As an educator for the past fourteen years in the fields of science, technology, and education, my philosophy on teaching has evolved to encompass the following values:
- Teaching and learning are culturally-embedded, socially-contextualized acts,
- Learning is best accomplished through active engagement with provocative ideas, and culturally-relevant resources,
- Students’ professional and academic development is best supported when linkages between theory and practice to teaching and/or research are salient and pertinent,
- It is imperative for education research and teaching to recognize human differences, and embrace the perspectives of non-dominant groups
In my own practice, I employ a number of strategies that stem from these principles, which are informed by theories of sociocultural learning, cognition, and technology literacy.
One of the most difficult, but essential tasks of being an educator, is to examine our assumptions about the learning process, and our instructional practices. I believe that primary among those, are epistemologies that situate learning as a largely individual process, and are driven by notions of isolated domains of knowledge, universal learning mechanisms, and prescriptive instructional strategies. Sociocultural theory approaches learning as a complicated process of interaction, participation, and access to resources. As such, it is closely tied to the activities in which we are involved, not the innate capabilities of individuals to store information in the mind. Who we are in this process defines, and is defined by, systems of relations that constitute our social communities. It is the possibilities within these systems of relations that afford or constrain our opportunities to learn.
For this reason, I do not feel it is our duty as educators to socialize students into a picture of learning that comes from up on high. Rather, it is to foster the discovery of passions, celebrate individuality, and build communities that embrace the knowledge and experiences of others. To accomplish this, my teaching emphasizes student ownership, collaborative group work, and public discourse. Not wholly invaluable, moments of didacticism or pedantic instruction are embedded in larger pedagogical goals, and are not ends unto themselves.
While my beliefs on learning stem largely from sociocultural theory, cognitive learning principles offer strategies for constructing activities that, when executed properly, can benefit students greatly. Situated learning, distributed cognition, and problem-based activities that engage active processing, such as jigsaw exercises, and interactive games can motivate students to become active participants in their learning. They also aid instruction in providing feedback to the educator as to students’ prior knowledge, understanding of concepts, and assumptions. A primary strategy of mine in this regard is to continually ask students to identify problems, to ask “why”, and to revise their conceptualizations of the topics under consideration.
In this day and age, I believe we as educators do our students a great disservice when we fail to take advantage of technologies to expand the possibilities of learning and research. Yet, though the development of technology is thus critical to education at all levels, I believe it is also crucial that technology itself not be the sole focus or objective of the learning experience. Rather, technology literacy is best developed when it is embedded in meaningful, relevant activities that take advantage of students’ personal technology practices, learning goals, and natural interests. My teaching thus encourages students to explore new modes of communication, ways of examining educational data, and to expose themselves to multiple perspectives. Where possible, this means appropriating and producing open educational resources, utilizing authentic cultural artifacts, and reconceptualizing the look and feel of the classroom. As such, I believe it is incumbent upon us as educators to explore how technology can help us develop new ways of teaching.
I believe my commitment to education is exemplified through these principles and my continual effort to innovate and improve my teaching practices. While I am not always successful in achieving all of my pedagogical and instructional goals, I believe that through a constant process of reflection and communication with peers, students, and mentors, it is possible to meet the challenges of educating scholars in today’s world.