Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2014

Faculty Award winner

Leandra Preston-Sidler

 College of Arts and Humanities

 Women Studies

My teaching philosophy is grounded in my passions–for learning, for teaching, for stimulating interest in women's and gender issues, for social justice, and for encouraging students to critically engage their own worlds and the information they are exposed to in every facet of their experience. While each of the courses I teach focuses on specific information and content, the most important skill that students gain from my courses is an ability to think critically both within and beyond academic spaces. I encourage students not to accept information at face value, but to question and challenge knowledge and to recognize that they are as much a part of constructing knowledge as absorbing it. To promote such learning, I emphasize analysis and discussion of readings and multimedia texts and require students to take leadership roles through participation in service-learning projects.

Since I began teaching Women's Studies courses eleven years ago, I have sought to demonstrate the relevance of gender and women's issues to students in their own academic fields, but perhaps most importantly, in their own lives. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire refers to education as a "practice of freedom," a "means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. " I like to think my students learn just that in my classes–to think critically about and even transform the various contexts and communities that surround them. I am a strong believer in interdisciplinarity and see Women's Studies as a site of connection–bringing knowledge from various disciplines together to demonstrate how knowledge is connected and applied.

The transition from teaching solely face-to-face to 100% online has required substantial adjustments and content building but is a change I embrace, as I acknowledge the benefits of online courses, including accessibility and the potential for ‘fuller’ and more open discussions, as well as ease of integration of online tools and resources. While it takes more time and energy to facilitate discussions than to administer tests and quizzes, especially online, critical discussion is a component of my courses I am unwilling to compromise regardless of mode. Online education is often criticized as a ‘watered down’ form of learning but I believe online courses are as effective as face-to-face courses when both students and faculty are engaged with the information presented.

Teaching is a dynamic collaboration to convey specific concepts related to one's discipline(s), but through experience, I have learned it is also much more. I devote my life to my work and hope that my passion for what I do will lead students down paths that will fulfill them as much as teaching and learning fulfills me.