My Philosophy of Teaching

Rodin's "The Thinker"Over the years, I have resisted the idea of coming up with a “teaching philosophy.” The one’s I’ve read were so fluffy and fuzzy and full of flatulent flummery that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Nor could I ever quite make out just what “help students realize their full potential,” or “assist in the actualization of student intellectual growth,” or “nurture joy and wonder in the art of learning” really means, if anything real at all. Admittedly, I brought to the issue a deeply-ingrained sense that all such pronouncements were, prima facia, nonsense. Vague, vacuous, but voluminous bullshit, not to be taken seriously.

Recently, though, my views on the idea of having an explicit teaching philosophy have modified somewhat. To be sure, I still find little real content in the usual platitudes applied to the cause. I have no more patience for them than I had before. All that is twaddle, pure and simple. But to say I have no teaching philosophy at all would be just wrong. Of course I do. No one could teach, or do anything else for that matter, without some sort of principles or ideas guiding him, however sub rosa and tacit those may be. What, then, are my principles–okay, what is my philosophy–when it comes to teaching? For my own sake, I should make it explicit. Students, or potential students, should be aware of it also.

[Note: If you comment on this posting and the AP article, relating them to your own experiences, you’ll receive 5 extra-credit points in whatever course of mine you are registered. It is your responsibility to call my attention to your comment. Click on the “Comments” link below (it might say “No Comments” if you are the first one).]

Well, here it is below, broken down into propositions and numbered in causal order–each postulate leading to the next. Keep in mind that what follows applies most directly to the teaching of adults in a college or university setting. The reader will also notice that these philosophical points are nearly as much about learning as they are teaching.

1. Teaching is the human connection between persons that allows for the transmission of knowledge and skill–one mind touching another mind.

2. As a matter of human connection, teaching is not a process, procedure, or technique, but rather a consensual and intellectual communion between teacher and learner. Both teacher and learner must consent.

3. Teaching is not something that is done to someone else. The adult is not taught. Instead, the adult learns.

4. The ultimate burden of learning is on the learner, if he or she is an adult, and shared by teacher, learner, and parent if the learner is a child, but only until such time as the learner becomes a responsible adult.

5. One can learn without a directly- or personally-involved teacher. One can learn from books and from other media. One can also learn from oneself. That is what experience is.

6. The most fruitful role a teacher of adults can play is that of guide. An adult can teach himself, but he profits from the guidance of a scholar, practitioner, or other knower.

7. Oral communication, teacher-to-learner, is best reserved for guidance rather than detailed content. Other forms of communication greatly exceed the capacity of speech for substantive material.

8. The organization of teaching and learning into courses, classes, schools, colleges, and universities are for matters only of logistical convenience and the allocation of scarce communal (e.g., public) resources. The individual teacher-learner connection remains the essence of education in spite of the appearance of collective activity.

9. For an adult, the most important work of learning takes place away from the presence of the teacher. The teacher points to the work to be done and the learner does it, either alone or in voluntary association with other learners working on the same materials.

10. That learning is taking place is the essential justification for whatever activity engages the time and energies of learner and teacher. Institutional functions associated with screening and credentialing (grades, degrees, etc.) are subordinate and ancillary to learning, and may even interfere if allowed.

11. The necessary posture of the learner is humility, the realization he has things to learn.

12. The necessary posture of the teacher is duty. His first obligation is to the student rather than the institution that employs him.

13. Teaching and learning are subversive in both their motives and their affects. The fundamental purpose of education is to change the status quo.

Each of these deserves plenty of elaboration, qualification, and backpedaling. I will provide all that in coming posts.

[For all the articles in this series, click on the Teaching Philosophy link below or under Categories to the right.]

Be a Napster for Better Studying

You ought to take a look at this article on the LifeHacker blog: “Naps Can Seriously Improve All-Day Learning.” Here’s an excerpt:

Taking a 90-minute nap the day of a test or presentation sounds like a ludicrous luxury. But a recent study on the brain’s ability to recall facts found that napping at noon could mean a lot more brain power at 6 p.m.

Here’s the link: bit.ly/aJ1lSM

Here’s a link to a similar recent article in Scientific American:

www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=to-learn-better-sleep-on-it-10-02-24

and one in Medical New Today: www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/180304.php

Thoughts on Laptop or Notebook Computer Use in the Classroom


To help formulate my thoughts regarding student use of laptop or notebook computers during class sessions, I asked my colleagues at Southern Oregon University to respond to a survey regarding their own ideas and policies. I reported on the results of this survey in an earlier post.

With their input and my own experience over the last few years in mind, I have tentatively concluded the following.

  1. Laptop or notebook computers can be very useful in taking, storing, sorting, finding, and printing notes taken by a student during class sessions.  In addition to regular word-processing programs, a number of other applications have been designed to streamline note taking in class.
  2. Continue reading →

Survey Results: Student Laptop or Notebook Use in Class

A few weeks ago, I launched a survey asking SOU faculty about the student use of laptop computers in class. SurveyMonkey collected responses from fifty-four responders. Here are the summary results.

Do you allow students to use laptop/notebook computers in class?
Yes 82% No 18%

From six departments, there were zero “No” answers from BiologyCCJHPELHPSSSPC, and TheatreArt had the greatest proportion of “No” answers (2/3), followed by CPME (1/2), ES (1/3) Lang/Lit/Forgn (2/6, both in English), and  Psych (1/3).

If you allow laptop/notebook computer use in class, do you have specific policies regarding that use?
Yes 24% No 61% No Answer 15%.

23 out of 54 respondents reported they had specific policies regarding laptop/notebook use. Continue reading →

Tech Tip 1: Study Slides

Here’s an idea: use slides from your professor’s presentations as the “wallpaper” for your Windows screen.  Check out the Lifehacker article, “Set Study Slides as Rotating Wallpaper,” here: http://bit.ly/blCAXB.

Just imagine making this diagram (right) of a theoretical mercantile empire I prepared for my Colonial America course the background of your Windows desktop!  You’d have it down in no time!  You’d be inspired to dig deeper into the nature of Anglo-French-Dutch trade in the eighteenth century! You’d leap with joy when you learn the details of the Hat Act of 1732, or the Iron Act of 1750! You’d . . . . okay, just take a look at the article.

A Hard-Liner

Dr. Steven Dutch

Dr. Steven I. Dutch of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay has had a long and full career as a professor of Earth and environmental science, as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve in Iraq and Bosnia, and as a working scientist with a long list of in-the-field research. Through all that, he has had a clearly-defined ethos of personal responsibility and effort. As a university professor, he urges this ethos on his students, and judges them accordingly. Though I have a few quibbles with his wording (especially his endorsement of the use of “customer” in higher education), I find his points of views to be both interesting and refreshing.

The following is from his web document, “Top Ten No Sympathy Lines.” Continue reading →

How to Find Sources in the Hannon Library (Part 4)

The series continues . . .

1. Develop a list of search terms.
2. Develop a list of search sources.
3. Create a working bibliography.
4. Sort your sources.
5. “Mine” for Citations.
6. Create Final Bibliography.

4.Sort your sources. Make two piles of your sources cards: one for items the Hannon library owns, and one for items you must request from Summit or ILL. Once you have the two piles, order either the Summit or ILL items online. You should have the books you’ve ordered within two days. For the items the Hannon Library owns, I suggest you try to use them in the library. That way, when you run across a citation in one of the books, you can add it to your working bibliography and, if SOU has the book, you can deal with it immediately.

For citations that refer to journal articles, some may be available as “full text” online. These can usually be saved as PDF files and examined later. Some articles, though, you may have to pull the bound volumes in the SOU collection. In a few cases, you may need to use the ILL system to order an article. It could come to you as either a paper copy or as a PDF file via email.

The series continues with “How to Find Sources in the Hannon Library (Part ).”

How to Find Sources in the Hannon Library (Part 3)

The series continues . . .

  1. Develop a list of search terms.
  2. Develop a list of search sources.
  3. Create a working bibliography.
  4. Sort your sources.
  5. “Mine” for Citations.
  6. Create Final Bibliography.

3. Create a working bibliography. With your list of search terms and sources to search, begin to collect a bibliography of books, articles, and perhaps primary sources on your topic. It is usually most convenient to use blank or lined index cards to record each citation you wish to pursue. Adopting a standard format for your citation cards will help you later. Each card should include the following information: Continue reading →

How to Find Sources in the Hannon Library (Part 2)

The series continues . . .

  1. Develop a list of search terms.
  2. Develop a list of search sources.
  3. Create a working bibliography.
  4. Sort your sources.
  5. “Mine” for Citations.
  6. Create Final Bibliography.

2. Develop a list of search sources. A search source is a catalog, or index, or bibliography in which you hope to find citations to books and articles. Since you need to use both book and journal article materials, a minimum list would look like this (and more or less in the order you would search them) :

  • AHA Guide to Historical Literature
  • Historical Dictionaries/Encyclopedias
  • Specialized bibliographies
  • Summit Union Catalog
  • EBSCO Host databases

Depending on your topic, you may need to use many others as well. If it is a topic in United States history after 1851, you can find useful newspaper citations in the New York Times Index. Our library has the Times on microfilm from 1851 on. Continue reading →

How to Find Sources in the Hannon Library (Part 1)

The Len and Dixie Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University is small compared to many academic libraries, but its history collections are well-developed and cover most of world history. Students facing the task of locating useful and important source materials can find themselves confused and lost in a maze of books, journals, and reference materials.

Nevertheless, most student research will require at least some use of off-campus or electronic delivery of books and articles. The Summit Union Catalog Consortium, of which the Hannon Library is a member, can provide most of what you need from off-campus with only a few days wait. Items not held within the Summit system can be requested by ILL with delivery times in most cases of one to two weeks. Given the short academic terms at SOU, early planning and preparation in your research is a must.

Over the next several postings, I will present a number of ideas and suggestions to make your library research task easier and more satisfying.

Here is an outline of the library research process.

  1. Develop a list of search terms.
  2. Develop a list of search sources.
  3. Create a working bibliography.
  4. Sort your sources.
  5. “Mine” for Citations.
  6. Create Final Bibliography.

1. Develop a list of search terms. You will use these to search on-line in the Summit union catalog (which of course includes materials owned by SOU), and to search in printed indexes, bibliographies, and other finding aids. Continue reading →