Create a personal teaching philosophy

Completing the other sections of this portfolio has helped me to reflect on what kind of lecturer I am and want to be. The following is a personal statement of my teaching philosophy. A number of sources influenced how I drafted it – Chism (1998) and Goodyear and Allchin (1998) each provide a list of five or six components that a teaching philosophy statement should contain. A review of literature on statements of teaching philosophy and teaching portfolios by Schönwetter et al. (2002) illustrates that a statement could serve several purposes from the largely personal and reflective, to the career development (e.g. complementing a CV) and dissemination of your ideas on what effective teaching might be (e.g. making one public on this blog). There also seems to be a consensus (from scanning several university-hosted guides on writing statements) that they be limited to 1 or 2 pages (or perhaps 750 to 1,000 words) – though, I have gone a little over that. The following text, therefore, represents my statement on my teaching philosophy.


Over six years of full-time teaching, and having reflected on my practice during the course of the past number of weeks, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • Learning should be meaningful to students to motivate them
  • Students should be respected as individuals with autonomy
  • Learning is a shared experience among lecturer and students
  • Students should be prepared for industry and have a foundation in how to continue to develop their practice as software developers long after graduation
  • Lecturing is a profession of value and one should always be trying to improve one’s practice

Learning should be meaningful to students to motivate them

I believe in student-centred and active learning. Decontextualised knowledge is of little use to the majority of students. Instead, I have seen students motivated when I talk about the relevance of a topic and given them realistic project work. My most recent survey of students on one of my courses showed that my expertise was valued and that they could see the relevance of what they were learning. Student enthusiasm in tackling their final project was high because they realised that what they were doing on the project (in terms of teamwork, tools, processes, concepts, and so on) was closely related to the next job they might attain in the software industry. When designing active learning activities, I try to explain the relevance. For example, when I write step-by-step tutorials, each step is accompanied with a rationale for the step; when I record a video, I talk step by step about my reasons for structuring code in a particular way, based on my experience and what I have observed as best industry practice, while highlighting where there are valid alternatives. For example, when structuring a large Java project, I might explain why I prefer to organise in ‘packages’ horizontally by component type, whereas other developers, I would explain, might prefer to organize vertically by function, both being valid. The cognitive apprenticeship is something I believe in strongly (along with the concept of guided participation) and apprenticeship isn’t something purely for the trades such as woodwork and plumbing.

I set high standards for the students in terms of goals. I make it very clear from project specifications and rubrics what constitutes excellence. I provide numerous exemplars that highlight aspects around design excellence, emphasizing recognised principles such as reusability, modularity, understandability and maintainability. I don’t obsess about how the students achieve excellence (“you must follows steps A, B and C in that order”). Instead I give them broad parameters. When providing a problem to be solved in an assessment, I don’t overspecify and leave it a little ill-defined. My ultimate personal goal for the students when setting a project is that I would receive a wide variety of submissions all of a high standard, each finding their own unique path to a solution. It has the added benefit of reducing plagiarism. Feedback should be prompt and useful – where possible I try to structure projects with multiple stages to allow for points of feedback.

Students should be respected as individuals with autonomy, and Learning is a shared experience among lecturer and students

In the social constructivist tradition (and the idea of a knowledge community), I recognise what students bring from outside a module, their personal construction of knowledge on the module, and how students can learn from each other. Increasingly, students are working on side projects or working part-time for software companies. Third year students go on work experience and return with new skills, some at the cutting edge and beyond what I teach. I frequently ask students about their outside experiences (which I learn from) and I am flexible enough in most cases to allow students bring those experiences to their assessments (the exception being where it would not address a specific learning outcome).

I respect the right of students to construct their own personal learning environments consisting of what I develop or curate and what they curate for themselves. I do sometimes feel frustrated when lecture attendance is low, but if I reflect and realise I am doing my job effectively, then this is a natural occurrence of student independence and autonomy (and sometimes through financial circumstances) rather than a reflection of my teaching. With clear goals set and high expectations set, if students meet those goals and expectations, it is largely irrelevant how they attained them. Clearly technology has a role to play here and for the most part I have embraced the positives of technology, such as allowing students to study remotely and at a time that suits them.

Students like to learn in a variety of ways. While lecture notes are still the primary source of knowledge, I provide numerous other sources of knowledge and activities to suit a range of learning styles. Some students are introspective and are happy with lecture slides featuring bullet points and diagrams and will often prompt with questions. Others are more active learners and for those I provide a range of resources and activities that they can work along to. I would love to teach in an institution where the majority of learning was project-based problem-based learning, with portfolios and the minimum of assessment, but I have to try to push the boundaries of the rigid modularised and semesterised structure we operate in.

Students should be prepared for industry and have a foundation in how to continue to develop their practice as software developers long after graduation

Assessments should be authentic and preparatory. If graduates will primarily be working in small agile teams, then assessments should include group projects using methodologies, tools, etc., used in industry. Cooperative projects should be designed to recognise individual contributions as well as the group output, with facilities for reflection and self and peer assessment.

I believe students should also be reflective practitioners. Reflective students are more autonomous students. When a student analyzes past performance, the student can learn and improve without always deferring to the lecturer. This is a practice I hope they would continue after graduation because the software industry, in particular, values independent employees who are lifelong learners able to adapt to a rapidly changing industry.

Lecturing is a profession of value and one should always be trying to improve one’s practice

I am a public servant. I take that very seriously. I have a responsibility to serve those members of the public (i.e. students) well. I believe I provide a truly valuable service. I like to think that there are some graduates out there who are in much better circumstances now than when they first presented to me as a student (though we tend to teach in isolation, lecturing is, of course, a team effort), particularly those graduates of the reskilling HDip I coordinate and teach on. I am reflective enough of my practice to recognise where I appear to be doing well and where there are areas for improvement. Though I have been busy with my teaching, a PhD, raising a young child, and so on, it would have been easy to rest on my laurels, but instead I chose to take courses in module design, programme design, mentorship training and a special purpose award on effective teaching in higher education. Facilitating student-centred learning can be time-consuming and it has to be prioritised against many other demands on time. It’s a challenge when you are tired. It’s a challenge when institutions often don’t recognise teaching excellence in the way they recognise research excellence. But nevertheless, it is something I strive for.

I am also trying to be innovative, at the cutting edge, of teaching, which is why I am researching game-based learning (including VR-based learning) as part of my PhD. Game-based learning can be truly active and motivating when done properly. By doing this I am not just trying to improve my own teaching, but to disseminate my knowledge and experience and I would hope to publish something of worth annually at a conference or in a journal (I have an article on learning analytics in game-based learning coming up soon at the New Perspecitves in Science Education conference).

Bibliography

Chism, N. V. N. (1998). Developing a philosophy of teaching statement. Essays on Teaching Excellence 9 (3), 1-2. Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education.

Grasha, A.F. (1996).Teaching with style: A practical guide to enhancing learning by understanding teaching and learning styles. Pittsburgh, PA: Alliance Publishers.

Goodyear, G. E. & Allchin, D. (1998) Statement of teaching philosophy. To Improve the Academy 17, 103-22. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Schönwetter, D.J., Sokal, L., Friesen, M., Taylor, K.L. (2002). Teaching philosophies reconsidered:A conceptual model for the development and evaluation of teaching philosophy statements. International Journal for Academic Development 7, 83–97.