Having taught in higher education since 1989, I have learned that students teach themselves when provided the opportunity and motivation. Although each teaching situation requires its own combination of pedagogical techniques, I have found several to be valuable in accomplishing these twin goals.
In keeping with my belief that my job is to teach lifelong critical and analytical skills rather than a set of facts, I often use literature to open students' minds to competing perspectives and to provide insiders' views of diverse communities in terms of ethnic, gender, age, class, and sexual orientation. I require substantial writing in all of my courses and provide extensive critiques because, as I explain to my students, there is no occupation in which communication skills are unimportant. I also rely on small-group exercises to develop students' abilities in teamwork and problem-solving. Rarely will they work in isolation. Too much of the undergraduate experience encourages competition among students; I aim for cooperation. Moreover, inspired by the work of Paolo Freire, I believe deeply that each student brings unique knowledge and experience to a classroom, and for me to be the sole provider of insight would deprive all of us of rich learning opportunities.
have been a challenge in the settings in which I have taught. U.C.
Irvine, for example, is one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the
nation; it has no ethnic majority. Yet, by finding common ground among students
and providing them with the tools for effective communication, I have watched
with excitement as students capitalize on their varying experiences to solve
problems together. The same holds for students of different age and professional
backgrounds. Pleased to teach night courses because of the mixture of
traditional students and fully-employed adult learners, I key my lessons and
classroom activities to relate to the experiences of these students. These extra
efforts pay off as students with differing purposes and goals engage one another
and the course material. This also has been true at
My students respond wonderfully to hands-on learning experiences interspersed with formal lectures. For example, when I taught an introduction to interdisciplinary methods of comparing cultures, I designed an activity related to each of the four disciplines I covered. The history segment, for instance, required students, working in teams, to piece together the mysterious disappearance of all of the men from a fictional town in the nineteenth-century West. Using materials such as tombstones, letters, newspapers, and store receipts, the students reached the conclusion that the town's women poisoned their men at the annual town picnic! This fun exercise taught students that historical materials sometimes conflict, that some aspects of history remain shrouded, and, most importantly, that history itself is but a best guess—a story—about the past.
Because pedagogy needs to be oriented to the students rather than vice-versa, I use technology to make learning easier, more pleasurable, and more inspiring. When appropriate, I use several media to deliver points that are difficult to make in a lecture. I also rely on e-mail to make myself accessible to students around the clock, so that communication with me and their classmates occurs at their convenience, not mine. (Most of the thousands of students I have taught were working at least half-time; even full-time, traditional students have appreciated the flexibility I provide.) I also place materials on my homepage and in Blackboard (online courseware) to provide students access whenever they need it, and I often include links to supplemental materials found elsewhere on the Internet to encourage independent exploration. I learned a great deal about maximizing students’ online learning from participating as a fellow in UWB’s first Online Faculty Institute.
those of us who are professional academics sometimes forget, university work is
highly specialized, and terribly unfamiliar to many of our students. Because I recognize that academic
research and writing skills are always in progress, I find the portfolio method
of teaching to be invaluable and I use it in every course. Rather than asking students to try
something new and then negatively assessing their first attempts, I prefer to
coach students through detailed feedback, asking them to revise their work
before I formally assess it at the end of a course. I liken it to learning to drive: No one gets tested the first time she
gets behind a wheel. Rather, we
rely on trial and error and feedback until we are ready for assessment. The same applies for academic
skills. This method is obviously
more labor-intensive because students submit multiple drafts of their work, but
they inarguably learn more and learn better. I was honored that the
Real-world learning experiences and partnerships with the community also are important to me. I have been developing community-based learning opportunities for students, aided greatly by my work as a Fellow of UWB's Initiative for Community-Based Learning (2006-08).
The feedback and revision process applies to my own work, as well. I read every student evaluation form, and, when I can, I arrange for Small-Group Instructional Diagnostics (SGIDs) through the Teaching and Learning Center to get students’ candid suggestions during courses so I can make changes while students can still benefit. I also have participated in teaching circles each year since they were established, studying, with colleagues, ways to improve the program core course in IAS, small-group work, and assessment and grading.
I have been cited several times for outstanding teaching, and was greatly honored with the University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award in 2007. The greatest compliment, however, is the number of students who return to my courses and recommend them to their friends. I believe this success comes from a willingness to put students first, to use multiple, complementary pedagogical methods, to promote cooperation rather than competition in the classroom, to emphasize concepts rather than discrete facts, to remain flexible, to collaborate with colleagues in developing the most effective materials and methods, and to adapt to each student's and each class's particular constellation of skills and interests. I believe that my students learn enthusiastically because I teach enthusiastically.