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Example Lectures

From Cognition, my lecture on consciousness.

From AI (machine learning), my lecture on learning theory.

Teaching Philosophy

I believe that learning is like constructing a series of puzzles. Occasionally, a puzzle needs to be torn apart and reconstructed. Often, a seemingly isolated piece finds a home in a whole new context. Each time I take a class or read a book I am looking for the connection between my edifice under construction and the new pieces being provided. The joy of learning comes from finding the perfect spot for a piece that I have been trying to fit in many different ways and places.

My aim when I teach is two-fold; to remember that it is the student’s puzzle to build and to provide pieces in ways that my students can use. If I am too involved in the puzzle building process, figuratively shouting over their shoulders “put it there.” Then the students will not feel that the puzzle they have built is theirs. My ultimate goal is to help my students recognize what it feels like, when a piece is or is not fitting. If they can recognize the rightness or wrongness, they can try pieces in many different places and many different orientations until they find the perfect fit. No piece will be left floating isolated and unconnected.

My first aim emphasizes personal responsibility.  I consistently remind my students (and myself) that they are not working in my class because I make them. They have chosen to be there, either explicitly, because they wanted to or implicitly, because they chose a University and major that have my class as a requirement. They are free to choose to participate in the class and do the work. Like all choices, this has associated consequences. The most immediate consequence of choosing not to participate or work is that they will get a bad grade. An immediate consequence of choosing to participate and work is that they will find out new things about themselves and the world around them.

The second aim necessitates a student-centered focus, with active learning, to assess how the students are seeing the pieces I am providing and by extension where I need to be more helpful. Only by watching them try to fit the pieces together can I see what they think the pieces look like and offer targeted interventions. I have used POGIL exercises, learning reflections, and quizzes, which include optional areas of expertise, to do this. POGIL activities let the students discuss ideas with a small group. These discussions help them work through complicated concepts. They also help the students see that others are feeling the same. Learning reflections encourage the students to process their feelings, giving me a glimpse into their thinking. Optional questions are designed to foster students’ agency. They are allowed to decide which topics interest them.

I want to fostering resilience in the face of unsuccessful attempts. The ability to keep trying is an important aspect of success that is too often overlooked. Too many students believe that if a solution is not immediately apparent, they will never find it. This is particularly true for students studying STEM subjects (statistics, psychology, computer science), who do not consider themselves math proficient (psychology and other liberal arts majors). They are easily convinced they cannot learn the subject.

Sometimes our educational environment causes students to focus too explicitly on getting A’s. Getting an A leaves very little room for wrong answers, even on homework assignments. How can we expect students to engage in the difficult process of connecting information across subjects and between life and school if we do not give them the space to try and fail? My courses include different groups of assignment types, dropped assignments from each group, and flexibility for student responses to provide them the requisite space.

Figuring out how to foster failure (or in less judgmental language: setbacks) has not been easy. My first attempts have faced setbacks of their own. I believe I owe it to my students to continue trying. It is a privilege to be given several hours of someone’s time a week. In return for that privilege, they deserve my commitment to doing the best job I can. Sometimes that will cause students (and by extension me) discomfort. “It’s in the act of having to do things that you don’t want to that you learn something about moving past the self. Past the ego.” ― bell hooks

Figuring out how to do my best work must be influenced by my commitment to science. I cannot overlook the influence of experimenter bias. I will need to collate self-reflection, feedback from my peers, student feedback, their grades, and the current literature to determine the directions in which I should modify my approach. I am looking forward to that challenge.  

Diversity in STEM