“Time for class. Please take out a piece of paper and a pen. For the next five minutes, please reflect and write on the question: ‘Are you ready to apply what you are learning in class to social work practice? Why or why not?’”
In social work education, we have a high call to respond to. We are not in the sole pursuit of fostering learning as is the historical objective of university education, but in the preparation of graduates who can thoughtfully act on their learning in social arenas around the world. With this in mind, I guide my teaching by the following learning objectives, teaching methods, evaluative processes, and development strategies.
The ultimate purpose of my teaching is to build the professional capacity of university and departmental students, and prepare them for conscientious social work practice, policy work, and research. Towards the achievement of this end goal, my teaching objectives are more specifically to:
1. Foster enthusiasm;
2. Engage students in reciprocal teaching and learning;
3. Cultivate assessment, critical thinking, and evaluation skills;
4. Facilitate students’ cross-course integration, practical application, and professional development; and
5. Equip students with information acquisition and management skills.
To achieve these objectives, I use a combination of integrated teaching methods, strategies, and tools in my formal and informal teaching and mentoring activities, to create significant opportunities for learning.
I am most informed by post-modern, constructivist, and active learning theories. I prefer to foster a transparent and collaborative relationship with my students wherein I can encourage them, through varied and meaningful learning activities, to interact with the course content—“explore it, handle it, relate it to their own experience, and challenge it whatever their level of expertise” (Weimer, 2002, p.13). As a result of these theoretical underpinnings, I believe that students learn best when: they are active and reciprocal participants; teaching methods are varied; course objectives, activities, and means of evaluation are integrated, practical, and meaningful; and the teacher is passionate about the subject matter and students’ engagement.
In my course design, I try to offer optimal engagement with course material, learning activities, and assignments. Between classes, I traditionally provide my students with brief high-quality readings, small group work, discussions, assignments, and feedback. In class, I vary my methods of delivery, but most often include mini-lectures, in-class demonstrations, discussions, and small group and class activities. Then, to best engage my students in class as well as balance content and application, I seek to change learning activities every 20 minutes. I also occasionally reduce quantity of content in exchange for quality, following the learner-centered argument made by Weimer (2002) that sometimes less is more and that “some content must go” in order to make room for information processing, skill development, hands-on practice, and meaning making (p. 55).
To share a few examples of what my course designs and teaching may look like, I can describe my approach to teaching research methods. While making accommodations for the different levels and scopes of practice for my undergraduate and graduate research methods students, I generally seek opportunities to engage my students in the different steps of the research process. This has included class activities wherein we participate in a mock research study in class, and then explore in-vivo hypothesis making, study design, data collection, data entry or transcription, and data coding and analysis. I have also, when permitted, sought out service learning opportunities for my students, wherein for course credit they participate in a local program evaluation as survey administrators or data analysts. Finally, I have also implemented what is called “flipping the classroom,” wherein students watch pre-made lecture videos for preparation and then come to class ready to practice, apply, and consult on their evidence-informed practice skills through class activities and assignments. My goal is to bring research methods and skills to life in the classroom. So, while it may not be possible for students to engage in a full research project from beginning to end within the limited confines of the academic semester, they might still see, practice, and apply the skills reviewed in the course and then, better integrate them into social work practice.
I perceive assessment and evaluation of teaching to be a frequent and ongoing process, based on frequent individual and class check-ins, mid- and end-of-semester student evaluations, colleague observations, class participation rates, and assignment performance. I also believe that true to integrated course design, methods of student evaluation should directly reflect teaching/learning objectives and activities (Fink, 2005). As such, I prefer to design course activities and assignments that directly support at least one of my student learning objectives and at least one of the course objectives.
Commitment to Teaching
I have been committed to teaching for over a decade. I have volunteered as an elementary school mentor; taught English as a Second Language in Belgium, Romania, and England; assisted with an undergraduate English Literature course; and peer-mentored a first semester PhD statistics course. I have also assisted with or taught over 10 different social work research and practicum courses at the Bachelors, Masters, and PhD levels as well as completed the University of Utah’s Higher Education Teaching Specialist (HETS) training program. In the next couple of years, I plan to further develop my teaching by expanding my development and teaching of online courses.
Overall, I am committed to teaching excellence so that my students might respond thoughtfully and positively on a writing exercise regarding their readiness to apply their learning to social work practice.