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My teaching philosophy

I was recently asked to write my teaching philosophy in under 500 words. This is what I came up with and I wanted to share it as a part of the general conversation here around education and design:

My teaching philosophy is grounded in three understandings, that: (1) learning is sociocultural and relational in nature; (2) active, experiential, and authentic learning produces intrinsic motivation; and (3) a skilled educator can only produce the conditions for learning, not the learning itself.

  1. Humans develop their cognitive abilities within a social and cultural context and through interactions with other beings (Vygotsky, 1978). While we can learn directly from experience (constructing cognitive connections in the Paigetian sense), it is through our relationships with other beings within a cultural context that we learn how to learn and what we care about learning. Knowledge is thus constructed by learners who are socioculturally individuated. By the time I teach a student they are already complex, empathic beings who will construct new knowledge from within this socioculturally constructed understanding of the world—and when they learn from me or their peers it will be filtered throughthe qualities of the relationships between us/them.
  2. Humans feel intrinsically motivated to learn when their basic psychological needs are met (Deci & Ryan (2000). This involves feeling competent for learning (we are motivated if we have the necessary abilities or prerequisite knowledge), relationality (we are motivated if we feel that learning will connect us to other humans); and autonomy (we are motivated when we feel we can learn in a way that is in harmony with our beliefs about the world). This leads me to use active, collaborative, authentic learning tasks in my teaching that respect students’ existing knowledge, that give them opportunities to collaborate, and that are experiential. Intrinsic motivation improves student engagement, enjoyment, and learning outcomes.
  3. As an educator, I conceive of myself as being able to influence learning in two ways (Goodyear & Dimitriadis, 2013): (a) through my design for learning; and (b) through my behaviour at learntime when interacting with learners in a learning environment. In my design for learning I am able to design the setting for learning (set design), the social relationships that are fostered (social design), the knowledge objects used and epistemic approaches supported (epistemic design), and for student autonomy (design for co-configuration).

Further, I side with Paulo Freire in his suggestion that pedagogy is never neutral: it is either politically conscious (i.e., aware of power relations within society) or else it implicitly supports the status quo (Freire, 1970/2013).

In summary:

The students that I teach come to my units as complex humans with their own knowledge, culture, ways of socialising, and ways of learning. I want to create the conditions that support each student in their learning. Active, authentic, experiential, and collaborative learning will support student engagement, motivate them, respect their knowledge, and help them to achieve learning outcomes. Doing that requires diligent design for learning, and care in the way that I relate to students in my class. This form of pedagogy supports my belief in a just and democratic society, as does the content that I choose to engage with in teaching the necessary skills, mindsets, and methods.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The” what” and” why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.

Freire, P. (2013). Pedagogy of the oppressed (pp. 131-139). Routledge.

Goodyear, P., & Dimitriadis, Y. (2013). In medias res: reframing design for learning. Research in learning technology, 21.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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