November 25, 2019

Conversation with an Innovator: Dr. Christopher Gaffney (Tisch Center)

In the ‘Conversations with an Innovator’ video series, the NYUSPS Center for Academic Excellence and Support (CAES) interviews faculty across the school who adopt creative and innovative approaches to teaching. Dr. Christopher Gaffney, who teaches research methods courses at the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, talks about his teaching in this video. A written summary can be found below. 

What is your background? 

I'm a geographer by training and vocation. I was born in the United States, but I've lived in a number of different countries such as Taiwan, Brazil, Argentina, and Switzerland. I taught in Brazil and Switzerland for about ten years. When my partner came back to the United States, I decided to come to New York because there were a lot of opportunities here for both of our professions and NYU seemed like a really good fit as a global university as I have a global teaching profile. NYU is a really nice fit for me in terms of my experience and the kind of students that we encounter here.

What draws you into the classroom on a daily basis? 

The world is complicated with a lot of problems and a lot of emerging issues that we need to tackle. I personally don't really think that I was prepared for understanding these things at a young age. One of the things I really am interested in doing is having students understand a problem. This includes everything from looking at its component parts, taking it apart, and then trying to figure a way to put them back together in a different way so that a different world emerges at the end of their class. Along the way, students are developing skills that can help them in their in their lives, careers and having a better understanding of the world. 

Can you talk a little about the Global Overtourism Index? 

The idea for the Global Overtourism Index came through by reading the news and having visited a lot of places in the past and over the recent holidays. I hope to convey to my students that this problem is not only affecting the places that tourists want to go but also the world as a whole. The Overtourism Index and all indices obviously have to have incorporate some data component which results in a big database problem, which I don't have the necessary skills for. Since I myself am more of a qualitative urban geographer, I have encouraged my students to use resources around New York University, such as the Bobst Library’s amazing Data Services Center. Ultimately, they can use this as a resource to understand these problems and to tackle a big issue that is going to affect their future employment as hospitality and tourism professionals.

What are some of the skills that you hope your students get out of working on this project? 

The first thing I hope that students understand, is how to solve problems critically. In order to do that, they need to understand what the component parts of a problem are and develop the skill sets to solve each one of those. In order to get to that point, they have to start from organizing a bibliography. They also need to learn the importance of data. This leads into creating data literacy, data production, data analysis, data presentation and data visualization. Each one of these components takes some skill building and the NYU library is great in helping to develop those skills. My role is to help them put everything together in the frame of a project. Over time, what I hope is that each cohort of students in my research methods class that are working on this overtourism project will be able to build a collective enterprise. Even when they graduate from NYU and are working in the industry, I hope they can remember this project and see an industrial connection. 

Have you worked with Multi-Cohort Projects before?

I haven't done multiple cohorts yet with the overtourism projects. This is the first semester that it's being incorporated as the core component of the advanced research methods classes for hospitality and tourism. I have done this in other contexts where students contribute over time to a project and there's long-term collaboration.  One of the things that my mentor has told me that I have always kept in mind is that “students are your future colleagues.” From day one, I treat my students as current and future collaborators. This really helps with the classroom dynamic and encourages them to think beyond just the assignment and how these issues are going to be a part of their lives in the future.

Would you recommend this approach to teaching to your colleagues? 

My recommendation is for this not to be an isolated element in one course, but rather to develop complementary skill sets across the curriculum. Working with other colleagues in the department, I hope to have a mindset of collaboration. This involves colleagues cross-collaborating between themselves and their coursework. I recommend adopting this mindset as a general pedagogy for all departments. Learning how to start at the beginning then layering and building over time to emerge with project- or problem-based courses rather than isolated silos for specific skill sets is what I hope to see. 

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