Engagement is the first step in fostering successful students. Teaching the experiential portion of courses has allowed me to engage with students individually and in small groups whether in-person or through e-learning. These interactions have led students to share articles and photographs of their experiences outside of class, eager to understand the world beyond course material.
Enthusiasm alone is insufficient, students must also be able to demonstrate their mastery of course concepts. I use backward design to develop learning outcomes that inform students of what they should expect to gain upon successful completion of assignment and the course. The first learning outcome for my Arboriculture course states students will be able to: “Evaluate woody plants in relation to planting, pruning, and condition using principles of woody plant biology.” To address the pruning component of the learning outcome, students first read scientific articles on pruning and complete an online assessment to reinforce the main concepts of the articles. Discussion of pruning methods, either in-person or via interactive digital tools, allows learners to ask questions and lets me addresses misconceptions. Students then complete a photo assignment where they locate and photograph properly and improperly pruned trees, synthesizing their findings into management recommendations. Finally, students use hand tools to prune trees in a teaching nursery. The written portion assesses a student’s ability to translate and communicate complex and abstract ideas with regard to tree biology and pruning objectives; the fieldwork component reinforces skills needed to recognize elements of pruning beyond textbook images.
My multi-modal approach to teaching often includes working on both theoretical and practical issues in urban forestry. In my Green Spaces and Urban Forestry Management course, I teach advanced undergraduate and graduate students as they work directly with communities on current urban forestry issues. As a semester-long project, students are introduced to a community as their “client” and are required to work closely with the community to develop management plans designed to meet their client’s objectives. Students worked together successfully to develop a Master Street Tree Plan and present the plan to the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Lincoln. As evidence of the effectiveness of the assignment, the City of Lincoln sought to hire a student intern to help implement the Master Street Tree Plan.
Students often have questions related to course material, yet those questions are not always answered during the course. To further student interest and engagement with the material, I use a weekly writing exercise requiring each student to reflect on what they have learned throughout the week and ask a question relevant to the course material. In a subsequent class I answer each question either directly in-class discussion or through written or video response. The writing assessment has led many students to seek out additional information and more actively contribute during class activities.
In summary, my pedagogical techniques are designed to engage students of all levels in the course material. Through enhanced engagement with the material comes life-long learning and critical thinking about current and future issues and application of concepts that extend beyond the learning environment.
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities