APPROACH

Statement of Philosophy

 

Introduction

My approach to teaching, research and curriculum design is shaped by my experiences and values as an educator and a researcher.  It is the ease with which I can align and apply these principles that draws me so deeply into the field of higher education, not only as a profession but as an area of inquiry.  Working in higher education is intensely collaborative, relational, and context-specific.  But more than that, it is the coming together of people, ideas and evidence in order to create experiences that inspire and transform.  When I reflect on the most powerful moments I have experienced as an educator, I begin to see a pattern emerging, a repetition of the significant principles that have also transformed me and my work and have led me to this place in my career.  These values include social constructivism; interdisciplinarity; relationship-building and trust; collaboration; teaching; and research. 

 

Social Constructivism

As an educator I have been strongly influenced by Vygotskian theory of social constructivism, or the idea that knowledge is constructed through dialogue and interaction (Vygotsky, 1978).  My teaching philosophy and methods as an instructor capitalize on this theory; I seek ways for students to engage in relevant and meaningful dialogue, problem-solving scenerios and team-based exercises.  Social constructivism, however, can be applied beyond the classroom.  In my experience, bringing faculty, staff and students together and providing them with opportunities to engage in the co-construction of knowledge is a powerful tool.  Much like Freire’s resistance to the banking model of teaching (Freire, 1970), educators also need to resist the dangers of positioning ourselves as experts, and our ideas the ultimate and only solution.  Instead, academics should strive to bring people, ideas, and evidence together and provide opportunities for authentic interaction, negotiation and reflection.  Thus, the challenge for instructors is how to most meaningfully create spaces for these interactions.  As educational developers, we creatively contemplate how to design these environments, considering who to invite, what resources to include, and how to most effectively facilitate these settings.  All of these factors—the people, the ideas, the facilitators—must interact socially and dialogically if we are to maximize the possibilities for the construction of knowledge, an understanding that hopefully leads to those moments of transformation in teaching and learning. 

 

Interdisciplinarity

Teaching is highly contextual, and different disciplines often support learning with methods consistent with disciplinary ways of thinking, being and doing.  Lee Shulman’s (2005) influential work on signature pedagogies has fueled the idea that there are specific disciplinary ways of thinking that influence the ways in which certain disciplines are taught.  For this reason, instructors need to understand context as well as acknowledge that ideological and pedagogical differences exist across different subject areas, and those differences will influence curriculum and pedagogy.  However, in spite of these differences, or perhaps because of them, educational experiences that brings together discipline-specific pedagogy and practice in interdisciplinary exchange can have inspiring results.  In my experience as an educational developer, I have facilitated sessions that have resulted in lively dialogue between instructors from markedly different disciplines.  This dialogue is always rich, at times charged, often requiring delicate redirection, but most importantly, disquieting.  And it is this subtle challenge to one’s preconceived ideas, that upon further reflection has the potential to create those transformative moments when one completely reconceptualizes ideas about such things as assessment, evaluation, learning outcomes, teaching strategies, educational technology, and research. As an educator steeped in social constructivism, I seek to facilitate these cross/multi/inter disciplinary exchanges because they create an atmosphere that can lead to powerful learning experiences. 

 

Trust and Relationships

Working in at Vancouver Island University (VIU), I have learned the importance of creating and maintaining relationships and trust with the faculty, staff and students with whom I work.  As instructors, we support, counsel, encourage, and facilitate reflection that can at times uncover a vulnerability that needs to be nurtured with empathy and confidentiality. 

 

The importance and gravity of trust and relationships evolved for me as a transformative moment, one that Mezirow (1997) would describe as conscience-altering.   As a member of the VIU learning group entitled “Learning to be Together: Indigenous Knowledge and the Academy,” I worked alongside fellow VIU faculty members and First Nations elders, exploring the idea of incorporating Aboriginal ways of knowing into higher education.  This idea is a big idea, an open-ended question that requires a high level of trust and comfort with other members in order to engage in the difficult conversations this topic presents.  Learning to be together, to slow down, and to trust has been a powerful key learning experience for me as a member of this group, and one that I have carried forward in my work as an educator.  Difficult conversations abound within higher education, and often within educational development.  But these conversations, and the transformative moments that they can lead to, only really happen when we go forward with authenticity and respect. Developing trust takes time, as does building meaningful relationships, but they both begin with listening and with empathy, and with the shared desire to move forward, solve problems and ultimately improve teaching and learning in higher education. 

 

 

Collaboration

The concept of “silos” within institutions has become so commonplace in higher education discourse that it is bordering on the cliché.  Nonetheless, it is an important concept that is being meaningfully problematized on the higher learning landscape.  From my experiences, working across campus and partnering with other agents only maximizes our capital as educators, and models our own constructivist principles.  Just as we encourage cross-disciplinary dialogue among faculty, students and staff, we ourselves need to engage in similar “cross-disciplinary” interaction as we support our institutions, its plans and its people.  I have had the privilege of collaborating on projects and co-facilitating learning series with campus groups including the Community Based Research Institute, International Education, Aboriginal Education, Disability Services, and Student Services.  These partnerships keep our work as educators aligned with bigger, institutional goals, but also connect us and our work with other players from our institution, exposing us to new ideas and new ways of engagement.  As much as possible, instructors and curriculum designers should continue to problematize the barriers that exist to cross-campus collaborations and seek ways to combine perspectives and resources in order to move forward. 

 

Teaching and Research

Teaching, and my very passion for it, is the reason why I have chosen this profession, and why I want to support the evolution of teaching and learning in higher education.  I believe that as an academic, I have a responsibility to investigate my process and myself and make research contributions to my discipline.  I consider teaching in higher education a discipline that requires scholarly rigor, and one that occupies a privileged, meta-space within the academy.  And with such privilege comes a responsibility to investigate our methods and ideas through scholarly inquiry.   

 

 

References

 

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder, 1970.

 

Mezirow, J. (1997).  Transformative learning: theory to practice.  In New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 74, (5-12)

 

Shulman L (2005) Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus 134(3): 52–59.

 

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

 

© 2015 by Kathleen Bortolin.