It was only in the main study period, especially during an excursion to New Zealand, and during my master thesis that I found out that I was cut out for Geography – and for doing science. Doing field work, reading plenty papers and textbooks, thinking things through, defining own positions and thoughts, and being wrong and having to re-think what I thought was right, was so fascinating and thrilling that I decided to become a scientist and University teacher.
It is challenging to motivate and involve students. Since it is my goal to generate lively seminars, it is crucial to find the balance between pushing and pulling, and an open and trustworthy learning environment. Pushing and pulling means that I must offer incentives to ensure that students are well-prepared for the respective classes. An effective tool to ensure this are mini-tests, i.e. very brief multiple-choice tests at the beginning of each class. Students answer questions about literature that is to be read each week. Students enjoy the associated learning progress and that they are capable of taking part in discussions. Another push-and-pull-tool is to increase the grading percentage of active participation, whilst at the same time offering mentoring and support for shy and cautious students. Furthermore, constant and detailed feedback to tasks encourages students to keep learning. Since mini-tests, homework assignments, and grades for active assignments are inappropriate tools for lectures, there I encourage students to participate in discussions with brainstorming activities, ‘whisper groups’, and by framing geographical topics with up-to-date news and current social developments. I believe it is crucial to be a creative and continuously learning and adapting lecturer to keep and increase the students’ motivation. Thus, I utilize a variety of didactic methods such as fishbowl, filmed panel discussions, short presentations, moderations, and portfolios. My continuous endeavour is to encourage my students to obtain powerful knowledge, i.e. knowledge that is needed to become a mature and responsible citizen and that builds the base for many professions. An understanding of climate change, global change, and the capability to abstract observations to systemic thinking are examples for powerful geographical knowledge.
To me, learning is a very individual process of personal growth towards increasing humbleness: Knowing that and what I do not know. In my experience, this process is best supported by a lecturer who has a strong desire to pose questions and to discuss different, possibly opposing answers, and who believes that her teaching makes a difference. In my seminars and lectures I urge and encourage my students to pose questions and to state if they didn’t understand what has been discussed. However, I reached this ability and strength to offer students an interactive, trusting, stimulating, and open learning environment only after some years of teaching and realizing that I was repeating some, whilst not all, settings that I found rather obstructive during my studies. I understood that it was not most important to stand in front of the students as an expert and as someone who knows the answers to all questions, but rather as somebody who exemplifies through my own actions that it is not most important to know and understand everything, but that it is more important to want to keep learning and to be able to self-reflect. I wish to help students to see how important, fascinating, and powerful geographical knowledge is.
My personal journey to become the University teacher that I am today has taken me beyond classic University settings. I am a sought-after young-scientist ambassador, holding classes in primary schools throughout Carinthia and Austria, I am training teachers, and I am trainer and mentor of the Austrian national team for the International Earth Science Olympiad (IESO). Nearly two decades after truly realizing how fascinating Geography is as a topic and after understanding how powerful geographical knowledge is (or can be) I want to offer my students a learning environment where they can realize this, too.