My philosophy on Education, in five propositions
As a teacher, I participate actively in BSc, MSc programmes and PhD courses. Predominantly, I contribute to Wageningen University’s Landscape Architecture and Spatial Planning curriculum (BLP/MLP). The strength of this curriculum is its multi- and inter-disciplinary character. Students are taught to analyse natural, cultural and urban landscapes as material objects in courses like Ecology and Soil and Water. They also learn practices and practicalities of planning and design in various studios. Furthermore, in reflexive courses like Landscape Economy and Politics, Human Geography, and Cultural Geography, they learn how to analyse, conceptualize and understand the landscapes and processes that shape them. My focus is on the latter branch of the curriculum. I teach students to reflect on various political and cultural ways in which planning, design and other practices produce landscapes. My threefold aim is to make the students understand: 1. multiple meanings and uses of landscapes and places; 2. the role of knowledge/power in spatial governance (planning and design practices); and 3. the limits of steering and control in spatial governance.
Research and teaching are two sides of the same coin for me. Since most of my teaching is related to governance and the politics of space and place, I use the observations I make as scholar in my courses, and I use the discussions I have with students as an input for my research. I am in an ongoing process of updating and fine-tuning my lectures, and these updates are closely related to my academic work. Although the educational levels of the courses in which I teach differ and the kind of knowledge and the way I communicate it differs too, my educational philosophy departs from a set of premises that I apply to all my work as a teacher and as a coach. In this chapter, after an overview of my educational awards, I will briefly introduce my teaching philosophy, make explicit what it means for me to be a good teacher at Wageningen University and describe my ongoing development as a teacher.
Theoretical and conceptual understanding is more important than the exchange of knowledge
Just like most other teachers I provide students with the kind of knowledge that is considered useful within their study domain. In the same time, I believe that helping them understand and apply theories and concepts that they can use to see things from different perspectives is more important than teaching ‘facts’. In line with the post-structuralist line of thought I see a theory as a lens that helps to make certain aspects of reality present while putting others temporally in the background. Theories help students to see power mechanisms embedded in landscapes that co-constitute the behaviour of humans. For example, the theory of the panoptic society as deployed by Michel Foucault, enables students to observe panoptic principles in prisons, holiday camps, theme parks and inner cities. So instead of providing students with detailed descriptions of all the panoptic prisons in the world and all the places where they can find CCTV cameras, I prefer to explain the theoretical and conceptual mechanisms that equip student with the tools to observe, and perhaps change analogous principles in different contexts.
Understanding the conditions under which knowledge is produced is just as important as its exchange
Some thinkers have recently started to characterise modern society as a post-truth society, where scientific facts equal fairy tales and can be easily replaced with alternative ones. This epistemological trend makes it crucially important to teach students to observe and understand the societal and political conditions under which facts are produced and the role these facts play beyond academia. This way students learn to understand the constructed nature of knowledge, the relationship between knowledge production and power and functioning of (academic) knowledge in wider society. It is of key importance that students, as future producers, reproducers and users of scientific knowledge, become prepared for a world where there are no singular and universally shared truth, and where sometimes false and often confusing distinctions between objectivity and subjectivity, facts and lies, academic and non-academic knowledge are widespread and undergoing major changes. I believe this kind of thinking should be integrated in as many courses as possible. One or two philosophy of science courses in a curriculum is not enough, and the absence of philosophy of science and post-structuralist thinking in higher education should be considered highly problematic.
Reflexivity and academic attitude are key in preparing for practice
I believe my core educational goals are essential for future practitioners of spatial governance (planners, landscape architects, managers and the like), particularly in times when practices of spatial governance are rapidly changing, due to the transition of spatial governance modes and the most recent economic crisis (2008-2015). Many professionals in the field of planning, design and spatial governance are recently facing uncertain times, since their source of income has always been contingent to the roles and responsibilities of national, regional and local governments. In line with my educational aims listed above, I teach future planners and designers to be aware of the context-specific knowledge/power relations in which they will work. Within education and research this can be done in order to put different planning and design practices under critical observation, instead of focusing on tools and methods that might be academically fashionable. The necessary ‘reflexive turn’ in planning and design education will help both academic staff and students to, be capable of adapting to the transition of spatial governance modes, conditions of economic crisis and changing governance context.
Online education demands a thorough rethinking of the offline infrastructures
In my role as a teacher, I observed that an increasing number of students learn in ways that transgress the ‘old school’ practices of lecturing. They have developed different dynamics of finding and digesting information and the communication thereof. For example, the concentration that lectures demand sometimes conflicts with the novel ways of gathering and sharing information with electronic devises (smartphones, tablets, laptops). We cannot simply blame it on the new generations of students: it is rather a challenge for teachers and the university to adapt to evolving forms of learning. New generations of students increasingly have the capacity to mediate between various streams of information, and this should be seen as an opportunity for educational innovation. This approach resonates with a growing focus on social and reflexive learning, where students scrutinize actual practices in interdisciplinary settings in order to develop/design context sensitive approaches and solutions. Taking these trends seriously, I foresee the future of the university as one that is based less on lectures and more on tutorials, group discussions, practice-based approaches. Next to the investment in online learning environments, the offline learning infrastructures need thorough division. The number of classrooms can be reduced and much more spaces should be designed to facilitate group meetings and discussions. Places where one can work undisturbed should not be concentrated in one place, like the library, but be spread over the different building on campus. In my vision, the campus of the future resembles something between café or coffee house and a modern library.
The teaching and learning divide does not correspond with the teacher/student divide
A good teacher is someone who is capable of communicating complex information in a manner that is understood by most of the students and challenging for the minority of students who is extra eager to learn. A good teacher is also someone who continuously listens to his/her students and tries to learn from them, to get to know their horizon of understanding and the frames of reference they use to incorporate new knowledge. Teaching is a dialogue, an interaction between mutually learning and teaching individuals. In general, the main difference between a student and a teacher is a level of experience and the fact that one pays to be educated and the other gets paid to educate. This implies a difference in responsibility but a difference in knowledge should not be assumed a priori. If a teacher observes a generation of ‘stupid’ or lazy students, he/she should first consider this to be an indication of his/her personal lack of adaptive capacity towards a changing learning audiences. A self-conscious teacher is a modest one.