My Teaching Philosophy

The most important aspect of my teaching philosophy is student involvement. Although the standard lecture format in science courses has withstood the test of time, I don't think it is necessarily the most effective teaching method for anyone, although it is clearly sufficient for some, particularly those of us who have become professional scientists. There is ample evidence in the literature that interactive methods such as peer instruction and problem-solving based approaches yield better learning outcomes on average, and benefit both the strongest and weakest students within a particular group (e.g., Deslauriers et al., Science 332: 862 (2011)). Thus, I incorporate interactive elements into my courses in a number of different ways, including aspects of peer instruction, realtime student feedback, and group problem-solving. I also incorporate technology where appropriate.

I do not advocate for a particular teaching method, and indeed many of my colleagues achieve excellent results with a fairly standard approach. It is critical that each instructor have the liberty to teach in the way they feel is most effective; however it is also critical that all instructors constantly monitor the effectiveness of their approach and make appropriate adjustments. Too often I hear instructors lay the blame for poor class performance solely at the feet of students. While each student individually must take responsibility for their performance via their level of effort, dedication, and ability, effective teaching is a two way street and instructors must objectively evaluate class performance as they would evaluate the results af any scientific experiment.

I feel deeply dissatisfied after spending an entire period "lecturing" without without knowing whether any, much less most, of the material I have presented has been thoughtfully incorporated by a significant fraction of the students. Indeed, I believe that this way of thinking about the transmission of knowledge is somewhat misguided: very few students can meaningfully incorporate new knowledge and build a coherent picture of a subject through listening to and/or watching someone else walk through an explanation. Fundamentally, students must do this themselves, although clearly some expert guidance does help make the process more efficient. In the past, participation by the students was limited mostly to their work on out-of-class assignments (homework). This classic aspect of rigorous science courses is just as important as ever, but there is no reason why the process of self discovery should be limited to homework assignments, and indeed we should encourage students to engage and practice as often and as thoroughly as possible.

Prof. Jordan Gerton | James Fletcher Building | Room 314 | 115 South 1400 East | Salt Lake City, UT | 84112
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