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Teaching Philosophy & Techniques

 

My teaching approach closely reflects the tenets of self-determination theory (SDT). The SDT framework, and my experience, suggests that students develop the highest-quality motivation, well-being, and engagement when my courses provide the chance for autonomy, social-relatedness, and the development of competency. Importantly, the competence that my students develop is through mastery goals, or competence through mastery of specific tasks or knowledge, as opposed to performance goals, or demonstrating competence in comparison to others. Underlying this teaching approach are three objectives to: 1) foster self-directed learning, 2) develop students’ critical thinking skills, 3) and prepare students for success out of the classroom. It is through these lenses that all my course designs and assignments aim to foster high levels of intrinsic motivation by allowing students to make well-informed and critically thought about choices, challenging and increasing their current knowledge and skills, and involving them with each other throughout all parts of the learning process. As opposed to defining myself in the more traditional sense of a ‘teacher’ who is tasked primarily with conveying subject specific information to students,  I prefer to see my role as their advocate who assists them as they become self-directed learners, competitive applicants for the career path of their choice, and meaningfully contributing members of society. Below I provide a representative summary of a few instructional core elements and techniques that I plan to continue implementing as a teaching assistant and instructor.

 

Classroom Lectures

As a teaching assistant for Statistics in Psychology, I’ve started by collecting informal data from my students for three semesters. I ask students to anonymously respond to two open-ended questions: 1) “I like courses best when the instructor _________,” and 2) “I like courses the least when the instructor ___________.” Their responses have consistently demonstrated two themes which inform my current teaching approach. My students have reported that they prefer courses that are interactive while predominantly declaring that they like it least when instructors read and lecture directly from the slides. Utilizing that feedback, my lectures are designed to just be as long as needed to focus on core elements of the topic which allows a majority of classroom time for discussions and exercises. In addition to those introductory questions, my pedagogy allows me to be flexible and learn from my students. No two classes are the same and that is especially true when considering if my audience for a course is undergraduates,  graduate students, or both. Sometimes my teaching falls short despite my best efforts. While leading a lab session for an undergraduate course, I perceived my brief lecture on statistical inference as communicating as effectively as planned. Raising a hand, a student politely asked me: “What are asymptotic p-values?” Realizing that I had mistakenly assumed they had already learned this basic statistical concept from other courses, I shifted the lecture purpose to cover that and related core concepts. At other times I have attempted demonstrations that proved too ambitious, used examples that were not well-understood by the current generation,  and assigned in-class activities that took far more time than anticipated to complete. As unfortunate as these failures seem at the moment, they play a crucial role as I develop as an instructor. Through failures I am able to learn more about my students, enabling me to update my lectures to include any missing background material. Additionally, by eliminating or altering unsuccessful demonstrations, I am able to think about newer, more appropriate, and more successful activities. Thus, the highly flexible structure of my lectures allow me to modify covered topics depending on student interest and background. I view good teaching – both in its philosophy and its practice – as a process, not an end goal.

 

In-Class Activities

In all my courses, students complete many in-class activities. These activities serve to increase student engagement through active participation, develop rapport and interpersonal skills as they interact with fellow students, and improve critical thinking. All of these skills are valued on the job market and assist with procurement of sought after positions, which is almost always the end goal of attending secondary education. Since the majority of the in-class activities do not have traditionally ‘correct’ answers, students must critique various theories, concepts, and strategies to determine the approach most likely to facilitate success.

 

Written & Verbal Communication Skills

Although critical thinking skills are a needed first step, the value of such critical thinking is greatly diminished if one cannot effectively communicate their ideas to a wide array of audiences. Therefore, my courses carry large writing and speaking components. In addition to the teamwork and interpersonal skills developed, the writing and speaking components of in-class and homework assignments help students further develop their ability to communicate through written and oral mediums. These transferable skills (e.g., leadership, communication, teamwork) are not typically the specific content focus of degree programs and thus my courses provide much needed soft skills training that students will find pays dividends both during and after their collegiate tenure. 

 

Expectations

Consistent with self-determination theory, I always implement a high level of structure in my courses by providing students clear expectations needed for successful performance. Generally, I expect professional behavior becoming an adult preparing for career entry to be demonstrated by all my students. To this end, I comprehensively discuss my teaching approach with my students on the first day of class. I provide both physical and virtual documents for each major course assignment that outline the objectives/purposes of that assignment, as well as performance expectations. I have found that students greatly appreciate and feel respected by me being extremely open about the reasons underlying assignment selection and the existence of course policies. In return I expect students to come prepared to substantially engage during class sessions, treat other class members with respect and civility, demonstrate responsibility for their learning outcomes (e.g., attend class; turn in timely assignments; preemptively complete work for planned absences; read the assigned texts), and exhibit appropriate levels of academic integrity. 

Teaching Experience

Teaching Assistant

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Fall 2022

Duke University

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Spring 2020, Fall 2019

Southern Connecticut State University

Workshops

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Data Science Workshop

Over two eight-hour sessions, taught Connecticut public school teachers in underserved districts basic programming skills to facilitate further success of their students by introducing and encouraging STEM knowledge in the classroom. 

April 2021

Southern Connecticut State University

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Data Science Workshop

Schedule, develop, and host the first outreach Data Science workshop at Southern Connecticut State University to develop data science skills of undergraduate and graduate students in Psychology Department.

November 2020

Southern Connecticut State University

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