Student Spotlight: Franziska Landes, PhD Candidate in Earth and Environmental Science

by | Nov 1, 2018

Franziska Landes is a Ph.D. candidate in the Earth and Environmental Science program at Columbia University. She is interested in environmental geochemistry and public health, especially the potential for community and public participation in science to reduce exposure to environmental contaminants while increasing environmental literacy. At CTL she has been a CIRTL Fellow (2017-18), a Senior Lead Teaching Fellow (2016-17), and a Lead Teaching Fellow (2015-16). She is currently a GSAS Teaching Scholar.

In this Spotlight story, Franziska Landes, Ph.D. candidate in Earth and Environmental Science, shares how co-facilitating workshops and engaging with the CTL through diverse fellowships have strengthened her own teaching practice, and offers teaching tips that new graduate student instructors might consider incorporating into their own practice.

“As researchers, we constantly think about what make an experiment successful, but we often don’t apply this same rigor or intentionality to our teaching. It has been helpful to create these connections between research and teaching and think about how I can monitor my students’ learning to see whether my teaching is effective.”

Roles at the CTL: 

  • CIRTL Fellow, 2017-18
  • Senior Lead Teaching Fellow, 2016-17
  • Lead Teaching Fellow, 2015-16
Franziska Landes

PhD Candidate in Earth and Environmental Science, Columbia University

What motivated you to participate in the CTL’s STEM Education Journal Club (among others) and what have you been learning by participating?

One of the first things scientists do when exploring a new question is to read the literature to explore previous information and studies, and I wanted to base my teaching in these same foundational resources for the field of learning. I’ve found the Journal Club to be especially effective because the education literature is often different from our home disciplines, and as a group we are able to dissect and discuss this new vocabulary and methodology. Throughout the year, we get a broad overview of the existing educational literature, share our own experiences with the teaching strategies studied, offer different viewpoints and critiques, and see how some STEM courses have incorporated these learning strategies. In the end, we always discuss how we would change our own teaching based on the results of the articles.

You have participated in various programs and fellowships at the CTL. As a student in the sciences, which programs or fellowships have been particularly valuable to you and why?

The Lead Teaching fellowship is especially relevant for the sciences because you are able to focus on the teaching development needs of your home department and plan two workshops for your peers. You also have the ability to connect your department to those CTL resources that are particularly useful for your discipline.

The CIRTL fellowship has also been very valuable because I had the support to think about how I would assess my own teaching. It has been helpful to create these connections between research and teaching and think about how I can monitor my students’ learning to see whether my teaching is effective.  I also found CIRTL’s online workshops, courses, and resources to be helpful. I particularly recommend An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Education, which provides an excellent overview of published research and connects to relatable examples in STEM.

Looking back on your engagements with the CTL, in what ways has interacting with peers strengthened your own teaching practices?

Interacting with my peers has been one of the most valuable aspects of my time at the CTL. In the fellowships, we develop into a supportive learning community and learn through the diversity of the different departments and teaching roles. For example, I was able to adapt some strategies that my peers used in discussion sections for my own course, such as jigsaws and think-pair-share exercises. While we often start by assuming our teaching is very discipline-specific, we end up finding we share many learning goals for our students. Whether in history or chemistry, we want our students to see how our fields help explain key structures in the world. We seek to equip our students with the skills to think critically and evaluate the ever-increasing information they encounter. We try to help our students become self-directed learners, and hope that through experiencing the process we use as practitioners in our field, students learn that there is not always one simple answer or one correct way.

You recently began teaching a course of your own design through the Teaching Scholars program in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. How has your engagement in CTL activities prepared you to design, teach, and assess this course all on your own?

As a co-facilitator of CTL offerings such as the Evidence-Based Teaching in Science and Engineering Seminar and the Reflective Teaching Seminar, I’ve thought extensively about an approach to curriculum planning called ‘backward design.’ This involves (a) starting with what I want my students to learn, (b) thinking about how I would measure this, and (c) finally focusing on which activities would help my students learn these knowledge and skills. I also have focused on ways that my students can incorporate instructor or peer feedback into an assignment. CTL workshops provide a community for me to reflect on how I can make intentional improvements. I also draw on the support the CTL offers to instructors, such as teaching observations, teaching consultation sessions, and midcourse reviews to get formative feedback and improve my course.

Teaching Strategies

Before I ask my students to share their answer to a question to the entire class, I like to give them a few minutes to think about the answer on their own and then discuss with a neighbor. This increases the replies and discussion in the moment and throughout the rest of the class. It’s also an easy tool to add in the middle of class when I notice that attention is waning. As a student myself, I also liked this strategy because it provided me the opportunity to participate in the class, apply my understanding of the material, and see how I was doing.

When my students have a homework or reading assignment, I try to provide them the opportunity to share their work or thoughts with a peer in class. This enables students to connect the homework to the class, feel accountable for their work, and see another’s approach to the assignment. For larger assignments, students have a follow-up assignment where they can update their first homework and reflect on how sharing their work and hearing their peers’ questions impacted their work.

In this activity, my students are assigned different sections of a reading or a homework. For example I ask my students to research different chemicals. Then in class, we start in groups of those who worked on similar assignments, comparing notes and synthesizing information so students can become ‘experts’ on the section they read. We then rearrange groups so students can share their information, asking questions of each other and working together to compare and contrast their assigned reading.

I like to start off class by having my students think about how a course concept connects to previous material or how it connects to their everyday lives. I turn this into a think-pair (and sometimes share) exercise to start the class with everyone’s participation. These exercises help my students create stronger mental connections to help recall information in the future, and real-world connections can help motivation.