In my view, a geographic instructor shows learners how to approach any problem using a spatial-temporal lens. Teaching with and in geography promotes critical thinking that blends traditional academic knowledge with community-based experiences. Geographic education should be theoretically grounded applications of interdisciplinary knowledge, spatiotemporal analysis, and study of socioenvironmental factors to local and global domains. Geographic education is an applied discipline that should constantly engage and adapt to changing worlds. Thus, I situate my teaching philosophy within a pragmatic constructivist viewpoint, which has been eloquently described by Dorsey .
There are three fundamentals I propose as the objectives of my teaching. First, geography learners should be able to apply a space-time lens to any knowledge area and leverage the power of geographic information systems or science in their respective fields. Second geography learners should be able to process information from a wide range of sources and synthesize it into a geographically relevant view. Finally, geography learners should be open to dialogue with anyone, and willing to engage with their local and global communities.
On a practical level, I make myself available to students on their schedule. I believe in setting up appointments and meetings outside of the classroom, and creating defined times and spaces for listening, questioning, and applying. I believe that my learning objectives should have a measurable outcome through purposeful assessment. Students through these assessments should gain practical experience and be exposed to applications of geography. I measure my own success through student satisfaction, their own professional development outcomes (job, volunteer, scholarships), and improvements in their reading, writing, presenting, and analysis skills.
 Dorsey, Bryan. "Linking theories of service-learning and undergraduate geography education." Journal of Geography 100, no. 3 (2001): 124-132.
My teaching responsibilities have encompassed developing two undergraduate courses, serving as the sole teaching assistant of a course or head teaching assistant of a large team of peers, and co-supervising two undergraduate students.
Healthy Cities (GEOG 2160), Department of Geography, Western University, 2019
A survey course exploring the connections between urban environments, health, and wellbeing, including key historical developments, theories, problems, and solutions. Hands-on activities throughout teach skills and knowledge suitable for careers in planning, urban development, public health, medicine, business, civil engineering, and municipal government. The course is classified as an introductory path to a program of study in geography. I co-developed with Dr. Jason Gilliland all the course content and assessments. The course syllabus is provided in the sample materials section.
Land Use and Development Issues (GEOG 3461), Department of Geography, Western University, Fall 2019
A critical examination of current land use and development projects with 36 students taught by Dr. Jason Gilliland; students are required to work in teams on a project to answer a defined research question from popular issues in the London, Ontario, Canada community. In Fall 2019, I refreshed the course by soliciting and formalizing student projects into request for proposals from community partners. A sample RFP and completed student project report is provided in the sample materials section.
Aggregate Resources Planning, Development and Management (PLAN 474), School of Planning, University of Waterloo, 2018
This course introduces students to a variety of topics associated with aggregate resources (sand, gravel and stone), important but contentious issues in planning and resource management in Ontario and elsewhere. This course provides students with exposure to many topics related to aggregate resources including: geology, economics, site plans, technical requirements for licensing, peer reviews, conflict resolution, resource management, cumulative effects, water resources, rehabilitation and after-use, recent Tribunal decisions and future issues. The course is classified as an elective for upper-year undergraduate students, and graduate students, majoring in planning. I assisted Mr. Wayne Caston in identifying and filming aggregate sites in the local region, and leading interviews with industry professionals to create more engaging course content.
Healthy Cities (GEOG 2160), Department of Geography, Western University, Winter 2020 & 2021
A survey course of over 100 students taught by Dr. Jason Gilliland, exploring the connections between urban environments, health, and wellbeing, including key historical developments, theories, problems, and solutions. Hands-on activities throughout teach skills and knowledge suitable for careers in planning, urban development, public health, medicine, business, civil engineering, and municipal government. As the teaching assistant, I was responsible for leading lab assignments, marking, and addressing student enquiries.
Land Use and Development Issues (GEOG 3461), Department of Geography, Western University, Fall 2018, 2019 & 2020
A critical examination of current land use and development projects with 36 students taught by Dr. Jason Gilliland; students are required to work in teams on a project to answer a defined research question from popular issues in the London, Ontario, Canada community. As the teaching assistant, I was responsible for soliciting and compiling predefined projects for students to work on, leading tutorials in urban geography field methods, marking assessments, and addressing student enquiries.
Real Estate and the Cities (GEOG 4460), Department of Geography, Western University, Winter 2019
This course of 50 students taught by Mr. Joseph Shaw exposes students to various forms and categories of investment in commercial real estate, exploring real estate portfolio theory, direct vs indirect ownership, real estate private equity, specific theories of location and the performance of real estate in a broader investment world. As the teaching assistant, I was responsible for setting up and managing the course’s web conferencing system to connect with the instructor, designing and marking student assessments, and addressing student enquiries.
Planning Administration and Finance (PLAN 103), School of Planning, University of Waterloo, Winter 2017 & 2018
This course of over 100 students taught by Dr. Markus Moos studies important planning and financial instruments, administrative processes and planning practices, planning law, official plans, plan amendments, zoning bylaws, site plans, easements, consents, variances, assessments, mill rates, capital works, and debentures, municipal budgets and accounting concepts, and land development financing. As the head teaching assistant, I was responsible for coordinating a team of five other teaching assistants and their tutorials, marking student assessments, taking attendance in lecture, and addressing student enquires that were elevated from the other teaching assistants.
Wray A. 2019, November 26. Spaces of sale – How and where do we shop?. Invited by G Arku for GEOG 2420: Economic Geography. Western University.
Wray A.. 2019, September 30. The ethics of researching individual locations. Invited by C Hunsberger for GEOG 3250: Social Science Methods in Geography. Western University.
Evidence of Teaching Effectiveness
I consider my teaching to be well-liked by my students. Effectiveness is a more challenging outcome to describe given the small role I play in student development. Formal evaluations were not conducted during my time at Waterloo, however, many former students still reach out to me for advice – which I would translate into evidence of being viewed as an effective mentor to my students.
At Western, formal evaluations have resulted in over 95% of respondents reporting very positive or positive perceptions of my teaching. In 2018, I was awarded the E.G. Pleva Prize for Excellence as a Graduate Teaching Assistant by the Department of Geography for being judged as the best teaching assistant by a committee of faculty and undergraduate students. Moreover, the same year I received 8 unique nominations for the Western University Graduate Student Teaching Award. Here are a few excerpts from these nominations:
AJ has been an incredible TA; the most involved and engaged TA I have had in my four years at university. He attends each class and makes himself very available to help outside of classroom hours through office hours and appointments. His dedication to the class and the students in it is exhibited in everything he does. I cannot imagine the amount of work that is involved in being a TA for this class but he does not seem discouraged by this whatsoever. He is incredibly passionate about the topics covered in class and it shows; his excitement influences the attitudes of those in the class tremendously!
AJ was always there for students. He filled in when the prof was away and taught engaging and interacting lessons like I’ve never had before (he once had us create LEGO cities with zoning restrictions for our urban planning class). He made himself available for extra hours help with projects. He replied to emails within minutes. He has an immense amount of knowledge which makes it seem like he has been in the field for many years.
AJ is an energetic, caring, well-organized, and engaged TA. He is one of the best TAs I've had in all of the Geography courses I've taken so far, because of how engaged he is with the students in the course. It's clear that he cares about the students and his work, and he has improved the learning experience in GEO 3461 with his help sessions, tutorials, and lighthearted humour. He posts all the resources in the course on OWL in an organized and structured way, and provides opportunities for further learning with extra readings.
Throughout these comments, many of my teaching strategies are explicitly mentioned as highlights of a student’s learning experience. These tend to be practical simulation-based exercises or structured digital learning exercises, and often involve the compassionate approach I take to the learning process.
Teaching Strategies and Innovations
I use multiple strategies in my approach to teaching geography, and generally any other subject. First, I link all my material and assessments to practical situations. Second, I use hands-on techniques to demonstrate class concepts using technology. Finally, I encourage students to develop communication, writing, and collaboration skills through assessments that mimic professional work.
I believe in assessments being practical, and tied to career-based situations that students would face after graduation. The intent of this approach is to prepare students with the skills and experiences that make them competitive on the job market, and assets to their employers. However, I do not sacrifice theoretical grounding or academic rigor in the application of this principle to my teaching. In the sample teaching materials section I have provided a copy of the final exam I drafted for GEOG 4460: Real Estate and the Cities. This exam takes theoretical economic geography and real estate finance concepts, and tasks students with applying them through situational questions.
I regularly introduce technology into my teaching and assessments. For example, when teaching urban geography fieldwork skills, I show students how to create a geographic-focused survey and then go out in the field to collect data with their own devices. In the sample teaching materials section, I provide screenshots of the using Survey123 for ArcGIS to collect data for a student project in GEOG 3461: Land Use and Development Issues, and the subsequent map of the data collected by the students.
I believe in providing students with assessments that mimic professional work tasks that are in direct contact with a community partner. These assessments not only achieve the course objectives, but teach students communication, writing, and collaboration skills. In the sample teaching materials section, I provide a request for proposals document drafted for the Old East Village Business Improvement Area that students “bid” on as an assessment. I have provided the subsequent product that the “winning” student group delivered to the client. This report was extremely well-received by the client, and has actually been used as evidence for the City of London to retain the community improvement incentives in the Old East Village area.
Professional Development in Teaching
I am currently enrolled in the Western University Certificate in University Teaching and Learning program. I have participated in teaching-related seminars, peer coaching, and assignments that hone core teaching skills. The Advanced Teaching Program is the keystone component of this program, focusing on course design strategies, active learning, authentic assessment of student learning, and maintaining a culture of respect and community in the classroom. In the program, I also practiced instructional techniques in a microteaching format – 10 minute lessons – where I received constructive feedback on my teaching from my peers and an experienced team of instructors. In addition, I have attended the following workshops provided by the Western Centre for Teaching and Learning over my time in the certificate program:
Getting It Done: Managing Your Time (2018/11/23)
Teaching in the Arts and Social Sciences (2018/11/23)
Constructing Your Teaching Dossier (2019/02/07)
Increasing the Power of Powerpoint (2019/02/08)
Learning How to Learn (2019/02/08)
How to Care For and Use Your Teaching Voice (2019/03/18)
Rethink Your CV (2019/03/18)
Assessing and Articulating Your Teaching Skills (2019/03/29)
Active Learning: What You Can Do and Why It Will Work (2019/05/15)
Using Active Learning Exercises to Create Engaged, Critical Community Learning (2019/05/15)
Webinar on Teaching Philosophy Statements (2019/10/03)
The program has also taught me experientially through developing a course syllabus, and this teaching dossier document. In addition to this program, I regularly engage in Esri Canada’s and other software company seminars and online courses to continually maintain my geographic information system and data analysis skills so I am constantly teaching students the latest techniques and technology. I plan to continue to engage with these types of professional development programs throughout my career.
I have held multiple student-based positions that have had an impact on education quality, degree structures, and academic support. In addition, my involvement with the Town and Gown Association of Ontario provides connections to community partners that can provide learning opportunities for students. My educational leadership positions have included:
President & Board Member, Town and Gown Association of Ontario, 2018 to present
Committee Member, President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health, Academic Panel, University of Waterloo, 2017 to 2018
Committee Member, Provost’s Committee on Teaching and Learning Spaces, University of Waterloo, 2017 to 2018
Committee Member, Undergraduate Student Relations Committee, University of Waterloo, 2015 to 2018
Undergraduate Student Senator (Environment), University of Waterloo, 2014 to 2018
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
I regularly contribute my teaching experiences with geographic information systems and other spatial technologies on the Esri Canada Centres of Excellence blog (ecce.esri.ca). My teaching and learning scholarship will eventually expand into more rigorous investigations of community-based learning approaches. I plan to investigate how community-based projects – scaffolded assessment structures that involve linking students to a community collaborator to accomplish a defined task – improve writing, presentation, organizational, and data management skills compared to traditional assessments.