In my mind, probably the most crucial aspect of effective teaching is the ability to first decide what students can and should learn in a class and then figure out how this learning can be facilitated. I believe that a successful education transforms how students approach problems so they can approach situations as critical thinkers. Much of my teaching philosophy is centered on the ideas presented by L. Dee Fink and a learning-centered approach to integrated course design . My teaching strategy reflects my desire to prepare students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, no matter what the situation. There are a number of factors that have helped define my teaching philosophy that I believe are directly related to the quality of the learning experience that students have in the classroom.
To accomplish my objectives of fostering a learning environment in the classroom and encourage critical thinking, I have found that there are few key elements that have proven effective. First, understanding the subject matter; Second, course organization; Third, empathy and sensitivity to students' needs and interests.
As a new research assistant professor I have been challenged by teaching many classes for the first time. I find that the amount of preparation I put into a lecture, and my knowledge of the subject matter directly affects the response from students to the material. I've made the mistake of thinking that because something is clear in my mind, my students will have the same clarity when I present it the way I think is best. From those experiences, I now strongly believe in performance measures and the experimental method. I think it is important to measure results and see if students are really learning what I think is important. Homework and exams should be designed to measure learning as much as for grading. I remember from my own undergraduate experience that some professors seemed to enjoy the fact that they knew more about the subject than the students. This attitude was often reflected in poor test scores and disengaged students. I believe as a teacher, my responsibility is to utilize my experiences and knowledge of the subject to enhance and encourage learning. This often requires more effort and special attention to classroom dynamics, but is accompanied by more classroom interaction and positive student feedback. Research has indicated that people learn by creating their own understanding of a subject . This is only accomplished by helping students internalize information and personalize it through examples and projects. I try to use personal experiences and projects from my research to further improve my classroom teaching. Learning is a never-ending process. I also believe that it is important for me to continuously improve and iterate subject matter each time it is taught. To assist with continuous improvement I keep a notebook with information about lectures from classes and list things that went well or things the students or I struggled with that need attention. I find that these notes encourage me to do better each time I teach a subject.
With so many electronic resources available to enhance the traditional classroom experience, I have found that organization and effective use of these resources dramatically improves learning. To this end I applied for an individual teaching grant and was awarded with funding to purchase software to enhance active classroom learning and facilitate visualization of 3D motion data. Active learning activities and class discussions accompanied by an online discussion board provide students with added anonymity to ask questions and make comments that they are otherwise reluctant to share in the classroom. It also provides an additional mechanism for me to request and provide feedback for various topics and monitor questions and concerns from students. Additionally, I have been using resources to archive lectures and provide live video feeds for students who are unable to attend class or wish to review the lecture after it was given. This has been very successful in helping accommodate many working students who are still able to participate with the class from a remote location. Although each of these tools requires additional effort to manage, the value added to the class far outweighs the effort. I believe that learning how to use these technologies and resources enhances learning and improves my effectiveness as a teacher.
A positive learning environment begins with encouragement, enthusiasm and compassion. I believe that putting the students’ best interests first can help them feel good about their accomplishments and be happy with their performance. Clearly setting expectations and being respectful in the classroom to create an environment in which students are encouraged to ask questions and participate is vital. I have found that when students feel that they are working together towards the same goal with me as the professor, they perform best. A big part of this is being available to spend time outside of class with students who are struggling or need additional assistance with projects or research. This requires an enormous amount of time, but has been very rewarding.
I anticipate that my teaching philosophy and techniques will continue to evolve as I mature as a teacher. However, I believe that the aforementioned principles will continue to provide a foundation for my interaction with students in the classroom as I strive to become more effective and foster a better learning-centered environment.
 Fink, D.L. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
 Wiemann, C. (2007). Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Science Education? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning. Philadelphia, PA. Taylor & Francis Group.