Experience, Training, and Recognition
I am an experienced, effective, and results-driven instructor at one of the nation’s most racially and ethnically diverse institutions, Georgia State University. During my program, I have benefitted from Georgia State’s series of intensive pedagogical training courses offered by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) and my department. As an instructor of record, I have taught seven sections of Introduction to American Government, one of Civil Liberties and Rights, and one of American Constitutional Law. During my tenure, I have served as the primary instructor to more than 700 students in American Government with course sizes ranging from 25 to 175, and an additional 120 students in upper division Pre-Law courses in Civil Liberties and Constitutional Law including my current course. For my introductory courses, my weighted student evaluation average is 4.66, and for my Pre-Law courses it is 4.93 on a 5-point scale. My attached summary of teaching effectiveness gives a breakdown of my evaluations and comments by course. It also shows a consistent trend of improvement in my evaluations as I gained more experience, moving from an average of 3.5 in my first course to a 4.7 in my most recent course of Introduction to American Government. My upper level course evaluations were consistently high with evaluations of 4.9 and 5.0. I have also served as a teaching assistant and Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) consultant for two different courses, Social Justice and Politics and American Constitutional Law for Toby Bolsen and Michael Fix respectively. To become a WAC consultant for a course, I had to take part in a three-day writing-intensive pedagogy certification as well as a series of supplemental pedagogy workshops throughout the academic year.
In Spring of 2019, I received the Certificate for Excellence in College Teaching from the Georgia Board of Regents and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Georgia State University. To earn the certificate, eligible graduate student teachers must have a digital portfolio illustrating their teaching experiences, teaching materials including digital archives and activities, student evaluations, records of student feedback and reflections on assignments, evidence of pedagogical courses at Georgia State University, and letters of support from the student’s faculty mentor and the department chair. Recognition of the certificate is then placed on the student’s official transcript upon completion of the degree. Between four and six students are awarded the certificate during each academic year. In addition, I was nominated and received the University wide Graduate Teaching Assistant Pedagogy Award for 2019. Each year, one student is nominated by their department chair and faculty sponsors to be evaluated by the Center for Teaching Excellence faculty. The award is given “to the graduate student who exhibits exceptional work in the classroom in the classroom and a dedication to improving [her] craft.”
Outside the classroom, I am currently involved in a variety of undergraduate research mentored projects. For five years, I have served as the lead graduate student instructor for the Zoukis Research Collaborative. Each summer, Zoukis hosts a week-long research symposium on issues in the criminal justice system. Graduate student instructors develop and mentor research projects alongside undergraduates including designing survey experiments and qualitative text analyses of interviews. More recently alongside Toby Bolsen, we published a reflection on student research mentoring in PS: Political Science and Politics. I am also actively engaged in undergraduate research mentorship alongside my dissertation advisor. Currently, I am mentoring an undergraduate student in gathering data and preparing a manuscript for presentation at the 2020 Southern Political Science Association’s annual conference. Since October of 2017, I have served as the lead curriculum developer for the Center for the Advancement of Students and Alumni (CASA). The Center’s goal is to mentor and prepare undergraduate students to enter advanced degree programs (Ph.D., M.D. and J.D.). My primary roles include meeting with students one-on-one to consult on application materials, developing content for professional development workshops, and designing a bi-weekly strategy and preparation course for the GRE. This GRE course is designed to assist in closing the achievement gap and encourage more diverse students into the pipeline towards advanced degrees. This variety of mentoring and teaching opportunities has allowed me to leverage my own experience as a first-generation college student, my passion for research, and my own experiences with undergraduate mentoring to bring my journey towards a Ph.D. full circle.
Philosophy and Approach
My primary goals as an instructor are to help students broaden their knowledge of politics to become engaged critical thinkers, to create an adaptable and active learning environment, and to include a variety of media and online resources to supplement the classroom experience. A liberal arts education should produce students that are engaged critical thinkers, capable problem solvers, and active citizens of our global community. To achieve these goals, I provide a relevant knowledge base, create assignments and activities that encourage critical thinking, and teach students how to ask important questions and develop thoughtful arguments when engaged in discussions on controversial topics. Students are consistently confronted with diverse viewpoints, conflicting theories, and provocative new ideas inside the classroom and in their professional lives. By providing students exposure to new material and a non-adversarial environment to confront these new ideas, they can learn how to be better critical thinkers. By learning new material or re-examining old, students can make stronger connections between facts and assumptions, history and circumstances, and examples and evidence. Concepts and materials learned in the classroom should not be kept in isolation, but rather applied to their lives outside so they can better critically engage as they navigate their personal and professional lives.
I recognize that teaching approaches need to be adapted to fit the course level and topic. Student’s needs vary significantly from an introductory course to an advanced course. Yet, in all my courses my goal is to create an active and engaged learning environment. For instance, in my Introduction to American Government courses, I focus on the accumulation of knowledge concerning processes and facts through lecture as well as interaction in classroom activities and debates. I encourage students to ask questions so that the classroom maintains an open dialogue and exchange of ideas. Using this method, I can inspire students and expose them to a diversity of opinions from different backgrounds and guide them to better articulate their arguments in a safe classroom environment. In my pre-law courses, I recognize that many of my students are bound for law school in the future. Thus, my course design is a mixture of lecture and modified Socratic method to encourage discussion between students, their fellow classmates, and myself. For instance, one comment from my evaluation’s states, “Professor Fairbanks is, by far, one of the best and most astute professors I have ever had the pleasure of taking a class with. Her lectures were engaging, amusing, and educational. They really helped me get a solid foundation for my expectations of law school…” In my Pre-Law courses, students are exposed to a solid foundation of substantive and technical knowledge, while also engaging actively in discussion on the historical development of the Court and the law, the methods of legal reasoning, and analysis of precedent in our current political climate. This allows students to engage and become active participants in their own learning and apply these gains in knowledge to their current academic endeavors or their future professional careers.
An important element of the modern classroom is the inclusion of technology to support learning objectives. My lectures are often supplemented with online videos, interactive classroom activities, and discussion of the current political atmosphere. Additionally, in all my courses I use online texts or texts with web-based supplements. Using online texts allows my course materials to be more inclusive to current political controversies and adaptable to individual student’s learning needs. One comment from my student evaluations states that, “her unique teaching style captivates the attention of her students and creates an enjoyable and memorable learning environment. Professor Fairbanks uses numerous forms of media, relevant storytelling, and humor to transform somewhat dry information to interesting and valuable material. The examples she pairs with the information she is presenting make it easy to remember the information being presented…” For instance, in my American Government course, students are asked to create a profile of their current member of the House of Representatives using online voter registration resources. The assignment applies recently learned concepts about representation styles with basic research analysis skills to assist in their transformation towards becoming more engaged citizens. This increased level of engagement is found throughout my student evaluations including several comments like, “[I] had a wonderful time. [I] never missed a class, because for the first time in my life I started to care about politics.”
Substantively, my primary teaching interests lie in the fields of Public Law and American Politics, particularly state politics and political institutions. My secondary interests are in research methods, political behavior, and politics and social justice. I currently have full courses prepared for Introduction to American Government, Civil Liberties & Rights, and American Constitutional Law. I would be interested in teaching any of these courses again, as well as courses on State Politics, Comparative Courts, Social Justice and Politics, Research Methods for Politics and Social Sciences or other special topics courses on Law and the Legal System. I would be able to teach any of these courses upon starting. In the future, I would also be interested in developing courses at the graduate level on Judicial Process, the Courts and Policy-making, and State Politics.