Philosophy of Teaching
I view teaching within the profession a tremendous responsibility to prepare highly competent occupational therapy practitioners who possess knowledge, skills and confidence in their capacity to make lasting impact in people’s lives and who value lifelong learning. I believe that to be an effective educator, one must engage in and set an example of continually learning about oneself and about one’s vocation, and subsequently make attempts at self-improvement. Over the years, I have relied on two means of achieving continuing competence as an educator: 1) engaging in scholarly teaching and 2) engaging in scholarship of teaching and learning.
Scholarly teaching is accomplished through the use of evidence-based teaching-learning and assessment methods, seeking critique and engaging in peer learning, and reflecting-in-action and on-action. I have taken many opportunities to immerse myself in faculty development programs, as well as engage in readings of periodicals on educational research, trends and philosophies. Along with personal reflections, I strive to find ways to apply what I learn in promoting learning by tweaking how I promote knowledge acquisition (teaching vs. guided active learning vs. self-direction), assess learning, and manage the courses. Additionally, I find necessary to evaluate outcomes and further reflect not only on the immediate effects of change in the course on students' domain knowledge, but also how this learning reverberates throughout their education. I have also taken this process to the “next level” by generating questions about teaching-learning and finding answers through research methods (i.e., SoTL). I am fortunate to be at the bookends of the occupational therapy curriculum so I get to assess their development over time. My experience as an ACOTE evaluator has also guided me to see the big picture that primarily considers the program’s learning outcomes. I seize opportunities to collaborate with faculty who are responsible for related coursework at various points of the curriculum to enhance integration of learning. To that end, I have gained an understanding of teaching and learning as inextricably-linked and complex processes that are actively influenced not only by the educator but also by the student, and the events and contexts that situate the teaching and learning experiences.
From compartmentalized learning to holistic learning
Students may enter the professional phase of their education with pre-existing foundational knowledge but yet-to-be developed professional identity and an understanding of the occupational therapy process. Although students may bring with them relevant life and academic experiences, many students may not fully see the connection between these experiences and the foundational knowledge they possess. Furthermore, knowledge may be in silos and students may have compartmentalized their learning. Students may find academic success through habits of compartmentalized learning (e.g., rote mental rehearsals, cue based learning) but may struggle when the cognitive demands and the expectation of their professional roles require higher level of integration and critical thinking. Therefore, my main objectives are 1) to make explicit to the students the connections between their experiences, their foundational knowledge and current learning; and 2) to encourage holistic learning using Fink’s framework.
To accomplish these objectives, I organize my syllabi and develop assignments and learning activities to: a) present and/or reinforce foundational knowledge; b) provide immediate opportunities for practical or real-life application; c) integrate or make connections with ideas or concepts that might appear or may have appeared elsewhere in the curriculum. In addition, I find it necessary to assess students learning in various ways that demonstrate these three levels: knowledge, application and integration. I also believe that in order to increase the likelihood of knowledge retention, students must be provided with opportunities to practice applying or reproducing the knowledge in various contexts (i.e., knowledge transfer). Mental rehearsal or repetition alone is simply not enough to assure knowledge retention.
Significant learning (or gains in performance) is made when the student engages in intense and context-rich practice conditions. Knowledge is further maintained and enhanced when the student applies the knowledge in various conditions (i.e., transfer of knowledge) and see the connections with other forms of domain knowledge. Conversely, rote practice in isolation (e.g., memorization) and cramming or studying long hours may produce initial mastery; however, the knowledge decays fast when the learner/student does not readily transfer the knowledge to other contexts. To engage students and access students’ foundational knowledge for the purpose of application, I use various strategies of active learning (e.g., cooperative activities, video/paper case-based learning, think-pair-share, self-guided worksheets, concept-mapping, etc.). My lectures are far from traditional – they incorporate discussions, media, learning checkpoints (summary or pop quiz exercises) at various points so that students could remain active participants.
Meaningful feedback and formative assessments foster integrative learning
Acquisition and maintenance of necessary knowledge and skills is further enhanced when students understand the expectations and receive immediate qualitative feedback about their performance. Students are most likely to remain engaged and persist with learning, when the expectations are clear and when they find learning to be a meaningful exercise. Therefore, learning activities must always have explicit objectives and a relevant outcome. I also am a firm believer in the use of grading rubrics to communicate expectations, measure the achievement of objectives and provide more objective feedback about performance.
Rubrics may not always capture nuances and teachable points. When rubrics do not suffice, they must be supplemented with direct feedback that highlights key points on where students performed well and where they may need work. I further reinforce these common points for improvement to the class and provide opportunities for students to discuss their ways of thinking (i.e., metacognitive practice). When connections between points of learning is not clear to the students, I try to role-model my ways of thinking while making explicit the foundational knowledge and past experiences I draw from in arriving at decisions. In cases where students have loose foundation and low confidence or sense of self-efficacy, I use scaffolding strategies to lead students towards self-discovery or self-generation of knowledge.
Fostering a healthy sense of self-efficacy, self-regulation and learning to learn.
I believe in upholding high standards for competency. Students rise up to the challenge with proper modeling and mentoring that fosters a healthy sense of self-efficacy. Mentoring is individualized and requires mutuality of efforts. Effort and persistence are heavily influenced by the student’s perception of his/her likelihood to succeed and by his/her experiences of early successes and failures. Therefore, students must be given early and frequent feedback on performance through a combination of informal and formal formative and summative assessments. As students demonstrate gain confidence and experience mastery, they must be encouraged to self-assess on their learning and achievement.
Students who are accustomed to instant gratification and academic success with ease or have self-expectations higher than their output may find early “failures” discouraging. They too must be coached or advised to engage in meta-cognitive strategies and reflect on their actions and outcomes (e.g., Was the study strategy appropriate for the assessment? Was the strategy effective? Can I apply this knowledge in context and integrate it with knowledge gained from the past and other domain knowledge?). Furthermore, we must continually encourage autonomy and responsibility for their learning. Key to this autonomy and self-direction is being a self-regulated learner. When students are more self-regulated, they are skilled at learning for they have a keener awareness of their own thinking (e.g., How do I think about a problem? Is my thinking process effective?) and their intrinsic motivators (e.g., What are my goals? What does this mean to me?) and subsequently, become more strategic with learning (e.g., What strategies work best for me in a given situation?). Well-designed learning activities and assessments and masterful delivery of content may not be sufficient if students lack the skills to learn. Learning to learn is a skill that does not always evolve over time; it has to be taught. When students do not effectively access the appropriate learning strategy, evaluate the effectiveness of their thinking and strategy use, and relate their learning to their “big picture, ” they are less likely to persist or exert sincere effort, leading to an experience of failure and eventually a lowered sense of self-efficacy.
What I have presented are a set of ideals and practices from which I am constantly striving to achieve and become more consistent. As my view of teaching-and-learning is dynamic, so is my outlook about my own development as an educator. Higher education and the characteristics of our students change; so I adapt with an eye to the big picture. However, when the practice of occupational therapy change or when opportunities for positive change in the profession present itself, I strive to stay at the forefront and make diligent attempts at passing this on to colleagues and students. I believe that the notion of entry-level practice is ever evolving; what was expected of occupational therapy practitioners five years ago is different from now and will be very different five years from now. Thus, through my work as an educator, I hope to instill in students the desire to continually seek professional development and take an active role in the development of the profession.