14 March 2019

My "Teaching" Style - Learning by Doing It Yourself

For the last few years, I have been given the lofty title of "professor" at Eastern New Mexico University and led a college-level course in Information Technology Management. You might find my choice of wording strange, but it more accurately reflects how I tend to approach the learning process and what is meant to accomplish.

Some guiding principles in teaching and learning that I find universally applicable:

Being Productive rather than Consumptive

When you see a need (market opportunity), your tendency should be to create a new solution to address that need, rather than only complaining and waiting for someone else to address it for you.  This applies to curriculum creation, learning opportunities, entrepreneurship, parenting - basically any facet of life.

I encourage those taking my courses to produce work that is worthy of publication in a professional journal or blog.  There is little sense in spending time writing a paper that only one person will ever read - publish it!

Learning rather than Being Taught

This puts the focus of action on the seeker of learning (student) rather than a teacher. Too often, students get frustrated that I am not up in front of the class (metaphorically - I lead a web-based course) and doing the heavy-lifting of education for them. I end up simply facilitating and evaluating their efforts to gain their own learning through a textbook and explorations from a variety of sources.  I rarely present myself as an authority in the course subject - I hope to behave more like a fellow seeker of learning who has gone further in the journey and can share the wisdom gained from a greater experience and a longer study.  This is where I get the term "leader" rather than teacher.

Learners Prioritize the Things that are Important to Them in a Larger World

The "student" is in control of priorities in their lives. Although I supervise a course, the learner determines how much effort they put into it, which reflects in their grade, and when/whether to take a course. Too often, students expect me, as the course-runner, to alter the conditions of course for them so as to work around family or health needs, essentially requiring me to change requirements to suit them and their circumstances and desires. I rarely comply with this sort of request - one cannot change the sea, only the way one approaches it. It does a student no good to have every course "requirement" shift about at their pleasure when reality, to which education is meant to be a preparation, is rarely so accommodating.

Too often, expectations are that a teacher is responsible for the grades of students, as seen by making adjustments for poor student progress, rounding up scores, or trying to ascertain a student's optimal learning modality (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) and using a variety of techniques that "reach" each learner where they are. As I teach those who should be adults, I prefer to put the responsibility on the student to rise to the stated course standard, to seek out sources and modalities that they best comprehend, and to approach competence under their own power.  Responsibility for learning must be placed on the learner, especially in the expanding marketplace of knowledge and experience, of which "college" is a increasingly small player.

Do rather than Watch; Stand rather than Sit

I come from the world of home economics, which is built on the concept of the skilled demonstration. A student watches with the understanding that they will then practice and ultimately demonstrate themselves, first to a "teacher" to certify proficiency, and then to others as a demonstrator in their own right. I am a firm believer in the value of demonstrated competence beyond book-work.  One learns best by doing, first under tutelage in controlled circumstances, later with fewer restraints.

Portfolios of work already done, showing a progression in complexity or refinement, are excellent indicators to ourselves and others that we can accomplish what we propose to do.  Be it a collection of art or a resume of positions held and projects completed, we show our demonstrated competence that should grow over time. Though we may list the names of people we originally studied under, few can successfully just ride coattails - we will ultimately have to show our independent worth beyond our degrees and mentors.

I will readily admit that having a teacher take responsibility for the "success" of their students is more profitable to the institution and less stressful to consumers in the short term of a college "career". Sadly, if that is all a learner puts into their own development, being steered about by employed servants and getting a certification to which instructors put the bulk of effort, college does society and each student a great disservice. Better for a professor to point out resources, provide initial demonstration, stand back to let students take the lead, and certify the show of learning and the student's successful products. Ultimately, it is through products that we create that will define our worth to ourselves, those who employ us, the family to which we contribute, and to society. The bulk of college coursework should reflect the need for everyone so certified to meet these demands.