My favorite definition of learning is a change in knowledge and behavior due to experience. Learning obviously involves disciplinary content, but it also must include skills like problem solving, critical thinking, inquiry, analysis, and communication. I strive to construct environments balancing content and skills where students can have meaningful, memorable experiences.
In geology, the best environment to join content with skills is on the outcrop. Although the traditional university classroom occurs indoors, Southern Utah University rests in the transition zone between two fantastic geologic settings - the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range Province. Our location allows students to leave campus and connect concepts from readings and lectures to authentic geologic problems outside. As we build our disciplinary foundation, we reinforce concepts with high impact learning practices such as undergraduate research projects, capstone projects, multi-day field trips, writing-intensive courses, and collaborative assignments. Whenever possible (and our location makes this easy), we learn in the field. Check out some of our recent multi-day field trips. These don't include the weekly labs that often occur in our backyard.
The setting makes up half of the learning environment. The other half consists of the relationship between the learner and the instructor. At SUU, our small class sizes allow me to build a personal relationship with each student, especially in upper level courses. We attract all kinds of students, from those straight out of high school, to those returning to school after years in the professional world, to everyone in between. It's impossible to design one set of activities that will successfully reach all types of students. The only way to help them learn is to know the individuals.
What do I teach? I teach students. Hopefully the environment I organize helps them learn geology content and lifelong skills.