My teaching philosophy has certainly been a journey, but where to begin?
When I inherited my course in Fall 2017, I’m not sure I could have articulated my teaching philosophy other than to say I wanted to teach students about risk analysis. And because this course was an online course and because UAF had e-Campus and because I felt like such a novice (read imposter!) since I had limited education training, my journey began. Much like Eric Mazur’s observation of never asking the question “How am I going to teach” – was not a question that arose for me until June 2018 when I decided to take my course through QM review. After all, I had a course that had been taught for several semesters – what could I possibly add to it?
The answer, as I’ve learned since then is a lot….
As I’ve shared in previous posts, I resonate with the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) model as I consider any journey from novice to expert. And because I can’t resist a Google search to starting my thinking about a topic, I found an excellent site on writing one’s teaching philosophy. What can I say – I like structure and I liked how this site gave me rubrics and templates to grade my own assessment. But more on that in a bit.
I’ve been asked a lot about my philosophy on learning. I often defer to an observation that one of my top 5 strengths from the Gallup Strengthsfinder test is “Learner” A small excerpt on that strength follows: tps://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/694/learner.aspx
The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered — this is the process that entices you.
But talking about learning really only gets to what’s in it for me (WIFFM), otherwise, known as everyone’s favorite radio station. Since I see teaching and learning as two sides of the same coin, it can be hard to know which side I’m on some days!
I’ve tried to approach teaching in the same way that I’ve approached my day job – echoing thoughts of the book Servant Leadership (Greenleaf et al). At this point in my life, I know that I don’t have all the answers and so what I offer to my customers, including my students, needs to have value-added and outcome-oriented – a whole conversation about “For the Sake of What”. I’ve also migrated away from the perspective that there is only one “right” answer. And I’ve come to learn that I learn best when I need to synthesize data in a way that adds value to others.
But less this becomes a conversation with no viable endpoint, let me use the University of Minnesota template to guide my initial thinking on this topic relative to the course that I teach in All-Hazards Risk Analysis.
Why I teach. My goals in teaching are lofty – to help students walk away with the confidence that they’ve learned a bit about a topic and that they’ve learned how to solve problems as they did so. I don’t think that we can teach enough about life skills. Too much of the teaching that I’ve received, particularly those focused on certification exams, has been focused on rote memorization. But learning how to solve problems in various different disciplines represent knowledge and skills that can last a lifetime, not just an exam.
How I teach. This is continuing to evolve based on my own learning about pedagogies and various learning constructs as well as the tools that one can use to deliver the product to students. In some ways, such as described in the WIIFM above, teaching is a lot like sales and marketing – assuming that the product is something that the student could be or is interested in learning. And there is quite the “endorphin hit” when I make the “sale” to someone who wasn’t quite sure if they were going to get the concept or not. I’ve used project-based learning in the past and I’m working towards leveraging peer-learning projects as well as using discussion boards to enhance the use of different perspectives. I prefer to spark and nurture curiosity as part of the process.
How do I assess learning? In my current course, I look for the correct use of terminology and concepts and how they apply that knowledge to a given problem. Even though my course is a senior course, many students are being introduced to the formal concepts of risk management, although I clearly recognize that we are all risk managers and that we’ve been making decisions about risk for our entire life. What I am assessing is a student’s ability to transfer his or her innate knowledge to the formal discipline of risk management and apply that process consistently in future problem-solving situations.
How do I evaluate learning? In some cases, participation is sufficient – they are getting the “biochemical hit” of the “aha moment”. In other cases, since teachers must grade, they hand in a series of assignments to show how they can assemble a risk assessment. And in a more recent development, I’ve asked them to develop a short capstone writing assignment to demonstrate how they’ve grown in their understanding of risk frameworks.
I think the greatest challenge in teaching my specific discipline is the wide variety of models and differences in vocabulary. It’s difficult to teach a standard approach in a discipline that lacks discipline. That has a lot of similarity with the discipline of teaching as well – there is more than one way to approach the problem and there should be, given the diversity of learning styles and cultures that we teach. So while recognizing these challenges is not difficult, sometimes selecting the right tool for the job can be a bit of a challenge. I am always in the question of whether or not I provided a “good enough” answer for the student to grasp, or if they went away empty-handed.
Teaching, like muscles and many other things in my life, will benefit from continued growth, learning, and practice. My students will continue to introduce me to perspectives I had not yet considered. I update the course each semester based on how a given student may have interpreted the assignment. It is a symbiotic relationship between teacher and student and one reason why I so like the symbolism of the DNA of learning – where two strands dance in opposition to each other, sometimes exchanging pieces and then splitting off to form new entities – where the student could become the teacher as well.
And if I move away from discussing my current class, then what have I learned? I’ve learned to become more comfortable with uncertainty, with learner-focused teaching (Fink) and a constructivist approach using a Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison et al). These perspectives will continue to evolve in the same way that life evolves – through micro-changes based on our experiences.
What I do know is that this exercise should be a required capstone for every teaching program and that this is a great exercise to revisit periodically – with a blank piece of paper of course – to see what has evolved as a result of one’s experiences. Because teaching is, by definition, an experience for both teacher and student, and so much is lost by not documenting that journey.
Capability Maturity Model Integration. (2020, November 11). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capability_Maturity_Model_Integration
Connick, W. (n.d.). Meaning of WIIFM in Sales Keeping Prospect’s Needs Top of Mind. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/what-is-wiifm-2917381
Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences, revised and updated: An integrated approach to designing college courses. Jossey-Bass.
Five Standards of Effective Pedagogy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/five-standards-of-effective-pedagogy
Gallup, I. (2020, October 28). Learner. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/252293/learner-theme.aspx
Garrison, D., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105. doi:10.1016/s1096-7516(00)00016-6
Greenleaf, R. K., & Kang, C. (2012). Servant leadership. Ch’amsol.
Writing Your Teaching Philosophy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cei.umn.edu/writing-your-teaching-philosophy