Teaching Philosophy

My approach to teaching combines two important ideas: reflective teaching and scholarly teaching. While these are similar in nature, I distinguish between them: reflective teaching is the internal process of thinking about my teaching and learning from it, while scholarly teaching is external, based on evidence and interaction with the wider pedagogical community. I believe the core of what distinguishes my teaching from ordinary teaching is a practiced intentionality around the activities I engage in during the teaching process.

This process requires two elements – first, examining and re-examining what I believe is important or essential about a course or a subject (reflective teaching). This includes the soul-searching all teachers do, as well as conversations with my colleagues, students, and community partners to get different perspectives on what the “big idea” of a course is (or should) be. Second, it requires using evidence and scholarship regarding what and how different elements should be incorporated into my courses (scholarly teaching).

This necessitates a continual, iterative approach to teaching which directly informs my educational leadership. My approach means that I must be an innovator in my teaching: I am constantly trying new tools or tweaking existing ones. When this approach expands beyond my own classroom, it becomes educational leadership. It also guides my work in the scholarship of teaching and learning (as described in elsewhere on this site); when I can’t find good answers in the scholarly literature, I am motivated to provide my own experiences and add to the scholarship in this area. It also motivates my work in curriculum development when I develop new kinds of learning environments and improve the curricula we deliver to students.

I am a constant innovator in terms of teaching techniques and tools. However, I always try to remain intentional about what I am doing and why – I avoid the “gee-whiz” attraction to things which are exciting or new (for teachers) until I can integrate them intentionally into my classrooms. This had led me to some surprising decisions; for example, I have iteratively eliminated classroom response systems (such as iClickers or TopHat) from my medium-sized lectures. Why? Based on student feedback and evidence, in classes of this size and type they do no better than alternative learning experiences such as “think-pair-share” and require costly (in terms of both time and money) investments on the part of both students and instructors. I believe technology has an important role in education, but I believe that role needs to be an intentional one – a principle I have adopted in my teaching.

Effective Teaching: What it Means to Me

I believe that engaged learning is essential to effective teaching. While I came to this intuitively at first, as I have learned more about learning and teaching, I identify most strongly with three of the principles of engaged learning: engagement with the learning process, engagement with the object of study, and engagement with the context of learning (Bowen, 2005).

For me, engagement in the learning process means that students come to care about their own learning, and take an active role in it. The ultimate goal is for my students to move beyond external motivation for learning (e.g. pass the course, get a job) and to exhibit intrinsic motivation (e.g. discovery, curiosity) (see the discussion in (Holmes and Abington-Cooper, 2000)). My innovation in the classroom is purposeful: I am constantly seeking the right balance of learning experiences which will guide my students past passive skill or knowledge acquisition and into self-direction.

I also emphasize the process of learning, providing students with ample opportunities to correct mistakes and demonstrate improvement. For example, in the majority of my classes, I allow students to automatically drop their midterm if they show improvement on the final exam. I work very diligently to make sure the purpose and structure of assessments is clear, and supports learning not as an outcome, but as an ongoing behaviour. The object of study for my students is economics, which is a true social science: both simultaneously social and human, while also technical and scientific. Modern economics emphasizes more than anything else a particular kind of critical thinking – most textbooks call it “thinking like an economist” (for example, (Mankiw, 2014) and see a discussion in (Zuidhof, 2014)). This involves an analytical and logical approach to the world around us, relying on careful reasoning, explicit models, and a desire to validate (either through theory or data). Engagement with the object of study means, for me, engaging in economic thinking; not the models, not the knowledge, not the methods, but the reasoning behind them. In order to accomplish this, I strive for authenticity – experiential learning in language of pedagogy.

All of these share a desire to be authentic; when I am authentic in my teaching, I am trying to communicate and instill in my students an understanding of why learning is important, to share my love of ideas and their connections. Authenticity is sometimes viewed as being an attribute of engaged learning practice (Bowen, 2005), but I view it as the as the opposite: it is motivation, not process. When teaching is authentic, learning is engaged, and I am most able to achieve my learning outcomes in my classroom.

  • Stephen Bowen. Engaged learning: Are we all on the same page? Peer review, 7(2):4, 2005.
  • Geraldine Holmes and Michele Abington-Cooper. Pedagogy vs. andragogy: A false dichotomy. The Journal of Technology Studies, 26(2):50-55, 2000.
  • N Gregory Mankiw. Principles of economics. Cengage Learning, 2014.
  • Peter-Wim Zuidhof. Thinking like an economist: The neoliberal politics of the economics textbook. Review of Social Economy, 72(2):157{185, 2014.