Updated December 2011
My teaching philosophy can be summarized broadly by three overarching goals: (1) to inspire interest and excitement in my students, (2) to provoke critical thought about the ideas, facts and concepts to which my students are exposed, and (3) to teach students how to find and access information they seek.
People, in my experience, are motivated to learn content more effectively when they enjoy or are intrigued by what they are studying. As I teach, my style is animated and enthusiastic. I find that conveying the stories of science or whatever the topic is at hand in a way that communicates how amazing it is entices students to learn. In my typically passionate manner, I often told my environmental studies students an exciting story about the formation of the Moon and the implications that had for the evolution of both geology and life on Earth. Even now, I still bump into former students who remember that story and the science associated with it.
Students need to build their skills in critical thinking, particularly in this world of information overload. Passively accepting information will not serve students well now or in the future. Students need to be able to assess sources, their authors, and context so they can evaluate their appropriateness. When discussing readings with students, I continually ask them to question the source: who wrote it? What were their motivations? What sources did they use to make their point? To tackle this issue specifically, I implemented a library instruction lab into the global change curriculum after realizing that most first year students did not know how to evaluate sources. Through just the one instruction session, students began to appreciate the need for evaluation and learned some strategies for doing so.
I will not always be with my students, nor will other mentors they currently have. In addition to learning critical assessment skills, students must be able to find and access information they seek now and in the future. If they cannot do this, their critical thinking skills will be wasted. When students need to find information, I seize the opportunity to share with them the resources at their fingertips. The University of Michigan Library has an astounding amount of curated information which students can browse and search – the trick is to know how to search effectively. A second goal of the library instruction lab I created for the global change curriculum was to give students some level of proficiency in searching for information. After the instruction session, students were much more effective at finding (and appraising) appropriate sources for their final projects. In the future, I will continue to include information literacy instruction into every teaching encounter I have.
To achieve these admittedly lofty goals, I aspire to continuously seek out ways to develop my understanding and practice of teaching and learning. In addition, I have identified three areas in which I hope to have the opportunity to explore and improve. First, while my enthusiasm usually facilitates learning, it sometimes causes my pace to quicken particularly when I feed off the excitement of students. I am always on the look-out for strategies to remain patient, measured, and in-the-moment with my teaching. Second, while I helped design the one-off library instruction lab, I have yet to have occasion to design course curricula at the semester scale. I would welcome an opportunity to work with faculty and graduate students who wish to embed information literacy throughout their semester-long courses and, more broadly, throughout the major or concentration’s general arc of curriculum. Finally, I would like to improve the efficiency with which I use technology for different tasks in the classroom. Technology can be a great boon to learning, but it can also serve as an incredible distraction for students. By working with others who have had successes and failures with using technology for educational goals, I hope to build my own successful strategies in this regard.
I am always looking for professional development opportunities to hone my teaching skills. While at the University of Michigan, I attended several Center for Research on Learning & Teaching workshops. In the future, I will continue to take workshops and trainings to stay abreast of new teaching methods, and to learn from other experienced teachers.