Appalachian State University
Philosophy of Teaching
Scope of Teaching Responsibilities
I teach in a variety of courses in the Department of Cultural, Gender, and Global Studies. More precisely, I teach regularly in Global Studies (GLS), Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS), and Watauga Residential College (WRC); I teach majors, as well as those seeking General Education credit. For GLS, I teach "GLS 2000: Contemporary Global Issues," which carries General Education Credit; "GLS 3000: Critical Perspectives on Global Studies," a seminar intended only for majors, and "GLS 3020: Cuba Libre: Perspectives on the Cuban Revolution," intended for GLS and Sustainable Development majors, which also carries General Education credit. For IDS, I teach "IDS 2001: Interdisciplinary Connections I," designed exclusively for those who will design their own concentrations. I have also taught a variety of courses in WRC since arriving at Appalachian in 2003: Next semester, I will teach a historical studies course, and in Fall 2018 1 will return to teaching in the WRC Core, a six-hour commitment. Finally, I am committed to continuing to develop my study-abroad course (taught in Cuba in odd number years), titled "El Plato Cubano: Cuba Through the Prism of Food," taught in conjunction with Emily Daughtridge's course on Cuban dance.
Teaching Philosophy: My Development as a Teacher
Teaching is about learning—both for the students and for me. When I teach, I learn as much as my students; I just learn different things. By far the most important lesson I have learned from my colleagues and students is this: The person who does the work does the learning. I did not always believe this to be true. When I began teaching as an advanced graduate student, I did the work, meaning I did the thinking, for my students, shoveling information in their direction without much intention or interruption. To be sure, my lectures were clear, my reading lists full of essential texts. But when exam time arrived, however, I did little more than ask my students to tell me what I had already told them-much as my mentors had asked me.
I am not sure what my students learned in those early classes, and I am not sure that I cared. Teaching was my concern, after all, not learning: My job was to deliver content, and students would learn, or not learn, according to their abilities.
That said, I suspected that something was wrong with my practice even then— because my students were not engaged. Yes, they took notes and even asked a question once in a while, but the more I talked, the more their attentions drifted to their computers and (once they became common) their cell phones. They looked like students, and even acted like students, but they were not learning like students. This realization spurred my first serious experiment with pedagogy, a course on the Civil Rights Movement that combined a three-credit academic course with a one credit trip around the South during spring break to interview people involved in the movement. Those courses were, I am happy to say, memorable and even successful combinations of academic and experiential learning, recognized by my university and even some media outlets. That said, I remained a complacent as a teacher. Looking back, I now see a young scholar flush with some initial success with student engagement, who also thought too much of his skills and understanding of engaged pedagogies.
Watauga Residential College shocked me out of my complacency. When I arrived at Appalachian in 2003, Watauga was a sort of "anything goes" environment— anything, that is, except complacency—and I soon learned that both my colleagues and my students expected me to provide an environment that put student learning first. Wataugans, for example, did not respond to lectures; instead, discussion was the order of the day, with questions valued more than answers. Over the course of several semesters, I learned how to structure my classes around questions, both mine and (eventually) theirs, and my classes became spaces where students pursued their own curiosities under my mentorship, as opposed to reciting my lectures. It took much trial, and even more error, but as my students engaged with their ideas, their work improved--and I discovered that my pedagogy could stimulate, or retard, student learning.
This realization pushed me to learn more, and pedagogy became one of my principal interests. I began attending teaching conferences, such as the International Lilly Conference on College Teaching, where I learned another lesson: Inquiry alone is not enough; no one pedagogy can provoke "deep learning," in which students demonstrate an ability to apply what they have learned in one course to different, unfamiliar situations. Eventually, I came to think of my self as the "designer" of learning experiences, one who, by blending an array of pedagogic strategies, creates an environment where deep learning takes place. In this perspective, I have been influenced by Ken Bain (What the Best College Teachers Do), John Tagg (The Learning Paradigm College), and Dee Fink (Creating Significant Learning Experiences).
I now teach a variety of courses in Global Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies, Watauga, and the Honors College. I have also taught two seminars in Cuba, my principal area of research. Whatever the course, whatever the location, my intention remains the same, and if you come by, you will see my students talking to each other, usually in groups, working on problems, sharing their research, or discussing the reading. You might also see me lecturing, introducing topics or clarifying points. That said, the assigned reading serves as the foundation for each class session; before class my students will have answered questions about the reading on AsULearn, so that in class we can spend our class time on higher-order thinking. I intervene where necessary to answer questions, clarify points, and provide content. Thanks to this "inverted classroom," my students now work with more care and passion, while exhibiting a mindset that values critical thinking, complexity, and context.
In the last few years, I have begun to share the fruits of my learning, contributing to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in peer-reviewed publications. As my curriculum vita indicates, I published an article about Inquiry-Based Learning five years ago. Another piece that explores the limits of the "inverted classroom" will come out later next year. In addition, I am now working on a manuscript that discusses how to challenge students' mindsets about learning for Faculty Focus, an online pedagogy newsletter. I intend that this will later become a peer-reviewed publication. I have also published articles concerning my pedagogy in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Journal of American History.
In short, during my time at Appalachian, I have moved from unreflective presenter to reflective practitioner—and scholar of pedagogy. In making this transition, I have learned as much from my students, my faculty colleagues, and other scholars engaged in the field of teaching and learning. Perhaps most fundamentally, I have learned that teaching is not lea rning. Learning requires design; learning requires we faculty to create environments of challenge and support; learning requires that students have the opportunity to struggle—and, eventually, succeed. I await the insights the next phase of my career will bring.
At the heart of all my courses is inquiry. Students need to work with knowledge, much as scholars do, in order to be engaged. What does this mean? First, it means that students must read. In my courses, students come to class having read, and in order to "encourage" them to do this, I require them answer questions about the reading on AsULearn. In class, we then turn our attention to higher order thinking: Students work in groups to apply or critique concepts from the readings. Just as often place they place the reading in the context of what they have already learned. Admittedly, these online assignments take time for me to grade (before class), but at the same time this practice frees me from the twin tyrannies of lecturing and 'covering" content without interruption. Instead, in class I move from group to group, clarifying points, answering questions, and offering feedback. Before students submit their answers (again on AsULearn), we discuss the material, and I can see what they understand--and more important what they still do not, adjusting my plan for class accordingly. I do lecture, often at the beginning to introduce material, during class to clarify and reinforce, and at the conclusion to bring closure to the class. Later in the semester, I move students toward research projects, either collaborative or individual. In courses for majors, I favor research papers and presentations; in GLS 2000, a much bigger class, I favor collaborative projects that have some real world consequences, such as designing a non-profit organization intended to address a global issue.
Evaluating, Improving, and Enhancing My Teaching
First, I look to my students. They tell me—in ways obvious and subtle—whether or not something works. Truth be told, some of my best pedagogic ideas have come from my students, and I read their evaluations carefully. Second, I will continue attending pedagogic conferences, such as Lilly, the Teaching Professor, or the ISSOTL (International for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning), as well as workshops sponsored by the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE). Just as important, I will continue to publish. I have two new projects in the works: An article on challenging students fixed mindsets in the classroom; and an article about my short-term study abroad program in Cuba, in conjunction with Kate Johnson, Associate Director for Student Learning and Civic Engagement, who went with me to Cuba this past summer. This article will situate our program within the best practices of study abroad program.
Future Teaching Goals
In addition to continuing to write about pedagogy, and attend conferences, I intend to develop my study abroad program further integrating the academic and the experiential more fully, with Emily Daughtridge's course on dance. I also want to teach a course on democracy. Though more in my area of interest than expertise, I am disturbed by recent studies that younger people are losing faith in democracy. A significant percentage of them, in fact, no longer consider it important to live within a democracy. For my part, I want students to learn how to care for democratic institutions and to involve themselves more fully, and with greater satisfaction, in democratic rituals. I will develop just such a course for the Watauga Residential College next year.