Service-Learning · Teaching

My Teaching Influences

In a recent meeting, I was asked about my background as a teacher and the specific influences that led me to apply service-learning as a pedagogical tool. While my mom was the first to encourage me to continually use reflection as a means for personal improvement, much of the mentoring that contributes directly to my current pedagogical techniques occurred during my undergraduate training at Anderson University. Anderson is a small Christian liberal arts University in central Indiana. The school emphasizes discovery and service throughout its various programs.

While many courses emphasized discovery, one course in particular served especially as a model for my service learning coursework. In 1986 I took an Urban Ministries course at Anderson. During week 1 of the course, we spent 8 hours a day in the classroom discussing various related scholarly works. During week 2, we spent our time in New York City meeting various community leaders and activists, and assisting various services projects for the underserved in New York City. During week 3, we spent our time in Washington, D.C. doing much the same. This course served as a valuable case study on the integration of study and action, service learning, and applied reflection, to build a rich learning environment.

But many of the other aspects of my teaching style and techniques come directly from my mentors in the psychology department at Anderson.

From Curt Leech I learned not only how to methodically approach a problem using the scientific method, but also the value of an open door policy that invites students to come and share both their academic and personal problems. As he became involved in our lives in school and play he used a holistic approach to foster a richer learning environment for the students. Students felt Curt cared not only about them as students, but as individuals. He adapted his techniques to meet students where they were at, learning their interests and sometimes joining them outside the academe to further strengthen those relationships. Curt also helped me to gain a healthy respect for the scientific method, and technology more generally, as a tool and not a solution.

From Bill Farmen I learned the value of teaching concepts and addressing the root of a given problem. Whether in learning ANOVAs by writing a spreadsheet template to do the calculations or by handing me a book to learn how to read philosophy texts when I struggled in his Philosophy of Psychology course, his training methods helped me to develop skills that have served me well whatever duties I’m assigned. Bill also helped me gain an appreciation for philosophy as another tool to study questions
that face us daily.

From Lee Griffith I have modeled many of my teaching techniques, such as the use of outlines provided to the students prior to class and then presented on overhead to help facilitate the learning process when many
new concepts and terms are introduced each week. But I also learned the value of mentoring students to think logically and clearly about problems and then to strategically work to address those problems. Lee helped me to understand that the scientific method could be a valuable tool for personal and social change, that this is a skill to be learned, and that it is more effective to teach these skills than it is to criticize
students for being undisciplined.

Beyond the above influences, self-reflection and student evaluations have been important factors guiding the development of my courses over the years. Further, during the fall, 2007, I participated in a reading group on service-learning. I have also found the dissertation by Junghyun An, a recent doctoral graduate from the Curriculum and Intruction department at the University of Illinois, helpful as I redesigned my primary course, Introduction to Networked Systems. Dr. An’s dissertation was an ethnographic study of that course performed primarily in 2004. It has helped me significantly to apply a more formal framework for my service-learning activities.

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