“Teaching is less about what the teacher does and more about what the teacher gets the students to do.” Perkins, 1993, Teaching for Understanding
The quote above is representative of my teaching philosophy, which is centered in problem solving, interdisciplinarity, real experiences, and interaction. Each of these elements encourages the student to engage with the content, each other, and the real world. My experience as a student was most enhanced by teachers who wove real world examples into their discussions and asked me to contribute my own experience in the classroom.
In my teaching, I aim to foster students in becoming problem solvers. In my experience with students, many will contact me for help on a simple task that they could have solved if they had taken more time to understand the problem they were facing. In my classes, when a student has a technical problem, I ask the other students to share their methods for overcoming the task. This allows them to help each other and shows them that others face the same problem and overcome it through patience and tenacity. In the case of a problem in our discipline(s), I will have an activity where the students collectively solve the problem in class. This allows them to recall previous knowledge and apply it to a real world example.
A second objective of my teaching activity is to encourage interdisciplinary cooperation among the students and help them challenge artificial disciplinary boundaries. As a student, I struggle with my interdisciplinarity. It is more comfortable for people to learn in a neat box; however, the real world is more complex than this and many real world problems cannot be solved by one discipline alone. The fields of Library and Information Science and Geographic Information Science, where I teach, are broad and have applications in many fields of study. I cannot count the number of times I have heard professors in “scientific” disciplines claim that LIS is not scientific or that GIS is not applicable to the social sciences. These artificial boundaries are detrimental to the application of the knowledge within these fields to real world problems. In my classes about LIS, I hope to show students that they can use many approaches to tackle a research problem or gain understanding about a topic. In my classes about GIS, I hope to show the vast applications of GIS to any discipline using basic spatial principles. It is my belief that looking at a problem from different vantage points offers a better synergy to a student’s future work.
Research projects are beneficial to novice learners as well as advanced investigators. My teaching philosophy reserves a space for providing real experience preparing for research projects and “doing” research. Students in my courses will identify topics they want to explore and carry out small research projects where they gather real data or simulate data in order to gain analytical and writing skills. The best strategy for encouraging students to take their research seriously is to provide guidance for real venues for their efforts. For example, students will complete a research proposal for a real funding agency or write a paper for a real journal. Once they complete the coursework, it is likely another faculty member would be willing to shepherd them to submit the work. This can hopefully provide a real incentive and focus to their research projects.
The last elements of my teaching philosophy are interaction, props, and activities in the classroom to reinforce the reading materials. Following the opening quote, the more students interact with one another, I move from a lecturer to a participant and moderator. I can help support the interactions with my experiences and set the agenda and the readings but the discovery made in class is a mutual creation. I am a believer in moving beyond discussion to other activities that crystallize the material. This kind of approach is much easier in fields like biology or geology; however, with ingenuity I believe lab-like exercises can be devised for any field. Perhaps the most exciting activity for me is the creation of props that can visually show the students a concept. I enjoy being creative and this could give the students material to react to and interact with.
On a final note, I often say that everything in my life is an evolving process. For me, teaching is no different. I hope to learn from my classes as much as my students. Through this process, I anticipate that I will develop new methodologies for teaching over time, some of which will work and others that will fail, but I am certain there will be lots of fun along the way.