Terah Sportel

PhD, MSc, BES

Teaching

My formal pedagogic experiences, as an educator, have been at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) and at the University of Guelph (UoG). To date, I have been responsible for designing and teaching 16 different undergraduate courses, three programs of directed study, plus I have developed and conducted a yearly overnight field trip for my third-year political ecology class (2013-2016, see sample itinerary below), and (with colleagues) an international two-week study tour (April 24 – May 8, 2015). I regularly engage in interdisciplinary teaching collaborations between human and physical geography such as through team-teaching a course in field techniques, participating in multi-day field trips to the interior of British Columbia (BC) and to Vancouver Island, for lower and upper level undergraduate geomorphology courses. Since defending my doctorate, I have taught under exceptional pressure: 3-5 courses per semester (as is required for the contract) – without a teaching assistant (TA), excluding the workload for directed studies and honours students, or mandatory department service, etc. – and yet all of my formal teaching evaluations still remain consistently excellent. However, my heavy course load, together with many first-time course preparations, clearly has had an impact on my ability to effectively organize some courses to the high standard I expect (see examples of student comments below), but I believe that this issue will be easily mitigated over time.

The small classes at UFV allow for a combination of lecture, discussion, active and experiential learning, and seminar formats. Without a graduate program I structure my upper year classes in a manner similar to graduate seminars within the fields of geography and international development. I have had the pleasure to work closely with upper year students and provide mentorship during the course of their program and beyond. I have had the pleasure of supporting and mentoring academically outstanding upper year students in their pursuit of graduate studies, including guidance in searching and applying for and navigating graduate programs, in building academic experience (e.g. through conferences, research, writing and teaching), and in providing further support and guidance as they build personal and professional confidence.

I enjoy and value mentoring as a critical part of my role and career. I take pride in the graduate studies and employment my students pursue and continue supporting them after graduation. For example I have continued to mentor Tyler Blackman (MA Candidate, University of Victoria), a UFV alumnus whose honours research I co-supervised. Tyler chaired a session I organized at the Western Division of the Canadian Association of Geographers (UFV, March 4, 2017). The session supported fourth-year independent student research in my capstone global development studies seminar; they chose topics connected to their current and future learning goals. I have provided editorial guidance and encouragement for student research projects, including: a paper published in Summit (the UFV undergraduate journal); an honours research proposal and thesis; research applications for ethics approval; and a poster derived from a political ecology paper, presented at UFV student research day (March 29, 2017). I continue to support students and alumni as a referee for graduate school, research funding (SSHRC CGSM), and employment.

Growing up in rural, northwestern Ontario with sub-standard education opportunities makes me sensitive toward many pedagogic differences and disparities, particularly after my overseas development work. During my PhD studies I also raised a child, forcing me to acquire additional dimensions as an educator. Whether from diverse life experiences, or reasons unknown, my reputation as a TA was that of a ‘go-to person’, and I became entrusted with the responsibility of training Research Assistants (RAs) and mentoring UoG masters students while in India. In my course evaluations, and through informal feedback, UFV students consistently refer to my humility, approachability and ability to treat them with respect. I believe my own varied experiences strengthen recognition of the personal and professional challenges students navigate within academia. My career as an educator is one of the most rewarding parts of my life and I consistently strive to improve upon my skills and strengthen my courses.

My experiences inform what I assess to be three basic tenets of my pedagogy: First, I believe students must be provided with the ‘knowledge tools’ to visualize and shape their own personal and professional futures. I see my role as offering ideas and experiences that develop the curiosity, confidence, reflection, and analytical/practical skills for people to themselves change their lives. To realize this ideal, I nurture student participation in classes by such techniques as small group discussions (with reports back to the class), group brainstorming, role-playing, plus Q&A periods. Whenever possible, I incorporate experiential learning, to help students appreciate different opportunities and world views. At UFV, I was notably responsible for designing the human geography components for a two-week New York study tour, focused on understanding how global and local social, economic, and political processes intersect, historical social-economic transitions, urban sustainability, and social justice.

Secondly, I believe students thrive in contexts where they access systematically-organized course materials and are encouraged to intellectually challenge themselves. To support their studies, I offer courses with core readings and, depending upon the level, lectures or seminars as a ‘backbone’, to which all other activities relate. Reflecting my view that graduating students should not be just ‘essayists’, assignments incorporate both lower and higher order thinking processes, where applicable, with part of their grade being an assessment of oral communication skills. Especially effective has been a combination of weekly discussion questions, ’10 minute papers’, and video discussion to foster critical thought. A video on Qatar and World Cup labourers, for example, in my first-year human geography course, typically leads to sophisticated discussions on the relation to uneven development, migration, and (un)sustainable livelihoods. Colleagues and students have informed me that many students seek my courses because I provide an inclusive classroom environment that offers assorted methods of delivering content that challenges their perspectives and is applicable to contemporary development issues.

Thirdly, I believe in cultivating mutual respect, accountability, and responsibility in all of my student interactions. ‘To lead by example’ is a maxim that I subscribe to – and it helps to instill an educational culture that is healthy and respectful of everyone. I believe effective teachers continually reflect upon and re-evaluate their pedagogy. My skills have been strengthened by always taking student feedback seriously, by participating in ‘scholarship of teaching and learning’ workshops, and by training to develop online course tools using software packages such as Blackboard, and by engaging in problem-based learning. I view instruction as a dialectical process: Pedagogy must evolve with experience, and must relate in critical ways to disciplinary norms and to teaching techniques, and with an awareness of the responsibility of educators to society at large.

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Political Ecology Field Trip @ Alexandra Bridge, British Columbia, Fall 2016


Bachelors Projects & Theses

2017-   Supervisor. Monosky, Miranda. A Political Ecology Approach to Landfill Development in Chilliwack, BC. Project is in the early stages and will begin May 2017.Department of Geography and the Environment, University of the Fraser Valley, BC, Canada.

2016   Co-supervisor. Blackman, TylerThe Canadian Farmworkers Union: Social Movements & Labour Arrangements. Honours Thesis. Award recipient: (1) Best undergraduate presentation at Western Division of the Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, University of Northern British Columbia. Prince George, BC, Canada (March 11-12); (2) UFV Undergraduate Research Excellence Award; (3) Doug Nicol Geography Faculty Award for 2015-2016. Department of Geography and the Environment, University of the Fraser Valley, BC, Canada.

Course Instruction & Development

2016-2017  Geography of Poverty and Development (GEOG/GDS 340), Global Development Studies Seminar (GDS 400), Political Ecology: Nature, Society & Space (GEOG 312), World Regional Geography (GEOG 240), Human Geography (GEOG 140), Geography of Canada Online (GEOG 130); Department of Geography and the Environment, University of the Fraser Valley, BC, Canada.

2015-2016  Advanced Field Methods & Techniques (GEOG 452), Geography of Poverty and Development (GEOG/GDS 340), Political Ecology: Nature, Society and Space (GEOG 312),Geography of Religion (GEOG 346), World Regional Geography (GEOG 240), Human Geography (GEOG 140), Environmental Issues & Strategies (GEOG 111); Department of Geography and the Environment, University of the Fraser Valley, BC, Canada.

2014-2015  New York Study Tour (GEOG 433N, 470N, 484N, 233N, 270N), Advanced Field Methods & Techniques (GEOG 452), Approaches to Human Geography (GEOG 354), Political Ecology: Nature, Society and Space (GEOG 312), Human Geography (GEOG 140), Environmental Issues & Strategies (GEOG 111), Geography of Canada (GEOG 130); Department of Geography and the Environment, University of the Fraser Valley, BC, Canada.

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Dutch Kills Green, NYC Study Tour, May 5, 2015.

2013-2014  Geography of Poverty and Development (GEOG/GDS 340), Political Ecology: Nature, Society and Space (GEOG 312), Human Geography (GEOG 140); Department of Geography and the Environment, University of the Fraser Valley, BC, Canada.

2010  Development and the City (GEOG 3050), Applied Social Geography (GEOG 2260); Department of Geography, University of Guelph, ON, Canada.

2008  Political Ecology and International Political Geography (GEOG 2030), Department of Geography, University of Guelph, ON, Canada.

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