teaching philosophy

In this outline of my teaching philosophy, I answer three questions: How do I perceive the role of teaching? What are the goals of my teaching? How do I aim to achieve these goals?

The Why: Teaching to make a difference

I believe that most academics make the greatest impact via their teaching. Not research (or academic service). Teaching creates opportunities—not only for those taught, teaching involves tremendous multiplier effects.

Teaching facilitates learning. And learning is what I consider to be the most transformative force for any large-scale change.

My teaching vision is to enable and empower every single student to become a self-directed learner. This is a prerequisite to living a self-directed life. Central goals to work towards this vision are the following:

  • I present research methods as a helpful tool. Not only for academia, but for everyday life. As an example, in the Teaching Clinic, we address real challenges of individual teachers using design-based research.
  • I aim to provide a highly individualized learning experience.
  • My teaching emphasizes research mentality and methodological thinking. This is my goal for all courses, irrespective of the subject matter.
  • I attempt to give students opportunities for improving wider abilities. For example, in writing, (public) speaking, the use and development of digital tools, orcollaboration.
  • I interweave state-of-the art research and state-of-the-art teaching practices.

The How: Teaching Values

My teaching is based on a set of interrelated values (that are listed here in no particular order):

Innovation

I strive to provide the best teaching possible for my students by cultivating a practice of continuous improvement and innovation. I learn informally by trying out new, innovative ideas in every single course that I teach, by reflecting deeply about these experiences, and by collecting data about the success of my teaching. Student feedback through frequent and direct inquiry, as well as through formal course evaluation, is an essential ingredient to that process of innovation, too.

I believe that multiple viewpoints are likely to enrich any teaching and learning experience. This is why I invite my students to give feedback frequently and this is why I enjoy working with teaching assistants. The teaching assistants’ role is not to administrate the course—I have effective automated process in place for that—but instead to challenge my teaching practice and contribute a different perspective. This is especially helpful, as teaching assistants often help me to better relate to the students’ struggles.

Additionally, I learn formally about teaching by attending seminars about teaching competence, student learning, and related aspects of professional teaching.

This value manifests itself in, for instance:

  • my deep engagement with flipped learning: leading to relevant publications, research contact with Flipped Learning Global Initiative, multiple teaching awards, and being contacted as an expert interviewee;
  • my highly praised practice of multimodal video-feedback: a screencast of me reading a student text and thinking aloud—a practice that has always produced the equivocal statement that it has been one of the most profound learning experience of the students;
  • the virtual open office hour: a pre-scheduled event where I answer student questions from any course that is later archived as a resource for others students;
  • an automated E-Mail course to accompany the thesis writing process… which within three years evolved from a text-only course delivered to 25 students to a full-blown only academy with thousands of students and hundreds of hours of video content;
  • adoption of other established teaching practices such as problem-based learning and agile teaching.

Teaching across (digital) channels

Any given message may be conveyed via different means and any given learner may be especially receptive to a specific form of communication. This is why teaching needs to happen across many channels. It is imperative to reach more learners and to solidify the learning for each individual learner. I reflect on using the right medium for each message and for each (group of) student(s). Thinking this way also allows for special attention for special needs.

It is my conviction that effective, efficient, state-of-the-art teaching requires using multiple channels of communication, including digital ones. Some selected highlights of my teaching practices include:

  • podcast on academic writing: In the “Agraphie” Podcast, I interview students about their thesis writing experience in order to produce a plenitude of strategies and a resource that help other students to have a great learning experience during the thesis writing process. I am currently in the process of transforming the podcast so that advanced students assume the role of host;
  • videos of all kinds on platforms such as YouTube and proprietary online academies: These videos are mainly focused on research methods and academic writing; produced in my home studio, directly in the lecture room, or extracted from teaching sessions via live stream. The added benefit here is that it creates resources that may be used by the next generations of students. For instance, for one of my latest statistics courses, I was able to merge my teaching notes with the videos on my YouTube channel, creating a complete self-paced online course with theory, demonstration of applications, and opportunities for practice and self-evaluation. All this required hardly any additional time to prepare;
  • virtual live sessions with Q&A platforms:I frequently use open YouTube-streams for Q&A sessions, as I realized that many students feel empowered by this more distanced, anonymized form of teaching to ask questions that would otherwise make them feel vulnerable. This is an incredibly powerful technique when it comes to integrating students in the Higher-Ed classroom community. I also teach in a completely virtual undergraduate programs in Finland;
  • flipped classroom activities (see above);
  • multimodal video-feedback (see above);
  • I also like to think about the necessary tools to enforce professional and “leveraged” teaching—and have invested in a large array of relevant hardware and software that shapes my teaching (in the broadest sense).

Individualization and student-centeredness

In large Higher-Ed classes, it is easy to lose sight of individual learners and their individual challenges and talents. I strive to use teaching practices that respect and leverage these individual challenges and talents and help create individualized learning pathways and learning experiences. I believe that teaching should be accessible to weaker students but challenging for top students (“low floor, high ceiling”). Often, this also means producing meaning for the students.

My hallmark teaching practices that are aligned with this value include:

  • frequent and detailed (multi-channel) feedback to the students;
  • collecting feedback from students frequently, for instance, via regular surveys or chats with students before or after class. Importantly, all my courses feature a digital feedback channel through which issues may be raised anonymously;
  • challenging the top students to join the actual academic debate via journal publications or conference presentations: I frequently initiate joint publications in academic journals or practitioner journals;
  • conducting service learning and project-based learning projects in order to create more meaningful learning experiences for students; here, my flagship project is the TeachingClinic;
  • dynamic grading, where each student and I co-sign an individualized contract that specifies the tasks to do in the course and the resulting grade.

Sustainable, participative, and research-oriented teaching

Teaching needs to be sustainable to achieve maximum impact. This relates to two questions. “Is my teaching practice sustainable for myself as the teacher—can I do this in the long run without mental or physical exhaustion (or the decay of my life as a researcher/father/husband/friend/…)?” and “Do the learned competencies matter for the students in the long run?”. To achieve favorable answers to both questions, I try to situate my teaching in a real-life context and also aim to train useful everyday skills; irrespective of the course.

Relevant teaching practices and mindsets I apply:

  • participative and empowering teaching practices such as service learning, project-based learning, public sphere pedagogy;
  • taking students’ work very seriously. For example, I often give students access to my international collaboration network in order for them to get the best information or feedback available for their particular project;
  • putting the learners in charge. The “self-organizing classroom” is a teaching concept I developed that gives every student (randomly assigned) meeting roles that facilitate the teacher’s move from being the lecturer to being a learning coach. This stimulates peer-teaching. Also, in a recent lecture, students were motivated to generate multiple choice questions to share with each other in preparation for the (multiple choice) exam at the end of the course. This lead to the creation of a database of 200 high-quality multiple choice questions; more than enough for a decent self-evaluation before the graded examination.
  • ….and did you notice the many papers that I linked in this text to video-feedback, the TeachingClinic, or the flipped statistics classroom? I do not only teach about research, I research my teaching—and publish it in international academic journals.

Embracing uncertainty, professionally

Managing the unknown is a vital skill. Therefore, I value an element of uncertainty in my courses. Do not expect that all tasks and their solutions are 100% clear. This is not a mistake, it is design.

I strive to interact professionally with the students. This includes responding to inquiries and grading in a respectful and timely manner (usually 24 hours, often a lot sooner), transparent grading policies, and consistency within and across courses.

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Dominik E. Froehlich, PhD
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