From a very early age I loved learning, and was encouraged by the respect shown for learning by family. I was born into a family of educators and health professionals, both my mother and father were students of Human Movement during my very early years. My mother worked as an aerobics instructor and owned a health food cafe, while my father taught martial arts and cooked carrot cakes in the evening. Learning about health and happiness were essential facets of my upbringing.
One of my earliest recollections that hinted towards my life’s work was in response to one of the often asked questions in youth, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” To which, without hesitation I responded, “a professor of happiness.” I knew at that early age my grandfather, who I loved and admired very much, was professor within the hallowed halls of higher learning. Happiness to me, was found in learning, and learning was an inexhaustible source of joy.
My father often read to me from the classics of antiquity, and through his dialectic had training in the socratic method (although at that age I simply thought he was being mildly frustrating). In any case my curiosity about the world was fostered through an investigation into the nature of things. Central to that investigation was the notion of asking the right questions and then testing the assumptions that arose through experimentation and observation.
To counter the introspectiveness of this approach I was encouraged by my father to develop my athleticism. In my senior years at high school I developed the foundations of scientific inquiry and in my undergraduate chose to follow my parents into the Bachelor of Applied Science in Human Movement Studies. Now studying towards the Masters of Education and prompted to articulate my e-learning teaching philosophy, I have learned that until I really examined my beliefs about teaching and learning, I had been undervaluing my role as a teacher.
Stephen Brookfield begins his book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (1995) with the declaration “we teach to change the world”. I was encouraged by this, as I to believe in the transformative power of education. I am inspired to continue developing academically so that I can bring that power to others. What appealed to me about his idea that critical reflection was about hunting assumptions is that it lent an urgency to my professional practice. It is not just something I can do, but something that I must.
Brookfield (1995) describes critical reflection as hunting assumptions. Until reading that, the term reflection felt rather passive to me. Through that I have learned that I need to keep hunting the assumptions hide beneath the misperception of my role as teacher. My e-learning teaching philosophy hence suffers from a bias towards articulating what it is I love about learning, rather than what I can offer as a teacher. Likewise I tend to understate my practical knowledge and experience of teaching and teaching online, despite having years of experience in this field.
Prompted by a link to a practical guide to writing a teaching philosophy shared by a classmate in EDIT523, I began to explore my assumptions about teaching. I did this in part to counter the bias towards what I love about learning in my elearning teaching philosophy. In the process I discovered that much of my teaching is inextricably linked with my learning. In actively seeking out new fields of learning I have assisted others in coming to new understandings.
There has always been dynamic tension between occurring on two levels with my personal and professional development, firstly between teaching and learning, and secondly between the physical and the intellectual. I like to share what I know because I know it deepens my understanding, especially when I see how others apply the benefit of their experience to reinterpreting that knowledge. I see the teacher and learner in me as two sides of the same coin, spinning in dynamic equilibrium.
The questions of interest that occur to someone inquiring about the nature of learning are mostly to do with the mind and how one comes to know something. What is learning? What does it take to know something? Where does knowledge reside? It wasn’t until I became more familiar with the theories of learning espoused by Piaget, von Glaserfield, Vygotsky (Fosnot, 1996; Ginsburg & Opper, 1988; Vygotsky, 1978) that I came to know these questions as central to constructivism.
When I first read the about the judgement of Thamus in Neil Postman’s “Technopoly” I ceased to become a pollyanna about technology. I also gained a deeper insight into the use of technology throughout the ages, and broadened my definition of technology. Writing is a technology, and likewise any system that we use to expand our physical or intellectual reach can be deemed a technology.
The way we conceptualise, use, seek, process, evaluate information is profoundly affected by the internet. The internet and in particular, mobile communication technologies are the single biggest biggest cultural shift to affect learning since the printing press, perhaps even as far back as the invention of writing itself (Naughton, 2008). The challenge is equipping learners with the understanding that our species is largely defined by the ability for critical thought, metacognition and the ability to fashion tools for as yet unthought purposes. This is an urgent need, lest we become “tools of our tools”.
In my students I tend to foster their curiosity and encourage them to explore their environment, whether it be physical, socio-cultural or digital, and relate what the find to their own experience. I see myself as co-creator or collaborator in their learning. It has become clear to me that the teaching and the learning, the teacher and the student are not as diametrically opposed as one would assume, but they arise co-dependently upon favourable conditions in constant creative tension (Sumedho, 2007).
I am predominantly interested in how learning happens, and traditionally that has happened through something called an education system. That system takes on the shape of the socio-cultural milieu in which it finds itself and is imbued with the prejudices and predispositions of the people that shape it, and who are shaped, through its use (Anderson and Dron 2010). The flaws in education arise from hidden assumptions that are buried deep in its architecture, designed in a time that ever recedes into the past. That these flaws exist is a blessing in disguise, as they ensures that education never quite succeeds in taming the inquisitive mind (Feldenkrais, 1990).
Along with my lifelong investigation into the nature of things, my e-learning teaching philosophy has been impacted more recently through three key events during the course of the semester.
My grandfather passed away in April, and moving through grief I reaffirmed the commitment to changing education that I made on the occasion of his 90th birthday almost two years ago.
So long as grief serves a useful purpose, in this case to explore the meaning of life given in devotion to teaching, then I engage in it. If it tends towards becoming self-indulgent I am guided by Siddhartha Gautama, in his advice to the grieving King Pasenadi of The Kosalans (translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, 2012), who implores us to acquiesce to the nature of things with the thought: ‘What important work am I doing now?’ The death of my grandfather taught me that a life given in devotion to teaching and learning bears many fruit.
The important work I am doing right now is learning teaching to change the world.
My personal e-learning teaching philosophy is built upon a belief system that inquires into the nature of knowledge, learning and teaching. My belief system is shaped by putting my assumptions to the test, and making clear my intentions.
Personally I believe that through our thoughts we create our world, we construct realities into which we become. In this process of becoming we must not forget however that we belong to the animal kingdom and parts of us still behave as though we had never left. We must not shy away from the new digital landscapes we have come to inhabit, and the tools that we use to navigate cyberspace, because after all it is a world that through our thoughts we have constructed.
Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2010). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), 80–97.
Bhikkhu, T. (2012, February 12). “Kosala Sutta: The Kosalan” (AN 5.49). Access to Insight
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Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. Jossey-Bass.
Feldenkrais, M. (1990). Awareness Through Movement: Health Exercises for Personal Growth. Arkana.
Fosnot, C. T. (1996). Constructivism. Theory, Perspectives, and Practice.
Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=ED396998
Ginsburg, H., & Opper, S. (1988). Piaget’s theory of intellectual development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Naughton, J. (2008, January 27). Thanks, Gutenberg - but we’re too pressed for time to read. The Guardian
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Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. Vintage.
Sumedho, A. (2007). The Sound of Silence: The Selected Teachings of Ajahn Sumedho. Wisdom Publications Inc.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.