My Teaching Views


In teaching, my primary responsibility is to prepare my students with the statistical knowledge and skills they need outside my classroom. For every course I teach, I have three main learning goals for my students that I hope they achieve by the end of the semester. These are:
  1. To understand the "big picture,'' seeing the relevance of the course material in order to effectively and independently use the tools they are taught;
  2. To promote excellent written, and oral communication of their statistical skills so that they can successfully exchange ideas to those both within and external to the discipline;
  3. To foster first-rate problem solving skills and instill the desire to learn, in order that when confronted with statistical challenges they have not previously encountered, they are able to seek out the necessary solutions.
My philosophy, outlined in 5 key points below, espouses my approach to educating so that these learning goals can be met by my students. I have had the opportunity to try these methods on both graduate and undergraduate level courses, in classes consisting of 11 up to 400 students, online and in person. This teaching statement seems inadequate to detail my passion for, and dedication to teaching, however, ironic as it is, I feel that should I wish to reduce my teaching philosophy into one sentence it would be simple to do so:

I am committed to excellence for my students.

My Philosophy is Academic Rigor Taught in Real-Life Contexts
Whether working one-on-one with a student, or in a larger setting as an instructor, my aim is to impart the discipline-specific knowledge that will prepare these adults for life beyond the university classrooms. I have found that when confronted with it, people have varying responses to the idea of studying statistics- one of the most common being extreme trepidation. It is my job, whether this is the students' first course in the field, or their fiftieth, to allay these fears and to help them discover their full potential to achieve in the course. Humour, projects, presentations, group-work, hands-on activities and demonstrations, working examples and practical, "real-world'' applications are approaches I use for tackling this hurdle. I have made use of cartoons, and worked in aspects of popular culture to grab students' interest. In a course on Stochastic Processes and Applied Probability, I was able to make use of my own research, particularly while teaching Poisson Processes and Continuous Time Markov Chains, to draw students' attention to how the topic we are learning has real-world applications in understanding the human brain. This approach requires careful and detail-oriented planning so that material is both digested, and brought to life. Bringing my research into my teaching, also motivates students to see and seek out their own opportunities for research. I have had the pleasure of supervising both undergrad and graduate students who were drawn into projects after I discussed my research in class. It is also important that I do not simply rely on those tried and true methods, but that I find new and innovative ways to activate my students' learning. Collaboration with my teaching colleagues, fellow professors and teaching assistants alike, is critical to not only keeping current with my subject, but also in developing these new ideas in teaching and learning.
 
My Philosophy is Interdisciplinary Teaching
In my opinion, it is extremely important for our students to understand that real advancement in science happens in the dialogue between disciplines, and that they benefit greatly from taking courses with multi-faceted perspectives. In my preliminary research on statistics anxiety (Ramezan 2011), I have learned that many students outside the statistics field find this discipline quite intimidating, and usually ask why they should learn ``the hard mathematical formulations.'' In an attempt to answer this question, I regularly bring mini-projects to my statistics course for science students, where the statistical methodologies are motivated through scientific research problems from multiple disciplines. Pairing up students from different knowledge backgrounds is also very helpful to show them how they can benefit from different viewpoints when studying real-world problems. In courses of this kind, I believe it is important to emphasize on the interpretations of the statistical analyses, and on how/why a taught statistical technique works, particularly, in classes with students from different knowledge backgrounds. I help them understand that statistics is a means for them to answer questions in their own discipline. In short, I place a strong emphasis on learning by doing. Interdisciplinary teaching of statistics also helps students understand and embrace the fundamental ambiguity which usually occurs in scientific research, and is often overlooked in typical textbook problems. I continuously bring in examples, chosen specifically for my target student audience, to help the learners appreciate the complexity of problems and the associated challenges of solving them. Of course, working in an interdisciplinary environment is beneficial to me as a teacher, as I too learn from the different knowledge backgrounds, and viewpoints my diversely educated students bring to the course through their homework assignments, discussions, projects, and/or exams. I have also noticed that my excitement in learning about students' disciplines is contagious. Many of my students from different classes have mentioned that my excitement about students' projects, and about learning how statistics can solve real-world problems in their fields of study, made them like statistical analyses more than they used to, and that it helps them overcome their ``statistics trepidation.'' In my experience, students do appreciate it when I show them what I have learned from their work and from teaching them in an interdisciplinary environment. This approach also opens a door for me to bring in my cross-disciplinary research in computational neuroscience to the classroom. Exposure to different perspectives through cross-disciplinary teaching allows students to ``think outside the box,'' and it also improves their communication skills. Compartmentalization that stifles creativity and growth is a major problem in classrooms, and interdisciplinary education allows students to connect different disciplines, overcoming such problems, and to make their skills more accessible in a globalized, technological society.

My Philosophy is Critical Thinking
In all my interactions with students, I aim to push them to think critically. Examining methods, considering sources, and looking at their own and their peers' work, will help them not only to develop better higher order thinking skills, but also to solidify the knowledge and competencies we've discussed in the lectures and tutorials. The importance of a student cultivating this ability has implications well beyond the statistics course he or she is enrolled in. Incorporating projects into courses has also been a good way to stretch student thinking and promote idea exchange. In a graduate course in Time Series Analysis, I allowed students to source and choose their own data sets for their projects. Clearly, typical Box-Jenkins models did not work for all students, particularly those who chose highly volatile data. This encouraged them to learn about ARCH models so that they could analyze the data at hand. Similarly, in an introductory statistics course for science students, where multiple linear regression was not discussed during lectures, I showed examples of real data where simple linear regression did not fit well. I asked students to brainstorm why things fell apart, and the result was that they came up with extra explanatory variables, hence a multiple linear regression model. This was a very powerful way to teach the concept, because the students came to their own conclusions. In all projects and presentations, I encourage students to interpret their results in the context of the problem, so that they learn to communicate and discuss their findings in language that is accessible to people who may or may not be familiar with the discipline of statistics.

My Philosophy is Professional Growth
Clearly, the students will be the beneficiaries of the content of the lectures, but it is also important to examine how I will grow as an educator through their experiences in my classroom. Accepting their critiques, positive or negative, will be key to adapting and growing as a professor. Using verbal feedback, informal mid-course polling/paper evaluations, and the formal course evaluations performed at the end of the semester, provides a wealth of opportunity for me to hear what is effective about my teaching and therefore what I should continue, and what students found less effective about my teaching, and therefore what I should examine and reflect upon. This tactic proved extremely useful to me as I taught a course in Statistics for Business. I wanted to make sure that the material, for which many of them had no background, was coming across clearly, both in terms of my wording and pacing. Informal polling helped me to verify that students were able to understand my accent, vocabulary and that they were picking up key concepts and strategies that they could transfer to their work after university. Careful assessment of student learning is not only helpful as an academic checkpoint for them, but also as a gauge for my own practice. Using diagnostic, formative and summative assessment allows me to monitor both my students' learning and my teaching efficacy in a timely manner. Making use of diagnostic testing in that same Statistics for Business course helped me to figure out that their background in linear algebra was insufficient for the regression portion of the course. Catching this early in the semester was critical for time management as we moved through topics. Conducting a few tutorials on linear algebra was all it took to head off major problems later in the semester. Formative assessment helped me to gauge how many students still required help in this area as we moved through regression analysis and allowed me to provide useful written and verbal feedback tailored to their specific needs. Summative assessment at the end of the teaching unit, helped to verify that I had done the job well and allowed students who were still struggling an opportunity to be able to target this unit in preparation for the final exam later in the semester. Watching my colleagues, and teaching assistants interact with students also helps me generate ideas that can be applied in my teaching. I feel there is no room for rigidity, but rather the secret to excellent teaching lies in being flexible, adaptable and open to new ideas from many sources, whether mid-semester or in a wider span over the course of a career.
 
My Philosophy is a Positive Learning Environment
The environment I create in my classroom is vital to achieving my goals as an educator. Good classroom management is crucial. When students are chatting in my lecture, using something as simple as physical proximity or movement throughout the aisle can make a big difference. I have found using a clear outline written on the board helps students organize notes and clear up administrative questions that can slow the pace of a class. For my students, I aim to create an entertaining lecture. Humour, appropriate lesson breaks between sections of heavy content, and music can help to engage the participants in my course and remind students that even the driest of statistical processes can be fun. During an early morning class, when students were feeling particularly sluggish, I found playing a few seconds of highlights from Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture usually got their attention and helped to refocus their energies on the task at hand...smiles also ensued. I encourage participation by leveraging my students' sweet teeth, tossing candies to those who participate in lectures by asking or answering questions. Using available technologies, like video conferencing and clickers, has also been a great way for me to engage learners and foster an up-to-date, real-world based course. I currently teach graduate statistics courses in a face-to-face format, but these are also streamed online in real-time for students who are enrolled remotely. I deliver my office hours through Adobe Connect (a virtual meeting environment) and in person.  The challenge has been that while this is very convenient for students who cannot come onto campus (usually about half the enrollees), it significantly limits the amount of board space I have to work out the theories I am teaching. As a result, my board notes have become more concise, and streamlined, which is good for students, no matter in which format they are accessing the course. Using technology is motivating for me, and for the learners and keeps my lectures cutting-edge. Enthusiasm is also integral to my teaching.  I bring not only my enthusiasm for statistics, but also for teaching to the lecture theatre, online, tutorials, meetings with small groups, and in one-to-one conferences. In formal course evaluations, many students have mentioned the positive effect that my enthusiasm has had on their learning. I endeavour to be positive in all my dealings professionally, regardless of external circumstances. I think that building a rapport with both my students and colleagues helps to foster a supportive learning environment for everyone.
 
To augment what you have read here, you can check my Teaching Dossier where you will find more anecdotes about the proceedings in my classroom, observation reports completed as part of my Certificate in University Teaching, summaries of Formal Course Evaluations completed by students and several letters from Senior Faculty Members at the University of Waterloo which specifically target my role as a teacher.