Teaching Philosophy

In my experience, the best formal learning experiences have been those where the teacher is passionate about teaching and has a deep understanding of the disciplinary content. Neither is sufficient; both are necessary. The role of a teacher is to design learning experiences for students within which students can grapple with authentic contexts, discover problems to be addressed, and develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will enable them to identify, create, and evaluate possible solutions.

In order to create such an experience, one must understand not only instructional design and assessment, but also must understand how the topic of interest is manifested in students’ lives and in the world at large. This enables one to select examples that will be accessible to students and to dynamically draw connections among them. I encourage students to pay careful attention to their environments during the semester and to explain how the topics discussed in class manifest in their daily lives.

Learning contexts should not give students the (incorrect) sense that all learning experiences end successfully; students must be able to fail at the task while working honestly to attain the course learning outcomes. Failure is important feedback for the learning process and provides authentic opportunities to consider alternative steps that might have lead to a better (or worse) outcome.

In developing courses, I work to find motivating contexts that will engage students and are meaningful to society. For example, I offer a course on the nature of information in which students consider the properties of information and the theory and practice of information creation, encoding, transmission, storage, retrieval, and destruction. We consider both technological and social aspects, how government information policy affects access to information, and how that, in turn, advantages or disadvantages various identifiable groups. Students learn to identify and contribute to policy discussions related to information issues. I want to help people become aware of the computational processes around them—from scientific, to technological, to social; to be able to engage with those processes; and to be able to make moral, ethical choices.

In class, my students often engage in small group discussions where they share their interpretations of the materials they reviewed to prepare for class and work to answer additional questions posed to them in class. I move among the groups encouraging depth in their discussion and discovering how they’ve come to understand the material. I then use that knowledge to help shape class discussions and later assignments.

Overall, I believe that engaging students as partners in designing their learning experiences and expecting students to engage honestly in the effort allows me to create a dynamic learning community and lasting relationships with students. I believe this benefits not only the individuals, but the institution, as well, as students grow to value learning as an end unto itself and self-identify as life-long learners, confident in their ability to cope with complexity and uncertainty.

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