Why I Teach: Part 1: To Learn

Aseem Inam:  One of the best ways to learn is to teach.  And the best urbanists are always learning and growing.

As an #ActivistScholarPractitioner, I spend about 4-5 hours of research and preparation for every 1 hour of teaching time.  For example, I convert regular lecture courses into interactive seminars.  The idea here is that everyone—especially the students—contribute to collective learning, including mine.  To prepare for a 3-hour seminar, I invest about 12-15 hours of my time conducting research [so that I stay constantly refreshed and on top of things in the field], preparing a rough sequence and outline of topics to be covered, and incorporating plenty of provocative questions and discussion time for students to contribute their own personal experiences, existing knowledge, thoughtful ideas and provocative questions.  This pedagogical method builds confidence in students as they realize that they have much to offer to the evolving field of urbanism.

Such an approach has worked extremely well, for the most part.  I have received awards for excellence in teaching from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Southern California and University of Michigan.  More than the awards, though, what is extremely satisfying is to connect in powerful ways with urban practitioners [i.e. students], since I consider generating knowledge and creating paradigms to be perhaps the most powerful forms of practice.  The other source of not only deep satisfaction but also instant buzz in my head is the sense of collective learning.  For example, in my Theories of Urban Design seminar at the University of Michigan [which was constantly filled far beyond capacity by graduate students], we actually critiqued existing theories by pinpointing each theory’s unique influence on the field but also its lacunae [e.g. Does it only deal with urban form or does it also address the underlying processes that actually produce that form?].

In sum, as an #Urbanist who comes from the perspective of an #ActivistScholarPractitioner, I am always a student of cities.  AI

Students of the highly innovative MA Theories of Urban Practice program [of which I was the founding Director] of the Parsons School of Design in The New School in New York City.  The students organized a public symposium of their work in Brooklyn in 2015.  Source:  Aseem Inam.

Students of the highly innovative MA Theories of Urban Practice program [of which I was the founding Director] of the Parsons School of Design in The New School in New York City.  The students organized a public symposium of their work in Brooklyn in 2015.  Source:  Aseem Inam.

The best learning often occurs in the interaction between students and professors, such that both are open to be challenged and to new ways of thinking.  Source:  Matthew Sussman, The New School. 

The best learning often occurs in the interaction between students and professors, such that both are open to be challenged and to new ways of thinking.  Source:  Matthew Sussman, The New School.