Tuesday, 5 June 2012

My Teaching Philosophy

‘to get students past technical crap, to a creative space (where I believe most of them want to be)’

It seems a bizarre and very rudimentary philosophy? Is this really what’s underpinned not only my teaching, but my ideas on course development and curriculum development for the past ten years? My discipline of Animation is a bizarre mix of the technical and the artistic – the technical covering basic craft aspects (art skills, drawing, concept development, writing and performance), as well as a tsunami of digital and media skills (2D software, CGI software, sound, post-production, emerging technologies (new software, hardware and media). The artistic covers some of the aspects already covered by craft, but in a different, deeper and more immersive (some would say insidious) manner – concept development, creative thinking and ideas generation (including world creation and the more swamping immersive aspects of writing, painting and drawing).

As a practitioner in my discipline, I came to lecturing determined to ‘transfer knowledge’ – to tell students how to get the job done, based on almost thirty years of production experience. Like most lecturers, I was never taught to teach. Something of an extrovert, I became a natural ‘sage on the stage’.

Implicit in my relationship with students from the start was the notion of adulthood. I never wanted to ‘teach children’. I wanted to relate directly to adult learners, growing those learners towards their potentials as accomplished, creative and reflective practitioners.

Ten years later, having studied Teaching and Learning a little, I realise that I’ve become a constructivist lecturer, asking the learners to ‘actively construct their own understanding.’ (JISC effective assessment in the digital age (2010)). Recognising the role of others in constructing understanding, I also tend towards social constructivism…. ‘Dialogue and collaboration are seen as key to learning success. Assessment would involve group tasks and assignments, guided by my inputs.’ (JISC, 2010). However, my discipline base also leans me towards a situative perspective ’seeing learning as arising from participation in communities of practice. Learners participate in many learning communities during their studies which prepare them to become members of professional communities (learning to think and act like a lawyer or an engineer, for example). This perspective is consistent with social constructivism but also emphasises identity formation. Assessment tasks would be authentic and modelled on what happens in professional practice; feedback would involve peers, disciplinary experts and those in relevant roles and professions.’ (JISC, 2010)
In dealing with Constructivist, Social Constructivist and Situative reflective learners, the notion of andragogy appeals greatly, as a possible educational ‘umbrella’ theory. As lecturers, we seem to be teaching less and facilitating learning more, in a very progressive and mature way. However, I remain unconvinced that andragogy possesses a strong enough theoretical base to represent more than an attractive, but rather simplified notion of education itself.

In our 4 year ab-initio BA (Hons) Animation course, we simplify our course concept to claim that Stage 1 and Stage 2 concentrate on the development of ‘skills’ (be they artistic or technical), whilst Stage 3 and Stage 4 concentrate more on the development of ‘authorship’. The pedagogy of our discipline emerged from the 1940’s iteration of our animation industry and still retains something of a Behaviourist teaching style and course delivery. The more advanced stages of animation education now present far more Constructivist, Social Constructivist and Situative potentials and challenges.

Our discipline falls very much within Biglan’s (1973) notion of a ‘soft’ discipline, as described by Neumann (2001, p. 138) ‘hard disciplines… emphasise cognitive goals such as learning facts, principles and concepts. Soft areas place greater importance on… effective thinking skills such as critical thinking’. Braxton (1995, p. 60) goes on to assert ‘Consistent with their stress on effective thinking as the goal of the academic major, faculty in soft fields also tend to favour a more ‘discursive’ approach to their classroom teaching than do their counterparts in hard fields.’

In our course, few of us have ever lectured ‘in a conventional or traditional manner’. Palloff and Pratt (2009) quote Speck (2002) ‘…the traditional approach promotes rote exercises that offer limited insight into student ability. The alternative paradigm is social in nature, views learning as a process, and gives students the opportunity to explore concepts together and to make mistakes.’

Our teaching style has always been more open, creative, discursive and autonomous than most. However, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been ‘transferring knowledge’ in a quite traditional sense. Having reflected on the Constructivist, Social Constructivist and Situative needs of our learners, we now challenge ourselves to create a learning environment in which our students can truly self-reflect, guided by our inputs.

And there’s more… Through our digital video medium, we’re faced with a challenging state of ‘constant change’. As professionals in our primary discipline and in education, we embrace Phil Race’s idea (‘If I were in charge…’ 2009) All teaching staff in higher education would be required to be students.’ My personal development, my studentship, as a filmmaker and as a lecturer, is ongoing. Because of this, I can still view teaching and learning from a student perspective, and I firmly embrace Lifelong Learning, Part-Time Learning, Distance Learning and the need to include New Cohorts.

Geoffrey Crisp (2007, p.231) outlines a new potential for future learning, where enhanced and improved assessment and feedback become key drivers for student development… ‘Institutions may be distinguished in the future by the quality of their assessment rather than the quality of their teaching… This will cause significant changes in the education marketplace, with some teachers choosing to be specialist assessors, rather than teaching generalists who design, deliver and assess a discipline-based course or programme.’

My teaching philosophy has now refined from my original ‘to get students past technical crap, to a creative space (where I believe most of them want to be)’ to ‘growing our learners towards their potentials as accomplished and agile, creative and reflective practitioners.’


Biglan, A. (1973) ‘The characteristics of subject matter in different academic areas’, Journal of Applied Psychology, 57(3), pp. 195–203.

Braxton, J. (1995) ‘Disciplines with an Affinity for the improvement of undergraduate education’, in: N. HATIVA&M. MARINCOVICH (Eds) Disciplinary Differences in Teaching and Learning: implications for practice (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers).

Crisp, Geoffrey (2007) ‘the e-Assessment Handbook’. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.

JISC (2010) ‘effective assessment in the digital age’ University of Bristol: JISC Innovation Group.

Palloff R. M and Pratt K. (2009) ‘Assessing the Online learner’ (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers

Race, Phil ‘If I Were In Charge’ (2009) http://phil-race.co.uk/if-i-were-in-charge/

Speck, B. W. (2002) ‘Learning-Teaching Assessment Paradigms and the On-Line Classroom. In R.S. Anderson, J. Bauer, & B. W. Speck (Eds.), Assessment Strategies for the On-Line Class: From Theory To Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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