By Marcel Moran, City and Regional Planning
Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2022
A fundamental challenge of teaching transportation planning is bridging the divide between abstract material and the realities (and messiness) of the profession itself. No textbook chapter, white paper, or academic article can fully convey the prospect of altering a city’s landscape while navigating fiscal constraints and addressing political and neighborhood opposition. This was not only my assessment as the instructor; a mid-semester survey I sent out to all students indicated their desire for more ‘hands on’ activities. In order to address this – simulating real-world planning in the context of a large lecture course – I came up with a two- pronged approach.
First, I studied the organizational chart for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, looking for the ideal candidate to provide a guest lecture on the topic of congestion pricing (wherein motorists are charged a set price to enter a specific, high-traffic area). I identified the organization’s Deputy Director of Planning (and a UC Berkeley alumna), who has led San Francisco’s congestion-pricing pilot. Once she agreed to participate in the course, we worked together to scope her lecture and assign readings that were both relevant and accessible to undergraduates from across campus. On the day of her appearance, we built in time for ample student discussion, and drafted a set of questions to guide the post-lecture conversation. It was incredibly powerful to have the class meeting anchored by a planner in the midst of congestion- pricing for one of the country’s most prominent cities.
Second, I crafted an in-class exercise for students to take what they had learned from our guest speaker (and related readings) and apply it to the task of designing their very own congestion-pricing scheme. I introduced them to an online-mapping platform that allowed them to view high-resolution satellite imagery and literally draw the boundaries of where motorists will be charged in order to discourage driving and incentivize more sustainable transportation options (transit, walking, and cycling). This activity proved incredibly fun for students, especially balancing such variables as the coherence of the scheme, the socio-demographics of included neighborhoods, and their core understanding of congestion’s causes and locations. This task helpfully pushed them from the comfort of passively learning about this policy mechanism, to the realm of project design and implementation. Not only did each group have to submit their “cordon” (the boundaries of their congestion-pricing scheme), but also a written defense of it that explained their decision-making process.
I evaluated the effectiveness of this teaching approach in the following ways. First, at the conclusion of the exercise, I asked students to share their experience and tension points in the work (while such thoughts were still fresh). Second, I scrutinized their submitted worksheets to see how comprehensible the assignment was, and if there were patterns to their responses that signaled a need for better guidance in future course iterations. Finally, I debriefed the assignment with the course reader, during which we considered the logistics, content, and student reactions to the exercise. Overall, I believe it successfully moved the class beyond nominal understanding of the material, by introducing them to a leader in the field and prompting them to plan their very own transportation network.