My teaching philosophy has three main parts. The first comes primarily from the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who argued that students have a “zone of proximal development” (ZPD) in which it is the teacher’s job to instruct them. Using the idea of the ZPD, I strive constantly to assess my students’ knowledge (what do they know now?), think about the ultimate goal of my instruction (where do I want them to be at the end of the course/lecture/discussion?), and come up with ways to scaffold their learning to bridge the gap between the two. In the course of my scaffolding (providing just enough support to help my students move their own learning forward), I constantly reassess and adjust my instruction accordingly.
One of the best ways to teach my students in this way is through hands-on instruction. With my work as the field research coordinator for the Mexican Migration Field Research Program, I have been fortunate to have a research project that my students work on throughout the year as they develop their research skills. This year-long course has a structure (instruction in research methods in the fall quarter, actual research in the winter quarter, and instruction in data analysis and write-up in the spring quarter) that provides instruction in and practical application of research skills to enable students to become proficient researchers. It is the type of project I plan to employ in my own future work as a professor.
The third element of my teaching philosophy is the use of technology. While technology can be overused in ways that add little to traditional methods of instruction, I selectively employ useful technologies to provide engaging and useful instruction. For example, I often use a projector to display my students’ work and make notes on it, thus instructing students both how I assess their work as well how they can improve it. Providing the visual overview of the feedback proces greatly improves student learning. In all cases, I believe in using technology not for its own sake, but in ways that actually improves student learning.