Teaching philosophy

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A couple of weeks ago I was tasked with writing a one-page philosophy statement as part of my Higher Education Academy Senior Fellowship* application. Oddly, given that I’ve been researching and teaching in HE for quite a while now, I’ve never had to create one of these before, and I didnt actually know what it should contain. I used my Google-fu and found some instructions (e.g., this), some templates, lists of things to avoid, and some exemplars (this one was a lovely visual representation, I thought). Me being me, I even looked at the academic literature for instructions. I found some variation in requirements by country and discipline, and of course there was also a huge degree of variation by individual (compare the visual one up above to these ones).

In the end I just started writing, hoping to work it all out as I was going. After a couple of drafts I now have a one-page learning and teaching philosophy that I am reasonably happy with (I say ‘reasonably’, because it doesn’t quite get there for me around my core beliefs relating to learning for self actualisation and the humanistic side of things – human potential and so forth). Through the writing process, I realised that I do know exactly what my teaching philosphy is, and it’s actually reflected very consistently in my work.

Phew.

Anyhow, here it is: my learning and teaching philosophy.

I believe that in the 21st century knowledge society, higher education is vitally important to both social and economic well-being and growth. Universities are responsible for teaching high level capabilities that are needed for leadership, innovation and problem solving, all of which are integral to navigating a successful global future. Given this mandate, contemporary university programs must be orientated towards ‘real world’ relevance and application – that is, they must be of use – as well as continuing to support learners to develop disciplinary depth and high level critical capabilities grounded in history, theory and context. Education for relevance and application includes the development of ‘21st century’ skills, including disciplinary agility, enterprise and entrepreneneurship, digital literacies, social network capability, and career/learning self-management, all of which are often sorely lacking in university graduate capability lists and curricula (Bridgstock, 2009; 2014).

It is also incumbent upon us as educators to engage in pedagogic practices that (i) make the most of what we know about ways to maximise student learning; and (ii) to employ the best tools possible (digital or otherwise) to support this learning process. It is not sufficient to excuse poorly thought out transmissive ‘sage on the stage’ (King, 1993) teaching approaches by saying that this is the way we were taught at university, or to cite time and resourcing constraints. Many studies have shown that the best educators are committed to their own ongoing professional learning, and they manage to work within institutional constraints to produce creative and highly effective learning experiences (e.g., Philip, 2015). As a teacher, I aim to embody these characteristics and also to facilitate their development in other teachers.

I believe that the most fundamental task of any teacher in any classroom is to foster the ability and propensity in learners to keep learning for themselves. As such, I am a vocal skeptic of lectures, textbooks and exams, and a staunch advocate for authentic and situated learning, peer learning, problem-based learning, mentoring, enquiry-based learning, and informal learning. These are the ways that people prefer to learn at work and in other places out in the world beyond the university. These strategies enhance productivity, stimulate curiosity and increase depth of engagement (Bridgstock, 2014; Billett, 2009). Employing these strategies in a considered way at university not only fuels joy in learning – it hones students’ abilities to use and keep using these preferred strategies.

Finally, I believe in personalisation of the learning experience, which encompasses recognition of the existing knowledge and capabilities of learners (including knowledge and capabilities acquired through informal learning); accommodating their preferences and needs relating to curriculum, pedagogy and delivery; respecting the diversity in their backgrounds; and providing individualised learning support where needed. Further, education should never be something that is ‘done to’ a learner. Higher education should be an empowering experience for students; they can and should expect to be co-architects and co-constructors of their learning journeys.

Billett, S. (2009). Realising the educational worth of integrating work experiences in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 34(7), 827-843.

Bridgstock, R. (2009). The graduate attributes we’ve overlooked: Enhancing graduate employability through career management skills. Higher Education Research and Development, 28(1), 27-39.

Bridgstock, R. (2014, in press). Educating for digital futures: What the learning strategies of digital media professionals can teach higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International.

King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35.

Philip, R. L. (2015). Caught in the headlights: Designing for creative learning and teaching in higher education. PhD Thesis, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

*the HEA fellowships scheme is a professional development and recognition scheme for higher ed teachers in the UK, but is starting to be used in Australian HE as well. It’s quite a lot of work to put an application together, but I think it’s really worth it, both for recognition of teaching capability and as a developmental process. If you’re interested in the scheme, more information can be found on their website.

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