Statement of Teaching Philosophy and Practice
My teaching philosophy is born of experience as an educator and instructional designer. As an instructor, I strive to facilitate active student engagement with course materials, create clear learning objectives, and foster a classroom environment that encourages students to critically engage with course material. I approach every course I teach with passion and energy. Nevertheless, enthusiasm alone does not make for an effective educator. My ongoing journey towards becoming an impactful instructor has required rigorous research and a willingness to embrace failure as a learning opportunity.
Create through Research and Practice
In fall 2012 I taught three courses at Minot State University, a state school in North Dakota of roughly 3,500 students. In preparing these courses I believed that my seven semesters as a teaching assistant at UW-Madison had prepared me as an educator. In this assumption, I was mistaken, and concluded the semester discouraged by the students’ lack of engagement in my courses. Following my work at MSU, I began my tenure as LTTA at UW-Madison. This position refined my skills as an educator, provided opportunity to research pedagogical best practices, and offered me a chance to reflect on my past teaching experience. I therefore dug out my student evaluations, syllabi, and teaching notes from Minot, and studied them in light of my more rounded understanding of best teaching practices.
First, I looked through the teaching documents from HIST 101: Western Civilization to 1815. My highest evaluations and most positive comments from students in this course were those concerning my enthusiasm for teaching, the commitment I demonstrated towards my students’ success, and my ability to prepare students for assessment activities. Yet, I failed my students in numerous areas. The course suffered from my inability to focus on core outcomes and misguided inclusion of too many course objectives. Therefore, students did not critically engage with course material and instead focused on memorizing numerous facts to pass tests. My effective failure to organize this course stymied meaningful student interaction with course material. It further undermined my attempts to create a learning environment in which students were intrinsically motivated to learn. My pedagogical focus was much tighter in HIST 104: US History from 1877. However, I remained overly dependent upon the traditional fifty-minute power lecture as a means of classroom instruction. Furthermore, the slides I created to assist my lectures were overly dense and a distraction to both myself and my students.
HIST 212, World History 1500 to the present, was much closer to my fields of expertise. I was a much more confident instructor, and felt freer to devote prep-time to pedagogical experimentation. As I analyzed student outcomes, I found that they were higher in the course components in which I trialed active teaching methods. These methods facilitated significant student interaction and deeper learning. They included; more varied classroom activities, group projects, my eventual abandonment of lecture notes, and a willingness to give students significant input on course improvements. However, in HIST 212 I failed to communicate effectively to students the importance of the course’s learning outcomes, and how they applied to later educational, professional, and personal goals. Furthermore, students remained frustrated with amount of material they were required to memorize as I continued to emphasize quantity of information at the sake of in-depth analysis and robust learning activities.
Impact of Pedagogy
This self-evaluation provided practical insight into my teaching and served as a corrective to my instructional strategies. I redesigned my lesson plans based on this assessment. As a result, I won a teaching fellowship from the UW history department and secured an opportunity to teach my own course at UW-Madison. I designed my new class, HIST 223, into a blended course to decrease emphasis on lecture and instead focus on active learning methods, robust student interaction, and instructor-student collaboration. Students interacted with course readings and lectures primarily on their own. In the classroom they participated in group activities and discussion. Lectures were still an important component of the course. However, they were broken up into chunks, half of which I delivered as 5-to-8 minute online mini-lectures. The other lectures I delivered in short 10 minute chunks at the start of Wednesday and Friday class periods. All lectures were built following my examination of student work in their group projects and low-stakes assessments from earlier that week. Lectures were then targeted to reinforce concepts with which students were struggling.
In addition to making changes in HIST 223’s class structure, I experimented with ways to foster a deep and intrinsic student interest in course objectives. I designed methods by which to increase students’ sense of ownership over their own learning, and endeavored to help students understand how their mastery of course concepts would positively impact their professional ambitions. Therefore, at the beginning of the semester I asked students to create their own course learning goals and state how they would use the knowledge and skills gained in the course outside the classroom. I then worked with students throughout the semester to keep them on track and help them meet their personal learning objectives. I found that as a result, students were more invested in coursework, interacted with course material more creatively, and in a manner that reflected their unique backgrounds in the US military, business, and engineering. This in turn facilitated better class discussions. For their part, students stated that by creating their own goals in my course, they understood better how historical study improved their skills in reasoned deliberation, writing, and communication. I likewise found that students demonstrated a high ability to critically engage with key course learning objectives, and had higher learning outcomes.
Current Work in Instruction
After teaching HIST 223, I returned to my position as LTTA where I broke down the lessons I learned from the semester and transformed them into workshops and conference presentations. In May 2017 I joined the Division of Information Technology as a Learning Technology Consultant. As a consultant, I work with UW-Madison instructors, both in individual and group sessions, to guide them towards more effective pedagogical uses of campus-supported learning technologies. I also design and lead training sessions, workshops, and online non-credit courses.