My Thoughts on Teaching:
As a university faculty, I value the mission to achieve excellence in the interrelated areas of education, research and public service. I believe the importance of purpose to empower the young generation with the knowledge, insight, and self-confidence to serve and lead. I have strived to enhance the students’ learning and growth when I teach beyond just fulfilling teaching requirements. I mean learning not only by transferring of new facts by an instructor to students, but also by instilling the new insights, experience, and perspectives in viewing the world that may lead to transforming their lives. I believe it is critically important to guide the students to their own motivation for learning in higher education so they can continue to further their knowledge and awareness even after they graduate the school. I believe this can be done by inspiring students with educators’ appropriate attitudes. One-way communication approach of feeding the students with information or dragging them to a certain objectives may not help them to grow for successes in the long run, unless they find it interesting and worth doing so. I value the vision to lead students as ‘accomplished learners’* through teaching and guidance.
I have aspired to be a poet in teaching, so to speak, for the students, so the audiences and readers can get inspired by the poems and experience a new world envisioned in them beyond the described text. I would like to help and encourage students “to learn in ways that make a sustained, substantial and positive difference in the way they think, act, or feel — without doing them any major harm.” +
* adopted from Robert Duke, + adopted from “What The Best College Teachers Do” by Bain (2004)
I try to keep the students’ best interests – that is, success and growth – in my heart in teaching. I try to achieve better teaching and learning through various teaching techniques, interactions with the students, and continuous incorporation of feedback. We have to ask us important question as teachers at the higher education institutions. “What makes a better learning for students?” “What makes us a good teacher?” I think (1) mastery of the content knowledge, (2) enthusiasm, (3) genuine interest in students’ learning and progress, (4) enjoying the teaching process myself, and (5) continuous effort to improve teaching and learning, are all critical ingredients to ensure better teaching and learning. Students cannot learn unless the teacher succeeds in capturing their attentions and engaging them to lead instructions. But, how? Teachers are often expected to act like a stern professor, performer, coach, or even cheerleader for more effective teaching and engagement of the students. After all, professors may need to be ‘a sage on stage’, at least at times, if that benefits the students.
To become a more effective teacher, I have tried to excel in instruction, advising, mentoring, and counseling, with various means. This includes attending various workshops for effective teaching or new teaching technology, regularly reading the articles for the teachers of higher education (e.g. Chronicles of Higher Education, ProfHacker or Faculty Focus), and incorporating the peer observation and student evaluation comments in my teaching plan. Even my experience of leading and counseling youth and college group students at the church has been helpful in improving my teaching and mentoring skills for young people.
To accomplish more effective learning for the students, I balance the use of the teacher-centered and student-centered teaching depending on the nature of the student group. I focus more on introducing a new knowledge and inspiring non-science major undergraduate students so they can become citizens of sound scientific background and awareness. I emphasize more of hands-on knowledge and experience of real data or fieldwork in teaching upper-level science major undergraduate students, as they will likely pursue academic careers that can benefit greatly from the real experiences of research methods, instrument operation and data analysis, and scientific writing and discussion. For the graduate student courses, I emphasize more of their independent and critical thinking and in-depth knowledge on certain subjects of their own needs. They will soon likely go through the process of scientific publications, grant writing, and perhaps teaching. So, I encourage the graduate students to learn to become an independently motivated and reliable researcher, and to start developing their professional network for more enriched experiences and opportunities. I teach graduate students in-depth knowledge off from primary literature as well as methods to conduct their independent research. A similar approach can be applied to a motivated group of upper-level undergraduate students too.
I value the importance of mentoring in supervising and teaching highly. I agree with the notion, “when the desire to do the greatest possible good becomes firm and unshakable, I know not what may not be attempted (Mary Lyon)”, and this can be done by good mentoring and advising so the students can engage in the world. Teachers can make big impacts on students’ lives with ‘care’ based on their earned respect and trust. Unless we, faculty and advisors, show good examples and take initiatives in taking good care of our students for their success, effective teaching with good knowledge transfer alone would not necessarily transform lives of young students. This is why I believe being a good mentor and good role model is critically important in teaching. I suppose little bit of extra thoughts and reaching out to the students can go very far in guiding them for their success.
I have learned the importance of finding the right balance, from my teaching experiences: (i) between efforts for teaching and research, (ii) between knowledge transfer and mentoring for students’ well-being and success, (iii) between rigor of the class standard and accommodating slower-pace learners to build confidence, (iv) between quantity and quality of the curriculum, and (v) between urge to help students and expecting students to figure out the problems themselves. They are more challenging in real than they sound. I also have found that sometimes less is more in the class, not to lose focus. Attempt to cover more-than-appropriate amount or level of information can cause a disastrous drop of the students’ interests altogether or merely overwhelm them. I think carefully crafted approach questions and simple example or analogy are always helpful in engaging the students to the deeper and more complex level of knowledge in the class. I usually start my class with relevant current news with photos or headlines (e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, etc.) to informally engage the students in the topic to learn more in depth. This has been very helpful. Continuous checking (assessment) to see if the students are successful with information digestion in the class, and providing impromptu feedback based on their condition are crucial in promoting successful learning.
I value the necessity and usefulness of employing diverse teaching methods and learning experiences in the class. I have taught various courses spanning from a lower-level introductory classes (>270 students with 30 lab sections) to an upper-level science classes (20+ students with field-based lab components) and to graduate courses (5-15 students). I know each case would need different mix of teaching activities for successful learning. I have tried inviting guest speakers (either in-person or via Skype), pre-lecture online and in-class quizzes, course blogs, group projects, letters to the editor to news media, and utilization of multimedia material in class beyond classical lecture and lab/discussion format. Each activity also serves as a tool for better assessment and evaluation. One additional advantage of having diverse evaluation metrics in class is to give students to recover if they didn’t succeed in one aspect through other components during the course. For example, providing multiple exams, quizzes and other assignments with low individual weights is less burdensome for students than letting them just take one mid-term and one final exam to get their course grades. Having multiple class activities not only help diversifying the grade portfolio for the students but also providing an enriched learning experience for all participants.
Ample use of modern technology in the classroom can boost the interest and participation of the students and increase the efficiency of learning assessment. I have strived to adopt various new teaching technologies to improve my teaching. Active use of carefully designed class learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard system can improve communication with the students and provide instructors better management of teaching materials and student assessment information. Introducing a new technique can create a whole new dynamic in the class, which can encourage a meaningful individual or collective learning experience. For example, when I adopted a ‘class response system’ (aka clickers) in my large-size class for the first time in my department, it has immediately made many good changes. The students’ attention, participation, and discussion have improved, not to mention their attendance, although I didn’t officially count their attendance. Perhaps the biggest benefit by using the clickers is immediate feedback and check up of the students’ learning and instructor’s performance. Sometimes the students are surprised by their answer distributions, and they like the fact that they can confirm their understandings compared to their peers’ immediately. As an instructor, this is really beneficial to check the level of the students’ understanding, so I can adjust the pace and level of teaching on site. I strategically implement a new teaching technique one at a time each semester to achieve a good learning experience, while being careful not to confuse or overwhelm the students.
Developing a sense of value judgment and responsible conduct in science at young age is important. I have developed and taught the Science Ethics course and it has been very rewarding. I first taught the class for the graduate students of my department, and have taught the summertime NSF-REU students during 2008-2011 based on a great success with the first class. Now I teach the science ethics component as a part of the curriculum of Supervised Teaching course for our department’s graduate students. The first graduate class students developed an ethics code for the department, and it was later formally adopted by the department as the “Guidelines for Ethical Research Conduct”. This was the first time that the department formulated a formal ethics guideline. Now, all current and new incoming students, staff, and faculty at the UT Marine Science Institute receive this Ethics Guideline for their reference (http://www.utmsi.utexas.edu/academics.html).