Teaching and Learning Statement
All I ever really wanted to be was a college history teacher. I started my teaching career at a Kansas community college. I experienced a full emersion into the teaching and learning experience with students from a wide array of ages, backgrounds, and life experiences. It gave me opportunities for experimentation, reflection, and improvement of my role in the learning process. After a few years I blended my classroom teaching with directing a teaching/learning center that included consulting with other faculty members. This led me eventually to the University of Missouri-Kansas City as the National Director of the Center for Supplemental Instruction. The University of Minnesota has provided me the opportunity to take my community college teaching experience, leadership with teaching/learning centers, and knowledge from Supplemental Instruction into my role as teacher again. I approach the classroom much differently today than as a novice instructor.
My theoretical framework guides me as a teacher. Piaget identified that students must be active agents in creation of their own knowledge. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development reinforces the utility of intentional peer learning groups for individuals to gain the knowledge and skills to become independent learners. Students must be active agents. Astin reminds us of the essential nature of engagement and involvement in the learning process.
Learning Philosophy and Themes
My role as a teacher is to construct a learning environment that is conducive for my students to explore, learn, and develop new knowledge and skills. It is essential that they are self-regulated learners who can adjust their behaviors to address the learning task, whether it occurs within a classroom, work site, or in their personal life. I began my teaching career reproducing the same traditional pedagogy that I experienced as a college student. It was heavily focused on lecture with little interaction of the students within the class and diminished engagement with the course material. Unconsciously I expected my students to experience college in the same manner as I had done. Through my teaching experiences, participation in various teaching mentorship programs, and attendance at professional development workshops, new themes have emerged in my approach to student learning which have made me a good teacher.
My teaching is guided by four themes based on my experience and research studies. The first theme is using Universal Instructional Design (UID) principles to better serve all students by creating a barrier-free learning environment rather than only accommodating the needs of a few students with learning disabilities, I incorporate practices such as providing PowerPoint slides to the students ahead of time, extended time for exams, use of a variety of assessment measures regarding mastery of the course content, employment of a variety of learning modalities; and verification that web-based course materials are accessible to all students.
A second theme related to UID is embedding mastery of learning strategies within my course. Since many students experience academic challenges with rigorous course material, I incorporate modeling of effective learning strategies such as debriefing of major exams to identify error patterns and study choices made by students, use of the textbook study aids, and sharing my thinking process with reaching conclusions about course material. This theme resonates with my research question that focuses on effectively embedding such practices within core curriculum courses. This has proven effective as an alternative to time- and resource-intensive prerequisite developmental-level courses in study skills.
A third theme that guides my teaching is requiring students to co-create the course content through use of Web 2.0 Internet-based tools such as wiki web pages and podcasting. Responsibility is shifted so that the students and I co-create course learning materials and learning spaces in the physical and virtual worlds. Students create their own on-line study guide for the course through a wiki web page. Podcasting involves students in creating Internet radio shows related to the course through weekly 30-minute programs that are downloaded to their iPods.
My fourth theme in my teaching is intentional use of peer cooperative learning groups. It is essential that students enter into frequent and meaningful dialogue with one another to master the course content material both within the classroom and outside of it. Using best practices of Supplemental Instruction which I formerly led as National Director, I am developing a next-generation learning model based upon it. This model, called Peer Assisted Learning, is now being tested on the University campus. Another of my research questions focuses on evaluation of this new approach.
One mission of the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning is serving first-year students within the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). This continues the historic tradition of the General College which preceded our new department which was formed through the merger of previous colleges and schools that created the new CEHD. We prepare lower-division undergraduate students for successful transition to another academic unit. For this reason, most of my teaching experience at the University has been focused in this area. My primary course at the University has been PsTL 1251, World History Since 1500. This course examines the ideas that influenced the development of global, political, social, and economic systems. It meets two of the institution’s learning goals: Historical Perspectives and International Perspectives. A variety of means are employed to explore the course and its objectives: (a) reading, critical analysis, and discussion of primary and secondary historical documents; (b) assignments and assessments develop the methods utilized by historians in their discipline; (c) writings assignments develop critical thinking skills to reach conclusions; (d) comparing events from various cultural or ideological perspectives; and (e) integration of knowledge from disparate readings and class discussions. Knowledge is generated through readings of primary and secondary documents, classroom discussions, short video clips, and critique of personal interpretations. Curricular enhancements that I have made include: (a) integration of more cultural perspectives; (b) exploration of issues related to culture, power, and gender; (c) use of Internet learning tools such as wiki web pages and podcasting; (d) Internet resources; (e) Google interactive photographic earth maps; and (f) critical analysis of the impact of cultural interpretations of historical events.
In the past year I have developed two new courses for upper-division undergraduate and graduate students: PsTL 3050 Exploring Facilitated Peer Learning Groups and PsTL 5050 Reflecting on Professional Development through Facilitating Peer Learning Groups. These courses provide professional development for the student facilitators who are employed in the Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) program that I am co-developing at the University through the SMART Learning Commons.
Evidence for Student Learning
There are several ways to examine student learning within my courses. The first is considering the mean scores on items from the standardized Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) that is completed by all students at the end of each academic term. Since arriving here at the University, the mean scores have increased. A second way to examine student learning is by examining their responses to open-ended questions on the SET as well as other student communications. The comments have been analyzed and arranged by themes that emerged. Reoccurring themes included teacher knowledge of the subject, engaged classroom learning environment, and enthusiasm of the instructor. A third way that that I examine student learning is through their ability to express themselves through a final writing assignment in the course in which they predict historical trends for the next quarter-century. Comparing this same assignment with an identical one that occurred at the beginning of the academic term often displays a dramatic improvement by the students in terms of their sophistication in use of content and skills learned from the course to inform themselves and personal actions as a consequence. The fourth way that I examine student learning is through individual student conferences with all students in the class. I have found this tremendously helpful in understanding the interests and needs of the students as well as developing relationships that foster more interaction and engagement within the class.
Future Choices and Concluding Thoughts
I am deeply committed to our academic department’s efforts as it transforms its first-year curriculum into an integrative learning community experience. For example, during fall 2007 my PsTL 1251 course is part of a learning community named Writing History that pairs it with a first-year writing course. Deeply integrative learning projects cross the boundaries of the two courses that enroll the same cohort of students. For example, we will create a podcast series in which historical characters from different eras interact with one another on contemporary issues. The public performance for the material will be through the course podcast which itself will invite comment and participation by a larger public audience. In future years the podcast may be supplemented by or replaced with public performances occurring within the Internet virtual reality world called Second Life which is gaining use by more postsecondary institutions. The PsTL 1251 course will change during fall 2008 when it is transformed into Global History and Culture. The curriculum will be enriched and the course will be matched with a new partner course within PsTL.
These aforementioned activities illustrate some of the learning themes that have influenced my work as a teacher. Students engage more fully in the learning process through use of UID, embedded learning assistance, co-creation of their learning materials and environment, and learning communities both within and outside the classroom. These foster new and more powerful ways for students to experience course content and achieve institutional and personal learning objectives.
All of these activities serve as a rich learning environment that is directly related to my research focus that explores academic access in postsecondary education and develops evidence-based strategies to increase the success of underrepresented student populations in college. The classroom is an integral part of my research. I bring promising practices to my classroom, test research questions, gather data, report the results in scholarly publications, and create evidence-based improvements in the learning environment.
I have changed much over the past quarter-century as a teacher through constant innovation with curriculum and pedagogy. These experiences have made me the good teacher that I am today. New teaching pedagogies, technologies, and opportunities await me. I look forward to constant improvement in both my teaching skills and learning outcomes by my students for the rest of my career. I deeply enjoy the challenge and excitement of the teaching profession.