials.

8-Minute Online Lesson: The Many Faces of Gentrification

As part of my College Teaching class (EOL 585), I created an 8-minute microteaching lesson. Microteaching is a brief lesson used to efficiently test and demonstrate teaching skills.

I used learner engagement techniques appropriate for online synchronous class. Students can quickly indicate perspective on a scale of thumbs up to thumbs down. The class gets a barometer of opinion with conference-style video chat.

Microteaching Video

I chose gentrification as the topic for my lesson because I am a human geographer who uses GIS. Much of my teaching experience has focused only on GIS, and I wanted to use this opportunity to develop my skills in presenting subject matter that is close to my research. Gentrification is a complex term and concept - scholars present many different ways of identifying it and have different ideas of how and where it happens, and what qualifies as gentrification.

With this lesson, I wanted to introduce some basic concepts of gentrification: what people are talking about when they use the word gentrification, why people have strong positive and negative reactions to it, and also, the role that it plays in people’s lives. I also wanted to surprise people who may have a single-perspective view of gentrification with some positive and negative aspects from other perspectives.

Originally, I was going to present theories of gentrification, but I realized they were overly cumbersome to present to a general audience, so I reduced some broader theories to the roles in the lesson. I also toyed with giving a definition of gentrification and then up-ending it with a case that complicates peoples’ understandings further (eg. that middle-class people are also affected by gentrification, even though the definitions presented specify that middle-class people are the gentrifiers). I would potentially use this approach in a longer class. For the short microteaching format, I chose to engage students with the idea by framing it with their own experiences of neighborhoods changing. In our practice session, I got feedback from a peer that this was particularly effective because even though they did not know what gentrification meant yet, they did have a picture in their head of how these concepts were happening in their own neighborhoods.

I settled on the photograph as a stimulus for discussion, because it is easy to see the changes, and prompts reflection from all of the perspectives presented. In a longer-format class, I would adapt this to a think-pair-share exercise, to identify positive and negative impacts of this change for each of the perspectives, then aggregate them for classroom discussion.

Finally, I made the decision to use transition slides that present public art and protest perspectives on gentrification. While I did not discuss these explicitly, I chose to use them because they present how people respond to gentrification and give a voice to the people who are actually present for it. One piece of feedback I got from a peer reviewer which I would use in a longer session would be to use audio or video of people from each of these perspectives. I agree that this would add a lot to the lesson, but was a feasibility challenge given the short duration of the microteaching session.

Learner-Centric Syllabus Project

This syllabus is the final product of an assignment to revise an existing syllabus into a learner-centric syllabus. Learner-centric syllabi prioritize the role of the learner by selling the course as exciting and relevant, then explaining how to succeed and how to use course resources. This is in contrast to a traditional syllabus, which presents the course, fully-formed, to students as something to consume. The reframing includes students as a part of the course, with which they must interact.

Active Voice

I changed the voice of the syllabus from passive to active to make the student the actor in most sentences. I worked to convey enthusiasm, honesty, and authority with my tone.

I rewrote the course description to address the different interests of the students who enroll in this class and to reflect my enthusiasm for the subject. I hope "elective" students will respond to my enthusiasm. To entice "requirement" students to engage, I include non-academic and professional outcomes to help them situate the class in their curriculum and future.

I added details of exactly how to succeed in the course, describing how to engage with each element of the class. (see Course Format)

I reframed "lab tutorials" as hands-on experiences. After one semester of this course, I saw that students viewed the most useful learning experiences as cumbersome. We changed how we introduced activities to help students reframe their approach to course tutorials.

Course Big Idea and Graphic Syllabus

As part of my College Teaching class (EOL 585), we read about and discussed ways to clearly communicate course objectives and course structure to students. Here are two of my visual representations of the same Intro to GIS class. The Big Idea takes the perspective that there are particular things students should remember a year after the course, or things they should tell their parents about their class over break. Focusing on the biggest learning objectives gives direction to syllabus development and lesson planning. A visual syllabus (See Nilson, Teaching at Its Best, Chapter 5) presents the relationships between elements in a course, so students can visually understand how assignments, topics, and lessons fit into the overall schema of the course.

Course Big Idea

With the Big Idea, I presented the most important learning objectives for the class in an image including ideas from the class. One year after taking the class, students should be able to assess a problem to decide if they can use GIS for it, and then identify the first steps to take. You might be surprised that my big idea is not a technical skill or knowledge – my goal is that students learn software during the class and practice how to use resources that will help them remember how to do things in the future, like help, google, and forums like StackOverflow.

Visual Syllabus

For this visual syllabus, I presented the three major things students learn about in the class: how to make a map, and details of how to work with two different geographic data formats (vector and raster). I separated these into three boxes because students develop cartographic skills throughout the semester, but develop knowledge about vector and raster formats and analytical methods separately. Students have trouble distinguishing between raster and vector, so the backgrounds of each section are visual cues: points, lines, and polygons indicate a vector format; a grid indicates a raster format.

I liked the idea of using bright lines to link these topics, hinting at a rail map. I used gradient week stickers to indicate when in the semester each topic would be addressed. This shows students that their cartography skills will develop over the semester, and they will encounter raster analysis at the end of the semester.

Story Map Syllabus Project

After TAing for GEOG379 for two semesters, I worked with Prof. Shakil Kashem to develop an engaging syllabus for the course using ESRI StoryMaps. The goal of the project was to focus students' attention on how the skills they would be learning applied in real-world situations. The map itself shows details of the tutorials students will do over the course of the semester. Images of the interactive map are below.

Reflection on Story Map

After TAing for GEOG379 for two semesters, I worked with Prof. Shakil Kashem to develop an engaging syllabus for the course using ESRI StoryMaps. The goal of the project was to focus students' attention on how the skills they would be learning applied in real-world situations. The map itself shows details of the tutorials students will do over the course of the semester. The information button at the top includes elements of that week’s schedule, including lectures, reading materials, and assignments.

Funded by “Provost’s Faculty Retreat Grant, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign”.
Project title: “Developing an Engaging Geospatial Learning Experience through Stories”.