My first official job out of college was teaching at the high school that I had just graduated from four years prior. I taught three periods of Computer Applications with students that were not only mixed grade, but mixed ability level. In my other period, I taught an Oracle Database class. This class was made of seniors, mostly gifted, who by the end of the year would take the Oracle 9i certification test, similar to other professional database administrators in the field. These two classes were extremely different, and I as a computer science major in college I felt like I was not equipped with the pedagogical knowledge to teach them. Don’t get me wrong, learning did occur, and a few of my students did pass the certification exam, but I did the best teaching with the skills that had, which didn’t feel like much at the time.
My official teacher role ended in 2005 and since then I have been educating students in more of an advisory position within the context of international education. I am tackling this teaching philosophy assignment, imagining myself back in the classroom, determining how I would approach my role as a teacher if I was given the opportunity to do it again. My teaching philosophy is centered around two key ideas, situated learning and motivation. Situated learning’s “main argument is that all knowledge that a learner acquires is somehow situated within activities that are socially, physically or culturally-based” (Pappas, 2015). My goal as a teacher would be to provide instruction in a way that is immersive and similar to the true environment where the skill to be learned occurs naturally. Situated learning has a beautiful application to study abroad. One of University of Alabama’s abroad programs is called Mathematicians of the Renaissance. For three weeks, students spend time studying mathematicians who were also known as astrologers, physicians, and philosophers traversing through some of the same Italian cities that they occupied. Students learn why these mathematicians were motivated by the stars, the landscape, the culture and how it influenced their creation of art, architecture, and other creative mediums. Situated cognition does not have to be taught in a foreign land, in fact, language teaching is a good example where instruction replicates application in real life. Even in online learning, situated learning teaching practices can be used with modeling, moderated chats with subject-matter experts, or exploratory field trips using virtual reality. Situated learning gives students a reason to invest in the material at hand and provides an instant connection to the applicability of what they are learning.
The second intention of my teaching philosophy is motivation, and how it is integral to student learning. While I believe learning can occur without it, motivation amplifies a student’s investment to the content. As a teacher, I would curate extrinsic motivation while helping the students discover their own intrinsic reasons that keeps them wanting to dig deeper in the lessons. Extrinsic motivation is easily developed through situated learning since it helps answer the question of why we are learning the material. This can be done by creating authentic classroom environments or developing realistic problems that the class would tackle. But the greater type of motivation is the intrinsic kind. Student’s desire to understand how the learning of new material is applicable or beneficial to them. One of my most favorite classes in my master’s program was the Learning and Design Studio. Our professors were facilitators and we were allowed to not only choose the software package we wanted to learn, but to build whatever project we wanted in order to showcase our level of functionality with the software. We were extremely motivated in the Studio class because we had ownership of our learning. Finding the intrinsic motivations of my students would require my flexibility as a teacher to allow students freedom in these types of situations, and to guide and trust their direction in their learning. Teaching practices and assignments that are routed in authentic environments and motivate students by building buy-in, ownership and value, all aid in the learning process.