Teaching philosophy

Minimize barriers to learning

During a statistics course during my doctorate program, I faced a dilemma. I could either learn the concepts being taught in the course, or I could learn the recommended statistics software program, but I did not have enough time to learn both. As a seasoned learner, I realized that the concepts were far more important, and made a conscious decision not to spend time learning to use the software program. When I reflected on this experience, I realized that my students often fall short of successful language learning because they lack the experience to decide what information is critical for success, and what information is peripheral.  This has two practical implications for my classroom practice. First, I minimize complications that interfere with content delivery, so that students are not faced with spending large amounts of time learning how to navigate the course, and can concentrate on learning the course content.  Second, in addition to teaching the course content, I regularly ask students to decide on the relative importance of various concepts in order to encourage them to prioritize the most important aspects of the course.

Clearly communicate the rationale for assignments

Another guiding principle that informs my approach to teaching is the understanding that adult learners need to know why.  In some cases, this isn’t possible (there is no good way to explain that Spanish has six forms for every verb in every tense, while English makes do with two or three).  However, students are much more willing to engage and participate in classroom activities and homework if they know the instructor has carefully thought about the activity or assignment, and has a specific learning goal in mind for them. 

Maximize efficiency & provide immediate feedback

In order to learn, students need many opportunities to practice and receive feedback.  Without technology, it is difficult for instructors to provide feedback even on a limited number of assignments, due to many factors such as class size, teaching load, research and service responsibilities, and more. Harnessing technology can provide students with the practice they need to master the content, while not creating an unmanageable workload for the instructor. Furthermore, it can improve learning and retention by providing individualized immediate feedback.

Promote active learning & learner autonomy

At the risk of sounding trendy, perhaps the most important element in my approach to teaching is active learning. My job as an instructor, then, is to provide students with opportunities to use what they're learning.  This takes on a variety of different forms depending on the subject matter and level of the class.  In beginning Spanish, my role as an instructor has included providing students with the vocabulary and structures they need, and then giving them opportunities to practice.  In more advanced courses, I've used technology for instructional delivery, for creating student portfolios, for providing review of previously learned concepts, and many more functions.  When a course is designed well, the onus of learning is on the learner, not on the instructor, and this is always my goal as an instructor.

Rely on research-tested approaches

Lastly, I strongly believe in using research-tested methods, and while I have enjoyed experimenting with technology in the classroom during my experience as an instructor, I have never incorporated technology for its own sake. Rather, I have identified a need and have used an appropriate technology to meet that need. (Specific examples are available here.) To this end, I enjoy attending  conferences and keeping up with the literature on technology in teaching and learning so that my materials are as effective as I can make them.  

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