Teaching Philosophy

While my teaching experience has primarily developed through extracurricular settings, my philosophy remains the same inside and outside of the classroom. To become a complete professional in a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) field, students must develop complimentary mindsets to their skillsets. Students need to believe that their knowledge and skills can grow with application and experience, they must have a broad view of what is important and welcome disorder, and they have to be able to take two conflicting ideas and generate new innovative ideas. These types of mindsets are difficult to obtain through the traditional learning tools such as textbooks and lectures. To develop these mindsets, I seek to provide students with hands-on activities that emulate what they will find in the workplace. In STEAM fields, these activities will be primarily based in problem-based and challenge-based learning. With these activities, students work in teams to develop solutions to open-ended and ill-structured authentic problems.

I believe that learning happens through social contexts and interactions. Traditional teaching techniques often ask students to take on the knowledge of a discipline without allowing immersion in its culture. As a result, students engage in activities that actual practitioners would not undertake. Students should be repeatedly involved in situated based learning environments, where the instructor is a member of the community of practice (as a facilitator, co-learner, expert, or evaluator) along with the students. Memorization and rote learning continue to be useful approaches to learning certain content. However, for the mindsets and skillsets needed for the 21st century workforce, a constructivist approach is more beneficial.

STEAM learning environments should act as practice fields for students. Practice fields foster authentic activities by using the same context students will encounter in the workplace. Students have the opportunity to discover their interests and skills, often by working with others around a particular task, thus becoming more engaged in their studies. By repeatedly participating in practice fields, students can become members of the community for the practice in which they are engaged. 

I was first able to utilize this philosophy while instructing a week long summer camp for students ages 12-17. The goal of the camp was to have students work in teams to develop an innovative product while learning design thinking and entrepreneurial skills. I introduced the students to a popular design thinking method consisting of developing empathy for potential users, defining a point of view for the problem being solved, brainstorming potential solutions, then prototyping and testing the best possible solution. I began each new stage of design thinking with an introduction using brief lectures or videos. The remainder of the time was devoted to allowing the students to work through activities related to their projects while I provided assistance and feedback.

My dissertation research involved developing an informal entrepreneurship and design thinking practice field. With this came the challenge of finding methods for introducing these concepts without the use of lecture or structured activities. This challenge led to the creation of just-in-time learning tools to assist participants in using design thinking and entrepreneurship concepts in their projects. The primary just-in-time tool was in the form of a card game. Each card had a specific task related to design or entrepreneurship. A quick response (QR) code was placed on most cards to provide access to additional resources. Teams could scan the QR and receive a link to a webpage related to the task. The webpage contained articles and tools that were useful for completing the given task. To receive points, teams would email a picture or video providing proof that the task was completed correctly. There were five different levels of points within the card game. As the levels and points increased, the tasks were either more important to the design thinking process, or required more in-depth work. Participation in the card game gave the teams a scaffold for the steps needed to engage in successful design. However, the order of the steps was not made apparent. While the point levels informed participants regarding the importance of each task, the teams had to decide in what order to complete the tasks. I learned from the development of the card game that I could develop innovative methods for instruction that did not rely on lecturing or highly structured activities.

© Gregory Wilson 2012