Teaching approach

My teaching philosophy and practice have been shaped by my prior work experience as an adult educator with Community Legal Education Association, and by my research program, which focuses on education and learning in the context of resource and environmental management. My philosophy and practice are informed by transformative learning theory, and guided by critical pedagogy and critical environmental education. The works of Paolo Freire, Jack Mezirow, and David Orr were formative influences.

Transformative theory suggests that a basic purpose of adult education should be to enable students to improve their instrumental and communicative competence. Instrumental competence refers to learning how to control or manipulate the environment, i.e., how to cope with the external world. Communicative competence involves trying to understand what people mean when they communicate with you. It helps the learner negotiate meanings, intentions and values, rather than merely accepting those of others.

In environmental education, improving instrumental competence means developing deeper understandings of the relationships among natural and human systems. It means teaching students their place in the biosphere, how to work with ecological mechanisms to create mental and material wealth, and that if we fail to work with those mechanisms, humanity would ultimately be destroyed. It involves at the very least having an understanding of the connection between thermodynamics and the human economy, the basic principles of ecology and physics, environmental ethics, practical knowledge about one's local ecosystem, and the social justice dimensions of environmental governance.

Improving communicative competence means facilitating socio-political empowerment by helping students develop the capacity to define and pursue their own goals. Students should be able to analyze the basic interests of individuals and groups involved in environmental governance. They should be able to understand the often complex, jargon-laden discourse encountered in environmental studies and environmental science. Moreover, they should be able to evaluate pro-development discourses and present credible and forceful counter discourses based on a scientific understanding of the relationships between human and natural systems.

Critical education methodology rejects the banking model of instruction in which students are viewed as empty vessels into which instructors make deposits of information. It places a premium on dialogue that shifts the centre of the learning process from the teacher to the student. The methodology requires the teacher to pose critical problems for inquiry relating to important features of students' actual experiences. This allows the students to see their thoughts and language reflected in the course of study. The dialogical approach invites learners to think critically about the subject matter being discussed, related doctrines, the learning process itself, and society.