J. Jacob Kirksey
PhD Candidate & NSF Graduate Research Fellow
At UCSB, I have had the opportunity to teach undergraduates, pre-service teachers, Ph.D. students, and faculty members. In all, I have formally served as a teaching assistant for five separate courses of advanced undergraduate students in education, a M.Ed. thesis facilitator for teacher candidates in our teacher education program, and the sole instructor for an advanced statistics course in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education’s Methods University. My approach to teaching has been largely inspired by my liberal arts education. The liberal arts facilitate a culture of inquiry, interdisciplinarity, and an individual’s unique motivation for learning. This sentiment is embedded in all of my teaching and mentoring experiences.
Regardless of whether I am teaching 5th graders or faculty members, my classes maintain a culture of learning by considering that students possess unique experiences with the world, which foster distinct opinions, approaches to learning, modes of communication, and motivation for being in the class. Beginning with course design, I ensure that I have included at least one assignment that yields some representation for all potential audiences for the course. This crucial aspect of course design ensures that a multitude of perspectives are considered.
My classes also emphasize a mutual respect for co-learning, where any individual person may teach/know more about a topic than others (including me, the instructor). For example in my Causal Inference class, I taught one student who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Environmental Science at UCSB. One of my favorite moments in that course was reframing our discussion of using difference-in-differences to apply the technique to evaluating the effect of new fishing ordinances on shark and tuna harvesting. In this discussion, the student learned how to apply a causal technique to her dissertation research, and I (and the rest of the class) was challenged into thinking about a new quasi-experiment in the data, the potential confounding factors, and whether a difference-in-differences design was appropriate.
Most of my undergraduate researchers first interacted with me in one of my courses, and I am proud to say that my application of research in my teaching was a primary reason my undergraduates chose to pursue independent research with me. Specifically, in my courses, there are numerous opportunities as an instructor to break down empirical articles and conceptual pieces in a way that is relevant to students’ current experiences. This is a teaching strategy I have used in every class that I have taught. While research and teaching are often considered separate skillsets, I believe they go together when working with postsecondary students.
Finally, I believe reflection- during and after instruction- is a critical component of good teaching. Student course evaluations are one source of reflections by some instructors. To be honest, these evaluations are rarely factored into any decision I make as an instructor: The feedback comes too late, and there is plenty of research showing the ineffectiveness of these summative student evaluations. Though just to appease those who like them, you can find them on my courses page. I prefer to embed small, yet meaningful breaks in my lesson plans to reflect on the content being delivered in real-time. Effectively, this involves informal assessments of student learning, such as low-stakes quizzes or intentional lecture slides that ask students to reflect on previously presented material. Keeping these data in mind, I make immediate adjustments and cater content to where my students are in that moment.