To articulate my personal philosophy of teaching involves an exploration of what I do in the classroom and why, but also what I strive to do, even if I am not always successful. In an ideal world, my teaching and learning philosophy would be identical to my teaching practice. However, it is through experimentation in the classroom that practice consistent with philosophy develops.
One of my main goals in teaching students is to prepare them for “the real world”, something I felt was lacking, or perhaps I just didn’t connect with, in my own educational experiences. I’ve worked to accomplish this in the classroom through a number of active-learning exercises: asking my students to consider the power and importance of assumptions and to tackle open-ended, ill-structured problems (similar to what Eric Mazur describes); taking them on field trips to visit facilities and talk to practicing engineers; working across disciplines and incorporating the social, economic, and environmental aspects of design. While some of these types of activities were easy to incorporate, others took a leap of faith for me to actually implement. For example, assigning open-ended design projects that were somewhat outside of my specific area of expertise took some courage. What if I don’t know all of the answers to their questions right away? With a few years of experience, and honing my own skills on learning how to learn, I’ve become more comfortable posing challenging but engaging problems, and supporting my students in their attempts to find answers.
Using Fink’s (2013) taxonomy, I can link these activities to what he considers to be significant learning experiences: foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn. Engineering education is quite content heavy, traditionally focused on foundational knowledge and application, as it will continue to be for both competency and accreditation/licensing purposes. But this content-driven focus can appear to leave little room for activities that foster the latter dimensions of significant learning. Finding ways to incorporate these types of activities takes re-evaluation of our teaching methods, what Fink describes as a shift from a content-centered to a learning-centered paradigm (p. 61). This has been relatively easy for me to achieve in introductory-level courses, but may be more challenging in other course settings. This is where philosophy and practice may take some work to align.
As I reflect on my experiences in this course, I realize that I now have an expanded and refined philosophy on teaching and learning that includes the concepts of backwards design and fostering a community of inquiry. First, backwards design is a principle that resonates with me in terms of course design, the idea that learning objectives (inclusive of but expanded beyond content) are built first, and then course activities are built to encourage these results. Second is the goal of developing a community of inquiry, described by Swan et al. (2009) as composed of cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. While the framework is discussed specifically for the online environment, the concepts can certainly be applied to a face to face environment. Looking at social presence in particular, providing opportunity for the establishment of a social network within a course has value in many ways. Increased learning through interaction with peers is one aspect, but the development of social capital in the educational environment has been shown to have positive benefits for students in terms of persistence and degree completion (e.g. Brown, et al. 2009). Partner and group work can be a venue for these interactions, but requires teaching presence to make the most of these experiences. Not only assigning these types of activities, but also providing guidance and structure to help students function in these types of situations (i.e. what does it mean to be a good team member?) should be specifically included in our direct instruction. Looking forward to the possibility of preparing courses in an online environment, Swan’s framework will provide useful guidance in developing effective social as well as cognitive and teaching presence.
A final aspect of my teaching philosophy is the appreciation for various types of intelligence, and an understanding of the role of life experiences for students. One thing that I’ve learned from teaching at an open-enrollment University is that each student is an individual, and there are numerous aspects that affect that individual’s ability to be a successful student. And going further, there are many ways to measure success, many of which are not easily assessed by traditional exams. I have learned that getting to know my students and their experience informs my teaching practice by expanding my view of how students approach and experience learning activities. As described by Stuart (2008), the role of course management (i.e. clear expectations, prompt feedback, fostering a sense of community, and a variety of lessons and assessments) will become even more important in the online environment when serving non-traditional students. Finding ways to get to know my students in an online environment, through meaningful interactions and perhaps innovative techniques such as verbal feedback delivered by audio clips, will take additional effort and time, but comprise a necessary component of the course. It is this type of time and effort investment – in both my students’ learning and my own preparation for future teaching experiences – that I hope my teaching philosophy will translate into effective practice.
Brown, S., Flick, L. and Fiez, T. (2009). An Investigation of the Presence and Development of Social Capital in an Electrical Engineering Laboratory. Journal of Engineering Education, 98
Fink, D. L. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Stewart, D. P. (2008). Classroom management in the online environment. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4(3): 371-374.
Swan, K., Garrison, D.R., & J.C. Richardson. (2009). A constructivist approach to online learning: the Community of Inquiry framework. In Payne, C.R. (Ed.) Information Technology and Constructivism in Higher Education: Progressive Learning Frameworks. Hersey, PA: IGI Global, 43-57.