Transformative Teaching

In 2016, U of S Geography and Planning professor, Dr. Xulin Guo, adopted a First Year Research Experience (FYRE) into her class, Geography 120: Introduction to Global Environmental Systems. Although hesitant to introduce research to relatively inexperienced students, Guo has since transformed her teaching practices to reflect the necessity of young scholars taking ownership of their classroom experience.

Guo explains that it is essential for students to have one central “thread” from the beginning to end of a class, as it allows them to envision the potential application, impact, or output of the knowledge and skills they learn throughout the semester. The “thread” she uses to guide her students is a research question; each pupil identifies a question based on human interaction with a geographical area of interest. They then collect and analyze environmental data on that area before sharing their findings with peers and the public by creating and presenting a research poster at Guo’s end-of-term symposium.

This immersive approach to teaching environmental systems saw students become deeply invested in their studies, improving their grades and attitudes. “[Most] students think they can’t do research, that it’s so difficult,” Guo says. But after a term spent learning, applying, and celebrating hands-on research skills, her students come to the same realization she did many months ago – that the beginning of inquiry, discovery, and innovation cannot be confined by age.