- Introduction to Environmental Studies
- U.S. Environmental Policy
- Global Environmental Politics
Three primary tenets form the core of my teaching philosophy: 1) to present diverse ways of thinking about the world, 2) to facilitate genuine discussion and applied learning around contentious topics in the environment, and 3) to provide students with the analytical tools that make them better scholars and global citizens, wherever their future endeavors take them. Most broadly, by empowering young scholars to take charge of their learning within the classroom, I aim to instill in them a realized understanding for their capacity to participate within the democratic process.
I employ innovative teaching techniques aimed at encouraging students to pursue their interests through dialogue, writing, and collaborative work. For example, in my courses on environmental policy, we begin each semester by classifying different types of environmental perspectives into a “field guide” of worldviews: What are the motivations for different groups in society? What are their underlying assumptions and values? What attributes and skills does each group bring to the table? Through this instructional technique, students unpack each perspective and apply that understanding to each other, to people in their own lives, and to the thinkers we encounter throughout the class. In doing so, it becomes apparent to students why environmental issues can be so divisive. Even more importantly, they come to appreciate how all worldviews – even those very different from their own – have a role to play when solving the toughest problems with which society grapples.
I also foster real-world application through the use of hands-on class exercises. For example, in our class on collective action problems students play a competitive resource-gathering “fishing” game with goldfish crackers. The activity first illustrates Garret Hardin’s famous 1968 concept of the tragedy of the commons, where actors pursuing their own self-interests behave contrary to the good of all. However, in additional game rounds, students discover how the “tragedy” might be overcome – through communication, for example, and the development of group norms around appropriate behavior. Through this kind of game, students acquire a deeper understanding of concepts foundational to the study of environmental policy and political science, and in a way that is memorable too.
These core objectives of introducing diverse worldviews, generating discussion, and applied learning are further complemented in my classes by a range of assignments that develop students’ analytical capabilities. For example, I often use a semester-long “policy analysis memo” project, which takes students through the process of addressing a thorny environmental policy problem. Students propose an issue that interests them, conduct background research, identify stakeholders involved, critically evaluate potential solutions, and suggest a recommended course of action. Importantly, students select specific criteria, justify why those criteria are relevant or important, and then use them to analyze competing policy options. In this way, students are challenged to move past knee-jerk support for policy solutions and instead engage in a careful step-by-step process of deliberation guided by clearly defined principles. In addition, an entire class session is dedicated to peer-review activities. Pragmatically, students benefit from receiving additional feedback and the opportunity to discuss their project with a peer. However, the process itself also encourages them to engage more deeply with the project, as well as make independent assessments about feedback they receive – an important pedagogical philosophy of student-led learning.
My teaching has been recognized through Purdue’s university-wide Teaching Academy Graduate Teaching Award, which recognize my abilities as a teacher and mentor. Additionally, I have been nominated for Purdue University’s extremely competitive mentorship and teaching University Graduate School Teaching Award. Overall, I am committed to continuing to develop my teaching abilities through additional formal training opportunities and workshop participation.
Today, incivility and disregard for the natural world is widespread. Still, students leave my classes knowing that policy is a powerful tool – and that they have the right and the ability to engage in changing the world while being respectful of others.
Sample Student Comments
Comments from formal course evaluations show that students who take my classes appreciate my approach to teaching, feel that I am committed to working closely with students, and that my courses are characterized by high-quality classroom discussions that contributed to student learning.
Student reactions to my teaching approach, such as methods and course organization:
- Heather makes a point to integrate fun, modern, relevant outside sources (like cartoons or videos) into lecture and readings to help visualize and cement broad or complex ideas.
- She’s really good about explaining everything very in-depth, especially on topics that can be confusing, and she also presents the material in a clear and organized way. She also tries to make her lesson plans as hands-on as possible which really drives the point home.
- I really appreciated the consistent structure of the course and attention to detail! All assignments and expectations were clear, and communication was frequent.
- Professor Cann has done an excellent job of teaching the class by providing thorough explanations and multiple viewpoints. Professor Cann encourages us to think outside the box and widen our political viewpoints beyond just the United States.
Commitment to working closely with students:
- She really cares about the students and will go out of her way to help
- Heather makes a point to personally interact with her students and make them feel valued
- She is very understanding, and works with us to make sure we are learning
High-quality classroom discussions:
- Heather is extremely good at being careful of other peoples’ views and not taking sides, which I feel is crucial to any program in the political field.
- I really enjoy the open discussion in class. It allows everyone to be exposed to different ideas and views. The instructor listens to each student’s opinion earnestly and respects everyone’s ideas, making the act of speaking in front of the class much less intimidating
- Heather is a great class leader, I love the discussion portions of class because it helped us all come together, and talk about the main points of the lecture… and they really do help with the understanding of the material.
- She is really great at handling group conversation, not showing bias, and affirming and reframing comments.