TY Chen
Teaching Philosophy
I received my first doctorate in Instructional Technology, yet a satire educational fiction, Saber Tooth Curriculum (Peddiwell, 1939), has inspired me in teaching the most in my career as a college faculty member. Addressing the issue of the mismatch between educational theory and practice in the midst of society changes, the book describes how various factors and forces such as how the community and institutional dynamics influence schools and learning activities.
Modern-day faculty members are simultaneously pressed with research, teaching, and service commitments are required to function strategically in the scientific knowledge enterprise of higher education. While demanding, we have seen professors successfully managing the expectations while making substantial contribution to students’ learning and even inspiring their professional development and personal development. While designing quality teaching can be consuming, knowing that I am making a difference is very rewarding, especially when I can see the change in the eyes of my students.
Over time, I realized the dynamic balance among teaching, research, and service is achievable when placing knowledge at the center: that teaching is one element in this knowledge enterprise. Specifically, teaching is a form of knowledge dissemination just like research. With this realization, I have enjoyed teaching and helping students learn and grow. During my ten years teaching courses in Management Information Systems, students have often described me as “professional," which is a term I like being associated with, as it denotes the respect and trust I have earned. Conceptually, I have formulated my reflections on teaching to include the fundamental beliefs as follows:
  1. College teaching is a profession by itself, therefore faculty members need to continuously develop this expertise in order to successfully facilitate learning.
  2. Teaching a course is to deliver a core set of knowledge in a discipline and therefore it makes great sense to connect teaching with research activities.
  3. College students are amazingly capable of learning, and meaningful learning is usually a nonlinear process and involves making as many mistakes as possible. Teaching is to afford such learning process.
  4. College students are responsible for the decisions they make in their course of education, in which college teachers facilitate through offering consultation.
  5. College students learn better with clearly structured instruction, a mixture of individual and collaborative works, and problem-solving with contexts.
Finally, the socio-technical nature of the knowledge domains of information sciences and technology is worth noticing as it makes contextual for the design of instruction. Per the socio-technical perspective, the teaching of information sciences and technology is not only about computational knowledge and skills, but also about the organizational and social contexts, in which organizational problems reside and technological solutions are formulated accordingly.
I believe that faculty members can deliver high quality teaching while fulfilling other responsibilities. I expect myself to continuously serve as a professional enabler of student learning in information sciences and technology domains by strategically engaging myself and students in computational and organizational problem-solving as part of my undertaking in scientific knowledge creation and dissemination.
Instructional Strategies
Teaching is more of an art (performance art, partially) than a science. Since not everyone is born with talent for performing on stage, sound management of instructional elements and adoption of simple instructional strategies are critical for effective teaching to achieve learning goals.
Instructional Management
Given the multiple roles a faculty member plays in higher education, a well-managed instructional portfolio will not only help a faculty member become efficient in managing resources, but more importantly, will serve to maintain the quality of teaching.
While there are professors who are charismatic on podium, I believe that, for most faculty members, it is more important to better manage a teaching portfolio than trying to master instruction delivery as an art form. Some important aspects of instructional management include:
  1. Professionalism: Professionalism does not fail. Students know when a professor is prepared or not in each class meeting, and they will know who impacts on their career soon after, if not before, graduation. I also believe that charisma or being entertaining is hard to maintain over time, while being professional makes it easy to be consistent. Some common signs of professionalism include: sufficient preparation, clear presentation, rich information, respect for students, and willingness to work with students. For example, in technical courses, live coding demonstrations would give students a context through exposure. Live demonstration, of course, can only be achieved through sufficient preparation.
  2. Planning: Most students will not pay much attention to a course syllabus unless they are asked to. However, a detailed syllabus actually servers more than a course guideline to the students. In addition to outline the semester and highlight course rules, writing a detailed syllabus specific to weekly topics and activities actually helps the the faculty member become systematic in the adoption of materials and activities. When taking to its utmost, detailed planning is like professors writing their own textbooks, which would be equal to (MO)OCs (Massive Open Online Courses) nowadays when instruction is also made online.
  3. Course Portfolios & Organization: Especially in information sciences and technology courses, domain knowledge may evolve constantly updated. A course portfolio makes it efficient to keep up to date with domain changes. For example, broadly speaking, fields like artificial intelligence (including machine learning, deep learning) and data science (including data mining, data analysis, data analytics, business analytics) can be developed as interrelated courses in different majors and at different levels. Organizing the course topics into modules and levels as portfolios would allow easy organization for the creation and update of syllabi. In addition, the module-chapter-topic organization structure presented in the syllabus and presentation helps students build a conceptual map of the course, which greatly facilitates organization cognitively, especially when a textbook is not strictly followed.
  4. Essentialism: While there are always more to teach than the time allows, for content materials, including only the essential topics and exploring to the depth that students are able to transfer the knowledge and skills learned to future learning. An example for this is data structures and algorithms. Instead of trying to cover everything in a 800-page textbook, it makes better sense to teach the essential topics, judging by the curricular design of the program, and give students enough time to practice to a degree of mastery. The same principle applies to the adoption of instructional and learning activities. A mixture of a small number of activities across the semester keeps the course interesting with a flow that is clean and easy to follow.
The RECC Approach
There are numerous teaching strategies and learning activities available for a college teacher to choose from and some faculty members would form their own strategies. For general instructional strategies in college teaching, I have found that the mixture of 1) explicit/direct instruction, 2) problem-based learning, 3) project-based collaborative learning strategies effective and have extensively applied such mixture in designing instructional delivery and learning activities. While theses strategies address the cognitive aspects of instruction, a teacher-student relationship based on respect is necessary for successful instructional delivery. In addition, for many courses, providing a social context such as career inspirations would make cognitive learning meaningful for students. My general design framework of college instruction can therefore be summarized as follows:
  1. Respect: Respect is the core of professional teacher-student relationship in higher education. I respect students as capable learners, trust them as responsible decision-makers, and expect them to act accordingly. Students always sense my respect for them through my teaching and professional actions, and the respect and resulted trust soon become mutual.
  2. Explicit Instruction: According to explicit/direct instruction, it is critical to deliver the contents as organized and clearly as possible. For technical courses, direct instruction methods such as lecturing and demonstration are always necessary before bringing in other instructional activities. The basic six steps of direct instruction include 1) introduction/review, 2) present new material, 3) guided practice, 4) feedback, 5) independent practice, and 6) evaluation/review. Classroom assessment techniques (CATs) such as background knowledge probe or minute paper using exit slips can provide good formative evaluation information for continuous improvement of instruction. For technical courses, small live demonstrations can give students a good sense of problem-solving and thus reduce uncertainty. One other thing I usually do is to annotate my presentation slides so that students can always access to resources or details about the topics.
  3. Collaboration: With common understanding of concepts and facts established through direct instruction, the instructor can then lead students to problem-solving activities, which is better in the form of group-work when teaching novice learners. For computational and design courses, it makes good sense for students to solve problems by creating artifacts together, in which students are expected to work together and help each other just like in the real world. In this sense, project-based collaborative learning gives students opportunity to learning how to work in teams as much as applying the concepts and skills.
  4. Context: Students would pay more attention to teaching if the class is presented as meaningful and relevant, either practically or theoretically. Providing a social, theoretical, or even hypothetical context for instruction is to create the needed relevancy to better keep students in the learning mode. For example, career scenarios (e.g., programmer vs. business analyst, job salary surveys, etc) are helpful information for students in information sciences and technology majors, especially for students in upper level courses. An example of theoretical relevance is referencing topics in other courses, which helps students make conceptual connections to their prior knowledge. Once the relevance exists cognitively, learning become meaningful and natural.
Flipped Learning
My new favorite teaching strategy is flipped learning. As Alison King (1993) suggested, based on a constructivist view of learning, college teachers should not be "sage on the stage" but rather "guide on the side," which represents the essence of flipped learning. Adopting an instructional strategy such as flipped learning, however, requires ample resources and design preparations so I plan to adopt it gradually while turning my courses to MOOCs for flipped learning.
Online Learning
Online learning, whether synchronous, asynchronous, or online blended with onsite face-to-face instruction, is becoming a norm in higher education. The advent of MOOCs (massive online open courses) in late 2000s has drawn attention from educators with the development milestones such as 1) the success of Khan Academy, 2) Peter Norvig and Sebastien Thrun's offering Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, and 3) the founding of educational MOOC platforms such as Udacity, Coursera, and edX, followed by the commercial MOOC sites such as Udemy and LinkedIn Learning. These MOOC sites offer good inspirations for the design of online learning. In the case of blended learning, a good design strategy is to use MOOCs for information provision, i.e., students learning about facts and concepts before coming to class for problem-solving as knowledge construction. What most educators concern about online learning, however, is whether it can be as engaging as traditional face-to-face teaching. This question can be answered by the transactional distance theory of Michael Moore, which, instead of physical distance, addresses the "transactional" distance of learning focusing on structuring learning, creating interaction, and cultivate learner autonomy.
Teaching as part of the scholarly endeavors of a faculty member. I have successful experience in college teaching information science and technology and will strive to meet the exciting challenges of cultivating future technology professionals, industry leaders, and academic researchers in the field of information science and technology. For overall course design, my experience has taught me that students appreciate lectures and topics to be cohesively organized. Making connection to earlier lectures and reference to the prerequisite courses are highly desirable because it helps student organize a larger knowledge map for better understanding and sense-making. While there is so much to teach in one subject domain, I remind myself to focus on a set of major concepts and skills with deeper explications for mastery. As a result, I have been able to teach beyond general topics to acquaint my students with advanced ideas and theoretical constructs to promote critical thinking and elicit scholarly interests. For so many times, my students have amazed me by showing how fast they can grasp the difficult concepts and how creatively they can apply what they have learned when they are given opportunities to do so. The implications of this phenomenon for IT educators may include: 1) general IT skills (soft, communications, and teamwork) are important as technical skills; I would explicitly take the role of a professional in my realm and a facilitator in learning. I encourage students to make their decisions for their learning, take the responsibilities for their decisions, and would help with problems followed when I can. Along with the employment of instructional strategies are the design of corresponding assessment and evaluation techniques. System design and development projects, for example, require checkpoints before the final demonstration. General skills are better assessed through the application of specific analytic techniques with organizational context. Laboratory sessions, on the other hand, are perfect for sharpening technical skills while students practice and solve small sets of problems as part of their evaluation. In the ancient times, schools were developed to teach survival skills to the young generations, although institutionalization had brought both effectiveness and bureaucracy, teaching was not religionalized. My doubts and questions were answered by a balanced view of educational system , which a friend talked about when we were in the teachers college: The development of such frameworks are better achieved when students feel or know what they are learning is relevant in some ways meaningful, useful, or at least interesting. Due to the socio-technical nature, even the foundational courses can be developed with relevance to the practice of scientific domains and fortunately, scholars and educators have made many well-written textbooks available. Introductory programming, for example, can be tied to automation of schooling tasks so students can easily relate to when learning the coding skills and background math. Applied courses may involve practice domains such as project management, business processes, and decision support. With brief introduction to the background and terminology, students can engage in their learning with a context. For example, for term projects, asking students to automate a business flow such as online banking using the skills learned would make the activity more relevant and relatable. In addition, such realistic projects would foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills. in organizational and societal contexts through learning, practicing, and evaluating scientific knowledge and technical skills in the multidisciplinary field of information technology. case studies or concept maps to assist students formulating mental structures of the domain. Technical term projects can be given with organizational background to make the project feel tangible. While a professor can demonstrate highly sophisticated computational skills and coding strategies in class, students will really learn the skills when they have the opportunity to make sense of the skills by putting them into work with a context they can relate to. Conceptual Frameworks After each course, students should develop a coherent conceptual framework of related scientific knowledge, positive attitude, and technical skills in a domain of information science technology. Learning Modules However, I have also learned that it is critical not to over-complicate student learning experience. Therefore, I explicitly modularize my instructional design in each course to use no more than three strategies. For example, a general IT course may consist of a technical skills module, a general skills module, and a group project module. As a proponent of self-regulated learning, I expect some student enthusiasts are able to self-teach and excel skill sets on their own. I therefore explicitly show students their learning paths and encourage students with special interest to accelerate ahead when their self-directive learning processes are triggered. This approach is also great in accommodating the individual differences and student diversity because they feel safe and respected in the learning space created by the professor. In my own experience, when learning to code, beginning students (especially female and disadvantaged groups), may be prone to frustration and leave the program before they figure out how easy it is and how much capability they possess. A trusted professional relationship will help because students would feel safe to admit and face their frustration, and follow by more practice and learn from making mistakes. Once students recognize the professionalism of the instructor, students would begin to operate at the higher levels in the hierarchy of needs as advocated by Maslow, which means more active and meaningful learning. I make sure rules are made clear and followed I surprise students by bringing some candy to the class. In addition to classrooms, I consider other communication channels enabling elements for a learnable environment: office hours, feedback in assignment grading, and email correspondence. The recently heated topics of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics, for example, all have their root in data mining; and many concepts and techniques are broadly interchangeable. Such understanding is reflected in the Information Technology Curricula 2017 endorsed by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and IEEE Computer Society, in which the competences in both general and technical competencies and importance of learning transfer are highlighted. I laughed the most when I read Saber Tooth Curriculum in the parts where the author describe how the teacher preparation programs tried to professionalize themselves. It turns out that my early views of education had focused too much on the ideal roles of educator. They were great ideas but I should not have expected myself to carry all the responsibilities alone. These beliefs would seem extremely general. To put them into perspective, belief 1 positions the instructor role of a university faculty member as teaching professional delivering knowledge to students in addition to creating knowledge through research and disseminate knowledge through publication; belief 2 points out the trust placed in students as being capable of learning (making mistakes is part of learning and therefore should be encouraged); belief 3 extends belief 4 to explicitly clarify on the responsibility of students; and belief 4 entails the instructional strategies to be employed based on belief 1 to belief 3.
planning/design/preparation, instruction delivery (learning activities, and feedback/evaluation. (Note: career advice may be desired as part of the relevance element). For course preparation, I always make sure the a syllabus provide thorough information about the course in detail to serve as a guide for the class operations throughout the term. Also, a syllabus serves as the basis for communication. Rules such as attendance and grading are explicitly stated and topics, assignments, and due dates are scheduled. My PowerPoint slides are well-organized and formatted, consistent in style, and annotated with references. I think students could have problems or questions or deserve special attention, I prepare callout notes, visual aids, diagrams, and linkable resources. For instructional delivery, I pace my presentation to make sure students are following and maintain eye contact with all students to make sure students are paying attention and no one feels ignored. The classroom atmosphere is friendly and focused on learning. Live demonstration is used when introducing to technical skills to show students coding in action. For feedback and evaluation, I usually collect exit tickets and class assessment techniques for formative evaluation to adjust and improve my instruction. Assignment are made available early and grades are released soon after deadline (immediately if computer-automated) so that students can receive feedback in time to be responsive to students.