The COVID-19 pandemic has created unexpected challenges in virtually all industries, and education is certainly no exception. While the rapid pivot to a new teaching modality has been difficult for teachers and students alike, I have also viewed it as an opportunity to reconsider my own teaching practices and think critically about the type of classroom environment that I want to create. For me, the primary goal of a college education is to prepare students to succeed in their future careers, which means that as I teacher my role is to help students be able to transfer their knowledge and skills into a variety of real-world scenarios. Though I have my own personal relationship and interests to the course content, I am always mindful that each student enters the classroom—virtual or otherwise—from their own context and their own goals. My teaching philosophy has developed around this fact, and the transition to online learning has been an opportunity for me to develop student-centered teaching strategies to best meet their individual needs and expectations.
The new online teaching environment presents the ability for teachers to recreate a classroom environment from the ground up. One of my considerations has been the fact that “active participation” can take on many different forms and may look different for each student. To that end, I have created as many opportunities for student engagement as possible. Most online conferencing platforms include tools such as audience polling, break-out groups, hand-raising, or even just the ability for students to leave comments and ask questions via text chat. Rather than endorse one mode of engagement as the preferred format, I encourage students to use whatever method works best for them at any given time. While this does cede some of my own control over the classroom environment, this strategy empowers individual students to shape their own experience.
An additional aspect of my teaching philosophy is to meet students where they are. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been the case that each student is in their own situation and has their own background that shapes their classroom experience. However, the potential differences and inequities among students have been exacerbated during the transition to online teaching. Therefore, I do not enforce strict requirements such as asking students to always keep their cameras on. Furthermore, for course components such as attendance and late penalties, I recognize that there are many. Important pedagogical benefits to these types of appropriate incentives. However, in these cases, I make it a priority to explain and discuss this policy in depth with the class at the beginning of the year. It’s important that students understand the reasoning behind attendance requirements and other grade penalties, rather than just view them as unnecessary levels of control.
One final component of my teaching philosophy is a strong emphasis on writing skills. I believe that in every course, one of the most important learning outcomes is that students be able to transfer their skills and knowledge to others beyond the classroom setting. Therefore, it is important that all students are able to write effectively—ranging from the simple mechanics of spelling, grammar, and style, to the more abstract skills of crafting convincing arguments. Because I primarily teach lower-division introductory courses, the writing skills that I help my students develop will continue to serve them throughout the rest of their academic careers. For example, I dedicate significant class time to clarifying writing mechanics that may have been glossed over previously. This includes things such as how to properly cite sources, and format a works cited page; proper formatting is a large component of students’ grades on their written speech outlines. By emphasizing writing skills such as these, I hope to prepare students to succeed beyond my classroom.