It is my belief, that in order to be an effective teacher, one must be willing to learn. As I teach, I try to absorb as much of the activity surrounding a course offering, learn from it and feed this information into my course organization, lectures and assignments to both motivate and guide the delivery of course material. I look to the students to understand what inspires them to learn, be it research, industry, or entrepreneurial endeavors while I depend on the cohesive support of the teaching team for feedback to continually refine the delivery. This philosophy requires a direct connection with students which in the past I have established through well attended office hours and interaction in the classroom. At a large institution like UBC I have been able to connect with students in new ways, including my involvement in the Prof-in-Rez program, volunteering for both student organized events and department led outreach activities and in leading large teaching teams of undergraduate TAs.
Learning requires a desire to learn. Motivation and the level of desire will vary dramatically in any group of students. While I believe students must want to learn, it is my job as a teacher to fuel this desire by keeping the material relevant. I draw from both research and industry to do this. By highlighting material from publications in related research areas, students become exposed to research as well as innovation and state-of-the-art, providing context to the material they are learning in class. Additionally, learning and drawing from practices in both industry and entrepreneurial endeavors further motivates and gives context to the material covered in lecture and assignments. Applying this at first and second year, can be done by simple couching assignments within real-world problems whereas, in upper-level courses, application can be much more explicit such as reviewing publications, applying industry techniques within assignments or hosting guest lecturers from industry.
As my teaching evaluations reflect, I enjoy interacting with students in the class and in office hours. This is much easier to do with small class sizes but I have been able to scale problem-solving, active-learning style exercises to classes 200+ in size. I am always looking for ways to scale my approaches to larger class sizes and to reach those students who are not as interactive with the teaching team. I feel to grow as an educator I need to be able to have an impact with all student learning styles and provide a quality education for all. I experimented early in my teaching career with augmenting lectures with short, online tutorial videos leveraging screen capture software to provide extra explanation for difficult concepts. This philosophy and approach has aligned well with the active-learning, problem-based lecture style of first-year classes that I am now teaching at UBC.
Holding onto my desire to provide a quality education for all, I believe we must become cognizant of the students for which a given teaching style is not working. Teaching in Vantage College has allowed me to work with small class sizes of English Language Learners (ELLs) in which I am able to identify patterns of student challenges such as study strategies, time management skills, verbal communication and oral comprehension. These challenges are with skills that are necessary for success in the active-learning environment that is largely different from what they have experienced in the past. I have been experimenting with ways to support student development of these skills including basic awareness of styles of study, encouraging Self-Regulated Learning (SRL), monitoring student self-efficacy across the term and providing students with interactive pre-lecture preparation in the form of a programming practice tool.
While I believe teaching strategies and student motivation are a significant part of teaching responsibilities, a strong cohesive teaching team can serve to significantly improve a student’s course experience and ultimately their success. While an instructor’s name is assigned to a particular course, the teaching team including lab instructors, markers and support staff are also on the front lines, working with and encouraging students along the way. I believe it is critical to work closely with a teaching team of both teaching assistants and department consultants to monitor successes and failures in all aspects of a student’s participation. Tracking progress from lectures and labs to assignments and exams to feed into the refinement of a course offering creates an environment in which students can get the most out of the learning support available.
Very often, the teaching team also involves multiple professors, sometimes in different sections offered in the same term, but also over time—across terms and years. Collaborating with other professors can help to expand a set of course materials and allow an instructor to experiment with and share innovative teaching techniques. In courses like those that I am currently teaching, where the curriculum and core materials are set there is still potential to develop and share supplementary lecture materials. For example, I have shared with interested instructors my visualizations created to help CPSC 110 students develop a mental model of new concepts by linking to their existing knowledge. I am fortunate to have worked with a diverse set of instructors, students and staff that have mentored me and influenced my teaching philosophy; I look forward to collaborating further with an expanded teaching team to continue to evolve both my practices and teaching curricula.