My teaching philosophy is straightforward: Get students engaged, get them critically thinking, and assess their knowledge with assessments that build marketable skills and support their learning experience. I believe students learn best when you bring theories and constructs into a relevant, concrete, and practical focus in an environment based on universal design for learning principles. Through embedded classwork and digital learning spaces, I emphasize students’ development of Information and Digital Literacy, critical thinking, and presentation skills.
At the first meeting of each class I teach I tell the students five things:
- You are adults; you will be treated as such.
- There’s almost certainly a direct correlation between the amount of critical thinking you engage in and the mark you receive in this course.
- I understand that life happens, but how you respond to it (and communicate it to me) is important if we’re to remedy the situation.
- I will make this class worth coming to, but you need to engage or it won’t matter.
- We’re all part of this learning process, so show up, show respect to me and your colleagues, and be ready to take part.
I first started teaching as a CPR and First Aid instructor for the American Red Cross while still an undergraduate. As I was teaching up to 25 new students per session, I had to quickly build rapport with each group. Although the material was largely prescribed, I was able to enhance the course by adapting the content and simulating realistic scenarios. During my two and a half years teaching, I earned a 98% satisfaction rate from students. This experience confirmed for me the idea that teaching isn’t just about the transfer of knowledge to a person, but mostly about engaging the learners to be part of a conversation about the knowledge you hope to transfer.
When I started my PhD in 2009, I was the only first year PhD student with a teaching position in my department. During this time, I also worked with my PhD supervisor to redevelop the Psychology of Crime and Criminal Justice course. Students reported that they did not feel they were able to critically engage with the material, so we designed in-class activities that involved students developing responses to a series of questions about each week’s topic. Presenters shared their answers with the class and led a discussion in the class based on their presentation. The entire discussion was memorialized so that students could use the information developed during the seminar in preparation for their exams.
My other main contribution during the 2010/2011 academic year was working with my colleagues on the Foundations of Social Policy to help students who were struggling with essay writing. Together we developed an essay writing guide that combined our own insights along with school regulations. This simple guide helped students understand what was expected of them at a university level. We also consulted with the department clarify the structure of the marking form used for formative essays.
While much of my work has been with undergraduates, I have also taught graduate students. In summer 2012 I taught a two-week summer methods course. Leading the class discussions for more than 20 Masters and PhD students, I developed a teaching plan that emphasized the practical application of the skills and theories they were learning in the lectures. Students were encouraged to develop their individual skills as qualitative researchers through mock interview sessions and practice focus groups. I also led Nvivio training for the students. We took real transcripts and examined how each person might interpret the thematic elements they were witnessing. 90% of the students rated my performance as good or very good.
During this time I also began to try out audio commentary for student feedback. Instead of writing comments in the margins of a student’s paper, and perhaps including a longer written commentary on their rubric form, I started using recorded audio that I could upload for the student to listen to. This allowed me to give more detailed feedback in a shorter period of time, and had the added bonus of creating a more personal connection with the student as the listened to me talking through their paper.
Student mentorship beyond the classroom is probably as important as what we’re able to accomplish in the classroom. To that end I’ve set up new ways for students to reach me for ‘office hours’. By utilizing an online booking platform I can always have up to date availability listed for my students to come by my office. If I notice I’m going to have a gap between two meetings I can add in a new appointment slot that would otherwise have been unknown to the student. We wouldn’t expect patients to wander down to the GP and knock on the door hoping she’s got some time to diagnose their ailment, and neither should we expect this of students. This becomes particularly important for students working on their thesis projects as they have both a lot to accomplish and a lot on their mind!
I have also helped develop new courses. While at the LSE I worked with the Careers Service to create a new course for students to develop their skills for the ‘case study’ type of interviews used by many banks and consulting firms. More than 30% of LSE students end up at these institutions each year, and there was great demand for a training programme. I led the development of new content and resources for the seminars, led the lectures to 40+ students each session, and provided feedback to students via weekly online chat sessions. We utilized existing digital learning technology, and significantly modified it to meet the needs of this unique course at the LSE.
While at Sheridan College I led a team of faculty, librarians, managers, and other staff in the creation of a new Community Safety Bachelors Degree that will roll out in Fall 2019.
In addition to developing new opportunities for students, I have consulted on the redesign of existing courses. The Methodology Department at LSE needed to improve their qualitative research skills course for graduate students after it suffered low evaluation scores in 2011/12. I was brought in to assess the situation interview students, and draft a report. I ran focus groups to develop an understanding of the situation, and worked with Dr Jennifer Tarr to revise the course in line with student suggestions. We identified that the students felt overwhelmed, didn’t understand the terminology, and viewed qualitative work as somewhat superfluous. I recommended changes that would see the students begin utilizing their tools of qualitative research earlier on in the course, and in a way that expanded upon analysis of previously administered quantitative work. In this way they would use active learning to better engage with the tools of qualitative work while also seeing its value.
As an educator I feel it is important to support professional development for myself and for my colleagues. I look forward each May and June to the many professional development opportunities that take place at Humber College. I also try to lead some myself. Recently I organized a series of events to help faculty learn about how they might use social media in their classrooms and other professional activities. We also discussed how to write and submit op/ed pieces to newspapers. I believe that our responsibility as academics is to share our knowledge and expertise. Our job doesn’t end when the class time runs out.