Diversity statement of my teaching practices

Growing up in a male-dominated family, I have been struggling with significant questions related to self-identity for many years, particularly since I started pursuing my higher education at the age of 17. Although I became one of the youngest lecturers of computer sciences in a Chinese university at the age of 23, I still struggled between the distorted, constrained self the society and my family imposed on me (being an easy, fun young lady, living with a stable job), and the real-self entrenched inside of me (which was still vague to me at that time). It is the experience of the preparation for my PhD applications, and the pursue of my PhD degree in US, that has given me a chance to critically understand the tension and contradiction, and to reflect on my fears, doubts, and hopes in my life. Through 5-year of hard working, exploring possibilities, and self-reflection during my PhD journey, I ultimately grow up with an inner peace, recognizing a significant part of my true self without self-judgment – enjoy myself, being resilient, working hard and letting things unfold naturally. I particularly thank the inclusive, supportive, non-judgmental environment my PhD program has provided that has helped me seed a spirit within myself: being myself, enjoy what I do, and do my best without expectations. Because of my experiences, I truly understand how important it is to providing a warm, inclusive, supportive environment that can empower learners to pursue learning in the way they enjoy.

In addition, the research experience on a gender analysis research of female scholars’ publications within educational technology journals has enhanced my awareness regarding inequality and difference in the field of Educational Technologies (ET). The results of this study demonstrate that although female publishing rates continue to increase over time, there remains discernible disparity in women’s representation in scholarly publishing in the ET-related journals. We concluded that women in the field also need to be more visible as a means to provide diversity of perspective and to serve as role models for female doctoral students and colleagues (Scharber, Pazurek & Ouyang, 2017). As I recalled similar experiences of invisibility when I worked as a female scholar in the field of Computer Sciences, I realized that gender disparity within technology-related fields is consistently a common topic all around the world. I, as a female minority scholar in ET, should make efforts to nurture genuine communities with the inclusivity, self-awareness, vulnerability, commitment, openness, freedom, and equality.

Acknowledging the importance of community building, I strive to experiment and develop relevant pedagogical strategies in my classes.  Informed by my research, one primary goal of my teaching during my PhD is to create interactive, collaborative, engaged learning, where students and I can become co-creators of supportive learning communities, co-constructors of knowledge, and co-facilitators of inquiry and learning. 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 personalized 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 them keep a “critical learning moments” journal (Brookfield, 1995) to reflect on their own learning. I asked students to reflect on questions like this: “How does learning and inquiry differ when you interact and collaborate with your peers online?”, to help them become more aware of their learning preference and style in different learning situations. Moreover, 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 the peer-review process in a writing-intensive course and making group assessments based on students’ self-reflection of their group collaboration.

In addition, as a foreign, minority student, I understand the importance of equal participation and the difficulty students sometimes face in class participation. I strive to apply strategies to engage students from all backgrounds and encourage equal participation in face-to-face discussions. Several strategies I have learned from transformative learning books and have applied in my teaching practices are: (a) providing readings from contradictory points of view to stimulate student dialogue from different perspectives, (b) developing discourse procedure within the group at the beginning of the class, (c) asking group members to take roles of checking the direction and procedure of the discourse, and ensuring equal participation of each member, (d) avoiding dismissive statements or definitive summaries at the end of discussions, (e) encouraging quiet time for students’ self-reflection within any discussion exchange (Cranton, 2006). These attempts have helped improve students’ engagement on elaborating different perspectives, and help me keep a good balance between discussion management and nurture of inclusivity and democracy. I strive to nurture an inclusive learning environment where diverse perspectives, needs and goals from students are recognized, respected, valued, and seen as a source of strength.

In summary, I am very committed to providing an inclusive, equitable, democratic learning environment that empowers both learners and educators to pursue learning. I hope through my teaching, research and service, I can make contributions to class and school community building, helping students interact and collaborate with each other, nurture mutual empowering, and make a long-term commitment to well-being (their own, one another’s, and the group’s). I know this is a high call. I will consistently study, experiment, and develop strategies in my teaching, research, and service practices that can provide respect for and engagement with diversity in the class, foster positive learning experiences and outcomes through respecting difference in the class, and enhance diversity, openness, inclusivity in class and school communities.





Teaching philosophy

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.

Reflection on Teaching


Writing critical teaching reflection is an ongoing process. This piece is updated in May 31, 2016

My teaching philosophy is to help my students become self-directed, reflective, and life-long learners, and further make learning more powerful to others in their communities (i.e., the class groups, their family, friend circles, outside communities). I believe transforms can happen in the individual’s cognitive level, or in the individual’s intuitive, emotional, spiritual level, as well as the community and society level.  I hope what happen in my online course can transform, liberate, and empower my student, as an individual, then help them apply these transforms to influence the community he or she belongs to, finally, change the world (Brookfield, 1995).

The first important question for me as an educator is what is knowledge? who decide what knowledge should be included in a course curriculum? I agree that knowledge is uniquely constructed by the learner, rather than transmitted by the instructor. I believe that the experiences learners bring into the class is important and learners’ voice and opinion should be heard here. I am more concerned with students’ need and intention to fulfill themselves to a higher development rather than my personal judgment of “important” knowledge as an authority. Educators should engage and work with students during the curriculum development rather than imposing a dominatory curriculum to them (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2013). Therefore, recently, I have made efforts to improve my course equality, democracy and freedom by engaging students in the curriculum development particularly the group collaborative work design and facilitation process.

The second important question is how learners acquire knowledge? As constructivists argue learning includes both the learner’s knowledge acquisition and meaning making in the individual cognition process as well as the construction of collective knowledge during the social interaction and participation process (Cobb, 1994; Liu & Matthews, 2005; Sfard, 1998). The social-cognitive aspect of constructivism implies that interaction and participation are important sources of learner’s cognitive and social development (Durairaj & Umar, 2015). We can definitely question “whether sharing experiences is important to all individuals and whether all types of learning are enhanced by the collaborative process” (Cranton, 2006). The knowledge construction and meaning-making process may occur without interaction and collaboration. However, I do agree that collaborative learning is a great way for learners to learn, particularly, an important way for online learning. I respect an instructor’s facilitation of a true supportive online learning community; and I try to integrate community-building pedagogical strategies in my online course. Underpinned with constructivism theory, an online learning community is generally considered as an interactive, collaborative, and cohesive online environment that provide participants opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and reflect with peers who share the same interests and experiences, or academic and professional development goals (Palloff & Pratt, 2007); the online community goal is to continually support participants’ academic work and professional development with a sense of openness, support, belonging, and trust built among participants (Palloff & Pratt, 2007; Rovai, 2002). Here comes another more important question: does simply putting students together in an online learning community result in active interaction and collaboration? The answer is no (Kreijns, Kirschner, & Jochems, 2003; Wang, 2013).

In order to help students achieve meaningful and deep learning in both the individual level and the community level, I have made several efforts in my online course. In my online course design and facilitation, first, I make efforts to design individual work in a flexible, practical, and creative way, thus help students apply them directly into their own study and work. Moreover, I strive to build my online course a healthier community, with inclusivity, diversity, and openness. I make efforts to make the group collaborative work more flexible, fluid, and diverse for learners with different learning preference to work together on. I try not to restrict online group work into the traditional format of “fixed” group; instead, I make efforts to provide students with the freedom and responsibility to “move between small-group and whole-class structures and redefine their inquiries and participatory roles to address idea diversity and build community coherence” (Zhang et al., 2009, p. 35). This flexibility can foster students’ interaction beyond the “fixed” small group discussions and encourage autonomous and class-wide interactions. For example, I have employed class-level collaborative work, such as collaborative online work charter, critical online learning moments, negotiated curriculum, etc. to make my teaching more democratic, participatory, and interactive (Brookfield, 1995).

These education initiatives may result in different learning and teaching experiences for my students and myself. As Cranton (2006) proposed, when people encounter an experience or perspective that is discrepant with their beliefs and values, that encounter has the potential to call those beliefs and values into question and to lead to a deep shift in the way people see themselves and/or the world. In order to help students become more critical and reflective, I would like students to challenge their habits of mind. I consistently ask students to reflect on their own learning process: What they have learned from themselves, peers and the instructor? How are you as a learner before you came into this course? How have you changed? What can they do to make it different? How do you anticipate this will affect your learning in the future? As an instructor, I strive to be a more critically reflective instructor during the course of course design and instruction. I also ask myself similar questions: what can I do differently to make students being more critical and reflective, and to motivate students to continue their learning after taking my courses?

Some questions we may ask to nurture students’ transformative learning:

How are you growing and changing as a learner and as a person through all of these interactions and collaborations?

Discuss the impact, issues, problems, and concerns or any other idea relevant to how this type of class is affecting you in any way.

What are we learning about technology and online tools by using it?

What are we learning about learning by using technology?

How are you different as a learner online? How are you experiencing this online learning process?

Has that perception of myself changed as I have participated in an online course?

Have I revealed a part of myself that has not been revealed in other settings?

How were you as a learner before you came into this course? How have you changed? How do you anticipate this will affect your learning in the future?

How does learning and knowledge generation differ when we learn online?

How does technology contribute to that difference?

What do we learn about technology when we engage in learning in this way?

How does the use of online learning affect the learning process?


Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Iossey-Bass.

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2013). Research methods in education. Routledge.

Cranton, P. (2006). Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning: A Guide for Educators of Adults.


an online learning theorist & practitioner?

As my PhD journey goes on, I have been continuing to attempt to define myself in the educational field. It is an ever-changing journey, though. As I check my definition as an educational researcher and a learning technologist earlier, I start to think: what if I consider myself as an online learning theorist and practitioner?

I was a lecturer of a Chinese university, who has six-year teaching experience in the face-to-face traditional classroom context, in a traditional Chinese higher education institution. Since I started my teaching assistantship work in the Learning Technologies program in the United States, I was automatically transferred from the traditional classroom setting to the online education context, without fully trained and supported. Fortunately, I took a graduate-level online course on building online learning community at my first year in my PhD program, with an experienced online instructor who has over ten years of online teaching experiences within higher education contexts and has received national attention for her masterful online pedagogical skills. This online learning experience embarked my journey on studying instructors’ online pedagogy development that could help them improve the effectiveness of online teaching and learning.

I have been thinking about how people learn online? What we online educators and practitioners can do to help learners learn better online? As an online instructor in the higher education context, we usually only have one semester to facilitate an online course. What we can do? designing a fancy online platform? Providing interesting and useful learning materials? building a more engaging community for students to interact and collaborate?

I have been recently immersed myself in the readings of the transformative learning. Transforms may happen in the individual’s cognitive level, or in the individual’s intuitive, emotional, spiritual level, as well as the societal change level. Can it be integrated into online education? How can it be studied in online education contexts?


how does people make a deeper meaning

How does people make meaning and learn? This is a critical question for educators to think about. I think constructivists have made many propositions on this question. They contend we interpret our experiences in our own way, and that how we see the world is a result of our perceptions of our experiences.  Meaning is constructed through experience and our perceptions of those experiences, and future experiences are seen through the lens of the perspectives developed from past experiences.

How can people make a deeper level of meaning or transformative learning? This is another question.

Mezirow (1975) proposed that a perspective transformation includes:

  • a disorienting dilemma
  • self-examination
  • assessment of assumptions and a sense of alienation
  • relating to others
  • exploring options
  • building competence and self-confidence
  • planning a course of action
  • acquiring the skills for the course of action
  • trying out new roles
  • reintegrating the social context

As I read the constructivism and transformative learning theories, I realize that I have at least experienced an important transformative encounter in my life. I have written my story in some toastmaster speeches, which you can find here and here and here. Here I want to list the process in a transformative learning perspective, following Mezirow’s perspective transformation:

  • a disorienting dilemma: the unchallenged and oppressive cultural expectation in China for a 26-year-old lady to maintain a stable job (like me as a lecturer in a college) as well as get married before 30 and have kids (I haven’t done yet)
  • self-examination: I have questioned my stagnation between staying in the stable status, following my parents’ expectation and pursuing something new (which I did not figure out what it is at that time)
  • assessment of assumptions and a sense of alienation: I had at least three months of  turmoil, insomnia and isolation of myself, and I saw it was a mild depression period
  • relating to others: Almost all of my peer ladies got married, and I did not reach out to ladies who have the similar issue as me, because I think I don’t want to waste my time on participating in community stuffs (I am still in this model of thinking and acting; I am a little doubt it now though)
  • exploring options: I explore my options, and the first one coming to me is to pursue my phd degree in US; in this way, I can get rid of the traditional Chinese culture and environment, and also pursue a higher level of truth, which is my essential purpose in my life, I think
  • building competence and self-confidence: This is not too hard for me, as an assertive person, although I was not confident in my English and maybe other academic skills at that point
  • planning a course of action: I started English qualification exams immediately after I decided to come to US
  • acquiring the skills for the course of action: I have been continuing practicing my  oral and written English, in the daily life level and professional level
  • trying out new roles: an important new role is being a phd student in US; another one maybe being a student leader? get myself more engaged in different kinds of organizations and committees on campus? very hard for me, though, which you can find a toastmaster speech here
  • reintegrating the social context: I guess this requires societal change, I would love to share my personal experiences to Chinese ladies who have the same confusion and stagnation. But I haven’t taken any actions yet.

As I rethink about my transformation experience, I realize the community-level and societal level are missed in my transformative process, even though I consider my story a very powerful and transformative one for myself. I agree what Cranton (2006) wrote in her book Understanding and promoting transformative learning, “transformation can also occur without collaboration” and “we can question whether sharing experiences is important to all individuals and whether all types of learning are enhanced by the collaborative process”. My transformative experience empowers me as an individual; however, making it to the societal level will make it more powerful to others for sure.

Relating to others, in another word, is building a real connectedness with others in a community; reintegrating the social context, is in another word, integrating personal experiences and making the change to the societal level.  Both are very important phase for a deeper and more transformative learning. A healthy community, with inclusivity, realism, self-awareness, vulnerability, commitment, openness, freedom, equality, and love is different from the social interaction we usually talk about (Peck, 1987) . It is not the same as the business social interaction in a party at all. It is a higher level connectedness for human. As Peck proposes, this kind of community is where human evolutes. More details here.

This idea challenges my habits of mind. As Cranton (2013) proposed, when people encounter an experience or perspective that is discrepant with their beliefs and values, that encounter has the potential to call those beliefs and values into question and to lead to a deep shift in the way people see themselves and/or the world. So, I guess this is a new avenue for me to make another transformation in my life.


My journey to be a learning technologist

In 2000, I was impelled to computer science and technology department by my dad’s decision. In 2004, I transferred to computer software for my master degree at the same university. In 2007, I got my first job as a university lecturer and in the following six-year-teaching, all my courses were technology-related or -involved. In 2013, I started my PhD journey in the Learning Technologies program in UMN. Generally speaking, all my academic and professional life has been filled with technologies based on this simple timeline. I use technologies, I teach technologies, I learn technologies, I research technologies.

But until very recently, I have noticed a new title appearing among websites, people’s business cards, conversations and talks, that is learning/educational technologist. According to the Association for Learning Technology: Learning technology is the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment. Learning technologists are people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology. According to this definition, I would say I have been a learning technologist for 15 years!

In my 15-year-learning-and-teaching-technologies experiences, there are countless moments that I have felt strong connected with technologies. Here, I would love to list three important moments of technology integration in my teaching and learning process. The first moment happened in my first semester of my undergraduate study in 2000. In a computer introduction and foundation course, we were introduced to the first computer lab in our university, and would have several class sessions in that lab. The lab was on the ninth floor of the main teaching building. When we got there, the elevator was out of service. However, with the desire and enthusiasm of trying new computers and technologies, we decided to climb the stairs to the ninth floor. When we got the ninth floor, we were almost out of service ourselves. But suddenly, a 90-square meter room with 100 microcomputers attracted us. We rushed into the lab and started our first computer and technology practices. At that moment seeing my peers’ enthusiasm, I realized that new technology has the appealing magic to young people and it was so feasible and practical to integrate technology into the higher education.

The second moment was at my fifth year of teaching in the face-to-face classroom context in China. After five-year-traditional-teaching, I started to try new technology integration in my teaching practices. Since micro-blog was so popular among my undergraduates, I tried to integrate it into the formal education. I created a micro-blog group for my students, and they had the opportunity to communicate and collaborate in the group with their peers. They also had the great chance to reach out to some famous educators who were also active in micro-blog. At the end of that semester, a small group of my students posted a group project on micro-blog and the project got many constructive comments from educators and peers. At that moment, with seeing my students’ awesome performance, I knew that creative online communication and collaboration are of paramount importance to motivate and engage students, and to enrich their learning experiences.

The third moment happened in my online course in the USA. I, as a graduate instructor, have facilitated an online course in my department for four semesters. This is a totally new experience for me in my teaching journey. Since I have never taught a completely online course in my teaching career before, I started to take online courses with experienced online instructor and observed how they facilitate an online course. I tried to integrate various kinds of applications, online tools, websites, software, online learning platforms in my course. One night, I got an email from my student and she told me she applied a couple of online tools she learned from my class into another business project and got great feedbacks from her instructor and peers. I felt so proud of her at that moment, and also realized that integration of practical tools and technologies into online courses has great potentials to equip undergraduates and improve their capabilities in their work and life.

In my future journey, the role of being a learning technologist will involve and evolve with three interrelated and complementary roles: researcher, instructor and designer. As a researcher, I will make efforts to explore how learners learn and how instructors can motivate learners; as an instructor, I have great opportunities to observe learners’ behaviors and performances in their learning processes, which would be of benefit to my research; as a designer, I have opportunities to design and develop creative learning contexts in order to engage learners and enrich their learning experiences. These three roles will be interweaved in my journey of being a learning technologist.

How do I define myself as an educational researcher?

I started my career in educational field as a computer sciences lecturer in a Chinese university ten years ago, without any specialized and professional training on teaching. I got no clue how complex and interwoven teaching and learning process was, not to speak of educational research. With the initial thoughts of combining computer-assisted analyses with students’ learning, I entered my Ph.D. program in Learning Technologies in the University of Minnesota one and a half years ago. Although it was still a little difficult for me to see a full picture of this mixed, multilayered, the tip of iceberg is disclosed for me gradually as my academic journey goes on.

Education itself is a complexity where all organisms have a dynamic relationship among each other, and have a complicated relationship with the environment. As my Ph.D. journey goes on, I have transferred from a beginning learner feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of these complex organisms to a novice educational researcher peeling the first layer of this complexity. I have realized that this complicated system is composed with education theories, research methodologies, and real experiences of learners, educators and researchers, and so on. More importantly, the real experience that teachers and students, or instructors and learners encounter has the paramount importance and influence on educational research.

As I studied several research methods courses in my department, I was afforded with different methodologies, such as qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods; I was disclosed with different paradigms, such as positivist, post-positivist, interpretive, critical, and postmodern paradigms. The coursework was all intensive and overwhelming, but as I began to design and conduct research, I could see the different facets of educational research that I had read and learned and could apply them into my study.

Merging these methods and paradigms with my previous knowledge and experience, I am currently interested in the connections and interactions students and instructors have experienced in online learning process. My current research centers on emerging learning technologies and online social learning. Especially, I focus on adopting mixed-methods to explore students’ online learning process and to examine instructor’s applications of TPACK in online teaching practices. Primary research methods may include using quantitative and statistic methods to analyze online postings/comments, using social networking analysis to examine the networked relationship among online students and between student and instructor, and using qualitative methods (interview and observation) to examine instructor’s TPACK applications from both the instructor’s side and the students’ side. With quantitative and statistic methods, I may get a picture of how students and instructor interact with each other online; while with qualitative methods, I may get a deeper perspective of why they behave in that way. In addition, since I usually see the world in a philosophical way, I am interested in how to apply phenomenology into online educational research. Although at this point I am not very sure how to fully manifest and integrate it into my study, I think phenomenological research method aligns well with what instructional designers and educational technology researchers do in the field.

My potential audiences may be the person who wants to analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate process and tools to enhance learning, such as educational technologists, learning analysts, online instructors, and instructional designers, etc.

I enter this field with the desire to become an independent educational researcher and a freelance online educator. Now my own identity as an educational researcher is only beginning to take shape and I do not know yet what the final exact result will look like. What I have learned through my PhD journey so far is that I should be willing to open up myself to any research possibilities and potentials.

– 02.01.2015 at a sunny afternoon in Magrath library