Teaching Philosophies &
Reflections on Course Evaluations
Beliefs and philosophies about teaching and learning emerge from a history of practice (on both sides of the teacher’s desk). I don’t believe we do justice to our current teaching philosophies and other teacher reflections without recognizing their are in dialogue with earlier documents. This Google Doc includes all versions of my teaching philosophy along with the various Personal Statements of Teaching I have developed for my teaching portfolios at Old Dominion University and reflections upon Teacher Course Evaluations I’ve developed at the University of Arizona.
Table of Contents
This was my first chance to actually teach the online ENGL308 master course since I had first developed it for the Spring 2016 semester. I was interested the the TCEs from the UA Online section #201 (meaning traditional online students that are non-traditional on campus students, usually older, working full time, etc.) were ranked very well. I was not surprised by the comments about the course being too much work; however, I would argue those comments and quantitatively related numbers are balanced by comments and numbers that boil down to “I learned a lot.” I was appreciative of the comments about being proactive and accessible in terms of communication (critically important in online courses). I appreciated that my major neighsayer agreed that it was clear how to communicate with me and that I kept them up to date with course communications.
ENGL591 was a difficult class for most of the new GTA students. Most are new instructors, and new to graduate school, and all are new to the University of Arizona. Trying to meet the needs of the various students at various times is next to impossible. That being said, the following trends in the qualitative comments will be helpful in designing New GTA Orientation and ENGL591 for Fall 2017:
Needless to say, the other large-group instructor and I, along with the mentors, were already aware we were not thrilled how ENGL591 rolled-out in Fall 2016. These overall trends align with issues we were aware with and revisions we are already starting to plan.
I agreed to teach ENGL300 during the three week pre-session as an excuse to start building the ENGL300 course for Spring 2017. Although this course only had a few students, it is being designed as an online general education course that can scale. As such, it had an extremely heavy emphasis on learning activities that could be either computer graded and/or graded on a “sincere engagement” scale. In other words, the pedagogy was nothing like the traditional “read, watch/listen, test/write” college pedagogy. I’m not surprised the students said that “previous learning and course work had not prepared them for success in this course.” That being said, it is clear instructor presence and accessibility greatly support difficult and different scenarios for learners.
I did not receive enough TCEs from the iCourse (campus students) section of the course for the TCEs to be released to me.
This was an extremely difficult course. It was the third massive rebuild of the online ENGL102 master course and it was the first time that I used An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing as the textbook. The Writing about the Disciplines approach to Insider’s Guide was new to me. Although my course was a full term, 16-week, course, (with the help of Susan Miller-Cochran, both our WPA and one of the co-authors of the book) I massively revised the master course further for our online instructors who had late start courses this term.
In short, I’m not surprised by the lower TCEs. I think the heavier weighting of most responses for both “The instructor challenges me to think more critically about the concepts related to this course” and “The instructor inspires interest in this subject matter of this course” imply that most of the students learned...something.
My guess is that the quantitative outlier is someone who had clear expectations of what they wanted and did not get that in the course (like the “I expected videos” comments). I appreciated the comments about being “personable and willing to help;” although, that does contrast with “a very absent instructor.” Based order of the comments, I imagine for that student “presence” equaled “visual” (again, request for videos). Although I did provide general course announcements weekly, this type of comment has prompted me to try to further revise my communication strategies by reaching out more often to groups of students based on various criteria (activity in class, grades, responses to surveys, etc.).
Not surprisingly, the course evaluation responses are scattershot for this class. As a course “trends and methods” survey course, it was burdened with trying to cover a lot. Since there were two co-instructors, and an advanced graduate student “TAing,” there were also a variety of perspectives to focus upon. It is clear some of the students were uncomfortable with a heavy active-learning-style pedagogy. Although I stand by that pedagogical strategy, these evaluations make me realize (again…) that I need to be more clear about the how and why of the structure of the course and it’s activities. I think that meta-commentary on course design and structure is usually lacking the first time I teach a course because I’m using the extra time to build the course. Just as I know that the first time I teach something it is usually “too full,” this need to more explicitly include meta-commentary on the course design and structure is something I need to more systematically implement as I move forward.
My feedback for ENGL307 was extremely positive, both in terms of the instructor mean on each answer as well as the written feedback. However, only two out of thirteen students completed the survey.
I believe my reflective comments on the Fall 2012 semester prepared me for the less than desirable feedback on the ENGL312 course evaluation surveys. All of my course mean statistics were at least 3.0 (neither agree or disagree) or above, with the following breakdown:
Most of the written feedback demonstrated two major disconnects with the students (only six of twenty-four who were, negatively?, motivated enough the survey):
Although I only received six student responses on the student evaluation survey, Jamie Henthorne (the graduate student who did a film pedagogy independent study with me that semester and collaborated on the course--she did no grading!) and I received more responses (fourteen of twenty-four) with a more positive feedback on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) study we conducted of the major activity focused method used in the class. In short, students who participated in the study generally perceived that “slicing and dicing” (using film editing software to conduct analysis and remix videos) helped them to better learn film analysis concept. A Prezi presentation of our study results is available HERE.
Because of the extremely negative feedback from the fall 2012 ENGL312 course, I made sure to clearly explain my teaching philosophy during the first day of class in all my spring courses. I also would continue to remind them during the semester as we got bogged down in face-to-face activities where I was not telling them what they needed to learn; but, instead, asking them questions to help them figure it out on their own. I also decided to implement mid-term formative course evaluation surveys.
The mid-term formative course evaluation surveys for the two sections of ENGL211 were generally positive. In both cases the statistics were mostly “Agree” or “Strongly Agree.” Most of the comments were very usual for FYC composition courses: students wanted more direction and had too much work to do. Based on the fact I usually have the course website built outside the official institutional LMS as well as ask students to work with and/or compose in different technologies, I also usually have a few comments related to course organization and technical difficulties. For example, this semester one of the sections had a few people who were definitely unhappy with the course not being in Blackboard. Considering that there was also a lot of positive feedback demonstrating the connection between how the course was designed pedagogically, I did not really make any substantive changes to the ENGL211 courses after the mid-term formative course evaluation survey. We did, however, discuss the results, especially the written comments, in class.
The final summative course evaluation surveys were generally positive. Statistically my numbers fluxed right around the department and college mean. The following were the questions below the mean/s:
23915 class mean
23922 class mean
3. Overall, I have learned or benefitted from this class.
4. In the first week of class, the instructor provided...materials
7. The instructor provided grades and feedback in a timely fashion.
8. The instructor was enthusiastic with respect to the subject matter.
10. The instructor used the full time period allotted for the class.
11. The instructor’s presentations were informative.
12. Overall, the instructor is an effective teacher.
As a course that is usually organized and delivered in a manner most students are not familiar with, they are usually a bit discombobulated during the first week of class (question 4). As I mentioned in my last Personal Statement on Teaching, I have worked on turning around graded projects in a more timeline manner; however, obviously students still want them faster (question 7). Like I have mentioned before, because my course is activity driven, many students are sometimes frustrated with that use of time (question 10) and lack of lectures (question 11).
In terms of the written comments, although students were frustrated with the workload involved in the course, most agreed they learned. Again, this is a very typical frustration with FYC students because they do not yet understand the importance of heavily scaffolded invention/pre-writing work and still consider it “busy work.”
Overall I am generally pleased with student feedback from both sections of ENGL211.
To put any student comments and/or instructor reflection into context I must contextualize two major components of my Spring 2013 section of ENGL439/539:
Ultimately I believe the service learning focused pedagogy was a smart call for ENGL439/539. As an “advanced” digital composition course, students benefited from a real world project. As a real world project they spent more time than either of us expected researching their clients, purpose, and audience. However, this made the project and their learning more rhetorically grounded. Whereas it appears that many of the undergraduates were not as enthusiastic about the real-world project, the graduate students appeared to sincerely appreciate working with a real project. Three undergraduates continued with the project in the summer as interns.
Using a project management system (PMS) as a learning management system (LMS) was a failure. First, I did not have much experience with project management systems before, so when I was evaluating them I had to go on my experiences with LMSs and content management systems (CMSs). Needless to say, I choose wrong. Mavenlink, the system I decided to go with for the course, did not have enough functionality to work both as a PMS and LMS. However, selecting the wrong software application was not the only problem; a PMS works best when you have a single project, broken into smaller pieces, and a team collaborating to complete it. A PMSs does not work well when you have all of the team members required to complete all of the same/similar tasks (as in a LMS). The first half of the course had students doing the same assignments with different topics (either clients or technologies/applications). The PMS might have worked better if I had teased out those client/technology individual distinctions; however, I didn’t realize I would need to do so. All this to say, after the mid-term formative course evaluation we dumped using the PMS and switched to using Google Docs (a shared document for the remainder of the course schedule and shared documents for the collaborative composition of the social media plan).
I was prepared for bad feedback in the mid-term formative course evaluation survey. I knew that the PMS was not working and that some students were frustrated with all the rhetorical homework (researching the clients and the technologies). I was pleasantly surprised that the mid-term formative course evaluation surveys were as “positive” as they were. I think the survey was relatively “forgiving” because I had made sure to constantly be talking about the what/how/why of the course as we were going. Because I was new to service learning, I was constantly telling students what I was doing, why I was doing it, and then provided them the opportunity to contribute to course revisions as well. In other words, I had regularly been asking for their formative feedback (I had “ticket out” surveys at the end of every class period) and making adjustments along the way prior to the mid-term survey.
I am generally pleased with the end-of-semester summative course evaluation survey results from ENGL439/539. The combined evaluation statistics had my course mean fall below the department and college means on only two questions:
Based on both the pedagogical and technological design of the course, both new for me and the students, I’m not surprised by the results of question #4.
There is an interesting tension between the statistics of questions 1, 2, and 3. In the aggregated 400/500 level course evaluation, the statistical mean for question #1 (requiring critical thinking) and question #3 (learned from the course) were above the department meanwhile question #2 was not. However, I believe this tension is explained when looking at the statistics broken down by level (see the 400 level course evaluation survey results). Collectively the undergrads did not feel they had to work as hard in this class as other department/college classes (the course mean was lower on all three questions). It does not surprise me that the graduate students better appreciate deeply contextualized learning. I also want to note although I am discussing statistics that were lower than department and/or college means, except question #4, they were all above 4.0 (“agree” with the statement) and more than one mean was a 5.0.
Although I do not yet have access to the end-of-semester summative student evaluation surveys for my Summer 2013 course, I do know that nine of the ten students completed the survey (one MA student did not).
For this course I not only designed a new course that I had not taught before, 794/894 Seminar in New Media: Digital Writing Research, I also had to design for the Department’s Summer Doctoral Institute (1.5 weeks asynchronous online, 2 hours a day/5 days a week for two weeks of face-to-face instruction, then another 2.5 weeks asynchronous online).
In terms of the course content, I design this research methods course based on my years of experience facilitating workshops on how to teach with specific technologies. Over the years I have learned that until someone has actually implemented the technology, s/he does not really learn it. Therefore, instead of trying to teach only two or three methods, I tried to give an overview of a variety of methods and then design assignments that had students more deeply explore two methods (one was a research proposal/plan, the other was a report on an alternative method). I was very direct in explain the what and why of this method to the students. During their final course reflections, many students mentioned that they would have liked more details on the methods but understood my reasoning and the course design. Many were very excited about the research projects they proposed/planned during the course and mentioned that they planned to conduct the studies.
As for the course design, I had students reading, writing, responding, and reflecting online prior to our face-to-face meetings. We used the face-to-face meetings to continue discussing old and new readings. The final portion of the course was primarily dedicated to completing the research proposal/plan and the report on an alternative method. The research proposal/plan was a scaffolded assignment, including a topic proposal before we met face-to-face, annotated bibliography entries to get reading secondary resources, and a draft for classmates to read and respond to.
Generally I believe the course went relatively well. The course WordPress website got a little wonky towards the end of the course (so there may be some negative comments in the student evaluations speaking to those glitches); otherwise, I’m expecting relatively positive feedback on the course.
This is a revision of my teaching philosophy as a part of my “personal statement on teaching” for my first yearly teaching portfolio at Old Dominion University.
Currently, my teaching philosophy still remains the same (see June 2010):
Courses need to be organized in modules that provide a variety of content delivery activities, content learning activities, and learning assessment activities; these activities all need to be aligned in terms of their learning outcome as well as in the complexity of skill and thinking.
And although my work with graduate students since August 2011 has challenged it a bit, ultimately my belief in this statement remains strong. This updated word cloud of my teaching philosophy confirms my continued support of the statement (see January 2010 for an older word cloud).
“Learning” is a larger word and the focus in my classes on learning (for everyone, myself included). However, having “activities” as the largest word is important because I believe students need to be “doing” stuff to be “learning stuff.” I especially like in this layout of the wordle that “content” is slightly separate from the rest. Not that content doesn’t matter, or that content doesn’t impact how I’m teaching; however, there are some core things that remain the same across almost any type of content. Part of me wishes that “variety” was larger because it would help demonstrate my commitment to diversity. The main reason for having a variety of teaching, learning, and assessment activities is to address the needs of diverse learners with complex content in various contexts.
This is my reflection on the courses I have taught during the Spring and Fall 2012 semesters.
I am glad to have returned to thinking about a teaching philosophy at this point in my teaching career at ODU. All of my graduate teaching during the 2011-12 academic year, and my two 300 level classes during the Fall 2012 semester, has made to me realize I need to more explicitly introduce my teaching philosophy in my course syllabi (especially since it is so short) as well as discuss it the first night of class. My ODU students, especially the graduate students, challenged my philosophy of activity centered learning. Even though many of the graduate students have teaching experience, many of them either wanted me to lecture and/or only wanted to discuss the course readings/content. Either way, that doesn’t work! Lecturing over emphasizes content delivery and discussion privileges a certain type of learner. Although many grumbled, I will just have to remind myself of the “thank yous” after a cohort had taken their comprehensive exams and were able to return to their robust notes from Note Taking Assignments and the collaborative book “report” assignment.
My emphasis on activities is also associated with the two categories in my Spring 2012 course evaluations that had the lowest rating:
The first week confusion was both because I was doing “weird” stuff that students didn’t recognize and therefore they were confused as well as it was my first time teaching both courses. The lack of providing grades and feedback in a timely fashion is always one of my lower scores because I emphasize the learning through doing and do not value assessment as much as the institution (and the students) want me to. My emphasis on activity also shows itself in the slight dip in score related to “The instructor's presentations were informative.” More often than not, I try to have students read, watch, and listen to content delivery outside of the course and then have activities and discussion in class that help them process it. Since I rarely lecture, of course my “presentations” are not as informative. For example, I expect to see comments about my Fall ENGL312 course where a graduate student lectured a few times to class; I didn’t lecture as much as have them do activities.
Although I do not yet have my Fall 2012 course evaluations, I already know this was not one of my better semesters. I did a massive revision of ENGL307, and the first major project “failed;” which left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth for the remainder of the semester. Basically the “Collaborative Wiki with Individual Reflection” assignment came too early in the semester. The undergraduates needed more time to bolster their confidence and ethos related to the course material before this type of assignment. And although the second major project (also a new project for the course) was much more successful, the combined craziness of my Fall traveling, being sick, and hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc with the timing of learning, support, and assignment deadlines.
Similarly, I was thrilled with the plan to have students do hands-on “slicing and dicing” with films in ENGL312 (a basic introduction to film course); however, early technology issues combined with the timing issues mentioned above also wreaked a little havoc. However, I can successfully say that many of the students had taken one or two film classes and mentioned how this was the first class where they dug deep into a film (especially with the Favorite Film Research Project; username/password needed). For many, this was the first time they were asked to make the primary research and analysis of their text explicit (versus emphasizing on the external secondary research to help analyze the text).
In short, the learning in my classes is always chaotic; however, the Fall 2012 semester was a bit more chaotic than most. Although things did not go as smoothly as I had hoped (and expected in terms of some assignments), I know students were learning stuff.
This is a “serious” revision of my teaching philosophy that I submitted as a part of my 2010 Faculty Evaluation Plan at Mesa Community College.
Whereas teaching philosophies generally develop from your experiences as a teacher, my revised teaching philosophy has emerged from my experiences facilitating various professional development activities and working one-on-one with faculty designing, developing, and/or revising their courses. I found myself needing a way to get folks to think about how and why they were designing research & writing assignments as well as using technologies in their courses. In short, my teaching philosophy is now:
Courses need to be organized in modules that provide a variety of content delivery activities, content learning activities, and learning assessment activities; these activities all need to be aligned in terms of their learning outcome as well as in the complexity of skill and thinking.
Stereotypical math teachers, you know, the ones that don’t exist, provide the best and worst examples of this philosophy. I’m sure most know of the stereotypical way of math instruction:
And then the stereotypical way that this philosophy falls all apart is when the math instructor only demonstrates formulas, only gives formulas for homework, and then asks the students to do word problems on the test. The delivery and learning activities were out of alignment with the assessment activity.
This teaching philosophy accounts for a variety of learning styles; instructors need to make their materials accessible for different learning style as they deliver content, facilitate learning activities, and assess learning. Similarly, faculty should also try to follow guidelines suggested by brain research, things like engaging multiple senses and needing to repeat. However, my favorite part of this teaching philosophy is the explicit category of “learning activities.” Whereas the math and science instructors are generally pretty good about making sure students have low stakes activities to practice new concepts and skills, sometimes those of us in the humanities and social sciences forget to provide these learning activities. I also like that if faculty are transparent with this teaching philosophy, it places learning accountability into the hands of the students.
I’ve started developing some multimedia to help tell the story of my new philosophy…
I made this quick updated reflection on my teaching philosophy when I was modeling multimodal teaching portfolios in Google Sites. In short, this is more of an example of how teaching philosophies might include images and hyperlinks (as well as be more readable for the web with bullets) as opposed to a “serious” revision of my teaching philosophy.
Instead of rereading and revising my teaching philosophy that I wrote while in grad school (really, who has the time?), I decided I would make a Wordle (word cloud) of it and see if I still "jive" with what is emphasized based on word use.
I like that the word "Students" and "Student" are some of the biggest words there. I’m happy "Learning" and "Learn" are larger; however, I now feel like my emphasis is more on learning that students (although, honestly, they are flip side of the same coin, right?). I am glad that words related to "student" and "learning" are both bigger than words with "teach" in them. I think it is a problem that "Technology" is not there; however, I know in 2001 I wrote a separate "Teaching w/Technology" philosophy.
Other words I’m happy to see:
Words I’d like to see (and/or are not popping out at me):
Ironically, I guess I had been developing a new teaching philosophy, it just was emerging in relation with my professional development activities (workshops, mentoring, etc.) instead of out of my teaching and learning.
I developed this philosophy as a graduate student at Arizona State University. By 2001 I had been teaching for five years (including online, distance learning courses).
As both a student and a teacher I believe it is important to learn within a student centered classroom, that works hard to engage a multitude of learning styles. For this to be successful, I feel that the teacher needs to create a safe learning environment that emphasizes and respects every single student in the classroom, no matter her individual subject identities. Finally, to ensure that this style of teaching and learning flourishes, I think that implementing a variety of course and student assessments throughout the semester help both the students and the teacher to continuously revise the course and its environment for the development of life long learners.
No teacher ever has the luxury of only having one student per semester, however, I can still strategize ways to meet the individual needs of many students. I find that starting courses with questions like “What do you expect to learn in this course?” and “What do you want to learn in this course?” allows me to understand the wants and needs of my students as a whole, plus recognize some specific desires of individual students. I find that these allow me to shift and tweak the course a bit to better serve the particular student population. I am also able to use the students’ responses to introduce and explain different lessons as they relate to their particular needs and desires. I have also found that having the students write these down, and even potentially revise them throughout the semester, better focuses the student’s efforts. This set of questions also allows me to start learning the individual names and identities of my students.
In the same way that I cannot only teach one student at a time, I also cannot wait to plan my courses after meeting all of my students. I am, however, able to structure the course so as to meet the course objectives by engaging a multitude of learning styles brought to bear by the students. Reading and lecturing will not work alone. Students need chances to engage their minds and bodies into the work. I try to have students read about a lesson. I then either lecture and/or lead discussion on it and then have the students work with the material themselves, sometimes individually, but most of the time in groups. For example, having students cut up, rearrange, and then read allowed a draft of an essay. In that particular lesson, they learn be seeing, hearing, and physically doing the work.
I feel that one of the first methods to giving individual attention, especially in a course that does lots of group work, is by having both myself and the entire class learn student names. That way, when we do have class discussions, we respect the individual, with a name and a face, who is making the comment. On the first day I work hard to memorize them all. My commitment to memorizing student names the first day demonstrates to the students a seriousness about the task. Throughout the course we recognize how attaching names and faces to one another’s words and ideas gives the ideas depth and authority; not allowing them to be dismissed as only “what she said.”
For this type of individual respect to occur, I recognize that students need to practice what they are learning in multifaceted, yet controlled environments. By controlled I mean a space that we as a class construct to safely share ideas, stretch boundaries, and learn. Likewise, I want my students to practice, reading, writing, and critical thinking, in safe, yet complicated and “realistic” situations, allowing the students to use one another as first time audiences, bouncing ideas and answers around before their grade, or later their job, is on the line. My writing students initially resist when make a class assignment that asks each individual student to completely restructure their essays. However, some students always “‘fess up” that the exercise gave them a better idea of how to organize the essay. And, after both my introductory lesson justification and the activity itself, at least a few more students tend to see the usefulness of safely playing with their papers, before any grades are on the line.
These highly structured learning activities create moments when students not only test their own abilities, but learn from their classmates. Teaching courses in the humanities, whether about writing, literature or film, necessitates student and teacher awareness about Others. Interactive assignments allow students to explore their own subject identities while also learning about other students’ various backgrounds. During an American Literature Survey course, I had a class working in groups to explicate a poem. During that class period, the students learned about how their differing backgrounds accounted for slightly different readings of the poem, slightly different shades of understanding generated by certain images and words. Peer review in a writing course functioned in exactly the same manner, allowing students to further complicate one another’s perspectives and worldviews.
Obviously my theories and practices do not work with every student. Periodically checking up on student learning, observing them in action, assessing their abilities, and simply asking for their opinions is critical. I feel that building in an assessment feedback loop during a course is highly beneficial. Not only do I repeatedly ask the students “Any questions?,” “confusions?,” “concerns?,” but I also give them space, throughout the course, to anonymously report on the course content and activities. After one mid-course set of anonymous student feedback/evaluations, I was able to assess why they did not like working in groups. I was not structuring the activities enough to give them both guided structure and freedom to explore. Plus, I needed to carefully construct a balance between challenging work and something “finishable” by the end of the period. This set of evaluations sent me back to exploring various books on cooperative and collaborative learning activities, and I enrolled in different active learning workshops. This need for something “finishable” has also made me a lot more flexible in my lesson planning. I can see how an activity is going and on the spot shift the lesson accordingly.
Not many events compete with the satisfaction of connecting course content to students’ “real” lives. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction when I know a student has left my classroom with an internalized skill, that she knows how to apply outside of the classroom setting, and that will help her the rest of her life. Although I have only been teaching for a few of years, I already have had students return, thanking me for the time in my class. Those moments are what make all the time and commitment of good teaching energy well spent.