My teaching focuses on my students and their needs. I employ a student-centered approach and acknowledge that the student’s enjoyment of the course is an important part of their experience. I utilize and develop teaching techniques that ensure my students are participating throughout the class, engaging with the material, and ultimately enjoying the lesson. I believe that how a teacher interacts with their students and the classroom environment they foster plays a large part in student success. An engaging and supportive classroom environment can motivate a student to ask questions, participate in class discussions, and provide constructive feedback, all of which promote learning.
As the lead instructor of an online introductory science course (Gold and Gems), I believe that I have overcome the challenge of translating my teaching philosophy into the online learning environment. Facilitating an engaging, supportive classroom environment online is entirely different than doing it in a face-to-face classroom. To stay connected to my students I do three things: 1) record and send out weekly video messages, 2) respond to emails quickly (less than 24 hours), and 3) offer both in-person and Skype office hours. When I started teaching online, I missed talking to my students. The weekly video messages that I record and send out allow me to convey my enthusiasm for the course, and help to make students more familiar with me so that they will be more likely to ask for help. I believe that one of my strengths as an instructor is my personality and ability to make students feel comfortable. The videos are frequently mentioned in summative course evaluations as a technique that effectively communicates course expectations and helps students feel connected in an online learning environment.
Instead of completing a few large assignments, students in my course complete several, low-stakes assignments throughout the term. I understand that students have lives outside of the classroom, and I try to be empathetic and accommodate them when possible and appropriate. These low-stakes assignments mean that doing poorly on or missing one or two assignments does not have a detrimental impact on their grade. The assignments I develop target critical skills that can be translated to other courses, such as scientific writing, and integrate concepts learned in different parts of the course. I also give students the opportunity to make some of the assignments their own by giving them a variety of topics to choose from, and the freedom to suggest their own topic. My intention is to increase their self-motivation by allowing them to choose a topic that is important to them. In the future, I intend to give students even more input into the way they are assessed by allowing them to choose the grade weighting of these assignments. To do this, they will be required to write a short reflection describing their decision, which will promote self-evaluation of both skills they are proficient in and those they need to work on. This will enable students to take control of their own learning experience and gain the most benefit from the course.
In my face-to-face classes, lecture time is used sparingly. When I do lecture, I do so intentionally to introduce concepts that are then built upon during an in-class activity. I integrate a variety of techniques such as think-pair-share exercises, iClicker questions, and other questioning techniques into lecture time approximately every 5 minutes to keep students engaged. I add a short discussion to iClicker questions when necessary by asking students to explain to their neighbour why their answer is correct. This promotes discussion and encourages them to think critically about their answers. Most of my classes are concluded with a group activity that integrates the new material with other material that has already been covered in the course.
I care about what my students think. I frequently request feedback on my classes by administering my own surveys. Whenever I implement a new assignment, I solicit feedback to determine what worked well and what needs to be improved for the next iteration. Instead of waiting until the next semester, I make these changes right away, before the next offering of the assignment. This was noted on my teaching evaluations: “She really listens to student feedback…she altered the course mid-way through just to accommodate our thoughts. She easily could have just filed it away for the next semester but the fact that she actually implemented it for us is something I was very pleasantly surprised and appreciative to see.”. I value the feedback provided in my teaching evaluations and actively work to improve my teaching based on that feedback. I applied for and received funding to conduct a course transformation of the Gold and Gems course that I currently teach because my teaching evaluations indicated that the course content needed to be revised, and the course assignments needed to more clearly align with the intended learning objectives.
Outside of the traditional classroom, I facilitate graduate Instructional Skills Workshops (ISW). In this role I take a facilitative approach to teaching, guiding participants as they generate content, provide feedback to their peers, and build their own teaching skills. My experience as a facilitator has influenced the way I teach, most notably by prompting me to reflect on my own teaching practices and to consider their impact on the learning experience of my students. Since becoming a facilitator I think more critically about my lessons and course structure to determine the best course of action to meet my learning objectives and promote an engaging experience for my students.
Everything that I do – from how I teach to why I teach – comes back to my students. I place them at the center of the learning experience to give them the best chance at enjoying and succeeding in the courses that I teach. By fostering an engaging and supportive student-centered classroom environment, I can help to motivate my students and ensure that the learning experience is rewarding for all.