An Overview of my Teaching Philosophy
By: Kelly Lyons
My goal is to build on my mentoring, leadership, practical and research experience, ground my teaching in learner-focused values and provide learning experiences for students that take advantage of the multi-disciplinary aspect of the Faculty, the diversity of the student interests, and the fact that they are in a professional masters program situated within a research Faculty.
My teaching philosophy is shaped by the fact that I am part of a Faculty that has a strong multidisciplinary research capability together with a highly respected professional masters program. In my courses, research-based readings and discussions co-exist with and complement practical activities that are used to help students contextualize notions in real-world settings.
The opportunity to learn and take courses in a Faculty known for its multidisciplinary strength is extremely valuable. I challenge students to see and respect the different perspectives their classmates bring and to step out of their own comfort areas and challenge themselves to learn the material through different viewpoints and experiences. We read papers from different disciplines and I work with students to apply the concepts in a variety of example domains. I believe that students should not only learn the material but be able to apply it in other courses and contexts in their lives. Students are asked to relate what they are learning in class to what they are reading in other courses, current events in the news, on-line resources, and in their leisure activities.
My teaching philosophy is further influenced by the unique perspective I bring as a result of my years of experience in industry where I led organizations, managed teams and projects, mentored many people, and built strong collaborative relationships across different groups. Similar to my role as manager and mentor in industry, my role is as teacher in the classroom is to guide students through the material. I expect students to take responsibility for their own learning experience. I provide a learner-focused environment where students actively participate in setting their own learning objectives and understanding and articulating their own goals. Students should learn to think about their goals and what they want to achieve then determine how they will know when they have achieved their goals (how they will measure success). In each course I teach and in my capacity as an advisor, I ask students to reflect on their own specific learning outcomes and basic goals and help them develop strategies to guide their learning throughout the course. Students should know why they are there and understand what they want to get out of the course and their program.
I make material available to students and ask that they also find and make available information and material relevant to the course. A course website provides the course syllabus and outline but Blackboard is used as a learning management system to support groups, sharing of information, lecture slides, important dates, assignments, and other information about the course, as well as the facilitation of interaction among students on topics related to the course.
I structure my courses with lectures or panels followed by hands-on active learning activities that students carry out in groups (or sometimes individually) then report back or discuss with the class. The lectures provide perspective and links to the readings and course learning objectives and the hands-on activities enable students to contextualize the ideas in a particular domain or situation and link them to their own learning objectives. The domain or situation in which students apply their knowledge is usually selected by them. Reporting back and student-led discussions give students experience expressing their ideas to others.
I believe working in groups is critical for success in the real world but I also understand the need for individual assessment. In my courses, students work in groups but most assignments are individual. I use the groups to bring students with different backgrounds together to work on activities in the classroom and consider different aspects of their assignments. At the start of courses, students provide a self-assessment on several criteria and then I put the students into groups that maximize diversity among the criteria. The intention is to put students together who bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives and whose learning objectives and goals complement each others’. I believe that interaction among students and their collaborative work are essential to their learning experience in the classroom and to their future as leaders.
One of the most important qualities I want to instil in students is the ability to think critically, apply their knowledge in unique ways, and to ask the right questions. My assignments challenge students to think about alternatives and what they believe is the best way to approach an issue or situation. They are assessed on how well they thought it through and how convincingly they make their points. I structure assignments and hands-on activities such that students look at issues of today and new technologies in the context of what they are learning formally. In this way, as new issues arise in their careers, they will have the tools, experience, knowledge and skills to understand and form opinions, make judgements and decisions.
I provide value to students in my courses and through my advisory capacity that extends beyond the content or the subject matter. I design pedagogical methods that provide experiences that students can bring to their professional careers. For example, in the project management course, students are asked practise project management principles in every aspect of their coursework and interactions with one another and we use structured meeting methods to carry out group activities. In this way, they not only learn the principles of project management and how to manage and work on projects more effectively but will also learn how to organization their work in general more effectively and learn some tips and suggestions for being more effective in everything they do.
I believe that the diverse backgrounds that students bring to the program and the different goals they have professionally should be used to enhance their own learning and that of their peers. I structure discussions and hands-on activities such that students learn from one another and relate the knowledge learned through the course to our past experiences and imagined future opportunities. Where possible, students define the scope of their assignments and report on their work to their classmates. For example, in project management, the projects they work on are initially defined by the students and elaborated on through guidance from me and other group members. In the core course on Information Systems, Services, and Design, students select an information system to design and implement in their groups and define their own system development methodology and information sources.
I recognize that teaching and pedagogical methods continually evolve so I look to experts for new methods and ideas to use in my classes. I read papers on teaching and learning and continue to improve my teaching by learning formally through courses and informally through discussions with peers and colleagues both in the Faculty of Information and the University of Toronto and at different institutions.