I have a true passion for teaching, and it is my strong belief that the humanities are indispensable in providing undergraduates important tools to understand the world and to actively engage in society. While the ideas I’ve outlined here represent my current approaches to pedagogy more generally, these guidelines are flexible enough to allow me considerable leeway in how they are implemented in specific classrooms, and with specific students.
What to teach
When thinking about the skills I want students to acquire or the learning outcomes I want them to achieve, I tend to divide these into “the three Cs”:
- Consumption: The consumption of knowledge concerns being familiar with how to access existing knowledge, how to handle different kinds of sources, and how to store and retain information. Some basic skills I emphasize in my classroom include learning to navigate library research tools, awareness of the divergent methodologies and domains of knowledge represented by different disciplines, assessment of the reliability of sources, close reading, and the effective use of data management tools (note-taking, citation systems, digital storage, etc.). I frequently assess these skills through class discussion, data management projects (outlines, annotated bibliographies, etc.), and written assignments or examinations that measure comprehension of reading materials.
- Curation: Knowledge curation concerns effectively synthesizing knowledge and presenting it in a professional way that forwards an argument. In my courses, I focus on teaching students to organize and systematize information, to integrate different sources, to formulate a coherent argument, to understand the audience for a particular work, and to communicate effectively in written and oral formats. Some typical assignments include lit reviews, papers focusing on analysis of sources from various points of view, audio-visual documentaries, oral presentations, and Wikipedia entries.
- Creation: The creation of new knowledge is the most advanced of the three skill sets, building on the preceding two. Specific learning outcomes I emphasize in this area include understanding how new sources of information support and/or challenge existing knowledge structures, and effectively expressing new contributions in ways that are appropriate to a particular field. Assignments usually take the form of research papers, but I also have used posters, oral presentations, digital media, screenplays, and other alternative formats.
All three of the above areas are covered in each of my classes, although I tend to adjust the primary focus depending on the level. (For example, lower-division undergraduate courses usually focus on the first and second skill sets, while upper-division and graduate courses prioritize the second and third.) I am explicit with students about which learning outcomes are being focused on in each course, and about how I am moving them through this spectrum. This allows students who have taken more than one class with me to see how they fit together to form a larger whole.
How to teach
My teaching methods have been influenced by several key experiences in my professional development. The first was my year as an instructor in the expository writing program at Johns Hopkins, which taught me the Harvard “Expos” pedagogical method. The second was my year-long fellowship at LeMoyne College, where I encountered the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis (educating the whole person) and the method of “learning contracts.” Finally, my time at Abington College, a minority-majority institution with an extremely diverse student body, has also challenged me to expand and refine my teaching methods with an eye toward equity and inclusion. To consolidate what I have learned from these experiences, my use of particular teaching methods in the classroom is guided by my commitment to three overarching values, which I call “the three As”:
- Accessibility: I believe that it is the professor’s responsibility to proactively facilitate student access to learning. In the first instance, this means modifying pedagogical methods in order to accommodate many different types of learners. I have developed a number of modules I use in my classes to facilitate the success of non-traditional students, students with disabilities, speakers of English as a second language, and students from many different backgrounds. Accessibility also means providing an engaging environment that actively inspires student interest and enthusiasm about the course material. Especially in my general education courses, I am continually seeking ways to enhance the relevance and accessibility of Asian Studies, and routinely incorporate a wide range of materials and methods (from traditional lectures and discussion to group-work, competitions, role-playing games, fieldwork, and more) in order to open these new worlds to as many students as possible.
- Agency: At its core, agency means treating students like individuals and placing their needs at the center of the educational experience. I am constantly experimenting with pedagogical strategies that promote student choice and that incentivize creative individualized engagement with the course material. While there are many examples I have employed in the past, I will mention two of my perennial favorites. For a long time, most of my lower-level courses have included a menu of options for how students can demonstrate achievement — from traditional exams and papers to oral presentations, book reviews, cultural projects, fieldwork, and other activities that encourage experimentation. Meanwhile, in my upper-level courses, I continue to use learning contracts to encourage students to take responsibility for directing their educational experience, managing their time, and meeting the goals they set.
- Attention: Even when they exemplify the best in terms of accessibility and student agency, educational experiences can still fall flat if the professor is not engaged and involved. Good education cannot be automated, outsourced, or supersized (MOOCs, for example) because the role of an educator involves much more than simply imparting information that students consume. If we wish them to learn to be effective curators and creators of knowledge, students need personalized attention to their individual academic strengths and weaknesses. Key to cultivating an engaged student-centered pedagogy is an open feedback loop between students and faculty, and a willingness to modulate methods and expectations mid-flow. A willingness to provide mentorship both in and outside the classroom is also critical, especially for minority and first-generation college students who may lack professional role models.
All of this requires professors to maintain a compassionate and responsive attentiveness to students’ needs both as learners and as human beings, which at the end of the day is the most important quality a teacher can bring to the classroom.