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 and for my institution.
My Philosophy is Academic Rigor Taught in Real-Life Contexts
Whether working one-on-one with a student, or in a larger setting as a professor, my aim is to impart the discipline-specific knowledge that will prepare these adults for life beyond 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. Bringing my research into my teaching, also motivates students to see and seek out their own opportunities for research. 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
I believe that real advancement in science happens in the dialogue between disciplines, and that students benefit greatly from taking courses with multi-faceted perspectives. I regularly bring scientific questions (sometimes from my computational neuroscience or paleoclimatology research) into my courses, 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 the interpretations of the statistical analyses, and 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. 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. This approach also opens a door for me to bring in my cross-disciplinary research in computational neuroscience to the classroom using it as a working example of how I act as a bridge between statistics and neuroscience. In particular, the last two weeks of my machine learning course which is cross-listed as a graduate and undergraduate class includes techniques mostly from my computational neuroscience research. 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 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 all assignments I work to incorporate some opportunities for students to conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate. In lectures, I promote critical thinking by continuously explaining the “why” behind the subject/skill at hand. I encourage students to demand the rationale for why we are learning what we are learning, and if I can’t give it to them on the spot, I won’t ask them about the topic on the exams. This method not only promotes critical thinking, but also ties into real-world applications, further reinforcing this idea with students.
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, is the 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. 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.
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. Using available technologies, like video conferencing and clickers, has also been a great way 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. 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 an instructor.