During my ten years of teaching experiences in face-to-face, blended and online contexts, there are three concepts that ground my teaching philosophy: to nurture responsibility, initiative, and agency in my students, to build diversity, democracy and openness in my classes, and to help students become self-directed, reflective, and life-long learners.
As an educator, I strive to challenge, engage, and inspire students to view themselves as “change agents” (Bandura, 2001) in learning, and view learning as a creative, reflective, and transformative process (Cranton, 2006). I hope my teaching can not only help students become familiar with all kinds of course content, skills, and knowledge, but more importantly, empower them to view themselves as individuals who can shape their fields of interest, make action to achieve their personal and professional goals, and help people in their communities to grow and develop. I see my task as creating spaces for students to experience multiple challenges, questions or perspectives, and to do so in a manner that encourages critical reflection on experiences, perspectives and goals, and fosters a deep, meaningful shift in the way students see themselves and/or the world.
To achieve these goals, I strive to build interactive, collaborative, engaging online/blended learning in my classes, where students and I can become co-creators of supportive learning communities, co-constructors of knowledge, and co-facilitators of inquiry and learning. Informed by my research, I have experimented with multiple strategies in my teaching practices. To forge a closer connection between curriculum development and student learning goals, I have used several “role-sharing” strategies, such as inviting students to co-construct syllabi and class guideline, asking students form learning facilitation groups to design and lead class sessions, and giving students the right to form and disband small groups in terms of emerging goals. In this way, students are empowered to not only take responsibility for their own learning by reflecting on prior knowledge, and setting new learning goals, but also take initiatives for collaborative learning by planning learning agendas, designing and facilitating group activities. In addition, to help students become more critical and reflective, I encourage students to keep a “critical learning moments” journal (Brookﬁeld, 1995) to reflect on their own learning process. For example, in an online course, I asked students to reflect on this question “How does learning and inquiry differ when you interact and collaborate with your peers online?”. In addition to using summative assessment, I have integrated more authentic and dynamic assessment strategies, such as asking students to propose research purposes and questions and make self-assessments on research projects, using peer-review process in a writing-intensive course and participatory assessment in a discussion-intensive online course. Overall, the ultimate purpose of using these pedagogical strategies is to cultivate students’ critical thinking, self-reflection, and collaborative learning, and empower them apply these knowledge and experiences to help people in their communities (e.g., learning groups, friend circles, work communities) learn.
Reflecting on my attempts during the past years, I realize that on the one hand, these strategies have exerted positive influences on improving student learning experiences and building supportive communities; on the other hand, it is challenging for instructors to keep a good balance between management and democracy. These attempts have led to a promising design-based research: inviting a group of teachers to apply these strategies in different learning environments, investigating students’ learning processes, experiences, and performances, and further revising, applying, and investigating effect of these strategies. In addition, informed by my research, design and implementation of instructional tools (e.g., social network awareness, chronological visualization tools) would be helpful for students’ self-regulation and decision-making. I hope my research and teaching can continue to inform each other, with the goal to better understand how learners learn, and to help educators foster learning.
In summary, I am very committed to providing a learning environment that is supportive, critical, and democratic, one that empowers both students and teachers in pursuing learning. I believe all educators are themselves learners, and learners are the best educators for themselves. I make efforts to cultivate four characteristics in myself and in my students: life-long learning (being eager to learn), capacity (being accessible, positive, and resourceful), entrepreneurship (being critical, innovative, and open-minded), and collaboration (being trustful, supportive, and collegial). In my future teaching, mentoring, and service, I will consistently keep one goal in mind: help learners grow, learn and develop with them, and become life-long learners together.