On-Campus Lab and other Resources – What they can offer for teaching


February 17, 2015
with Whitney Lytle, UTSA Center for Archaeological Research Legacy Coordinator and PhD Student, and Leah McCurdy, PhD Candidate and Adjunct Instructor

In our February meeting, ATF members discussed the value and logistics of using on-campus labs for instruction and student research. We advocate getting to know your on-campus resources and employing them in class, where appropriate and possible. In general, this practice provides several benefits such as experiential learning for students, application of conceptual or abstract course content, getting out of the classroom and exploring a new environment, and interacting with a new set of people. I have incorporated lab visits and activities in several of my classes and find that students appreciate a change of scenery, seeing new faces, and seeing what real people do that relates to what we talk about in class. As an archaeologist, the opportunities to incorporate labs into my course may be more plentiful than other disciplines. However, I encourage you to be creative and think about how an excursion to a different part of campus can benefit your students and make your class more dynamic and engaging. I advocate a sort of mobile teaching strategy to keep students thinking (about the material, where class will be held next, and what unexpected things may come up in a new place), to engage their creative side, and to expose them to their university beyond classrooms, projector screens, and lecterns.

“Lab” is broadly defined to encompass spaces on campus where research, production, and/or applied academic pursuits are undertaken. Our discussion focused on labs found on the UTSA campus as the place that unites ATF members, though we recognized that this is not our permanent home. I use examples from UTSA to illustrate potentials for incorporating labs and experiential learning in any course, on any campus.

The Center for Archaeological Research (CAR)

One of the motivations behind this topic was to introduce ATF members to CAR as a resource. CAR is a large cultural resource management (CRM), research, and curatorial facility located on the UTSA main campus. It is home to the Legacy outreach program, headed by Whitney Lytle. Whitney discussed the possibilities for student engagement at CAR, ranging from tours of the artifact lab facilities, hands-on activities in artifact washing, sorting, processing, and analyzing, experimental archaeology demonstrations, use of faunal type collections, activities involving human skeletal collections, mock excavations, and more. Whitney emphasized the applicability of many of these opportunities to all anthropological sub-fields and for non-major, major, and upper division courses. CAR also provides a realistic example of CRM archaeology and careers for undergraduate students. While not every university has a large archaeological laboratory on campus, many have smaller departmental labs or faculty research labs. Consider collaborating with a colleague to offer your students the opportunity to see artifact processing in progress or view realistic excavation data or participate in bioarchaeology identification activities. In CAR’s case, Whitney also highlighted opportunities at CAR for student research projects and even internships. If you ask students to produce a research paper as part of your class, you can encourage them to make use of an on-campus archaeology or anthropology lab to conduct data collection, analysis, or get help for the projects.

Art Studios

I strongly encourage you to explore your Art Department for lab and studio facilities that you can incorporate into discussions of material culture, production, ideological expression, and subjectivities. For example, UTSA has a new Ceramics and Sculpture Studio on campus that houses undergraduate and graduate classes, graduate and faculty studios, as well as several production areas. In chatting with the director of this studio, I learned that Ceramics I undergraduates conduct a coil method project in which they replicate an ancient ceramic vessel of their choice using the traditional coil method of ceramic production. This would be an excellent opportunity for anthropology students to observe production in action, get a good sense of ceramic materials and transformation, and practice ethnographic methods. You could ask each of your students to choose a ceramics student to observe (taking ethnographic notes) and then conduct an interview (structured, semi-structured, or un-structured based on their questions). What a great opportunity for students to engage with what other students do in their classes, practice anthropological skills, and experientially learn about an important type of archaeological material. The UTSA Ceramics and Sculpture Studio also has three full-size brick kilns built in the traditional chambered style. Graduate students and faculty periodically fire using these kilns and repair/reconstruct them to test differences. This is basically experimental archaeology in action and in UTSA’s backyard. There may be opportunities like this near you that could bring many aspects of anthropological research and content to life for your students. Many art departments also have numerous studios for painting, print making, photography, and sculpture production that may serve for similar activities. Explore your campus’ art galleries as a venue for discussing ideological expression and subjectivity with your students.

Astronomical Observatory & Planetarium

Some universities have astronomy departments with observation facilities that may be open to the wider campus. Further, some campuses may contain a planetarium for teaching and community outreach purposes. Imagine meeting your students at the campus planetarium, viewing the milky as Maya astronomers would have seen it, and discussing cosmology and phenomenology. Imagine developing a program so your students can view the night’s sky from multiple different latitudes and longitudes and then starting a discussion about ideology, environmental context, and cultural relativism. You could also use a physics observatory or other science lab as a case study for anthropology of science and/or illustrations of high-level concepts like Latour’s subject/object and nature/culture discussions.

We recognize that there are constraints on your time and your ability to schedule lab visits in your classes. Class size may be an issue for small locations. There are several solutions to the class size problem such as splitting your class in half into lecture and lab groups. The first lecture group (last names A-K for example) meet at the regular classroom to engage in a lecture with you. The first lab session visits the lab directed by a colleague or supervisor. The following class period, the groups switch so that the half that attended lecture first will visit the lab, and vice versa. If lab space is very restricted but you want your students to experience it, you could ask them to visit the lab on their time and write a reaction or summary paper. Perhaps your institution does not have many developed labs. Check into other nearby universities or institutions on make a class session into a field trip. Check into virtual options. There may be virtual labs that you could visit with your students online. ATF members also recognized the challenges of new content development that would be required to incorporate labs into your courses. There may be opportunities to team up with a lab or studio director to co-develop an activity or exercise. But by far, I think the most effective way is to put your feelers out and just see what labs and studios are already doing. Like our example of the UTSA Ceramic and Sculpture Studio, undergraduate anthropology students could observe and interview ceramics students with very little prep time and benefit greatly from a new environment, interacting with new students, and seeing a process in action. The most important thing is to be creative and be open to collaboration.




December 2, 2014
Student Empowerment with Emily Lloyd, PhD Candidate and Adjunct Instructor
Cross-posted on the Teaching Culture Blog by The University of Toronto Press in the Anthropology Teaching Forum Series

Emily Lloyd kicked off our recent discussion with a definition of empowered students as “motivated, confident, and prepared.” It’s not always easy to come by these students, especially at large state institutions like UTSA. So where can we get some? Obviously, that’s the lazy response. The more important question is how can we create an environment in our classrooms to develop such qualities and “increase [students’] sense of self-efficacy and energy” (Weimer 2014)?

Emily provided a good framework for empowering classroom environments based on Cowdery (n.d.) and Weimer (2014), starting with clearly defined student and teacher roles and expectations. Typically, the syllabus functions as the main form of communication for these. We discussed how more overt or interesting ways of integrating these definitions and expectations into the first weeks of class might have better results. I mentioned my new first class strategy of playing a “Cards Against the Syllabus” game inspired by Cards Against Humanity to explicitly discuss roles, conduct, and expectations in a fun way.

Emily also noted that empowering classes should have both support and sanctions for work. Weimer (2014) highlights that students need to feel “competent” in their role, which means that instructors should celebrate successes to help students develop confidence in their competence. Emily described a new and rather simple celebratory method integrated into online course managers such as Blackboard Learn. Instructors can send “kudos” to individual students via email with personalized messages. We also discussed the importance of feedback on assignments, but more significantly, feedback students actually see, and to which they can respond. Guillaume Pages, UTSA PhD candidate and adjunct instructor, recently instituted an interesting feedback strategy. He encouraged students to come to office hours during finals week to pick up all graded work in exchange for extra credit. He had a great turn out and this facilitated personal discussions about student successes and areas for improvement. One-on-one feedback can make a student feel personally encouraged and more than a name on a roster. I also received a great deal of enthusiasm from students about one-on-one mini meetings during in-class project workshops. Each student and I huddled around the computer to discuss their recent project drafts. I was able to express my support and critique of their drafts so much more efficiently by sitting with each one of them for five minutes than I could have done by scrawling words over their papers. Further, I felt much more able to express my concern for those students who had not shown much effort and provided them the opportunity to ask the questions or discuss the circumstances that may have been halting their progress. It was much more difficult for these students to ignore my feedback.

Competence can also be developed through course design. Emily emphasized the usefulness of “scaffolding” assignments by repeating them throughout the course (such as weekly response essays, or quizzes). Instructors can scaffold by providing a lot of description for the first attempt, detailing steps, resources, and actions. Later on, instructors can require students to identify these steps for themselves. By the end of the term, when they receive an assignment without these directions, students should feel competent because of their familiarity with the process and their success in previous attempts. Competence can also be inspired by modeling, either by the instructor in a task, or by using previous assignments as examples. Cowdery (n.d.) notes that access to such resources is empowering to students. To feel competent, students must feel they have the “tools” (including space and enough time) to complete whatever is tasked to them.

Empowering environments should also be associated with social-emotional peer support and a sense of community. Our previous ATF discussion on engaging large classes also emphasized this point. Getting students to feel like they are part of a classroom community can be a building block to engaged and empowered students. Further, this sense of community should be integrated with instructor leadership (Cowdery n.d.). An instructor is not just a font of knowledge. As Emily noted, the instructor shares the vision of empowerment and values student input. For students to truly engage and be empowered, they must feel that their contribution is a valuable aspect of the class. Here, discussion and course feedback are extremely important. One way to make this happen would be to ask for comments on the course at mid-semester and then attempt to implement student suggestions thereafter. Students recognize these efforts of an empowered leader and thus have a model for becoming empowered themselves.

Emily also emphasized that empowering environments offer choices. They are not a one-size-fits-all education. A way to empower students and model good decision-making in life is to provide options for content goals, paths to achieve goals, materials and resources, and group composition. Lori Barkwill Love (PhD student and UTSA teaching fellow) employs Prezi software to construct multiple paths for students to choose. Do you want to answer three questions on this or five question on that? Do you want to discuss this or that topic first? Small group decisions like this can empower students as a community and prepare them for whatever may come. Emily provided many possibilities for integrating choice into courses such as changing up quiz formats, offering class “tracks” where students can determine how best they can personally master course content, and scheduling independent study days at the end of content sections that allow them to pursue their interests and determine how they want to go about learning. Providing choice also shows the students that the instructor is interested in their opinion and that they are competent enough to make decisions.

Emily highlighted the importance of reflection to discuss and assess meaningfulness with students. Empowered students feel that what they do has a purpose. Instructors can incorporate tasks that make an impact and matter outside the classroom to promote socially conscientious meaningfulness. Service learning is committed to such ideals. Emily also noted how instructors can incorporate smaller activities such as using freerice.org to get students involved in world hunger efforts, or penguinwatch.org for students interested in biological/environmental outreach, or Kiva to get the class community involved in international small business loans. Each of these impactful activities can be easily be related to class content.

These methods for empowering students are important and should certainly be part of every classroom environment. However, I want to recognize that a classroom where each and every student is fully empowered remains an ideal. It would be difficult to find even an advanced graduate seminar at the most rigorous institution in which every student bears all the qualities of a fully empowered student. Students are in-progress, and we can’t expect to convert each one, checking each box for “empowered” at the end of the semester. Rather, we should recognize that each student comes to us at different stages in their own personal trajectory of education and development, and they will display different degrees of empowerment. Our classes should provide the environment for development along all stages of empowerment so students can make progress throughout their student career. We should embrace the diversity of empowered-ness and perhaps use it as a platform for peer-to-peer learning and/or mentoring as well as for our engagement with our students as individuals.


Cowdery, J.R. (n.d.) Empowering Students through Fostering Empowered Teachers. http://www.muskingum.edu/dept/education/downloads/EJ1Cowdery.doc

Weimer, M. (2014) What’s an Empowered Student? Faculty Focushttp://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/whats-empowered-student/

Additional References
Emily has compiled a list of references below as a helpful starting place for others seeking inspiration for empowerment in the classroom.

Branden, N. (1994). The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. NY: Bantam

Boje, D. & Rosile, G. (2001). Where’s the power in empowerment? Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 37 (1), 90-117.

Cherniss, C. (1997). Teacher empowerment, consultation, and creation of new programs in schools. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 8 (2), 135-152.

Cushing, K. (1994). Empowering Students: Essential Schools’ Missing Link. Horace, CES National. 11 (1).

Friere, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

Kohn, A. (1993). Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide. Phi Delta Kappan, 8-20.

Maton, K. & Salem, D.A. (1995). Organizational characteristics of empowering in community settings: A multiple case study approach. America Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 631-656.

Perkins, D. & Zimmerman, M. (1995). Empowerment theory, research, and
application. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 569-580.

Spreitzer, G. (1995). An empirical test of a comprehensive model of intrapersonal empowerment in the workplace. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 601-630.

Zimmerman, M. (1995). Psychological empowerment: Issues and illustrations. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 581-600.



November 13, 2014
Engaging Large Classes with Professor Deborah Moon
Cross-posted on the Teaching Culture Blog by The University of Toronto Press in the Anthropology Teaching Forum Series

Student engagement and active participation in class is on every professor’s mind at some point or another during the semester. Professor Deb Moon in the Department of Anthropology at UTSA was our guest speaker on November 13, 2014, focusing on the challenges and creative solutions for active learning in large classroom environments. Deb is dedicated to the Socratic method of teaching, and always emphasizes student participation and input in class. She is well-known around the UTSA campus for her Language, Thought, and Culture classes, and it is from her experience in this area that she draws her emphasis on non-verbal communication and proxemics in the classroom environment. Proxemics (also known as the “language of space”) refers to the study of the use of space and feelings and/or perceptions associated with differential use of space.

Whether we mean to or not, as professors we can make judgements based on non-verbal cues of our students, such as choosing to sit at the back of the classroom. With large classes in stadium-style classrooms, we might perceive these students populating the last two rows as unmotivated, uninterested, and generally distinct from the “good” students that sit at the front with their chipper smiles, ready to retain our wisdom (note the sarcasm please). In an effort to challenge the traditional proxemics of her classroom and traditional perceptions of students, Deb shakes things up by asking all students to sit in the front rows of the class without any space between each student. Changing the proxemics of the class means changing the way those “back-row” students participate in discussion. This one change instantly transforms a stadium space into a more intimate classroom space. Students can no longer hold claim over their corner of the classroom, or distance themselves from everyone else (and the instructor). By shaking up the proxemics of the class, Deb created a community atmosphere that encouraged participation and sharing.

Christine, an undergraduate student who has taken several classes with Deb, including Language, Thought, and Culture, joined the discussion. She underscored the importance of proxemics, stating that all the students felt more comfortable when closer together, and were more willing to share their viewpoints, create study groups, and engage with each other on course material outside of class. Christine also talked of the time that Deb asked students to sit wherever they wanted in the classroom. Some sat on the tops of the desks, other in the aisles, and some on the podium itself. Deb integrated this different proxemic environment into the class by discussing structure and authority. The students at the podium were expected to control and conduct the class. Not only were proxemics flipped on their head, but participation was flipped as a way to engage with key anthropological topics.

As Deb suggests, proxemics are as important for instructors as they are for students. Deb described her active style of teaching, which includes walking up and down the aisles, through the seating rows, braving stairs and other obstacles. This demonstrates to her students that she is also actively engaged in the class. As a group, we discussed the obstacles that traditional classrooms can create for less lecture-based teaching styles and ways to mitigate these issues. (Deb suggested being brave and going for it! If you trip, oh well, at least you got their attention!) Other possibilities included: changing the venue of the class every now and then, booking a room in the library, going outside on a nice day, using other spaces, and the proxemics that might develop within them, as an advantage to shaking up the class and inviting participation in new venues. Deb has found that non-verbal communication such as leading students into participation by gesturing towards them, making eye contact, as well as verbally using their names, are all ways to show that they are part of the community and are “invited” to participate.

When Deb finished her presentation there was a flurry of comments and questions outlining concern for less experienced students (like freshmen) who may not have encountered such non-traditional learning environments. Deb described her practices in normalizing proxemics in her classes. She emphasized this idea of challenging space and non-verbal communication in the first several weeks of class (admittedly this is bolstered by the subject matter in Language, Thought, and Culture where proxemics are a big segment of class content). Further, Deb discussed how she emphasizes active listening as a key component to active discussions in class. Students must demonstrate that they are actively listening to the discussion before they can contribute, thus ensuring that the discussion remains relevant and on-track. We noted that sometimes there are contributions to a discussion that are unexpected but extremely relevant, so active listening does not mean that students must follow a script, but that they must contextualize their points. Deb also emphasized modeling active listening. In the first class of each semester, Deb works the students through an active listening exercise to get them acquainted with the expectations, and continually models active listening in her own discourse and responses to students over the semester.

Discussion also touched on the potential issues one might face in a classroom of diverse students. What about large classes where every seat is taken? Instead of everyone moving down to the front, ask the students to move to the opposite side of the room and/or experience a different area of the classroom and thus a different perspective on the class. What about students who experience extreme anxiety in classroom situations? Deb allows students to personally confer about anxiety or other circumstances that may inhibit their ability to comfortably participate in proxemics activities. What about students who have mobility concerns? Because proxemics activities typically involve physical movement, some students may be more or less able to move within the classroom space. These needs must be accommodated but this does not deny other possible creative ways to give students the opportunity to gain a different perspective on the class. What about students who “refuse” to participate? Unless a student’s refusal is disruptive to the class, we must accept refusal sometimes. However, Deb and Christine described a situation of “refusal” to participate in bringing ritual items to class. A group of students refused to bring something and formed a group of postmodernists who did not want to participate in the ritual emphasis of the activity. Deb expanded the activity by asking this group to explain why they actively chose not to participate in the activity (thereby providing a new opportunity to participate and actively engage).

We also had a very enlightening discussion about how instructor proxemics and student proxemics can meld. What if you gave a lecture or managed a discussion from the “participants’” perspective seated among your students? Several attendees have experimented with this sort of “shake it up” strategy with differing results, but encouraged it.

Generally, Deb encouraged challenges to traditional proxemics in classrooms to shake up the status quo and get students re-oriented to the class. In this way, students who might not engage or be very hesitant to engage, can get a different view on things (quite literally if they are sitting in a different part of the room) and become more active participants.



October 24, 2014
TEACHING PHILOSOPHIES with Leah McCurdy, PhD Candidate & Adjunct Professor.
Cross-posted on Teaching Culture Blog by University of Toronto Press in The Anthropology Teaching Forum Series

Teaching philosophies are ways to explore one’s own perspective on teaching and to communicate that perspective to students, hiring committees, and other educators. We discussed how to explore learning philosophies and general philosophical perspectives as personal context of your unique teaching philosophy.

One key introductory note is necessary before diving into the meat of our discussion. Over the course of our meeting, we found that a realistic distinction should be made between teaching philosophy as our main topic and teaching statements that make their way into job packets sent to hiring committees. The discussion here is most relevant to (idealistic, perhaps) teaching philosophy recognition and development. However faithful teaching statements are to teaching philosophies depends on the nature of the job, your teaching experience, and (rather cynically) your job desperation level. We acknowledge that teaching philosophies may be altered or padded to suit specific hiring opportunities but the focus here is on the teaching philosophy you carry around in your head more than anything you draft for a specific audience.

Leah discussed three key resources: Neil Haave (2014) on reflecting about your teaching philosophy, Maryellen Weimer (2014) on learning philosophies, and J.E. Beatty and colleagues (2009) on how general philosophy underpins teaching philosophies. Leah described Haave’s (2014) and Weimer’s (2014) emphasis on recognizing your learning philosophy as the foundation for your teaching philosophy. Learning philosophies are distinct from learning style (auditory, visual, etc.) and focus rather on motivations behind learning and the value you place on learning. Leah particularly emphasized a key facet of learning philosophies that struck her: how one deals with difficult learning experiences and those times when one may fail at understanding or mastering specific content. How does this affect how we approach learning? Further, how does this affect how we approach teaching? Leah discussed how she sees this particularly tied to a message in Haave (2014): instructor awareness and remembrance of what it is like to learn something brand new for the first time without the context developed over years of academic training and research. Leah suggested that this awareness of the students’ position (particularly in introductory courses) can and should relate to how instructors engage with student learning philosophies.

One point lacking in the discussion of exploring learning philosophy with teaching philosophy is the awareness of how instructor learning philosophies may mesh and/or oppose students’ learning philosophies. We discussed how direct experience with students and even institutional demographics (as a gauge before direct experience) may guide your understanding of student learning philosophies. It is important to stress that while the instructor’s awareness of their own learning philosophy is important as they engage in developing and/or revising their teaching philosophy, it is as important to be aware of student learning philosophies and the ways in which instructors and students compare/differ in how they are motivated to learn. One way that you can use learning philosophy to develop teaching philosophy is presented as a series of six interrelated questions in Haave (2014) to recognize exemplary personal learning and teaching experiences, how they connect, and how to provide such exemplary experiences for students.

One sub-topic in our discussion of teaching philosophies is the distinction of pedagogy and andragogy. Most of us are very familiar with the term pedagogy, referring to the methods and practice of teaching generally. If we were to do a search of teaching philosophy statements cross-disciplinarily, pedagogy might be top of the list of most frequently used terms. If taken literally and historically, pedagogy etymologically refers to teaching (or leading) children while andragogy refers to teaching (or leading) adults (Holmes and Abington-Cooper 2000). The age based distinction of child and adult while relevant for primary or secondary education, may not be the most relevant approach for a higher learning context. It may be more effective to think about the distinction of general novices (e.g. children) and general experienced (e.g. adults who are not novices in terms of life experience but may be novices in terms of course content).

In terms of how this may affect your teaching philosophy, it is interesting to reflect on how you perceive your students. Do you see the students who populate your classroom as general novices that need controlled and dictated leadership? Do you see your students as experienced, with skills that make them equipped to develop the specific knowledge base relevant to your class via their own constructions and ownership? We discussed how this dichotomy is useful and how it is overly simple. We recognized the need for a blended approach, specifically in courses with heavy factual content loads, such as biological anthropology (i.e. fossil record and human evolutionary trends). Overall, the recognition of how you as an instructor view your students is important for developing a relevant and authentic teaching philosophy.

The bulk of our discussion centered on Beatty and colleagues’ (2009) novel approach to contextualizing teaching philosophies. The authors suggest grounding teaching philosophies in general philosophical perspectives. They describe five general philosophical perspectives (idealism, realism, pragmatism, existentialism, and critical theory) via three criteria: metaphysics (what is real?), epistemology (how do I know what I know?), and axiology (what is the basis of my judgment and ethics?). The chart (Beatty et al 2009: 107) below summaries these perspectives well:

Pages from Journal of Management Education-2009-Beatty-99-114

Beatty et al (2009) describe how each general philosophical perspective may impact teaching philosophy. We discussed where we personally see ourselves falling in this classification and how these personal perspectives affect how we teach. For example, Leah confessed her general alignment with the existentialist emphasis on subjectivity and the importance of personal choice. This is reflected in her clear focus on student choice in the classroom via focused archaeological research projects, seminar assessment, and choice-driven activities such as mock excavations. Beatty et al (2009: 109) state that instructors with an existentialist perspective are more likely to emphasize experiential learning in their classrooms. It is not difficult to trace Leah’s keen devotion to experiential learning through previous posts and recaps for the ATF! Dr. Mary Kelaita (Post-Doctoral Fellow in the UTSA Department of Anthropology) described her personal connection to relating unknowns (course content) to knowns (from personal experience) during her undergraduate career. Through awareness of her pragmatist perspective, she guides her students to make similar personal connections with content in biological anthropology courses. All participants acknowledged that while this classification is insightful, it does not follow that we are beholden to only one perspective. We can be a blend of two or several. The recognition and awareness of wherever we do fall is what can impact or improve your teaching philosophy.

We discussed the practicalities of what this philosophical approach to teaching philosophies means for how you present your teaching philosophy to others. Is it necessary to spend time in already savage page limits or word counts to expound on why you lean existentialist or towards critical theory? Probably not. But reflecting on these philosophical perspectives can be significant to contextualizing your unique philosophy of teaching and why you are motivated to teach the way you do. Teaching statements can reflect these general perspectives and provide insight into you as an individual.

To conclude the meeting, Leah emphasized the PROCESS of reflection for teaching philosophies. While the practicalities of writing teaching statements are important, formalizing your teaching philosophy for yourself and thinking about how, ideally, you want to teach can be an opportunity to directly improve and connect back to the classroom. Particularly, Leah emphasized reflection on how your teaching philosophy (inclusive of your learning philosophy and general philosophical perspective) relates to/engages with/ignores your students’ learning philosophies. It may be a good exercise to recognize learning philosophies evident among your students and how your teaching philosophy plays to their strengths, challenges them to try new things, or flies straight over them. Further, we recognized that students being exposed to a diversity of teaching philosophies (via different professors, disciplines, and year levels) is likely a very good thing for the development of critical thinkers and general life skills.

All participants expressed interest in this topic and these novel ways of attacking teaching philosophies. In the future, ATF hopes to organize an update or extension to this session to directly discuss the construction and finagling of teaching statements.


Beatty, J.E., J.S.A. Leigh, & K.L. Dean 2009 Philosophy rediscovered: Exploring the connections between teaching philosophies, educational philosophies, and philosophy. Journal of Management Education 33(1): 99-114. http://jme.sagepub.com/content/33/1/99.abstract

Haave, Neil 2014 Six Questions That Will Bring Your Teaching Philosophy into Focus. Faculty Focus. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/philosophy-of-teaching/six-questions-will-bring-teaching-philosophy-focus/

Holmes, Geraldine and Michele Abington-Cooper 2000 Pedagogy vs. Andragogy: A False Dichotomy? The Journal of Technology Studies 26 (2). http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JOTS/Summer-Fall-2000/holmes.html

Weimer, Maryellen 2014 What’s Your Learning Philosophy. Faculty Focus. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/whats-learning-philosophy/

Guerrilla Teaching


September 12, 2014
GUERRILLA TEACHING with Leah McCurdy, PhD Candidate & Adjunct Professor, and Will Roberston, PhD Student & Adjunct Professor. Will and Leah first heard of Guerrilla Teaching from a Faculty Focus article. This article inspired Will to bring Leah in and implement some Guerrilla Teaching in his class. We discussed what Guerrilla Teaching is, how Will implemented it in class, and possibilities for such methods in the future.

Leah introduced the topic of guerrilla teaching, providing background from the inspirational article. Guerrilla Teaching is a term coined by Mark Anderson and Micah Fierstein (2014) in their article entitled “Using Guerrilla Tactics to Improve Teaching” in Faculty Focus. Guerrilla teaching is founded in a cooperative teaching spirit with goals for improvisation in class, fostering dynamic classroom environments, and collaborating with other instructors directly in front of students. This all started with a normal class day and Fierstein walking down the hall past Anderson’s classroom. Upon hearing some interesting bits of Anderson’s lecture and discussion, Fierstein entered the class and posed a question to Anderson’s students (without Anderson’s foreknowledge). This “border crossing” as they call it “unleashed a series of questions and ideas that tumbled around each other like clothes in a dryer.” Thus, guerrilla teaching was born. After this initial experience, the authors determined that some guerrilla ground-rules were necessary. They stress invitations rather than totally unexpected class visits, a period of initial, unobtrusive observation by the guerrilla, a maximum of 10 minutes guerrilla interaction and involvement in class, and the guerrilla’s departure before the end of class.

Based on Anderson and Fierstein’s original article and some commentary to this article on the Faculty Focus website, as well as the blog “Academically Oriented” by Amanda Sain, Leah discussed the following student and teacher benefits that can develop from guerrilla teaching:

Student Benefits:

  • exposure to more faculty
  • exposure to multiple and possibility divergent perspectives on a topic
  • introduces a change to the classroom dynamic and can help students refocus
  • faculty can model for students ways to engage intellectually and effectively in discussion about class content
  • enhances the open and friendly discussion atmosphere in a class and hopefully entices shy students to join in

Faculty Benefits:

  • get a chance to observe how students engage with other faculty members (who may have a different teaching style)
  • small introduction to team teaching and the dynamics of collaboration
  • opens up discussion about teaching techniques and specific class content between faculty members
  • depending on faculty levels of experience, this can serve as a way for faculty to learn from each other

Will implemented guerrilla teaching into his upper division class on Kinship at UTSA in the Spring 2014 semester. He invited Leah to come participate in his entire 50 minute class session. The particular class session was scheduled to be a discussion on the subject of Personhood, guided by the well-known Comaroff and Comaroff (2001) article on personhood in Africa. The students were expected to come to class having read the article and prepared to discuss it. Will invited Leah for this particular class session because he was aware the she applies Comaroff and Comaroff’s (2001) ideas about state of being and process of becoming in novel ways to her archaeological research on construction practices and labor of the ancient Maya. Will knew that Leah had a good understanding of the article and would be able to address both its detail and broad significance. Beforehand, Will and Leah discussed their “plan of attack” for this guerrilla teaching situation. Will was interested in shaking his students up (as he had been doing throughout the semester) so he offered Leah the task of rattling cages, challenging everything, and generally bringing an energetic guerrilla spirit to the discussion. Leah wholeheartedly accepted this directive!

In class, Will introduced Leah briefly and her role as questioner and challenger for their discussion. Will framed the discussion around the definition of personhood he provided to the students in the previous class session. To initiate the discussion, he asked whether this definition is valid, is there anything wrong with it, does it jive with the article’s themes? Leah started in by questioning what we mean by person, individual, and even states of being, building upon the article’s emphasis on process. Throughout the discussion, Will walked among the students, allowing Leah to pose questions, and then probing students to respond and think critically based on the article’s message. There was a great energy to the discussion. While Leah and Will share a similar teaching style, Leah acted the part of a guerrilla. She posed difficult and critical questions (often unknowable questions), challenged student responses, asked the students to critically engage with previous comments. The amount of participation by the class was very encouraging. This was a very dynamic class session with a great sense of spontaneity. The students seemed to appreciate the flexibility and energy of the class.

In particular, Will and Leah feel that one of the great benefits of this class for the students came from their modeling of academic discourse. At several points during the session, Will and Leah engaged in mini debates about smaller topics, probing each other to expand on their thoughts or think in a different way. They were modelling a critical discussion with all the vigor and energy that typically is only held behind closed office doors. In this class session, students experienced first-hand the sort of intellectual discussion that breeds new ideas and spawns new perspectives. Further, they were able to participate directly, often raising their hand to challenge Leah or Will’s contributions. The student response to this guerrilla session was very positive. Several students who preferred to not participate in discussion previously in class made inroads to contribute in this session. Will and Leah attribute this to the energy, spontaneity, and openness that this guerrilla teaching approach inspired.

Meeting participants were interested in discussing the differences in guerrilla exposure time. They came to consensus that shorter bursts, as suggested by Anderson and Fierstein (2014), would be more appropriate for introductory classes in which students have less experience with the class content. Longer guerrilla sessions like that implemented by Will would be most successful with a more experienced and discussion-ready audience. Participants also discussed the similarities of this guerrilla approach to bringing guest lecturers into one’s class. Emily Lloyd discussed her experience in inviting multiple guest lecturers into her Introduction to Anthropology classes to discuss their specific research interests and experience with her class. She implemented this with similar motives of exposing her students to a wider range of faculty and graduate students in the department and to bring in different perspectives on fieldwork and research. We all discussed the great benefit of the energetic guerrilla approach to shake-up a class and reinvigorate students to the subject matter. Often, a new voice (in very short or longer bursts) can achieve this goal. We were all very interested in building dynamic learning environments in class. Hopefully, there will be more guerrilla teaching efforts in the future!

Meeting Attendees: Rey Villanueva, Emily Lloyd, Paula Pebsworth, Lori Barkwill Love, Will Robertson (via skype), and Leah McCurdy.


Anderson, Mark and Micah Fierstein
2014 Using Guerrilla Tactics to Improve Teaching. Faculty Focus: Effective Teaching Strategies. Online Publication.

Comaroff, John L. and Jean Comaroff
2001 On Personhood: An Anthropological Perspective from Africa. Social Identities: Journal of the Study of Race, Nation, and Culture 7(2): 267-283.

Controversial Topics


April 2, 2014
DEVELOPING COURSES AROUND CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS with Ashley Hurst, PhD Student & Adjunct Professor.
Ashley has used controversial topics as a fulcrum for undergraduate Anthropology courses with much success. We discussed her innovation, implementation, and ideas for the future.

Ashley offered to present a meeting on teaching controversial topics within anthropology to undergraduates, especially focused on engaging freshman and sophomore level students in critical thinking exercises. Ashley described how her process of using small group discussions allows students to participate in peer-peer learning, while also discovering that there are many perspectives to take into account and, often, no clear “right answer” to a problem. By choosing to focus on controversial topics, students are encouraged to engage in real scientific debates in a structured context. Ashley emphasized that to successfully incorporate this type of learning technique in the classroom, instructors need to set clear expectations for class behavior and participation in the syllabus, and to reinforce these expectations frequently. Students must read some background material before class and commit to an opinion at the start of the class period. During class, groups follow specific prompts within their group to stimulate discussions and fill out an answer sheet. At this point, Ashley gave examples of controversial topics within all the subfields of anthropology and passed around copies of readings she used, as well as one of her answer sheets.

Meeting participants asked a series of questions about how these discussion sessions were graded and expressed concern regarding the amount of prep-time and grading involved. Ashley agreed, saying that that she had initially incorporated ten topic discussions per class (during a 15 week semester) but that this was excessive in terms of grading and that some topics were far more successful than others. Participants were especially apprehensive about using “intelligent design vs. evolution” as a topic as this might be perceived as acknowledging ID as a valid scientific hypothesis, which is a particularly sensitive issue given the demographics of the UTSA student body. Ashley reiterated that the purpose of these discussions is to evaluate evidence and have students draw their own conclusions. Special attention needs to be paid in clearly explaining the arguments made by each side and, in this example, the weight of evidence for evolutionary theory should thus be fully evident. In reflecting further on the successes and failures she encountered, Ashley gave specific advice for maintaining class focus and not giving the students a personal opinion until later in the class, as students are liable to latch onto this as a “correct” answer. Lastly she advised to bring students to a final, personal conclusion on the topic.

As this was our last ATF session of the year, we discussed some other initiatives the ATF is supporting, including a collection of cultural and archaeological artifacts for use in classes, curated by the department. We dined on homemade pie and took a commemorative photo of the ATF members.

Meeting Attendees: Professor Deb (Wagner) Moon, Jenna Bonavia, Lori Barkwill Love, Griette van der Heide, Jessica Juarez, Lynn Kim, Guillaume Pages, Leah McCurdy, and Will Robertson



March 18, 2014
Using CLICKERS to their full potential. Discussion lead by Emily Lloyd, PhD Candidate & Adjunct Professor. We discussed recent developments in clicker technology, specifically relating to “iclickers.” Technical issues of use in classrooms were addressed along with strategies for implementing clickers to increase student engagement.

Our technical discussion of iclickers followed this online resource: “Clickers 101: A Clicker Primer for College Faculty.” We discussed the use of the base station, media storage devices, instructors’ clickers, and student clickers. iclicker software was addressed and its integration with online learning services such as Blackboard. Other resources included Instructor FAQs.

Emily introduced various strategies she has implemented to use the clickers in her introductory classes. She regularly administers 10 question reading quizzes using clickers. She finds that clickers expedite the process and facilitate efficient grading procedures. Most attendees were also interested in “on-the-fly” questions that can be created immediately in class using the on-screen clicker software and functionality. Options for “on-the-fly” questions include opinion polling (with the option for anonymity), gauging student understanding, receiving quick student feedback, immediate quizzing on lecture material, and student-directed questions to encourage discussion. Emily discussed Mollborn & Hoeskstra 2010 and their presentation of clicker questions types.

How can these various question types be integrated into a single class session?

An example from an introductory sociology of gender class (50 mins) illustrates the interweaving of lecture, clicker questions, and discussions:
• The instructor starts a unit on gender and the household division of labor with a 5 minute lecture segment relating household labor to an earlier unit on the workplace. Students then collaborate in large-group discussion to create an inclusive definition of household labor. Responses are listed on the blackboard, and students are encouraged to include ‘‘invisible’’ types of labor, such as kin-keeping.
• Next, the instructor uses a past experience question asking students to report which of their parents does more household labor on the basis of the definition the class just created, discussing their families’ situations with their neighbors.
• Revealing the distribution of responses, the instructor leads a large-group discussion of gender inequality in household labor. Students are encouraged to offer real-life information about why the divisions of labor might have been inequitable in their families (e.g., families trying to maximize income). The instructor uses this discussion as a springboard for 10 minute lecture on human capital explanations for who does the housework.
• Then, a concept test question is used to test students’ understanding of this theory by applying it to a new empirical situation in which the woman outearns the man.
• To cap off the lesson, an opinion question encompassing small group discussions of students’ answers prompts students to consider how useful they personally think human capital explanations are for explaining who does housework.
• The concluding large-group discussion helps students identify shortcomings in the human capital explanation.

Emily emphasized the importance of student-centered use of clickers. While clickers can be teacher-centered in reducing grading loads, they should also be approached for the focus of increasing student engagement with lecture, assessment, and the class as a whole. Lori Barkwill Love also discussed her reading on the subject. She found that graded clicker use should not exceed 10% of the total course grade otherwise, students may resent the use of clickers. Lori and Emily both emphasized that clickers should be used to give students opportunities for autonomy in class. By providing options in quizzes and even lecture through clickers, students can feel they have input in class and the determination of their grade.

A large part of our discussion concerned the significance of using anonymous polling features of clickers to open discussion of sensitive topics in anthropology. We discussed how the anonymous features function and the great benefit to apprehensive students or more open opinion sourcing that this feature can offer in many anthropology courses.

Meeting Attendees: Dr. Kat Brown, Jenna Bonavia, Lori Barkwill Love, Griette van der Heide, Jessica Juarez, Guillaume Pages, and Leah McCurdy