I love teaching! It’s a wonderful opportunity to help students connect and grow in meaningful ways. As an Instructional Designer, teaching takes on a special role because it is an application of my discipline, and provides opportunities to systematically improve at the craft.
My teaching practice centers around three goals:
- Creating human-centered learning experiences,
- Focusing on helping students “learn to be” through application and practice of real-world activities, and
- Building skill in formative appraoches through group critique and discussion of artifacts and content.
Creating Human-Centered Learning Experiences
There are many ways to establish human-centered learning environments. Each is founded on recognition of learners as responsible human beings capable of contributing in holistic ways to learning and development in class. I work to establish this recognition both through the types of interaction promoted in class, and through specific practices that enhance learner agency. For example, I may have students select from a range of assignments through learning contracts; allow them to distribute points to course assignments based on where they perceive their strong areas (emphasizing a paper over a project, for example); provide guidelines and a framework which enables them to craft course assignments around self-selected interests in relevant content areas; allowing for self-selection for teams and roles within those teams (within guidelines); and other practices enabling students to more thoroughly engage with each other and the content on their own terms.
Helping Students “Learn to Be” Through Application and Practice
I also encourage students to “learn to be” as they start growing within their respective disciplines. As students start to interact with content and with others in this learning space, I encourage them to think of themselves in the roles they will eventually take on (e.g., designer, teacher, biologist, lawyer, etc.). The goal is for them to begin practicing the thinking and skill set required of the roles they aspire to. This requires intentionality in designing the course and assignments, and supporting the learners in internalizing concepts and integrating them within their own lives in meaningful ways. I seek to do this by building real-world style assignments, encouraging meaningful dialogue and interactions, enabling learner agency through design, and pushing for critical reflection on how the content fits into the learners’ own lives. A tremendous shift occurs when students start thinking of themselves in terms of who they will become as professionals, rather than simply as a student taking a class for credit. The shift often encourages students to engage with each other and the content in more authentic ways, and the hands-on projects and reflection helps them build new ways of engaging each other in a social learning setting. In the end, I want the learners to find their own voices, and to have a safe place to use them.
Building Skill in Formative Approaches to Learning
Encouraging students to engage in formative evaluation of a variety of their peers artifacts builds skill in critical thinking and communication through providing opportunities to analyze, evaluate, and critique the work of others. Students learn to critically reflect on their own work through examining the work of others, and to engage in dialogue about the work which involves providing and receiving feedback. My teaching practice primarily pursues what would be considered constructionist (Papert) and social constructivist learning practices, although, I try to blend the strengths of other theoretical perspectives as well. This often involves developing studio style environments where learners form micro-communities engaged in similar work with the intention to improve. Through engaging in feedback sessions and reflective discussions, students learn to adapt and improve their work. This approach recognizes the iterative nature of learning, and emphasizes collaboration, interaction, reflection, and the importance of formative feedback and iterative improvement. It situates the students inside learning contexts alongside others in similar circumstances. This allows the instructor and peers to serve as models from which the student learns through observation and interaction.
These statements reflect an ideal. Because I have personally experienced some of the inevitable challenges in teaching, and made the needed adjustments required for effective learning to take place, they are also tempered by reality. I think that all students are capable of learning, and can become passionate about any subject—but they must have ownership if they are to truly care, be motivated, be involved, and stay engaged. I see it as my job to help learners become passionate about their field and competent in its practices, and as my calling to help them grow to become the best reflections of themselves.