My teaching style, regardless of classroom size or context, is dedicated to creating an appreciation and respect for the study of our archaeological heritage. By promoting cooperative learning, active engagement with real-world case studies, and independent thinking, my students gain skills and knowledge that will benefit them regardless of their chosen discipline. I seek to provide an inclusive learning environment that fosters open discussion, flexibility that allows for creativity and multiple learning styles, and aim to cultivate an understanding and respect for what the material remains of human behavior can tell us about the past.
In order to achieve this, I utilize a number of teaching techniques. First, I create opportunities for students to engage with archaeological material in a manner that reflects real world conditions and demonstrates the practical applications of what they are learning. In my Introduction to Archeology course, students were ‘hired’ to use archival material to interpret archaeological collections, interpret skeletal evidence from a real historic burial to learn more about the individual, and conduct a zooarchaeological analysis to decipher dietary habits in a prehistoric population. For each of these ‘hired’ activities, the problem was introduced through a short lecture; students then collaborated on interpreting the case study and presented their hypotheses to the entire class for open discussion and debate. As Assistant Director for a field school, I would invite students to actively participate in interpretation of the site we were excavating, and how new evidence was changing their interpretations. This approach works especially well for archaeology classes, where allowing multiple voices and open discussion in class is comparable to the scholarly debate and competing theories that help to move the discipline forward.
Second, my courses are planned in a manner that allows for coherent internal organization but also flexibility. My classes are constructed using backwards design – creating course goals that inform the class objectives, assignments, activities, and assessment. This format provides a foundation for students to have a clear understanding of how the course topics relate and how they can excel in the class. However, these course plans allow for flexibility to accommodate diversity in students’ backgrounds and learning styles. In my Introduction to Archaeology class, I provided students with assignments in a variety of digital or analog formats depending on their preference, as well as multiple methods of learning the material, including readings, videos and games. I also sought to use archaeological examples from a wide variety of periods and regions to demonstrate diversity in the discipline, but also to engage with the diverse range of students in the class. For MSU Campus Archaeology, I mentored students in conducting research on archaeological collections and helped them develop projects that suited their passions and learning styles, while also challenging them to develop new skill sets. One student conducted ethnohistoric research and compared makeup bottles of contemporary students against historic makeup bottles that were excavated on campus and presented her results online, whereas another student conducted an economic comparison of ceramic assemblages from different locations on campus and presented her research at a university conference.
Finally, I recognize that no teaching style is perfect or complete. As I teach, I continue to actively learn how to be a better teacher and mentor to my students. I am dedicated to life-long learning, and am an active fellow in the National Science Foundation-funded Future Academic Scholars in Teaching fellowship, where I conduct first hand research on integrating technology into the curriculum to improve student confidence in utilization of digital tools. In addition to this, I recently obtained my Certificate in College Teaching through the production of a full teaching portfolio based on workshop attendance, a mentored teaching experience and completion of course in teaching. This year, I was also nominated for the MSU Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching award.
Example of my teaching style
For ANP 203: Introduction to Archaeology, I designed a lesson plan that integrated these principles learned from this module. Students were told that they were being ‘hired’ by an archaeological firm to help investigate a colonial burial found in Leavy Creek. The lesson proceeded with short lectures to introduce the data, and Think-Pair-Share cooperative learning activities to use the knowledge from the lecture to interpret the colonial burial. Over the hour and twenty-minute course, the students helped each other to interpret the burial and provide evidence to support their interpretations. The activity was structured so that there were four lectures and three Think-Pair-Share discussions to interpret the data from the lecture. Interpretations became increasingly difficult and built off prior knowledge gained from each level of interpretation as the lesson proceeded. It was a highly successful activity. The attached lesson plan documents the lectures and the work that the students produced as part of it.
This activity exemplifies my teaching style because it was based on a real-life archaeological site and mystery, I provided scaffolding throughout the activity so that questions became increasingly hard on the students, the activity had clear objectives that linked to the broader course goals, it forced creative thinking and allowed students to learn in a non-lecture format, it promoted active and cooperative learning by having students work together to solve the mystery, and in doing this activity I was taking a risk and actively using new teaching skills that I had just recently learned.