During the past spring in the course I co-taught with Jeffrey Nugent, we asked our graduate students in the Preparing Future Faculty program to create a personal teaching project. Many chose to develop a teaching philosophy. Several good ones are here and here and here.
It occurred to me that I have not updated my teaching philosophy in quite a few years. Motivated by the good work of my students, I decided to dust mine off and distribute it here for comments. How would you “grade” it? Does it resonate with you? Does it miss an important element? Let me know!
Philosophy of Teaching in a Distributed Online 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 online for nearly two decades, and one of the exciting aspects of teaching online 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. 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 engages students to think in new ways.
I also have in recent years relied increasingly on a network of learners (Twitter, Delicious, and blogs) for my own personal learning, and through this network have seen 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:
- encourages contact between students and faculty,
- develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
- encourages active learning,
- gives prompt feedback,
- emphasizes time on task,
- communicates high expectations, and
- respects diverse talents and ways of 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 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 view 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 styles, 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 six years to be one that is participatory (just look at Facebook). 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 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.
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.
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, http://www.vcu.edu/cte/pdfs/OnlineTeachingWhitePaper.pdf