Teaching Philosophy

Philosophy of Teaching in a Distributed Networked Environment

I was recently asked what I looked for in students, and my response was “I want students to be as excited about learning as I am.”  I have been teaching face-to-face and online for nearly four decades…but I am most energized by teaching in a distributed networked way.  One of the exciting aspects of teaching with the web is that the possibilities continue to grow, and with these possibilities come endless opportunities for learning.

I have taught undergraduate and graduate courses in education leadership and in business leadership – as well as military courses.  My approach is similar in both disciplines.  Students are expected to do more than regurgitate “facts” – they are expected to analyze and critically process existing and emerging information to draw fresh conclusions and applications in an ever changing world.  As such, I am a co-learner with my students as we examine existing paradigms and explore new ones.  The world is not a multiple-choice test but rather one that requires higher order thinking skills.  My teaching approach looks to engage students to think in new ways.

Joseph Aoun in Robot-Proof noted that we have to move beyond the usual literacies to higher-order cognitive skills if we are to be “robot-proof” in the future.  To me, this means relying increasingly on a network of learners (Twitter, Diigo, and blogs) for my own and my students’ personal learning.  In my classes, this network demonstrates the power of social processes for learning.  The reflective nature of blogging for instance requires students to think about thinking, which leads to metacognition and the higher order thinking that I seek.  Each student brings unique perspectives to bear, and when this reflection occurs on the open web, it invites other perspectives from outside the course to push, prod, and provoke new reflections.

I believe that good teaching is good teaching, whether one is online or face-to-face.  My teaching has been informed by Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Practice in Teaching, which I believe hold equally true online or on campus (Chickering and Gamson, 1987):

“Good practice in undergraduate education:

  1. encourages contact between students and faculty,
  2. develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  3. encourages active learning,
  4. gives prompt feedback,
  5. emphasizes time on task,
  6. communicates high expectations, and
  7. respects diverse talents and ways of learning.”

Aligned with these are the seven research-based principles espoused by Susan Ambrose in the book How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (2010) by Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman.  These 7 principles of learning include:

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can serve to help or hinder learning.
  2. Students’ organization of knowledge impacts how students learn and apply what they know.
  3. Motivation determines, directs, and sustains what students learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must develop the skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply them.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances learning.
  6. Level of learner development interacts with “course” climate to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed, learners must be able to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning

An online course is so much more than a correspondence course.  I concur with Palloff and Pratt (2007) that the formation of a learning community is essential in online courses.  If students see me as a real individual, with social, cognitive and teaching presences evident in the online environment…and equally important, they see each other as well, then a community of learners can develop.

My philosophy of teaching evolved from years of teaching in both face-to-face and online in military, university, and two-year settings.  As I reflect on my beliefs regarding teaching and learning, I find that my approach is threefold:

  • to promote positive learning, modeling what I teach and learn;
  • to spark learner enthusiasm for learning and peer-teaching;
  • and to provide a strong foundation for lifelong reflective practice.

To accomplish this, I apply a variety of strategies based on essential educational principles encompassing learning theory, collaboration, technology application, strategic instructional planning and assessment, constructivism, and reflective practice.  I believe that learning is always evolving, and that I learn as much from my students as they do from me.  I also believe that learning is best when students see the relevance of the learning.  I intend for my ‘passion’ for teaching and learning to always be evident, building a learning community through enthusiasm and empathetic connections with learners.  As a result, my teaching will positively impact the learners, ultimately connecting them to their ‘passion’ and lifelong learning.

While good teaching is good teaching, I strongly believe that the practices one uses for teaching are quite different online.  An expanded version of this philosophy can be found in the White Paper I co-authored with Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl, Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning (May 2009).  With a community of learners, it makes sense to use a number of learning activities and assessment processes, including formative assessment and peer assessment.  This online community is made up of unique individuals, with differing learning preferences, background knowledge, and biases.  These diverse perspectives can enrich the learning environment.  My role is to create a safe environment in which this sharing of learning can occur.

The web has evolved in the past decade to be one that is participatory (just look at Facebook) – what danah boyd in It’s Complicated calls “networked publics.”  It therefore makes sense to create active learning opportunities that take advantage of the affordances the new web allows, such as wikis for collaborative authoring, blogs for reflection, and new video tools that allow anyone to publish multimedia.

We teach, learn and work in a distributed online environment.  This environment allows for multiple means for communication and collaboration.  My role is to be cognizant of my role to model effective learning practices while I actively engage my students.  Together we can learn more than any of us could learn by ourselves.


Ambrose, Susan A., Bridges, Michael W., DiPietro, Michele, Lovett, Marsha C., and Norman, Marie K. (2010) How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Aoun, Joseph (2017). Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. MIT Press.

boyd, danah (2014). It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, Yale University Press.

Chickering, Arthur W. and Gamson, Zelda F. (1987) “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, March 1987, pp 3-7.

Garrison, D.R. (2011). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice, Routledge.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge,” Teachers College Record. 108(6), 1017- 1054.

Palloff, R. M. and Pratt, K. (2007) Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom, Jossey-Bass.

Watwood, Britt, Nugent, Jeffrey and Deihl, William “Bud” (2009) Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning, VCU, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6lhbAlGWX-IZC04V01MSHllRHc/view?usp=sharing 

One Response

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  1. Robin Chandler March 2, 2015 at 11:04 am |

    I implement and support many of these instructional concepts in my classes, in particular, the notion of “networked publics”. My course Facebook pages, for example, allow students to post breaking news on course-relevant topics and to discuss current issues in ‘sound bytes’.

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