Our interaction with others influences so much about who we are, what we do, and why we do it. This view firmly situates me as a social constructivist. Whether I am working with students one on one, collectively in a group, or guiding collaborative activities where students are interacting with one another, I find myself constantly in awe of the ideas and skills that come to life through their learning.
In my own teaching and learning experiences, I find that the most powerful learning sometimes occurs through unplanned activities that arise as a result of the collaborative efforts of my students. Thus, I feel that it is my responsibility to design learning in a way that fluidly transitions my role from that of a teacher, when direct guidance is necessary, to that of a tutor, when reinforcement or redirection are needed, and back again throughout the lifecycle of the experience.
I also believe that an engaging learning experience transcends traditional boundaries by tapping in to the opportunities afforded by technology. In the end, my ultimate goal is to help my students help themselves, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills that enable them to work both independently and collaboratively as they transfer their knowledge to situations outside of the classroom.
Preparing students to identify and fulfill their personal learning objectives requires both patience and careful observation. As an instructional designer, I am quite familiar with analyzing a situation to determine if a performance gap is due to a lack of motivation, resources, learning, or a combination thereof. As a teacher, I have become skilled at learning how to adjust my teaching style and delivery methods to maximize social learning theories that allow my students opportunities to exercise self-regulation, self-determination, and self-perseverance.
For example, simply turning a lesson from one of content presentation to content discussion can have a significant impact on the overall mood and atmosphere of my class. Allowing my students to read or watch a resource and then share their personal experiences and position on the subject is better received than forcing them to listen to me talk about the subject matter.
Furthermore, providing access to a variety of resources and scaffolding students’ exploration on their own fosters a level of self-perseverance as they see the benefits of applying the knowledge and skills they gain in my classroom to outside situations. It makes me both proud and humble when a student approaches me to seek assistance on a project outside of our class. This tells me that they value what I am teaching them as well as reinforces my personal goal of remaining approachable and helpful to all of my students.
Technology Integration & Assessment
Through the incorporation of a variety of technological tools, learning has the potential to come to life in whatever way is most relevant to my students. Whether it is a preference for how information is presented or simply a new way of looking at familiar content, incorporating technology into the classroom takes on a variety of different media and modes.
From the use of websites and videos as unique resources to incorporating the use of specific software and applications, learning should never be a one-sided or boring endeavor. Moving learners from consumers of information to producers means encouraging students to take the content and transform it into something entirely new and creative. Creating and constructing is the pinnacle of all of my classrooms. I have found that there is no better measure of skill and transfer of knowledge than to have my students complete a culminating project that incorporates all previous learning objectives and results in a tangible product of which they can be proud and share.
By introducing appropriate technological tools throughout the course of content delivery, I also encourage my students to take advantage of these advancements as they create a final project. In most cases, these projects result in professional portfolio artifacts that can showcase learner growth and development. Regardless of the subject or technology involved, however, I always work to inspire my students to approach every learning opportunity with enthusiasm and optimism.
Advising & Mentoring
My dedication to mentoring students began as early as graduate school but blossomed when I was appointed Leadership Intern Coordinator (2013-2017) for the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). At the request of the then president of AECT, I accepted a four-year term of implementing changes to the longstanding program, marketing the program, managing a new selection process, and organizing interns’ schedules during the annual convention.
My own experience as an AECT intern and commitment to service contributed to a desire to give back to the organization but I realize now that serving as a mentor benefits me more than I imagined. Through my interactions as a mentor, I’m able to maintain a level of awareness about the issues students collectively face, learn from their experiences, and reflect and adjust my own actions for continuous improvement.
The same careful observation that assists me as a teacher also prepares me to be a better mentor. My philosophy on advising espouses a mentoring framework. Eby, Rhodes, and Allen (2007) characterized the student-faculty mentoring relationship specifically as a classic apprentice model essential to the educational experience. This relationship entails providing both academic and non-academic support, noting the professional and personal considerations necessary to develop the whole student.
Knowing my students’ professional goals helps me better gauge what experiences they need to better prepare them for the future. Knowing the challenges and successes my students face in their personal lives helps me better gauge what services to offer as we work towards bringing balance to their life. Ultimately, if my students recognize that I have placed value on our relationship and invest my time in them, they are willing to work hard for me.
My actions as a faculty member should reflect my open attitude towards mentoring and serving students, regardless of institutional affiliation. To this end, I find myself working with students not only at my home institution, but around the world.
Whether it’s the UI graduate student whose committee I chair, the Indonesian doctoral student I met at the Educational Technology World Conference who seeks advice about applying for awards or the newly graduated language arts teacher from Louisiana State University looking for guidance on master’s programs, my role remains unchanged. I must listen to this developing professional’s goals, hopes, and challenges to help them access all of the resources necessary to make an informed decision.
In every case, I see myself as fulfilling the seventh principle of Cowboy Ethics, “Ride for the brand” (see Owen, 2004). I’m representing myself as a faculty member for UI, but for some of the students I mentor I also represent academia in general. Some of the students with whom I interact are first generation college students, like myself, and I want them to have a good experience that welcomes them into a lifelong love of learning. Other students might be the next generation of faculty, and I want them to have a good example to follow. I am, after all, also preparing my future colleagues and academic leaders.
My service and commitment to mentoring stands as tribute to the amazing faculty who mentored me beginning with my undergraduate advisor at Texas A&M University and continuing on to those around the world who mentor me as I continue develop my professional identity.
Boling, E. (2010). The need for design cases: Disseminating design knowledge. International Journal of Designs for Learning, 1(1), 1–8.
Eby, L. T., Rhodes, J. E., & Allen, T. D. (2007). Definition and evolution of mentoring. In T. D. Allen & L. T. Eby (Eds.), The Blackwell handbook of mentoring: A multiple perspectives approach (pp. 7–20). West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing.
Owen, J. P. (2004). Cowboy ethics: What Wall Street can learn from the code of the west. Ketchum, ID: Stoecklein Publishing.