“Comprehend, Interrogate, Empower, Act, Reflect, Repeat”
BUILDING UPON AND ADDING TO GLOBAL KNOWLEDGE
Contemporary civilization owes its successes to consistent, though punctuated, accumulation and application of knowledge across generations. Scientific, technological and social progress is built on shoulders of both giants and ordinary people, and the future success of humanity will be determined by our generation’s ability to understand and comprehend that knowledge, interrogate and develop it, apply it and reflexively improve upon it. It is thus the crucial job of the educator to gather, synthesize, augment and convey knowledge to the next generation. Technion students should emerge from their education, not only with technical know-how and disciplinary expertise, but with a rich understanding of the complexities of human society and the mechanisms by which it develops and improves. In this way, the Technion, its faculty and its students, can contribute to and benefit from the ever-growing canon of human knowledge. My students learn to bring this knowledge into the realm of environmental research and problem solving to address the environmental challenges that threaten humanity’s current and future well-being.
TEACHING FOR ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
My students emerge from my courses with a solid foundation of knowledge with which to understand and critically evaluate the drivers of the major environmental challenges of our generation. They are empowered with the skills and the confidence to apply their innate and acquired professional and intellectual talents in order to address those challenges.
Socio-ecology teaches us that there are multiple forms of knowledge, and that all of them are necessary to address complex problems, such as those associated to environmental degradation. My students will learn to access and acquire multiple forms of knowledge, including those which are derived from textbooks and the academic literature, those that are stored in the cumulative experiences of professionals and practitioners, those that are reflected in the day-to-day lives of people, and those that the students themselves have accumulated through their own life experiences.
Working with a diversity of students, each with a unique learning style, requires the use of an equally diverse range of teaching approaches. We absorb knowledge in different ways – listening, seeing, speaking, feeling and experiencing. In order to activate the diversity of student minds to the diversity of knowledge sources, I employ a broad range of integrated teaching tools that require of the students to listen, see, speak and experience. We talk and listen, we debate and discuss, we sit and we walk.
DOING GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Environmental degradation is a pre-eminently threatening, yet unintended, side effect of our contemporary wellbeing. If unchecked, it threatens to undo ~300,000 years of physical, cultural, and intellectual development. Addressing it (and we must address it) requires an understanding of both human and natural systems (interdisciplinarity) and requires critical evaluation and action. We, as environmental educators, must hone our students’ skills to critically analyze our society and the scientific assumptions that produced our world as we know it and to instill passion and concern within our students, to inspire them to apply their knowledge towards environmental solutions.
THE TECHNION AS A SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL HUB
I aim to contribute to the establishment of the Technion as a national and global leader in the fields of socio-ecology and ecological planning and design. I realize that the quality of our teaching will be a crucial ingredient in achieving that goal: It will attract future architecture and planning students eager to learn the intricacies of environmental policy, environmental science and ecological principles in planning to the Technion. And I am not alone – many of my colleagues (and students) at the Technion share this vision, and our collaborative work and diversity of educational opportunities will accelerate us and the Technion towards its realization.
OUR STUDENTS, OUR FUTURE
“Every human should view himself as equally balanced: half good and half evil. Likewise, he
should see the entire world as half good and half evil…. With a single good deed he will tip
the scales for himself, and for the entire world, to the side of good.”
Alongside the unprecedented wealth and well-being enjoyed by our generation, environmental challenges are threatening of our future. As an individual, my potential to affect change is small. But as an educator, that potential is magnified exponentially as the potential of each student, individually and collectively, is unleashed. Each of our students – future architects and planners, engineers and educators – presents an opportunity to develop and harness knowledge and talents towards environmental problem solving. Each of them, or all of them together, can tip the scales of the entire world. If we at the Technion can open their eyes and their minds to the social and biological world around them, we can build the foundation of knowledge with which we can heal the world.
In order to realize my teaching philosophy to encourage students to “comprehend, interrogate, empower and act”, teaching tools must be used to create a classroom ambiance that is dynamic, lively, provocative and intellectually challenging. The objective is to draw the students into the material, activate the multiple capacities through which they process material, and challenge them. A diversity of teaching tools is crucial for achieving this objective.
Diversify the media with which I convey knowledge – from lectures to movies, music to storytelling. In addition to scholarly material, students are exposed to a variety of media via a diversity of activities. Switching up the media, using documentary movies, children’s stories and parodies on science in society, engages students and provokes response and involvement. Scientific debates are a common feature in my classes – particularly in “Ecological Issues in the Israeli Landscape”, which focuses particularly on issues (e.g. dryland forestry or responses to invasive species) where science, values, and politics all mix together and prevent consensus opinions. Role playing activities are also particularly effective in engaging students. One such activity, based on my real-life experiences, allows students of environmental policy to play the various roles within a simulated American synagogue congregation which was offered by a cell phone company a small monthly payment to install a cellular antenna on the roof of the synagogue. Students are provided with information regarding the health risks associated to radiation from cellular antennas and regarding collective community decisionmaking. Coincidentally, this activity became much more relevant when it was proposed to install a cellular antenna on the roof of the Technion’s Architecture Faculty building. After they reached their own conclusions regarding the American synagogue congregation, the students were fascinated to hear how the issue played out in the Architecture Faculty. The activity successfully conveys concepts such as risk aversion, public health, precautionary principle, cost-benefit analysis and radiation, all with tangible meaning for the students.
Diversify the educators conveying the knowledge from guests to colleagues to student teaching. I enjoy lecturing (!!!), but I’ve learned from both teacher training and student feedback, that students like being engaged and being active and that frontal lectures often don’t achieve this goal. The students often engage in group discussions or share ideas in pairs. Role playing activities, debates, and focus group discussions in the faculty’s Visualization Laboratory are permanent fixtures in my classroom repertoire. When I identify a student with a passion, with an relevant extracurricular experience, or with specialized knowledge, I bring them to the forefront of the classroom discussion. Guest lecturers are a permanent fixture in my classroom. In “Ecological Principles for Planners”, I host alumni of our Landscape Architecture program (some of whom are my former students), who come back to their alma mater to speak with students about implementation of ecological principles in their work as landscape architects in the public and private sectors. In this way, we bridge the gap between theory and practice and provide
the students with concrete examples regarding the relevance of their ecological studies for their future professional work.
Diversify the settings where knowledge is acquired. The Technion Campus, the City of Haifa, and the open spaces of Northern Israel are extensions of my classroom (Fig. 1).
Environmental studies focus on all spatial scales, from the local to the global. It is mandatory in my classes that we emerge ourselves in the local environment. My environmental science
students, for instance, are divided up into small groups and distributed across the campus to map out the environmental nuisances. They undergo a short “focusing” exercise, a novel methodology based on meditation that I am developing in my research, which sensitizes them to environmental nuisances using all of their five senses. As such, they return from their explorations with observations of noise (trucks, gardening equipment, air conditioners and generators), smells (both pleasant and foul), and feelings (warm, shady, cool, agitated, relaxed), in addition to what they see. Likewise, my “Ecological Principles in Planning” students survey the campus to discover its abundant ecological resources and to consider how to accentuate these features for the good of ecological integrity and for the well-being of the Technion campus community. “Environmental Policy” students, who study relevant and contemporary environmental challenges in Haifa (see below), experience the focal area of their course project – whether they are dealing with wild boars in residential neighborhoods, lack of parks in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, or increased cancer risk in communities abutting the industrial area – by visiting each site and discussing issues with passers-by and local experts on site.