When I reflect upon my philosophy and approach to teaching, I always return to three key elements, these elements go on to inform my teaching as well as my design of assessment and units. These elements are; motivate students through quality, building upon strong foundations (get the basics right), and continual development driven by evidence. Below, I expand upon and discuss these.
Motivate students through quality
I believe the most important prerequisite of effective learning is motivation. If a student is motivated to learn, they will invest the required time and effort, and they will succeed. As such, one of my fundamental challenges as an educator is to motivate my students. To add to the challenge, each student has their own intrinsic motivation to be in class, whether it is the pure scholastic pursuit of knowledge and the love of learning, the desire for a degree leading to a future career, or some other factor. However, at the root of each of these, all students have come to class to learn.
Students are intelligent consumers, they have come to class to learn, and if they see a benefit in investing their time and effort they will be motivate; however if it appears that investing time into study won’t reap the desired rewards they will be discouraged. This is a student-centred approach, and focuses on learning outcomes. I must design my course so students know that there is a direct correlation between effort, learning, and achievement. In addition, I must set a clear bar of achievement in my courses; by setting a clear bar and a path to achieving that bar, students will rise to the challenge and succeed. A large part of this is quality, and thus I motivate my students by providing them with quality; a quality course with real learning outcomes.
Build learning upon strong foundations (getting the basics right)
When I reflect upon those courses I like and on those I dislike, I find the same predictive feature. Good courses are those build on strong foundations, good courses get the basics right. As such, I believe the key to providing a good course with good learning outcomes for students, is to get the basics right. This is a holistic belief that covers all aspects of the course, from having well delivered content, good material such as lecture slides and tutorial content, and a well-structured and easy to access blackboard site. There is no point in exploring innovative approaches to teaching and learning when the foundations of a unit are flawed as these will have little impact and could backfire, however once a unit has strong foundations innovative approaches can be explored with vigour and real tangible benefits can be realised.
The same can be said for the educational journey of our students. When we teach, we build upon previous courses and knowledge. For our students to succeed in advanced courses, and for them to succeed and grow through their careers, they need to have a strong foundational knowledge. Once they have that foundation they can grow and excel. As such, a key aspect of my teaching is about ensuring students understand the basics and understands them well.
Continual development driven by evidence
Just as a grand building deteriorates when not maintained, so too do our units. However, unlike a building which can lay static for millennia, the landscape of education is constantly shifting and evolving. What is a good course one year could be an average course the next year. I must always be looking at ways to improve and develop my courses. Importantly, this must be driven and informed by evidence.