GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY, Fairfax, VA
Online Course Developer with Thomas Stratmann
Teaching is an important reason why I want to pursue a career in academia. I have a passion for learning, and I want to impart that passion to others. When I got the opportunity to teach during my graduate studies, I had a distinct feeling that I had found my calling. Designing new courses, serving as a teaching assistant, and being an independent instructor gave me invaluable experience and a new perspective on teaching.
First, it was eye-opening that good professors are incredibly well-prepared professors. Years of experience teaching the same class may replace thorough preparation before each lecture, but until then, you need to over-prepare to do well. The course must have a comprehensive design before the semester starts, with detailed plans for lectures, recitations, homework assignments, and exams. A thorough design does not mean the course must be rigid, quite the opposite. A well-thought-out syllabus and schedule enable the instructor to make changes throughout the course to adapt it to the needs of the students, and to do it seamlessly and with ease. The preparation does not stop with a good course design, however. As an instructor, I must rigorously prepare for each class to deliver the best learning experience to my students.
When teaching, my goal is to make the class stimulating for all the students, regardless of their individual backgrounds. To empower my students to participate in learning with confidence, I start the course with a review of the fundamental concepts needed for the course. I believe it is impossible to truly master something new if it is not built on top of a strong foundation of first-order principles. I tailor this review to the level of knowledge required for the class, because “fundamental” does not need to mean “simple.” This approach gives the students a common platform to stand on, so we proceed in learning from the same basic understanding. And when hard topics come up, I can always revert to the fundamentals to ground the class and help us understand the links that connect the new knowledge to our shared foundation.
Another principle I hold dear is active learning. I believe that it is only through the act of doing that we truly learn. Seeing a formula derived on a slide will not have the same effect as deriving it yourself, so I engage my students in active participation in the learning process by having them do derivations and calculations in class, share their results, and teach each other. It is much easier to do when the course is taught in person than online. To engage students in active learning online, I utilize team assignments, breakout sessions, and discussion boards.
Lastly, I believe that the most effective way to understand and remember theory is through application. With that in mind, I schedule dedicated time in my class for working through examples in Excel and Stata. We work with real data sets and test how theories we learn apply in practice. Not only does it deepen the students’ understanding of theory but gives them practical technical skills they will likely need to succeed in their future careers.
Core Principles of Teaching Philosophy: