Teachers, advisors, and peers have asked me to reflect on teaching and learning strategies while working toward my certificate in college teaching and teaching undergraduate courses in communication and media studies. The most useful insight I’ve gained during this time occurred during a guest lecture on teaching philosophies though. The lecturer said, “Don’t ask what you can do with a degree, but what a degree can do with you.” This antithesis has driven my understanding of the dual purpose of higher education­—pushing to students to develop the skills necessary to succeed in their future career while also developing their ability to critically and thoughtfully engage with the world. To nurture students’ learning, I aim to accomplish three specific goals in my teaching:

  • To help students develop the skills and critical mindset needed to succeed outside of the classroom, both personally and professionally.
  • To encourage learning for the intrinsic value of knowledge, not just the extrinsic reward of good grades or getting a degree.
  • To build relationships with my students to help them succeed in the classroom.

I aim to base my students’ learning in their daily lives by connecting course concepts with their everyday lives. I’ve been called a nerd more than once in my students’ end of semester reviews because I reference Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and other pop culture throughout the semester. As a teacher of media and communication, I believe understanding these cultural touchstones develops a common language with my students, so I attempt to consume media they like to discuss in class to better connect with them. Because I research media industries, this teaching strategy also provides useful opportunities to connect my research agenda with my students’ learning.

I employ a mixture of lecture, discussion, buzz groups, and hypothetical situations to allow students to both learn about concepts and apply them. By doing this, students see how concepts apply to their lives and develop a nuanced understanding of the course material. An example of this takes place in my media uses and effects class when students learn about the concept of framing in journalism. Framing explores the ways news stories are told through the inclusion and exclusion of information. To understand this concept, the class divides into buzz groups, or a small group of four-to-six students, to discuss how they see framing of a timely topic in their daily news consumption. After speaking with their buzz groups, students report their buzz group’s discussion to the entire class. Through this, the class addresses differences between framing, partisan bias in the media, and the use of factual and opinionated information. This discussion on framing helps students develop a critical framework for understanding journalism. Furthermore, it helps journalism students understand the different ways stories can be framed and helps general education students develop media literacy skills by applying the concepts to their media consumption.

My understanding of students as people is as important to my success as a teacher as the strategies I employ in the classroom. I understand that students (especially students coming from less privileged backgrounds) place school within a long list of priorities and that each student faces individual struggles. I work hard to get to know my students throughout the semester, understand what they’re going through, and adapt coursework to fit their situation. I believe that all students should complete the requirements for the course but that teachers should also respect their circumstances and help them succeed. An example of this can be seen in my public speaking classes as I worked with students with documented social anxiety. I told one student to look at his notes during his first two speeches to build his confidence before looking at students more toward the end of the semester. I told another student who quit her first speech early because she thought she was going to faint that she could sit for her speeches moving forward. By doing this, the students still complete the work required for the course, but my expectations are personalized to allow them to succeed.

By taking my students and their daily lives into consideration when preparing my courses, I believe that I create an environment conducive for learning that students appreciate. The classroom provides a space for my students to learn, apply skills to topics they care about, discuss concepts in relation to the pop culture they love, and become more well-rounded individuals.