ACTIVE | APPLIED | ADAPTIVE
As a little girl, I loved playing “teacher.” I vividly remember lining up my teddy bears and writing lessons on the small dry erase board in my room. More recently, my experiences in the college classroom have solidified my passion for teaching and learning. To me, teaching is a lot like cooking lasagna: I enjoy the labor-intensive process, I’m proud of the dish, and others comment on how good it tastes; but I’m constantly refining my age-old recipe. I love teaching because, like cooking, it is an evolving art form: every course section holds a unique dynamic, different mediated class formats call for innovative teaching methods, and the material (theory and research) advances constantly. Despite this variety, I have noticed several common ingredients throughout my instruction. Whether in an advanced graduate seminar, an online section of a required class, or a large lecture of upperclassman from various disciplines, my approach to teaching is active, applied, and adaptive.
First, I believe in active participation in the classroom. Students should not be passive observers of the material; they should interact and engage with information in order to learn more effectively. Not only do I encourage activity because I am naturally an energetic person in the classroom, but I believe that students should be absorbed in the material they are learning. To actively engage students, I use a variety of group activities, case studies, games, and role play scenarios in the classroom. For example, when teaching about management practices in organizational communication, our class takes a field trip to observe various businesses in the shopping center across the street. Students take field notes about implicit and explicit rules they see, how employees offer feedback, and how leaders seem to make decisions. This hands-on activity is effective because students can see theory and concepts “in action” and reflect on their experiences with organizations. When I teach coding in my qualitative research methods course, I give each student an envelope with a dozen notecards inside, each holding different quotes from participants’ interviews. In class, students actively practice open coding, placing related notecards in different piles. This exercise helps students see the subjective nature of qualitative research by observing how other students sorted their piles in different ways.
Second, my goal is to apply everything I teach to students’ lives. I believe that students learn best when they can connect concepts to things they are familiar with. My love for knowledge and learning grew during my undergraduate coursework at a liberal arts college, where instructors were embedded in the student community. In this same way, I am passionate about getting to know my students and being invested in their lives so that I can link new material to their interests and existing schemas. A core component of my teaching philosophy is my genuine interest in students and making course material relevant and beneficial to them. As such, I find it imperative to understand my audience—their interests, experiences, likes and dislikes—to find connections between the material I am teaching and students’ everyday lives. For example, students taking my social media in organizations course conduct a social media audit for an organization, which involves creating a report analyzing strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s social media posts based on course material. Moreover, one assignment in my organizational communication class is to analyze the culture of a student organization. Students are able to better understand abstract concepts, like espoused values, symbols, and stories, by discussing examples of these cultural markers in their own organizations. Through these assignments, as well as giving personal examples in my teaching, drawing from current events, and showing clips of concepts in TV shows or films, I hope that students see the practical value in the classes I teach.
Third, I believe that teaching should be adaptive. During the semester, I seek continuous feedback from students, asking them to anonymously write three things that they like about the class on one side of a note card, and three things they hope to see changed about the class on the other side of the notecard. Then, I summarize and share my analysis with students so they know which things I am addressing. In addition to adapting to the unique needs and preferences of different students each semester, I also seek to be adaptive in terms of creating and improving course content. I am always thinking of new activities, ideas, or ways to incorporate current events. I enjoy reading books and journals that focus on teaching, such as Communication Teacher, to get fresh material for the classroom. Furthermore, having my classrooms formally observed has been an invaluable tool to critically evaluate and grow my teaching skills, and attending teaching workshops has helped me adjust to new students or innovative teaching methods. For example, I completed a semester-long course design and development program at Texas State University, where I worked one-on-one with an instructional designer to create my award-winning online class, empirical research methods. This program and other teaching workshops have been useful in my professional development, offering ways that I can adapt my teaching.
Like lasagna, my recipe for teaching will never be finished. The core ingredients of my teaching philosophy—being active, applied, and adaptive—will remain. Yet I will continue to improve my instruction throughout my academic career, hoping to enhance its flavor and fulfillment.