It’s hard to pinpoint why I enjoy teaching so much; there’s just something about leading students to that “ah-hah!” moment and watching students cross that tipping point where learning transitions from a burden to a pleasure. I also view teaching as a central responsibility of my profession as a civil and environmental engineer. The public pays for our work and they deserve to understand the processes that provide safe drinking water and protect public health. I’d always enjoyed teaching – from leading workshops at engineering consulting conferences to guest lecturing university courses – but I had no formal training until I was halfway through my graduate studies.
As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, I decided to start exploring and developing my teaching practices. I was first exposed to the Delta Program when I enrolled in Research Mentor Training. This training helped me have a more structured relationship with my research mentees and started me down a path to improve my mentoring and teaching abilities. It was also during this time that I decided to pursue a career in academia, teaching and conducting research. Therefore, I decided to take advantage of the Delta Program to help prepare as a teacher in a college classroom.
To gain practical teaching experience, I asked my PhD advisor, Dr. Daniel Noguera, to help teach his graduate-level biological treatment processes course. This allowed me to develop lecture materials, assignments, a laboratory project, quizzes, and a final exam. Further, I gave most of the lectures for the course and regularly facilitated group work during lectures and labs. At this time, I had not yet completed any teaching courses, but I mirrored Dr. Noguera’s approach to what I would later call “active learning”, often having students work at whiteboards to solve problems during lectures. While co-teaching this course helped me develop my teaching approaches, I also wanted to gain experience teaching a large undergraduate course.
To explore teaching strategies appropriate to a larger class, I TA’ed an introductory environmental engineering course during my fifth year of grad school. This course is typically comprised of 90+ undergraduate students. The professor (Dr. McMahon) suggested that I complete a Teaching-as-research internship as part of my TA experience, and after discussing a few possibilities we decided my project would focus on improving chemistry outcomes for students in the course. Because the course did not yet have a unit on the Flint Water Crisis, I decided to use the Flint Water Crisis as a case study in an attempt to improve learning outcomes related to both cognitive and affective learning domains. The case study included two online videos, three lectures, a problem set, and a writing assignment. In addition to implementing the case study, I also gave lectures on environmental chemistry and wastewater treatment. Further, I helped facilitate weekly group problem-solving sessions.
These two teaching experiences combined with coursework in teaching and mentoring have helped me develop my teaching philosophy, mentoring philosophy, and strategies to embrace diversity. My teaching portfolio contains these three documents as well as reflections and artifacts from both teaching experiences described above. My portfolio highlights my commitment to incorporatingteaching-as-research, facilitating successfullearning communities, and leveraginglearning-through-diversity to improve learning outcomes for all students.
Teaching-as-research is the application of the scientific method to design and evaluate teaching practices. Teaching-as-research requires identifying a problem, designing and implementing an intervention, and collecting adequate data to evaluate if the intervention was successful. While hypothesis- and data-driven, teaching as research does not necessarily mean performing publishable education research. Instead, it involves a commitment to being familiar with current pedagogical methods and testing these methods in ways that allow their impacts to be quantified. The primary goal of teaching-as-research is to inform instructors on how to improve students’ abilities to meet desired learning outcomes. I will use teaching-as-research to continuously develop as a teacher and to share lessons-learned with the teaching community.
Learning-through-diversityis a strategy to embrace and leverage the diverse view-points, experiences, backgrounds, identities and values of a group of students to improve learning for all students. Learning-through-diversity can enrich learning experiences so long as a culture of mutual respect is assured. It is the responsibility of the instructor to make this expectation known, to foster respectful interactions, and to intervene when discussions become disrespectful. The most challenging problems facing our planet will require diverse ideas and skillsets in order to design and implement sustainable solutions. I will use learning-through-diversity to both enrich learning experiences and to help aspiring engineers get accustomed to working in diverse groups, which they will do throughout their careers.
Learning Communitiesare groups of students that are able to leverage the unique abilities of all group members in order to improve learning for all group members. Learning communities need time to develop because they require members to build trust; to understand the strengths and weaknesses of other members; and to establish meaningful connections. Learning communities are characterized by mutual respect and inclusivity. Engineers often work in teams that share many characteristics with learning communities (mutual respect, inclusivity, leveraging of individual talents to benefit the group and project). I will foster the development of learning communities in any course that I teach by intelligently designing groups based on surveys of student personalities and education. I also intend to allow groups to work together for extended periods of time (half- or full-semesters) and to assign group roles. I will also monitor group work to ensure conditions for the formation of learning communities are being maintained. Group “check-ins” will also be held to ensure groups are adhering to the contracts they create at the beginning of the semester.