There is a saying from an ancient Chinese Confucius philosopher, Xunzi, which says that “not hearing is not as good as hearing, hearing is not as good as seeing, seeing is not as good as knowing, knowing is not as good as acting; true learning continues until it is put into action.” It is also interpreted as “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” This idea has significantly influenced my teaching philosophy and teaching practice by emphasizing the importance of active learning and learning through experience. There might be several different levels of learning goals, such as understanding general knowledge, using the knowledge and critical thinking to analyze problems in reality, and obtaining specific skills and strategies that are applicable for problem-solving. No matter at which level, I believe that the process of active learning will be more beneficial for students than passive listening. Therefore, as a teacher, I always think about how to connect knowledge from textbooks and classrooms with students’ backgrounds, experiences, interests, and needs and how to encourage and motivate students to read, write, discuss, and be engaged in solving problems.
I believe that teachers can also be learners and students can also be teachers. The learning process is a two-way collaboration between the teacher and students instead of one-way communication. The success of collaboration depends on the dedication of both the teacher and the students. There is always room to improve skills, to find better examples, and to create new activities and lessons that will hopefully foster understanding and enthusiasm in students. I consistently look at the critiques and feedback from students and peers to better develop courses. I learn something new about the material, about the students, and about myself each time I teach a course. Every semester when I walk into a new classroom, I look at it as an opportunity to exchange ideas about people, the world, and the complex processes of communication. Therefore, students are encouraged to express their opinions and to respect different opinions. One of my teaching goals is to help students to be aware of different opinions and different social and cultural contexts in relation to social issues.
I respect the diversity of my students in the classroom. My focus in my education on diversity and multicultural competency reflects my commitment to inclusion, and it is important to me that information is presented in a way that takes into account the complexity and variety of the world we live in. Material is presented in a critical manner, considering various ways the information might differ if studied in a different population or context. No perspective is privileged above another, and all voices get to be heard. No student in the class should feel judged based on sex, gender, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, physical ability, or learning ability.
Typically, each time I start teaching a new class, I spend time learning about the students in the class, especially about their cultural background, major, and at which stage of college (junior, senior, graduate students, etc.). More importantly, I print out the students’ headshots and names and try to learn how to pronounce their names correctly. I believe it is important at the beginning of the class to show that the teacher cares for students and to set up an inclusive environment in the classroom. In the first class, students are asked about their prior related courses and their reason for taking the particular class. They are also asked to write down their understanding and expectations of the class, which is helpful for designing the class assignments and selecting the reading materials. When I prepare the slides and reading materials, I always try to find the latest cases, news, or reports that are related to the class topics and ask the students to discuss these cases and news at the beginning of each class.
At in-person classes, I typically divide students into several student groups. Each group has 4-6 students and is assigned a week or several weeks to find cases and stories and present their analysis of these to the class. The cases can be from their own practical experiences or media coverage. The purpose is to motivate students to connect what they have learned from the class with the practical and real world, and to think critically about existing problems and possible solutions. During class discussion, I am very careful regarding how to offer sufficient instruction, clarify misconceptions, and make sure the discussion is related to the class theme.
Besides group discussion and presentations, other activities in the classroom include reflections on videos, reality simulations, and written exercises. Through these kinds of activities, students can get a better understanding of how to solve real problems by using the knowledge and skills that they learn from the class. In the middle and at the end of the class, students are asked to write a learning reflection and teaching evaluation. The rubric of class objectives is provided to students to help them assess both their and the teacher’s performance in the class. I believe it is an essential process for both the teacher and the students to improve the active learning process.
For online classes, I also try to make the classes more conversational. Students are always divided into two groups. Each week one group does the initial posts for weekly discussions, the other group is responsible to response and comment the initial posts. The purpose is to encourage students to read other students’ posts and learn from each other. Also, I believe it is important to create an informative and engaging learning environment. The same as in-person classes, I provide detailed instruction and rubric to let students understand the requirements and expectations of assignments and the courses’ goals.