The following statement outlines the values and goals that guide my teaching. I consider it an ever-evolving document that both guides and responds to my ongoing teaching experiences.
Many of us, as children, have things that we are completely fascinated by – things that amuse and occupy us for hours on end. Unfortunately, as we grow up and enter structured learning environments, this initial enthusiasm too often fades. Yet as I have found in my research on leisure, enthusiasm remains powerful in pushing people to seek out new skills and new opportunities.
The first principle of my teaching philosophy is therefore to foster enthusiasm. At its best, learning is fun. Spending time with musicians and leisure participants has shown me that enthusiasm begets enthusiasm, and my own enthusiasm in the classroom has been recognized by students and colleagues. Students’ diverse backgrounds, motivations and skills, however, mean that they bring their own interests to learning encounters. In order to encourage their engagement and development, I therefore strive for a classroom that seeks and supports students’ ideas and interests. Student diversity is in this way not just a reality, but also a valuable resource. For example, a discussion in one of my seminars about second-hand consumer goods was significantly enriched when students from the UK, Hong Kong and Europe began exploring whether there were equivalents to ‘car boot sales’ outside the UK. Starting from students’ own knowledge and experience can in this way spark analysis and encourage an enthusiasm for the social sciences (Biggs & Tang, 2007: 17).
The second principle of my teaching philosophy flows from my interest in process: supporting students’ success requires making ‘doing social science’ visible. Musicians, when preparing for exams, are given not only complete pieces of music to practice and perfect, but also scales and exercises that help them to accumulate specific skills. In my own education, however, the skills of critical analysis (evaluating, comparing, reflecting, using examples) and of structuring and writing engaging accounts of this analysis were rarely discussed. I knew I had to do these things, but didn’t always know how to go about it. In my teaching, I therefore explicitly discuss the skills used in social scientific analysis so that students can use and develop these for their own success (see Becker 1998; Lang 2005; Graff 2003). I have developed course plans for teaching the skills of critical analysis that complement and support course content. The diversity of students and of social scientific work also inspires me to seek diverse ways of making process visible, including mind-maps, hands-on analysis of popular media, and podcasts. The ability to highlight relevant skills varies depending on class sizes and formats, and in lectures I have used framing questions, video clips and tracing debates between theorists as strategies for showing how social analysis can be done. I look forward to expanding this repertoire to include other tools that foster students’ interests and understandings of process (Fallows & Ahmet, 1999), including case studies, problem-based learning, further engagement with new media and designing new assessments that align with these skills. Providing written feedback on assignments is another opportunity to make process visible, and I build upon students’ examples to show them how they could develop their ideas further by asking different questions or elaborating on interesting points. Making the process of learning and assessment explicit is aligned with the concerns of students with diverse motivations (Marton, Hounsell, & Entwistle, 1984) and also helps to encourage student success on assessments. By modelling these skills and giving students opportunities to practice them, I have successfully prepared students for assignments and helped them build skills to use beyond the classroom.
Since I take process and skill-development to be central to students’ learning, I must also acknowledge their role in my own teaching. The third principle of my teaching philosophy is therefore to engage in teaching as a responsive and experimental process of learning. Completing the Associate Teacher Programme at Lancaster University helped me to develop my knowledge and skills, and in order to remain enthusiastic about teaching I continually engage with new ideas. I also seek out feedback from students and colleagues in order to remain aware of my successes and areas for further learning. Responding tothe different configurations of higher education on three continents has expanded my understanding of teaching and its relationship to national and institutional contexts and challenges. While limitations of time and resources pose challenges for teachers and universities, for me they also foreground the importance of experimentality and creativity. Creatively sneaking time for teaching development by reading relevant blogs during lunch can embed learning about teaching into daily routines, as well as revealing creative suggestions, such as the importance of teaching ambiguity to students (Eisinger, 2011). In my experience, good teaching (and good research) ensues from taking risks and leaving comfort zones, by experimenting and responding to other people. I have taken strides in this direction with my participation in public engagement (see CV) and I look forward to further developing my enthusiasm for teaching by pursuing productive risks in the future.
Becker, H. S. (1998). Tricks of the trade: how to think about your research while you’re doing it. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university: what the student does (3rd ed.). Maidenhead UK: McGraw-Hill Open University Press.
Eisinger, R. M. (2011). Teaching ambiguity. Retrieved 23 February, 2011, from Inside Higher Ed’s website.
Fallows, S., & Ahmet, K. (Eds.). (1999). Inspiring students: case studies in motivating the learner. London: Kogan Page.
Graff, G. (2003). Clueless in academe: how schooling obscures the life of the mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lang, J. M. (2005). Life on the tenure track: lessons from the first year. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Marton, F., Hounsell, D., & Entwistle, N. (Eds.). (1984). The experience of learning. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.