Teaching

My teaching philosophy can be summed up in two words: Whatever Works.

That summary is partially tongue-in-cheek, but it reflects a fundamental truth about my teaching. Over 20-plus years of teaching at the university level I have observed many modes of instruction, each hailed as “the next big thing” only to be replaced by the next “next big thing.” MOOCs, blended learning, problem-based learning, group learning, case studies, lecture, don’t lecture; each mode is hailed, criticized, and then replaced.

What I have learned is that each “new” approach offers something of value, but there is no “one way” to teach. Modes of instruction need to adapt to the subject matter of a course, the level at which the course that is being taught, and the comfort-level of the person teaching the course.

For an introductory level American politics course I use a fairly traditional lecture and discussion mode. This course requires delivering a lot of content to students, and the lecture format is appropriate for this type of course. I would be uncomfortable teaching it any other way. For my public administration course I use case studies to encourage students to be analytical when faced with “real world” problems in organizations. In research methods I use a combination lecture, group, and problem-based learning approach to encourage students to learn from their peers. My mode of instruction adapts to the nature of the course material.

In the end, students go into the real world. Some will have bosses that lecture; others will have bosses that encourage group work; some will encourage individual analysis and problem-solving. Students need to be conversant in all of these learning styles. Jettisoning one teaching style completely for another does not serve the interests of faculty or of students.

In my view, we should view the university as a smörgåsbord. No single dish that is served will provide all of the nutrition that one needs; but by the time one gets to the cashier one has all the food one needs for a balanced meal. Likewise, each course in a university education may not provide a pedagogically “balanced approach,” but by the time a student reaches graduation they are exposed to a broad spectrum of teaching and learning styles, and they have developed the ability to learn in a variety of different ways.

One of the pillars of the Channel Islands mission is interdisciplinarity. One of the most rewarding elements of my job is interacting with faculty from multiple disciplines. I have designed and team-taught 4 different interdisciplinary courses with faculty from Communication, Environmental Science, Math, Library, and Sociology.

There are two touchstones of my teaching that do not change from course to course. First, I always maintain a sense of humor. I find that humor puts students at ease and communicates a sense of our common humanity. Second, I create a learning atmosphere in which all students are respected by me and by the other students in the class.  No student in my class should ever feel that they cannot share their perspectives and opinions freely.  This does not mean that their perspectives will not be treated critically—all opinions are not equal, some are more informed than others—but they can count on a professional and respectful exchange of ideas.

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