Teaching Philosophy

Before you continue reading this page, it is my hope that you come to understand why I have written it in the first place. Yes, it is the “WHY”, to borrow a phrase from Simon Sinek, that informs my writing of this page. I formulated this “WHY” statement based on months and months of reflection on what it means to be a teacher, and after a farewell dinner the 2010 UBC iGEMers, everything finally came together. I hope you will come to enjoy this page.

“WHY” do I want to be, a teacher of students in some capacity, an inspirer of minds? That is because <strong>I believe that the power of inspiration and empowerment can be used to better the world</strong>. An student must be inspired by his/her teacher’s example. And then the student must be given the tools to empower them to do greater things. When a student is inspired towards a greater cause, and is empowered with the tools to make the cause a reality, that is when the magic begins.

Inspiration begins with the teacher’s infectious excitement and energy. Empowerment, then, starts with technical knowledge, but must expand to include building confidence (e.g. presenting the project, providing a leg-up in networking), providing tangible support (e.g. reference letters), and building emotional resilience (e.g. one-to-one chatting when rough times come).

When inspiration and empowerment are present, the student becomes less of a student and more of a colleague and a friend. That, then, is when the teacher has been successful. That is when other people may now benefit from the teacher-student relationship, even if they were not directly involved, when the student, now a colleague, lights up another candle of inspiration and passes it on.

That concludes my “WHY”. The “HOW”, which is informed a lot by the empowerment part of my “WHY”, is what I have written below.

My undergraduate education has shaped the way that I view teaching. Thus, I have formulated a view of teaching, where I believe in:

(1) Problem-Based Learning

The biggest skills a student should have is the ability to go through the process of coming up with a solution to a problem. For hypothetical scenarios, I believe that the solution is not as important as the process of coming up with one. However, when translated into real-world scenarios, students should be able to come up with solutions that consider constraints imposed upon them by reality. It is not important, however, to come up with a the final solution on first pass of the problem. It is important, rather, to come up with a first iteration of a solution that can be practically refined further.

(2) Concepts over Details

I believe that students ought to place their learning emphasis on generalizable concepts and principles as opposed to minute details. I alluded to this in an article I wrote about the Microbiology and Immunology undergraduate curriculum. Equipped with generalizable concepts and principles, students can approach a multitude of problems and figure out a first approximation of a solution before further refining it.

(3) Intuiting Knowledge

By placing emphasis on concepts and not details, students can assimilate their knowledge into their intuition. Intuition is a very useful skill in figuring out the first iteration of a solution to a problem before further refining it.

(4) Learning How To Find and Organize Information

In an online, connected world, there is little need to memorize details, as the details can be found at the touch of a finger, or a click of a button. However, it is more important for a student to be able to organize information in a logical fashion, for the information out there is not organized. Organization also inadvertently aids retention.

Organization takes place on two levels: for personal understanding, and for communication to others. The organization of information should highlight the hierarchy of knowledge about that subject matter, while demonstrating the interactions between each component within the hierarchy of knowledge.

(5) Effectively Communicating Ideas

A student ought to be equipped with the capability to communicate what they know, and emphasis should be made on communication right from the start of an undergraduate education. A student should be equipped with the necessary vocabulary to deal with a wide ranging audience, from the layman to the specialist, and be able to appeal to all three modes of learning: visual, aural and kinesthetic.

(6) Providing Space for Challenge

A student should be given the space to challenge him or herself towards increased depth of thought, broader horizons of exposure, and greater heights or achievement. This would facilitate the development of each student according to his or her level.

As an example, I would offer a limited number of my students (~10 only, chosen at random if necessary) such an opportunity through the use of an oral examination as a substitute for a written final examination. The rubrics for such an oral examination would essentially be similar to the written examination; however, fulfilling the rubrics would only guarantee a portion of the marks.  The other proportion would be earned by my questioning above and beyond the basic rubrics. (It is worthy to note that the written examination would have a similar, essay-based component.) The further a student goes before being fully stumped, the higher his or her grade will be.

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