Teaching Philosophy Statement - © Heather McKee Hurwitz, Ph.D.
I value collaborative learning. I guide students to new ideas, we critically reflect on social problems using texts and our own experiences, we discuss and exchange feedback to learn from our mistakes, and we write, revise and report our analyses. I teach my students as if we are a research team at a vibrant field site with the goal of transforming our communities.
Students follow a syllabus designed to maximize opportunities for discussion and critical reflection. For example, in my Women and Leadership course, students compare and contrast the achievements, challenges, and marginalization of women activists in the Occupy Wall Street movement and #BlackLivesMatter. Students divide into groups and closely read two scholarly articles about the movements. They discuss their insights with a peer and then shift into large group discussion. Two student scribes diagram students’ analyses on the chalkboard. We debate whether and how participants’ experiences in each movement vary by gender, race, and class and how women’s leadership mattered. Later, we stand back and debrief together about what we learn from the schema on the board. We also take time to reflect on and share how our own experiences of activism and leadership relate to the activists we studied. Whether auditory, visual or kinetic learners, students find opportunities to express themselves and develop leadership skills using visual aids, theatrics and sharing the presentation tasks. The exercise allows us to compare how women in contemporary politics are simultaneously advancing to leadership and remain marginalized.
I also spark depth in-class discussions by showing timely short films and YouTube videos that complement the readings. For example, in my Global Activism class we watch the short film, A Message from Pandora. The film compares the blockbuster movie Avatar and indigenous peoples’ activism opposing the Brazilian Belo Monte mega-dam project. Because it features the cherished Amazon region as well as the much-loved actors and characters of Avatar, students are compelled to accomplish the course learning goals. They synthesize theories about globalization and social movements and critically analyze the race, class and gender issues in a case study. Seeing James Cameron and Kayapo people work together leads to especially provocative disputes. Students debate whether collaborations between activists in the Global North and Global South reproduce colonial relationships or are necessary partnerships to protect against climate change.
In all of my classes I use a variety of assessment techniques to train students to become better writers, editors, and critical thinkers. Students summarize and critique course readings in online “logs” to prepare for class. At the end of class, students recap the main ideas of lectures and films using one-minute writing exercises on index cards. Also on the cards, they raise questions to address in the next class and offer suggestions to improve the class. In addition to these techniques, students in my Global Feminism and the Internet course created websites as final public sociology projects. I designed the course to commemorate Tyler Clemente, a gay college student cyber-bullied into suicide. On their websites, students displayed research about gender and sexuality issues online. They argued for feminist netiquette to limit sexist and anti-LGBTQ discrimination on the Internet and offline.
Beyond the classroom, I mentor students by bringing them “into the field” with me. Seventeen students at UCSB and ten at Barnard have gained hands-on research skills. I teach them qualitative open coding in ATLAS.ti, quantitative content coding using Access and Excel, transcribing in-depth interviews, Endnote, grants management, paper archive management, Internet research techniques, and more. Wielding more than a decade of research management skills, I mentor future researchers by collaborating with them in a research experience. Also, at Barnard, I developed Feminist Fieldtrips to informally mentor students and launch them into careers that use applied sociological skills. We practice networking and organizational analysis during immersion trips throughout the city from visiting Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum to touring UN Women and the U.S. Mission at the United Nations. By remaining open to new teaching techniques, I will continue to improve the ways I inspire critical thinking and reflection, teamwork, and excellent writing.