Virginia Tech Teacher of the Week
The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Claire Robbins, assistant professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, for a teaching philosophy grounded in commitments to social justice and situating learning in students’ experiences.
Dr. Robbins teaches graduate courses in the Higher Education program focusing on student development theory, qualitative research in higher education, supervised practice in student affairs and higher education, and diversity, equity, and inclusivity. Her current student development theory course (EDHE 5314) offers several examples of her teaching philosophy and use of learner-centered pedagogies. Dr. Robbins teaches from a theory-to-practice lens, helping students learn to identify appropriate settings for theory application, apply theories accurately and ethically, and find examples of theory in practice. A typical theory class involves instructor- and/or student-led review and discussion of the key concepts addressed in course readings, as well as one or more creative application exercises. In a recent class, students used Play-Doh to create representations of Chickering and Reisser's (1993) theory of identity development. Recently, students used racial identity development theory to respond to a case study about a fictional student affairs professional working with leaders of a multicultural student organization to organize a protest in response to a campus party with a racist theme. Since the class focuses on the lived experiences of diverse college students, classroom conversations often turn to difficult topics, including sexuality, racism, faith, grief and loss, and the challenges of being true to oneself while under pressure from family.
The final paper requires students to use the Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (Jones & McEwen, 2000) to reflect on their salient social identities (e.g., race, class, gender, sexual orientation), interview an undergraduate student about their salient social identities, identify similarities and differences, and discuss the implications for student affairs practice. Through this project, students develop a deepened understanding of how privilege and oppression influence the salience of different social identities in higher education environments, and what this suggests about how to advance identity development among all students. This assignment has a theory-to-practice focus, advances the development of research and academic writing skills, and situates knowledge in students' experiences while advancing social justice in higher education.
Dr. Robbins asked her students how she had contributed to their learning in the Fall 2012 EDHE 5314 course section, which was taught similarly to the more recent section described above. Several students offered reflections that were consistent with Dr. Robbins' philosophy. One student noted, "This was my favorite instructor in all of my years in college. She pushed me mentally to a new level while also giving me comfort and support. She has been more than helpful to me and has given me encouragement that I do belong in Blacksburg. I am so honored to have had her as an instructor." In the words of another student, "Creating an atmosphere of grace allowed robust conversation on topics typically not discussed among peers. Difficult conversations are good to have and developed a strong connection among the cohort." A third student shared, "I love how playful Claire made it and the different approaches, from the film to the Family Feud to the baked goods! And when we got into sticky territory, Claire always handled it well and 'mediated' discussions in a helpful way." Dr. Robbins completed CIDER's New Faculty/Early Career Teaching Certificate in 2013 and is grateful for colleagues and students who appreciate the importance of teaching and learning.