A college professor who is improving their academic portfolio in preparation for academic review (a process by which professors work toward tenure) recently asked me to take a look at their teaching philosophy. I was very impressed especially as many professors base their classes within a rigid structure of lecture, lecture lecture, test, repeat. I have added my thoughts about this teaching philosophy to the left of the piece. Please feel free to comment on this post if you have other insight!
As an educator of science, my number one goal is to excite and inspire my students to pursue a career in our field. One of my educational goals is to relate how the nature of science is integrated into the everyday lives of my students. I encourage my students to understand that science is a continuously evolving process where there is no absolute explanation. Relating the importance of science to our everyday lives is crucial to excite and interest others to the field.
The ideal classroom environment has a friendly, constructive atmosphere. Students are encouraged to ask questions during class, to email and to meet with me frequently. I encourage a positive atmosphere for the class by injecting humor into lectures when appropriate. I always start each class with an introduction of myself and have them share with the class or in groups some of their background and things that they are interested in. This enables me to structure and tailor my classes to the interests and needs of my students. I also encourage them to exchange email addresses and phone numbers so they can formulate their own study groups so students become relaxed when they attend class or contact me, and this is one way to humanize myself instead of being a “stuffy” scientist. This provides me with a good start to assess how diverse my student population is and how I can adjust my assessments and teaching to the sensitivity of the audience.
Student engagement in the learning process is another personal goal. Daily, I encourage students to participate in classroom discussion and have a student-led rather than teacher-led experience. I test their ability to apply content knowledge by asking how they can provide additional examples about the topics that we are covering and allow them to discuss these in student-led discussions. I incorporate think/pair/share, critical thinking questions and problem-based and case studies during my classes to facilitate their education and to discourage a passive environment. By providing information in multiple modes, their different senses are activated during lectures. Audio, visual, and interactive demonstrations increase their confidence in being able to perform the task as well as aiding in the retention of information beyond just one assessment. Adding technology into the classroom is essential for students, where I incorporate augmented reality, virtual dissections, electronic polls and backchats during my lectures. By teaching in these methods, it is my hope that students will remember me as a teacher who helped them to find the answers rather than just fill in the blanks for them.
One area that cannot be overlooked in postsecondary education is the concept of teaching how your students learn best. I have learned that to be a good educator, one must survey and listen to their audience and tailor lessons to their strengths and learning styles. For example, I have taught two different sections of human anatomy in the same semester and have found that one cohort prefers the flipped classroom and to do more hands-on and group activities whereas the other class prefers more of a "lecture" type class with fewer group activities. I found what the students preferred by asking all the students to give an informal evaluation in the middle of the semester asking about their efforts and expectations of their own work as well as efforts and expectations of me as the instructor. Differentiating lessons to students' strengths and learning styles allows for excitement and encouragement of the material. Another example of differentiation was as a graduate student I taught two sections of human anatomy and physiology to undergraduates, one for biology majors and one for non-biology majors as well as an introductory principle of biology course for non-biology majors. The biology majors preferred whole group instruction and a complete understanding of anatomy and physiology behind their study. The non-biology majors enjoyed individual and small group formats of learning to clarify the intricacies of why they were learning the content and how it applied to daily life. To continue to improve my courses within each semester I give out an informal mid-semester evaluation in which I ask the students to re-evaluate their own study habits, what I can do to help them master the course material, and what in-class activities help them learn the content. From their responses, I tailor the classes to their educational needs and strengths. Furthermore, after the end-of-semester course evaluations are returned, I set goals to improve upon for the upcoming semester based on students’ feedback and monitor them through the next course.
To enrich the material taught in the classroom, I frequently take my students into the field to work with our greater community. We have visited sites such as local high schools, community centers, and daycares in hopes of enrichment and engagement with our stakeholders. One example of a visit was my students teaching the anatomy and physiology of the brain using the plastinate models to local high school, middle school and elementary school children. Another would be putting on a health fair for the college campus and greater community as part of our 100 level Principals of Fitness course. Yet another visit which connected our material with our community was through my Biology of Aging and Motor Learning and Development courses which combined in examining motor skills of infants and toddlers in daycares as well as motor skills of the elderly in a local senior home. These were valuable experiences for the students in which they applied their newfound knowledge and realize the importance of what we were learning in the classroom. From these experiences, several students have had job placements or continued to volunteer after going out into these community locations. I feel this is an important part of making collaborations with the local community and erases that disconnect of being in a classroom from real life applications.
Incorporating cooperative team-based approaches to solving problems in class helps prepare the students for their future careers in another of my focuses. Not all students realize that they will be working with teams on projects to meet certain deadlines and work with different personalities compared to what they are used to in the classroom, passively listening in lecture. By increasing meaningful discussions in my classroom about how material applies together, solving cooperative team-based problems and having active participation during every class session where students respond verbally or through the use of their technology this allows for the students to be accountable and excited for their own learning.
After I completed my editing and suggestions for this piece I reflected over what other professions take the time to justify WHY they do what they do and how they go about it? I struggled to think of many beyond professor and teacher. Are there any "Business Philosophies" or "Doctor Philosophies"? Should there be?
Just a chance to reflect over educational articles and ideas that float through my head.