Teaching Philosophy: The East Meets the West

I am from China, and my philosophy of teaching is a combination of both the Eastern and Western cultures. From the Eastern culture, I bring to my teaching high expectations for my students and a very nurturing environment through individual interaction and assistance. I view teaching as a very challenging yet rewarding responsibility, which not only imparts knowledge of a discipline but also inspires intellectual growth. From the Western culture, I value the diversity of learning styles and student experiences.

As a teacher, I want students to feel personally changed by their participation in a course I teach, and I think this value is shared by both Eastern and Western cultures.  Learning is most likely to happen when students become personally engaged with the material and perceive the subject matter to be directly relevant to their own lives. I want my students to be successful, and I provide resources necessary for them to achieve goals; however, I do expect rigor and effort on their part. Most of my courses are designed on the basis of Constructivist “Learning by Doing” (Dewey, 1897) and Cooperative Learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1997) theories. In my various teaching experiences, I have employed a variety of strategies to meet my students’ where they are with the following being standard ones.

  • Understanding the diversity of learning styles and student experiences, through a more detailed self-introduction using Blackboard Discussions or other online tools, has helped me make course materials relevant and foster critical thinking skills.
  • The learning environment that I create values students’ ownership of their learning and promotes students’ responsibility for learning. I ask each individual what they will bring to the class and how each person can contribute to creating a classroom that is stimulating and respectful of diverse views and experiences. Students develop their real-world and performance-based instructional design projects not just to submit to the instructor for a grade, but also to share with one another as an authentic audience.
  • Providing access to my expertise is also a priority in my teaching. I actively encourage dialogue with students during office hours, by appointment, through telephone, online discussions, emails, video conferencing or online surveys. I have an open door policy, and value the time I spend visiting with students and getting to know them on a personal basis.

I know I am successful in my teaching when students tell me that they have learned “to apply the skills to their work” or “to think more critically about …” I believe it is an honorable responsibility of a professor to uphold the quality or standards of a graduate program at a higher education institute. My teaching philosophy has been influenced by my cultural background. What has influenced yours? I am looking forward to hearing from you.

–Helen Hu


Dewey, J.  (1897). My pedagogic creed. School Journal, 54:77-80.

Johnson, R. T. & Johnson, D. W.  (1997) Cooperative learning: Two heads learn better than one. Transforming Education (IC#18), Winter 1988, Page 34, Copyright (c)1988, 1997 by Context Institute. http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC18/Johnson.htm

Intentional Teaching: A Perspective from Instructor and Student

I am in a unique season in my life where I am both an instructor and a student.  Upon my return to the student role, I attended an orientation where something amazing happened.  Of course there were the introductions, ice-breaker activity, and review of the orientation packet; but there was more.  The instructors gave me a glimpse of the future by introducing me to myself upon completion of the program.  Typically, I do quite well with reflection and I rarely question my ability to complete something.  However, this was different.  The leaders of the program intentionally wanted us to see ourselves as accomplished and as leaders. I was once a leader, but through personal trials lost some of my confidence and identity.  Within approximately 10 minutes, strangers had changed me for the good.  This was accomplished through intentional teaching.

What would education look like if all students were intentional learners and faculty were intentional teachers?  Imagine students fully prepared for class, engaged, professional, and desiring an education versus a degree.  Likewise, imagine faculty fully prepared for class, creative, engaging, professional, and providing an environment that encourages students to go above and beyond.  Before you call me idyllic, I am not even close to being a perfect instructor (or student for that matter), but I always strive to be intentional.

There are many ways to be intentional with teaching. In addition to weaving creative activities within lectures, I have been intentional through Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research and creating an open environment for student discussions about the course.  SoTL studies are a great way to evaluate instructional methods to improve teaching and learning outcomes.  I also encourage my graduate students to provide feedback on my course in a discussion format.  Of course I still request students complete their anonymous evaluations, but they are one-way and I prefer the addition of a conversation.  Students are often shocked that I welcome constructive criticism.   As a result, I have made positive changes including smaller group instruction, better schedules, improved explanations, and more efficient ways to share group information.  The discussion format allowed students to not only identify areas of concern, but also offer suggestions for improvements.  Moreover, giving and receiving constructive criticism is skill we all need to optimize learning.

How are you intentional with your teaching?  How do you make every second of your time count?  In what ways are you creative and engaging?  What activities have inspired your students and how do you know this?

–Elizabeth LeQuieu

Avoiding Lethargic Lectures

I teach an introductory major’s biology course almost every summer. Teaching in the summer is a lot like the plot of Gilligan’s Island: my classroom is filled with students from a variety of backgrounds, all embarking on a “three hour tour” of biology each and every day. Lectures can easily end up stranded on the proverbial desert island if I don’t keep my students engaged with the material. Teaching for three straight hours a day is hard for an instructor, and it’s possible that making students sit through a three hour lecture is a violation of the Geneva Convention.

Even with these hardships, I like teaching in the summer. Summer classes are the perfect time to try new teaching strategies. I get to know the students better than in fall or spring, and my section of the course is the only one offered in the summer. This year, I wanted to add more active learning to my lecture. Part of the reasoning behind this decision is due to the overwhelming research showing the positive effects active learning has on student learning and retention. The other part was a bit more selfish: I don’t always feel like talking for three straight hours.

I tried the following activities this summer:

  • 1. Using Cellphones as clickers (using Learning Catalytics)
    • This worked really well, and the student feedback was almost entirely positive. The best part was that I could see which topics were causing confusion live in the lecture. More often than not, when I re-polled the class after some peer to peer instruction, the misconceptions were cleared up.

learning catalytics screen shot of clicker question and answers view

  • 2. At least one group activity per lecture
    • This was a great way to get students talking and learning in lecture instead of passively staring forward. One activity in particular worked especially well: I passed out different colored cards to the students, one card per student. On each card was written the name of a cellular component or process. Students then formed groups based on the color of their cards. These groups then discussed how their cellular components and processes interconnected with each other. Then the groups taped their cards to the white board, incorporating all of the class’s cards into a big concept map.

cell component index card concept map

  • 3. Student exam evaluations
    • I am a big fan of Dr. Kelly Hogan at the University of North Carolina. She always has great advice and teaching tips. She recommends having students conduct an item analysis on their exams after they are graded so they can determine why they missed certain questions. While not universal, I did see improved scores between exam 1 and 2 for most of the students who came to my office and did an item analysis.

Now we are into the first part of the Fall semester, I am revising the active learning assignments that didn’t work as smoothly as I would have liked, and I am trying to implement some of activities that I piloted this summer on a much grander scale. What new things are you going to try this semester?

–Steve Karafit

Too Much to Ask?: A Student Perspective on Teachers

Last week, I had a fascinating discussion with a student regarding the (non-)usefulness of “Rate My Professors.” In case you haven’t heard, Rate My Professors (www.ratemyprofessors.com) is a forum whereby students can offer praise— :) “she’s the best teacher ever!” Or hate-on— :( “I heard he was the worst teacher at UCA!” Or even award the ever-embarrassing/objectifying chili pepper—or flaming chili pepper—to measure a professor’s “hotness.”

In the course of the conversation, I asked the student to tell me—with detail greater than a :) can provide—what students want in a UCA professor. Below is our conversation and I offer it (with the student’s permission) as a springboard for faculty to dive into the what-makes-a-good-professor waters. What would you have said?

Date: Jan 10, 2015, 5:23:14 PM

Dr. Stone,

The main things I look for in a professor.

I want a professor that has their home life together. Isn’t emotionally frazzled or unstable, or brings their home-life (ex-husband, crazy kids, etc.) to the attention of their students – we don’t need to know about that.

JLMS: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about what you look for in a professor.

I completely agree that an instructor’s personal life should not (to the fullest extent possible) be brought into the classroom. We are, however, human beings and sometimes life spills over. Nevertheless, details should (indeed) be kept to oneself!

I want a professor that is organized. Has the entire semester planned out, communicates effectively his goals for the semester, and is technologically capable.

A teacher that reminds his students of when assignments are due, not the other way around.

I want a professor that is healthy. Teachers that teach sitting down usually give less attention to their students and get lost in their computers. Healthier teachers, are more attentive, focused, and energized, and those traits in a teacher carry over into behavior of the students in class.

I want a professor that is, in the kindest words, normal. I say this for sake of understanding each other. Many teachers have autistic ticks that make them very unapproachable, and not understanding of the students’ emotions or feelings toward them or the class. They may be very organized, and tactful, but this turns over into pride in certain cases, and many teachers don’t receive feedback from the students very well with an open, understandable heart.

JLMS: I will take issue with your desire for “normal” faculty. The world is full of strange-birds and we have a responsibility to stretch ourselves outside the comfortable and learn to appreciate those who are different. You ask for sympathy and understanding from your instructors; you should be willing to give the same!

I want a professor that is kind. A teacher that is up-beat and ready to teach rather than see it as a chore, or complain about how early it is. A teacher that sympathizes with your problems and has emotions toward the subject matter. They should be passionate when they teach, with the enthusiasm that this is their dream job and subject matter. If it’s not, then what are they doing?

JLMS: I think your thoughts about being kind, up-beat, open to feedback, organized (BTW, something I always struggle with!) and genuinely excited about her/his subject are spot-on. Engaged students help faculty stay enthusiastic. Learning is not a spectator sport and having thoughtful and active students (such as yourself!) brings with it a joy that translates into an exciting classroom.

All together, the ideal college professor is emotionally stable, with a stable home-life, organized, communicates clearly, technologically capable, healthy, attentive, focused, energized, approachable, understandable, open, kind-hearted, up-beat, sympathetic, and passionate.

JLMS: Your student-centered thoughts are so very much appreciated and I know many faculty who work hard to be the best instructors possible. We are always looking for feedback from students. Thank you.

–Jayme Millsap Stone

{Written in Spring 2015}

I Want to be New Again, Too. Do You?

We have started a new semester at UCA and there are a lot of new faces on campus: new first year students, new transfer students, new graduate students, and new faculty.  This year I was fortunate enough to coordinate New Faculty Orientation through the Center for Teaching Excellence.  As I met and chatted with most of our new faculty over the course of those two days, I couldn’t help but remember when I was a new faculty member at UCA going through my own New Faculty Orientation. Now entering my 12th year, I vividly remember the excited/nervous/slightly sick feeling as I walked into my first lecture in one of the large lecture halls in Lewis Science Center. I remember poring through the material for my courses trying to think of new and interesting ways to present the material and engage the students. I remember eagerly creating new assignments, not worrying about how hard they would be to grade.

As I sat through NFO this year surrounded by eager new faculty, I realized I wanted to be new again. Not new faculty at another institution, but new in my approach to my profession. After 11 years, how can I recapture that newness, that enthusiasm, that excitement that I had all those years ago and that I saw in our new faculty? Anybody else want to be new again?

–Leah Horton

The Power and Potential of a New Notebook (or a New Name)

First as a student and then as a teacher, I have always loved the first week of school. For the 17th time as a professor at UCA, I watched as students poured into our buildings and classrooms last week. They were (mostly) well rested, alert, and hopeful as they considered the possibilities each class will offer them this semester. They had showered(!), many of them sporting new outfits, and all of them pulling out fresh, clean notebooks to begin a new semester.

The air in our classrooms was palpably charged with the electricity of the potential a new course and a fresh start offers, both for our students and for us as educators. I, too, came into my classes with a new notebook and a refreshed attitude toward the teaching and learning to take place this year.

This isn’t the only new beginning I’ve experienced recently. Over the summer, the devoted staff of the Instructional Development Center engaged in a transformation process that culminated in a new name, mission, values, and programming focus. What emerged was your Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), and we feel the same eager anticipation we see in our students in beginning this academic year. We even renovated our physical space to accommodate the growth our new vision promises to deliver.

The values of excellence, responsiveness, and community guide us in fulfilling our reimagined mission: CTE collaborates with faculty to foster personal well-being and create a learning community that facilitates innovative, high-quality teaching and learning.

As you begin the 2015-16 academic year, in what areas do you need the fresh enthusiasm offered by a new notebook? Further, how can the CTE serve those needs to help you fully capitalize on the power and potential of a fresh start? Visit uca.edu/cte to further explore what UCA’s CTE can do for you.

–Amy Hawkins, CTE Director

In Search of the Fountain of Youth

Please allow me to begin with a quote that I recently read by the late General Douglas MacArthur:

Youth is not a period of time. It is a state of mind, a result of the will, a quality of the imagination, a victory of courage over timidity, of the taste for adventure over the love of comfort.

We can lose our youthfulness in our profession, can’t we?

Where are you lacking in imagination? For example, have you presented the same content in the same way for several semesters, yet been disappointed in students’ comprehension or application? A way to jump-start imagination may be to look for a second right answer or to change the wording of your questions. Try approaching things from a different direction; reversing your viewpoint. What if you provided students with an “answer” and require them to figure out a “problem”? What if you gave students the final assessment first and designed your course backwards? Or taught just one day of your course backwards or from a bird’s-eye or ant’s-eye view? What if…?

When have you been brave lately? Did you seek out a colleague to discuss a new research project? Or did you own up to a defeat or inadequacy and seek guidance or training? What if you take a class in something that is quite unsettling for you? Recently I was in a workshop on improvisational theater techniques. Not only did I begin to overcome some inhibitions, but I learned listening and discussion techniques that have influenced my teaching.

Adventure is many things, but rarely is it comfortable. Often it requires planning and preparation—two skills of which I am not particularly great. And it may include the unexpected and spontaneous—causing uneasiness. Have you been out of your comfort zone recently? What if you increased your service to include a new audience, such as another age-group, discipline, or culture? I have had opportunity to take my skills of teaching traditional basketry techniques into unconventional settings and these experiences have sparked new directions for my research.

As we close this academic year, how may we cheer one another on to youthfulness in our professional lives regardless of the period of time?

–Deborah Kuster