John D. Foubert, Ph.D.
I believe that effective teaching begins with an understanding of the diversity in a student population. This diversity includes demographics (i.e. race, sex, ethnicity), personality characteristics (i.e. need for achievement, extroversion), and learning styles (visual, auditory, converger, assimilator, etc.). By understanding, accommodating, affirming and appreciating these differences, I can adapt my teaching style to educate the individual student and foster the most ideal group learning environment possible, and thus work toward improving the lives of the adults in my face-to-face or online classroom.
I use a variety of teaching methods appealing to different learning styles in order to help my students learn. I subscribe to the belief that learning will be maximized when there is an optimal mismatch between the challenge and support present in the learning environment (Sanford, 1962). Thus, I seek to design courses and individual class sessions that use a variety of teaching methods to create enough challenge to keep students pressed to learn with enough support to keep them from feeling overwhelmed. Given the variety of learning styles among students in each class and the variety of course activities planned during each course session, it is likely that each individual student in one of my classes will find part of each session challenging and part of it supporting.
I believe that graduate students need greater challenge than undergraduates. Nonetheless, it is a mistake to assume that they need less support. Support for graduate students comes in different forms, particularly through the processes of mentoring, opening opportunities for experiential learning, and providing carefully measured guidance as students navigate increasingly complex learning experiences.
As I carry out my role as an educator, I believe it is critical to recognize that students in all of my classes enter their experiences on several developmental levels. In particular, their cognitive development will influence how they engage the material in each course. Some will find it challenging to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a theory or phenomena; others will struggle with the question of whether scholars can or should share their reasoned point of view concerning a particular practice, policy, or philosophical viewpoint. As I work with each student, I do so with a philosophy of plus-one staging, whereby I attempt to assess where a student is developmentally and help the individual stretch to the next stage through classroom interaction, comments on papers, and other informal contact.
I thrive on engaging students interactively with material that challenges them to learn and grow in a diverse community of scholars. No matter what the content is, I attempt to create an environment where there is a classroom dynamic characterized by the free debate of ideas, the sharing of information, and the questioning of perspectives.
The learning style theorist whose work I apply most often is Kolb (1976). Therefore, I design courses and class sessions that incorporate opportunities for students to appeal to their experiences, intentionally reflect on their observations, conceptualize knowledge on increasingly abstract levels, and experiment actively applying the knowledge they gain throughout their educational process. Like Kolb, I believe that learning is enhanced when multiple teaching and learning experiences are incorporated into a course of study.
Ultimately, as educators, I believe we must intentionally strive to create environments where students can feel supported as they grow and have their ideas and perspectives challenged without being personally attacked. I also believe that students must come to be empowered to express and defend opinions in the context of learning the nature and boundaries of their academic freedom, be mentored as continuously developing scholars, and advance in their development in the various contexts of a diverse community of scholars. By learning in such an environment, adult learners have the opportunity to own their education, take responsibility for improving their lives, and are well prepared to improve the lives of others.