Philosophy of Education

Introduction

My philosophy of teaching is discourse regarding my beliefs about the teaching and learning process. Gee (1989) defines a discourse as “a sort of ‘identity kit’ which comes with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act, talk, and often write, so as to take a particular role that others will recognize” (p. 6) and explains that the words used within a discourse hold power over “actions, values, beliefs, attitudes, and social identities” (p. 6).

This implies that the words I choose within my discourse about the educational process, including the learner, educator, and learning environment, have the power to both imprison and empower. Thus, I seek to use words and conceptualization to empower the learners who I serve.

The Learner as a Social Participant Learner

Core to my philosophy is a learning centered approach. In the learning centered approach, the learning process and the learner are central. Thus, I begin this discourse with the learner. Influenced by theorists and philosophers such as Freiere, Giroux, and Knowles, I refer to each learner using the well-known constructivist term participant learner (Wittrock, 1990). By viewing learners as participant learners, I believe learners are active, dynamic participants in the learning process; thus, I actively empower learners to participate and to guide the learning process.

I expect learners to engage, read, analyze, debate, integrate, and synthesize; for learners must take a “mutual responsibility for learning” (Hooks, 1994, p. 144). To expect less, would disempower the learner and cheat them out of a truly educationally meaningful experience. Building on the concept of participant learner and drawing from social constructivism, I believe that learners are self-organizing and self-regulating agents that effect and are affected by the social, cultural environment.

Although influenced by genetics and innate emotional drives (Freud, 1961; Goleman, 1998), I believe learners develop knowledge as a result of active, social interaction and relationships within the contexts of microsystems (i.e. family, community, school, religious affiliations), mesosystem (i.e. society), and macrosystem (i.e. global; Bronfenbrenner, 1977; Vygotsky, 1978) and through individual adaptive, cognitive processes (Piaget, 1980).

Thus, a central learning process employed in my classes is the dialectical process, for “a dialectical process involves an internal and external discussion which explores alternative viewpoints to develop an integrated viewpoint synthesized from the best aspects of all alternatives (Mackeracher, 1996, p. 3).

The Educator as a Servant, Facilitator, and Mediator

Since the learning process and learners are central in my learning-centered approach, my role as a teaching presence in the classroom includes responsiveness to my learners needs; thus, the concepts of servant facilitator and servant mediator best describe my role as an educator in the learning process. Greenleaf (1970)’s description of the servant leader is foundational to my understanding of these roles:

The servant-leader is a servant first…it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. The conscious choice to aspire to lead…to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? (p. 181)

As an educator, I seek to facilitate growth and empower learners to become life-long participant learners. As a facilitator, I assist learners in accomplishing their learning goals through effective and efficient instructional design and organization, direct instruction, assessment, and facilitation of discourse (Garrison, Archer, & Anderson, 2000). As a mediator, I skillfully assist learners’ negotiation of knowledge through interpretation of and guidance through complex subjects.

The ability and responsibilities of facilitation and meditation require the following of the educator:

(a) knowledge of the subject of study,
(b) an understanding of the learners cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual development,
(c) a sense of timing,
(d) the ability to ask good questions,
(e) a collaborative stance toward the learners by respecting, inviting, and valuing each of their voices
(f) flexibility, responsiveness, and ease with ambiguity, and
(g) the humility to say, “I do not know.”

The roles of servant facilitator and servant mediator also require the abilities of a servant leader as identified by Spears (1998):

(a) listening and empathy,
(b) awareness,
(c) conceptualization,
(d) foresight,
(e) stewardship,
(f) a commitment to the growth of others, and
(g) the ability to build community.

The Learning Environment as a Community

In Education as a Practice of Freedom, Hook (1994) describes the learning environment, not bound by a brick and mortar classroom in a specific location, but as a location of possibilities, a place of creation, and a place of collaboration. Drawing from Hook, I view an educationally meaningful learning environment as a place where learners are encouraged to explore, to challenge, to think, to dialogue, to inquiry, to innovate, and to grow.

Foundational to such an environment is a sense of community, including a shared sense of purpose, beliefs, goals, values, common language, and ways of interacting, among the learners and educator (Note: The usage of the phrasing community indicates that the educators’ voice and opinion is not controlling or dominating but rather facilitative). By intentionally planning collaborative, interactive activities and taking a collaborative stance toward the learners by respecting, inviting, and valuing each of their voices, I facilitate the establishment of a community that empowers learners’ construction of knowledge.

Graphical representation of Dr. Amanda Rockinson-Szapkiw's Philosophy of Teaching

Figure 1. Graphic Representation of My Philosophy of Teaching.

Application

My philosophy is readily applied in educational practice in all three primary modes of delivery (i.e. traditional, hybrid or blended, and distance) that exist in the field of higher education. Although the mediums and some of the instructional technologies I use change, my teaching philosophy is stable and consistently applicable to all the modes of delivery in which I teach. To demonstrate this, I will compare and contrast the methodologies and strategies that I employ in a traditional classroom and in an online classroom.

To establish trust to facilitate a climate that is conducive to inquiry and discussion, I begin both my traditional and online classes with an introductory activity. In both modes of delivery, I use an activity called “Web of Connection.” I ask each learner to introduce themselves and identify three unique facts about themselves. Each learner has to connect with one of the three interesting facts of the previous learners.

For example, a learner may make the statement, “I like chocolate.” The next learner may link to them saying, “I keep a stash of Hershey kisses in my desk drawer.” The third learner may say, “I don’t eat chocolate, but I keep gummy bears in my desk drawer.” This activity is performed face to face in my traditional classes. In my online classes, this activity is conducted either via a social conferencing system or threaded discussion. In both my online and traditional classes, I require students to create a learner profile with a biographical sketch on either a blog or within a specified section of a content management system.

In both my traditional and online classes, I use instructional technologies to facilitate social, active learning and deep individual reflection necessary for knowledge development and learning. Most of my classes consist of Web-quests (see an example WebQuest here) to expose learners to new information in an authentic, and collaborative, format that supports the construction and revision of cognitive structures. Direct instruction is provided in both my traditional and online classes to expose students to new concepts and provide organization to the learning process. In my traditional classes, I use media enriched PowerPoints to present concepts for further discussion among students. In my online classes, I present the same concepts using podcasts, media enriched PowerPoints, or Flash-based tutorials. In both classes, I offer online learning units that present information and allow students to interact with the interface to reflect and check their understanding (see an example learning unit here).

To support meaning-making dialogue among the community of learners, I use synchronous discussion and network writing programs. In my traditional classes, synchronous discussions take place in the brick and mortar classroom. In my online classes, synchronous discussions take place via collaborative conferencing systems with audio and often video capabilities.

New features of collaborative conferencing systems, breakout sessions and quiz pooling, allow me to employ strategies such as think, pair, share and class surveying that I use in the traditional classroom in my online classes. Asynchronous threaded discussions supplement synchronous discussions in both classes; however, asynchronous threaded discussions are more often a requirement for my online learners. I also use networked writing programs, specifically I use wikispaces.com and wikibooks.com and have learners construct articles to create their own textbook for the semester.

Self-reflection is facilitated through the usage of blogs, personal journals, and other creative methods chosen by the learner. Whether a learner is online or in a traditional classroom, I allow learners to choose the medium through which they complete self-reflection activities. Directions for planned self-reflection activities read: “You complete a creative project that reflects your growth in your interpersonal skills within an interpersonal relationship. The objective of this project is a deep, thorough analysis of your interpersonal and communication skills. The end result of the project is only limited by your creativity. You may submit a paper, a journal, a blog, a podcast, a video, a website, a PowerPoint, etc.”

My philosophy is readily applied consistently in all three primary modes of delivery (i.e. traditional, hybrid or blended, and distance). In all three modes, I attempt to create an environment and learning experience based on my discourse about education (my philosophy) to empower learners to maximize their social, emotional, and cognitive, behavioral, and spiritual potential.

Pedagogy or Andragogy?

In my philosophy of education I explain that words used in a discourse about the educational process have the power to both imprison and empower learners.

A term commonly used throughout the adult education literature, and a term we often use without thought, is a term that actively dis-empowers the adult learner. The term is pedagogy. The term pedagogy is readily used to describe the art, practice, principles, and methods of teaching. The term is derived from the Greek παιδαγωγέω and γω and literal means to train a male child (Knowles, 1980).

It appears that the term pedagogy has informed the long held ideology in higher education that the student is a passive receptor of knowledge and has informed the traditional, behavioral methods of teaching that dis-enable students from assuming active responsibility in the learning process.

Knowles (1980) replaced the term pedagogy with andragogy to describe the art, practice, principles, and methods of teaching adults.

Underlying his theory of andragogy is Knowles’ belief that adult learners are self-directed, autonomous, and want to take responsibility for their learning. Adult learners want to know why they are learning certain things; prefer practical, contextual assignments; approach learning in a problem-solving, goal-oriented manner; are more motivated when learning is of immediate value or is relevant; and have prior knowledge upon which to build information.

When andragogy informs the ideologies about students in higher education, students are empowered as active participants in the learning process.