Teaching

Teaching Philosophy

In my current teaching position, I teach both graduate and undergraduate courses in technology integration in the K-12 classroom. Prior to my current appointment, I was a high school science teacher for the past 14 years.  My emphasis was in biology and chemistry, and I have taught courses geared toward all levels of ability.  I taught required courses, elective courses, advanced courses, and basic courses.  In other words, with respect to motivation and engagement, I have taught the entire spectrum of students.  For my school district, I also taught a professional development course for our teachers that covered all of the computer applications the district utilized.  I was the lead designer for the course as well, which was offered through Central Michigan University for graduate credit. I have also taught several courses at the graduate level in different disciplines.  While working on my Master’s in Futures Studies, I was able to assist the primary instructor in designing a course on the future of biotechnology, using both my experiences as an instructor and my background in biology.  In my doctoral program, I helped co-teach a course on using Web 2.0 and social networking tools in the classroom, and I was a guest lecturer in a course on qualitative research methods.  

Given these varied experiences, I see both similarities and differences in my approach to each audience.  With high school students, there is little room for flexibility given a state-mandated or otherwise clearly defined curriculum (e.g., International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement), and in some cases the students are required to be there.  It would be very difficult to classify these situations as being truly “learner-centered.”  On the other hand, students in a graduate course are often taking the course (or attending graduate school) of their own free will.  As adult learners, they more than likely have a bit more intrinsic motivation than a teenager.  That is not to say that I am a firm believer in all of the tenets of andragogy.  I have seen high school freshmen exhibit more intrinsic motivation and sense of purpose than some of my peers and students in graduate courses.  However, teaching adults in a class or training you have designed allows you to provide more freedoms in your classroom to meet the specific needs of your learners.

I feel that my doctoral coursework has helped my instructional design skills to evolve.  As a new secondary teacher it was very easy to get caught up in what everyone else did, namely teach from the textbook, write tests at the end of the unit, and find reasons unrelated to your instruction as to why students performed poorly.  My experiences with designing instruction have not necessarily changed the way I teach; however, they have greatly influenced how I prepare instruction and how I overtly communicate those goals to my students.  I have designed my courses to include a mix of teacher-directed and student-directed instruction.  As my research interests can support, I am a firm believer in students learning from creating artifacts, whether they are physical artifacts or virtually created artifacts that are published on the Internet.

I am a firm believer in the use of technology in the classroom, as long as it has a direct purpose that cannot be achieved effectively and efficiently using a prior technology.  In other words, sometimes pen and paper is better than a word processor, and sometimes an overhead is better than a PowerPoint presentation.  However, if the technology can transform learning and dramatically alter the method of instruction, in addition to increasing the engagement, interest, and motivation of the student, I am all for it.  I could have a student build a posterboard presentation, but I could also have them create a multimedia, Web 2.0 presentation that can be shared with a URL.  I could have students watch video, but I would rather have them create their own.  In addition to technology allowing students to more easily share their work, I also feel that aside from the content, I am forcing students to learn technology skills and tools that will serve them in the future.

My philosophies on instruction and instructional design apply to the online environment as well.  I am well aware that online instruction will almost definitely be a part of my teaching load while in the academy, and several of my graduate teaching experiences have involved distance learning in a variety of formats.  I have taught (and taken courses) that have been completely asynchronous, a mix of synchronous and asynchronous elements, and blended courses combining online and face-to-face instruction as well.  I am also piloting a blended high school course this year, where students will receive instruction primarily online, but will attend several large group lectures and perform laboratory activities in the classroom.  It is my personal opinion that online instruction can be just as effective, if not more, than traditional face-to-face instruction.  I feel that it is the instruction and the instructor rather than the medium that makes the difference.  As someone who attended a large university and sat in upper-level classes in a 400-seat lecture hall while being talked at for 60 minute blocks, face-to-face instruction is not always superior.  With that said, the skill set needed for online instruction is not identical to traditional methods.  The research is not yet clear on what those differences are, but one key feature I feel is very important is to have constant communication between the instructor and the student, as well as between students.  Being confused and feeling isolated in an online class is just cause for dropping out, and by creating a sense of open communication and designing interactive activities with colleagues is one way to mitigate those occurrences.

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