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Teaching is as Much Learning as Teaching

Teaching is transformative. It is about openness and commitment. Teaching is individual, and it is social. It is about interaction, not only between teachers and students, but also between teachers, students, and materials. Teaching is a way of life, and nothing is more exhilarating than leaving a classroom at the end of a session with the feeling that you could make a difference. As an instructor, my teaching philosophy is best described by the term “teacher-learner.” I believe that teaching is as much learning as teaching. Teachers need to seek and impart up-to-date knowledge. They need to challenge their students intellectually. This requires an instructor to be a good teacher as well as a learner. Therefore, teaching for me is a process of reflexive learning of the dynamics of the class, designing and devising a strategy to open the students’ minds to absorb new concepts, critique, develop their own perspectives, and inculcate the habit of seeking knowledge independent of the instructor.

Every class is a unique social setting. Teachers need to learn how each student absorbs new concepts, reacts, and develops his or her own perspective. Every student is unique, and has his or her way of learning. Therefore, a teacher needs to have the ability to learn the dynamics of the class. I consider this as a reflexive process. While learning about each student, I encourage them to learn about me, my teaching style, and what sort a learning environment I expect to create. This view encourages me to have a conversation with the class. This conversation happens on the group level where I interact with the whole class, and on the individual level. A good teacher has to find a unique way of interaction with each and every student in the class. This, I believe is particularly the case in teaching concepts of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to a non-computer science audience. One student may find ICT concepts overwhelming while another may seek information beyond the syllabus. Therefore, my teaching strategy includes materials and exercises to make every student understand a set of core concepts, support those who find the concepts overwhelming to overcome the difficulties, and help those who seek additional concepts to find more knowledge independently. This view acknowledges that every student is unique and has to be guided in a unique way.

Designing and devising a strategy to open the students’ minds to absorb new concepts, critique, and develop their own perspectives is a main aspect of my teaching philosophy. I believe that a good teacher challenges the students intellectually. I consider this as an important characteristic of the classes I have taught as a doctoral student and the classes that I will be teaching in the future. Teaching ICTs within the social sciences curriculum requires opening up students to concepts which they may consider as coming from the computer science discipline. In my ICT Concepts class, I challenge the students by bringing them out of their comfort zones and introducing to them numerous concepts in the field of technology. This requires many techniques. I follow a sequence where I introduce the concept first, answer the questions, use video materials to provide visual examples, do a group activity, and review all the concepts in the end of the class. Among others, I find that role play, demonstrations, group discussions, and group challenges are extremely helpful to keep the students engaged. Challenging students, however, needs to be planned well. I assume that most students expect a heavy workload and high level of stress towards the end of the semester. My strategy is to design my courses in such a way that perceived workload is high in the middle of the semester and low towards the end. This leaves time for students to be more comfortable with the subject matter towards the end of the semester, think more independently, and complete the course with little or no stress. Similarly, my syllabi are arranged to introduce technical concepts and terminology in the first half of the semester, and applied aspects of technology in the second half. I follow this strategy in my ICT Concepts class in which I discuss technical concepts in the first half and more socio-technical concepts in the second.

The main outcome of my teaching is to help students to develop their own perspectives, and instill the habit of seeking knowledge independent of the instructor. This helps create an independent and confident student. I have used a range of techniques including asking students to develop their own ICT glossaries, critical response sessions, peer-review sessions, poster presentations, and debates to help students develop their own perspectives. My assignments often require seeking extra reading materials and comparing and contrasting them with the readings assigned.

Seeking advice and support to improve my teaching skills is an important part of my teaching philosophy. I consider my teaching evaluations important since they provide feedback about how I can create a better learning experience for my students. I also believe that seeking advice from experienced faculty members is important for my development. During the past two years, I shared my teaching evaluations with the Chair of the School of Communications and asked for advice on how I could improve my teaching. I have also sought advice from my advisor and other faculty members in designing syllabi, developing assignments, and designing interactive exercises. Finally, I believe that teaching is transformative as the teacher and the student change throughout the teaching process. The more I teach, the more I learn, and the more I learn, the more my I can help my students to learn.

This teaching philosophy is informed by several learning theories although I did not pay particular attention on developing it on solid theoretical grounds. I believe that it reflects a combination of behavioural, sociocultural, as well as constructivist approaches of learning. Thinking about my statement that “nothing is more exhilarating than leaving a classroom at the end of a session with the feeling that you could make a difference,” my perspective to teaching is based on the expectation that my students display some changes in their behaviour as a result of the learning experience. This sounds like a “behaviouralist expectation.” However, the above philosophy acknowledges the fact that learning occurs in a social setting where cultural elements play a crucial role. Moreover, my teaching strategies are based on the principle that learning is a constructivist experience enabled by the use of strategies such as role play, group activities, and creative exercises.

Chamil Rathnayake

Traversing Bits

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