Central to effective teaching is learning. As an instructor, I have worked to learn about myself, to learn generally about the students enrolled in each institution where I have taught and also individually about the particular students enrolled in my courses during a given semester, and to learn about practices that have been empirically vetted to promote student learning and development. My instructional philosophy is founded on the potential of education to be transformative and liberatory. As such, my pedagogy stems from the application of cognitive, social, and motivational theories of learning, as well as best practices in instructional design and assessment.
I prioritize the development of students’ cognitive traits in my courses. Skills and dispositions such as critical thinking, creativity, and curiosity are crucial for students to become engaged participants in their communities. Because research suggests that students’ learning approaches are influenced by their perceptions of the expectations and requirements established by instructors, I use scaffolded learning activities that ask students to demonstrate increasingly complex levels of understanding. For example, many graduate students who enroll in Research Methods and Design have difficulty mastering course concepts in the abstract. When I co-taught this course, then, I designed an active learning component to supplement the lectures provided by my co-instructor. Over the course of several weeks, students worked with a subset of data included in a national, publicly available, longitudinal study of education. They first practiced identifying variables as nominal, ordinal, interval, or ratio, familiarizing themselves with these concepts and with the dataset. Later, they analyzed published studies of this dataset to consider how scholars ensure and communicate concepts like validity and reliability. In the final weeks of the semester, students collaborated in pairs to design their own study using this dataset. They identified the form and function of specific variables they would include in an analytic model, wrote hypotheses, and evaluated the strengths and limitations of using this dataset to address their research question. These activities promoted students’ use of deep approaches to learning, while also acting as a model of the quantitative research design process.
A constructive classroom environment stems from a social climate characterized by interaction, cooperation, peer learning, tolerance, inclusion, and trust. Informal discussions, both in class and in online spaces, play a pivotal role in my courses, not only as an efficient means for students to learn with and from one another, but also as an opportunity for students to practice articulating their ideas to others. I am keenly aware, both from scholarship and my own experience in the classroom, that students vary in their level of participation in class discussion based on their identity characteristics, learning preferences, and interest in the subject. In Spring, 2018, I taught a course titled “Teaching and Learning in Higher Education,” which enrolls doctoral-level students from departments across campus; it is a recommended course in several programs and fulfills elective credits for students who plan to complete the Graduate Certificate in College Teaching. In this course, I often asked students to begin discussion in pairs or small groups, where an intimate environment often makes them feel more comfortable assessing their own understanding of concepts and readings. Students also gain confidence after comparing their ideas with a few others, so that the whole class discussion that follows benefits from a wider variety of participants and perspectives. I also use electronic platforms for discussions and questions, as this medium promotes participation among students who may still be reticent to talk in class, including students who are introverted, prefer reflective learning, and those who are non-native speakers of English.
In my student-centered classroom, I expect students to take responsibility for their own learning, including coming to class having at least a general understanding of assigned coursework. Students are more motivated to engage in, and persist at, learning when they believe that they are capable of mastering the content, have expectations for success, and feel self-confident. The labor of learning can be messy and frustrating, and so I often provide materials like guiding questions for assigned readings and grading rubrics for writing assignments that support students as they learn and work independently. Using a backwards design framework, I also ensure that the activities and assessments that I use are clearly connected to the course learning outcomes and relevant for students.
I believe that my primary role as an instructor is to support students’ development as lifelong learners. As such, I position the content of each course as a tool that not only allows students to develop a deeper and more complex knowledge base, but also gives them the opportunity to practice thinking, communicating, and connecting ideas across the curriculum and their lives. Continued motivation for learning results from satisfaction, and so for the students in Research Design and Methods, I gave students the option to submit their proposed study for analysis, using software to run their models and returning the output for them to interpret. Because this course is the first among several research requirements, this activity not only gave them the satisfaction of getting an empirical answer to the research question they created, it also connected this course to the more advanced quantitative analysis courses in the sequence.
As someone who taught undergraduate courses for many years before pursuing doctoral-level knowledge about teaching and learning, I have always viewed teaching as a process rather than a product. Now, as a scholar of teaching and learning whose research focuses on instructional improvement, I have a more profound understanding of the mechanisms underlying many of the pedagogic choices I learned to make intuitively as I saw how my actions in the classroom influenced students’ outcomes. This understanding only reaffirms my passion for teaching and learning, challenges me to continue learning through teaching, and invigorates my practice.