Adam Rich

Adam Rich 2009 (3)

Teaching Philosophy

My philosophy in teaching focuses on ‘doing whatever works’. By this I mean that I am most interested in using a data-driven approach to teaching, using techniques that have been shown to work. I value carefully constructed experiments and thoughtful conclusions. For example, with increasing enrollment, class size is increasing in many science courses, and both faculty and students worry that learning is hurt. However, a paper by Barbara Goodman et al (Advances in Physiology Education, 2005) showed that grades and exam results were unaffected by class size (87 students versus 18 students). Perception of learning was different and students and faculty both predicted better learning outcomes for the smaller class. My conclusion, from these results, is that students can learn just as well in a larger class, and my energy should be spent motivating students to trust that they can achieve meaningful learning in the large class setting.

A second example on teaching that works comes from an article in the New York Times by Elizabeth Green (March 7, 2010). This article describes work done by Doug Lemov in describing classroom management techniques that great teachers use (Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College). One technique called ‘positive framing’ advises using classroom time giving students compliments for doing ‘the right thing’, and not spending time chastising poor behavior or substandard efforts. There are actual videos of teachers using these techniques in their own classrooms. Even though the work was done examining k-12 teachers I learned that it also applies to college teaching. Now I offer more compliments than complaints! I actually said, during 1 lecture, ‘Kevin, I like that you are writing this down during lecture. It will help you to remember what’s important’. I really worried that college students would be offended by this comment, thinking that I was treating them like children. But it worked! Other student’s actually picked up their pens and started to take notes!

To summarize, I use what I read, what I hear, and what I experience to drive my teaching approach. I like data. I have learned to develop clear objectives, and to utilize anything and everything that contributes to that objective. Every single decision that I make as the instructor is viewed with course objectives in mind. Will this help learning? Will this help students in the long run?

Projecting into the future, I am always interested in testing ideas, and in generating data that informs me if an approach is working. I try to find time for reflection in my teaching. I have been frustrated if I measure no effect when I change a teaching strategy. One possibility is that there is an effect on some students, but not all students, and therefore we do not see changes for the entire class. One explanation is that the exams are poorly constructed, or that the changes only influence a small portion of the students.

For additional information on my work in the Fellows Program, please see my action research report on Metacognition and Student Performance in Advanced Physiology, Systems Physiology, and Neurophysiology