I have attempted to capture an essence of my teaching philosophy in the following sections.
I started teaching as a graduate teaching assistant in 1995 at Georgia State University. We were expected to teach the entire session, and not just teach from the professor’s notes. I was gearing up to teach Business Statistics. I was mortified by the feeling that I couldn’t go wrong in front of the class. What I found out instead was that I learned from every one of my students -- even the ones who didn’t participate. Very quickly, I realized that my opinion was one amongst many, and while I was expected to lead, I wasn’t expected to be the all-knowing entity. In fact I found it exciting when students disagreed and expressed their points of view. It gave me a chance to reinforce my outlook. This was the turning point in my career. After teaching that course successfully, I felt that I had found my calling. I wasn’t going to be a pilot or a railroad engineer (my childhood aspirations). I was going to be a teacher.
The term classroom is a bit of a misnomer. The metaphorical room has grown quite a bit. It spans many realms outside of the face-to-face environment. While we have students who have limited work experience, we have others who hold a fulltime job, and come to get an education in the evening. We also have students who have work experience in other countries, but find it to be at odds with the American work style. Their queries added to the experiences of working students makes for a vivid discussion in the classroom. In one instance, I was explaining the use of databases by large Internet companies like Yahoo. It turned out that one of my students in that class actually managed databases at Yahoo for a living!
Given the limitations of time and space, we are compelled to compress a lot of material within a semester. Syllabi, assignments and exams help in creating structure and assessment. I find that in some cases, learning by example via hands-on projects works better. In other instances, such as my MBA classes, the case study approach holds a lot more depth. Effective use of pedagogical methods not only helps in managing the course; it also helps me in making the assessment process a fair and balanced one.
Technology plays a very important support role in teaching. I am usually at a loss without “Google” in my classroom. This is where the relationship ends though. Technology plays a powerful support role, but cannot be a substitute. We cannot become talking heads, and expect learning to happen in the classroom. In some instances, such as in Spring 2005, I had decided to move all my assignments and exams to the new iLearn system. Students would submit their work in PDF format via the website. While iLearn was working well, the failure of e-mail services on campus brought my class to a grinding halt. I had to resort to using my personal e-mail account off campus. Heavy reliance on technology is still risky.
I have always been amused by that term “real world”. It would seem that we in academia live in a make-believe world, where we don’t quite know what goes on in the real world. The gap between what goes on in the classroom and what the students experience when they work outside must be minimized as much as possible. I make every effort to do so by bringing in guest speakers who help reinforce the student views of what to expect in the real world.