Janelle Sikorski

Janelle Sikorski

Term Instructor of Geological Sciences
Department of Geological Sciences
CPSB 301J
907.786.1372
jjsikorski2@alaska.edu

Education

  • M.S., Geology, Northern Arizona University, 2004
  • B.S., Geology, University of Cincinnati, 2002

Biography

Janelle Sikorski is a geoscience educator and is currently serving as a Term Instructor for the Department of Geological Sciences. Prior to her appointment to UAA she served as a Senior Lecturer at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio from 2005 to 2015. There she taught undergraduate level courses related to introductory geology, oceanography, geology of U.S. national parks, and Earth's climate history. Her professional interests include designing college-level curriculum that engages students with authentic scientific datasets and the process of science. She also has strong interests in teaching students about the ocean and climate change.

Teaching Responsibilities

  • GEOL A111 Physical Geology
  • GEOL A111L Physical Geology Lab
  • GEOL A115 Environmental Geology
  • GEOL A115L Environmental Geology Lab
  • GEOL A221 Historical Geology
Teaching Philosophy:
I believe that students learn best when they are actively engaged with the course material. Furthermore, I believe students are more willing to accept their role as an “active learner” when the risks associated with failure are lowered and they feel supported and encouraged by their instructor.

I. Students as Active Learners

Students are asked to engage with the course material through small group discussions, “clicker” questions, in-class exercises, or classroom debates on a daily basis. In addition, they have frequent homework assignments that build on the examples developed in class and provide them the opportunity to work with authentic scientific datasets. This approach pushes the learners to develop their ability to identify the scope of the problem and logically develop a plan to resolve the problem on their own. In a traditional lecture classroom, students often struggle to identify how a course problem is relevant to them in the “real world,” especially when it appears that only their instructor controls the knowledge necessary to solve the problem (Baxter Magolda and King, 2004).  Thus, in my courses I provide the learner with real geologic problems both current and historical. Engaging directly with geologic problems, students are exposed to the types of experiences (Kolb, 1984) that can lead to an increase student comprehension and retention of course material because this process utilizes all regions of the brain providing both a direction and context for course content (Zull, 2002). In fact, there are a number of examples within the geosciences that demonstrate positive learning outcomes when students actively engage with their course work (Yuretich et al., 2001; McConnell et al., 2003; Kortz et al. 2008; McNeal et al., 2008; Drennan and Evans, 2011; Kim et al., 2013; Grissom et al., 2015). Furthermore, engaging with complex real world problems also requires students to confront their own beliefs about learning and knowledge and helps to foster their ability to think critically and to transfer their existing knowledge to new situations (Bransford et al., 2000; Baxter Magolda and King, 2004; Feinstein et al., 2013), which are skills that are required for responsible citizenship (Manduca and Mogk, 2002; Ledley et al., 2011).

II. Instructor Support

As an instructor, I believe it is my role to purposefully guide the learner toward the best conclusions or answers for their current developmental level. Guidance can come in the form of traditional instruction, but also by proposing open-ended questions frequently during class, assigning reflective writing assignments, or engaging the learner in the purpose behind each assignment. For example, in my introductory courses I help students learn to make their own observations by sharing detailed examples of others’ observations and helping the class identify criteria for high-quality observations. As the learner then creates their own hypothesis, I ask guiding questions that help he/she consider specific details of the problem/ question at hand. The learner also determines the best way to test their ideas after the class brainstorms on the possible approaches. This process also shifts my role as an instructor from one of authority to one of a partner allowing students to take on a more active role in the classroom, which is critical for their own personal development (Baxter Magolda and King, 2004).

III. Low Risk Activities

Stress impacts how we learn (Medina, 2008). Although stress can be a great motivator for some students, most students achieve best when the risks associated with failure are lowered (Bain, 2004). Working with students over the years I found that grades are a significant motivating factor in their course work and source of much anxiety. In a classroom where the student’s final grade is often determined by a few high stakes assignments such as a midterm and final exam encourages behaviors that are not effective learning strategies (i.e., all night cram sessions) because the opportunity for the content to be applied to real world problems is lost and the learners stress level is too high. This type of behavior discourages knowledge transfer to long-term memory and decreases the likelihood that the learner will be able to utilize course content in the future. In an effort to promote deeper student learning I design each of my courses around a variety of graded and non-graded activities to help reduce student anxiety and increase student exposure to course content. These opportunities allow students to receive feedback on a daily basis on their progress in the course before a more formal evaluation such as an exam. To further model that learning doesn’t stop after an exam, I also provide the opportunity for my students to submit exam corrections for partial credit. My students have recognized these practices on university evaluations as ones that focus on student learning.

Publications

Sikorski, J. and Briggs, B., 2016, Putting the Deep Biosphere and Gas Hydrates on the Map, Journal of Geoscience Education, 64(4), p.270-278.

Brudzinski, M.R. and Sikorski, J., 2010, Impact of the COPEL on active-learning revisions to an introductory geology course: Focus on student development, Learning Communities Journal, 2 (2), 53-69.

Brudzinski, M.R, and Sikorski, J., 2009, Multi-faceted approach to inquiry-based learning, American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting, abstract #ED41B-0531

Sikorski, J., Kaufman, D., Manley, W., and Nolan, M. Feb. 2009. Glacial-Geologic Evidence for Decreased Precipitation during the Little Ice Age in the Brooks Range. Alaska. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, Vol. 41 (1)

Sikorski, J., Kaufman, D., Manley. 2004. Winter accumulation at the equilibrium line of Little Ice Age glaciers, Brooks Range, Alaska. Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America, 36(5), p. 513.