Nothing satisfies me more than seeing someone who I had trained apply his or her newfound knowledge to improve his or her life. I design training courses with the aim of enabling learners to apply the lessons in real-world situations. The curriculum is part lecture and part practice with emphasis on the latter. Above all, intellectual rigor is maintained throughout the learning process. Ultimately, my success as an educator will be determined on how well my students have mastered and applied the skills and concepts in their professional endeavors.
This teaching philosophy is the key to preparing new managers and strengthening current managers to ensure that organizations operate effectively. My objectives for teaching management in general and Information Technology (IT) management in particular are:
- To increase the competency level of learners in various management topics;
- To strengthen critical thinking in learners, so that they have the ability to make connections in complex situations; and,
- To create a learning experience that enables learners to engage actively.
First and foremost, learners need to reach a high level of competency in various management topics. This can be difficult given that the discipline involves abstract concepts such as externality, outsourcing, and Enterprise Architecture. When learners who haven't fully grasped the concepts, management concepts can be interpreted in varied ways that lead one person to have a particular interpretation and another to have a different meaning. This could lead to conflict or an awkward situation. My job as the instructor is to make sure that I explain the abstract concept clearly at a high level and then describe its application in a particular context. For example, Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) provides a framework that is applied differently by managers and engineers. Building on dense text described in relevant textbooks and manuals, I provide examples and cases to make the concepts tangible. I implement the concepts in the form of worksheets or exercises that learners can use. The SOA example provides a one-page worksheet for each learner to analyze what specific services are needed for whom. In some cases, I illustrate the concepts in visual diagrams set in a number of situations. The diagrams, worksheets, and exercises provided in lesson plans enable learners to see how the management concepts can manifest in different operating environments. The most important point is to put the concept in context that each learner can relate to.
Evaluating the level of competency involves three standard methods: examination, assignments, and participation. Several quizzes during the course and a final examination are administered. For most courses, all questions come with well-crafted multiple-choice answers to test whether the learner understands the topics. The assignments (worksheets and exercises) are reviewed for completeness, accuracy, and in certain cases, creativity. The amount of effort that went into working on each assignment would indicate whether the learner is able to apply the lesson. The amount of interaction and engagement by each learner is observed in all classroom meetings. How often did the learner ask questions during the course period? Did the learner simply recite verbatim what the instructor had said, or did she translate the instructor's words in her own words? Did the learner help others when they appeared confused? Did the learner just follow along with others on the material at hand, or did he take the material to a new direction?
Certain courses will emphasize one evaluation method over another in the grading criteria. For example, the examination part of the criteria has greater weight than the assignment part in a foundational course such as IT Management. A more specific technical course such as Information Systems will place greater weight on the assignment part of the criteria. A course that has more theory than practice would test learners by examination on how well they know the topics. On the other hand, a course that has more practice than theory would evaluate learners on their effort in completing the assignments.
The second objective is to strengthen critical thinking in learners. For any topic or concept, I will design a mapping worksheet that shows a particular system and its components spread across the page. The learner would analyze how the components will fit together in the system. A few components may not be applicable and can be ignored. The result will show links drawn by the learner. A key ability that is being demonstrated by learners is how well they can draw connections between parts in a system. A few applications of the mapping worksheet include: developing a coherent strategy that considers all of the organization's drivers, needs, and goals; factoring in all income and expenses directly and indirectly relevant for a specific program budget; and developing an IT system with required software, hardware, and networking. The mapping worksheet is a conceptual framework that can be applied in numerous scenarios, requiring a system-oriented approach to solving a problem.
Evaluating critical thinking involves reviewing the completed mapping worksheet and a narrative summary that concisely explains the included and excluded components, the reasons for inclusion in and exclusion from the system, and the particular context of the system. Do the links drawn by the learner appear logical? Based on the reasons and context described, does the connected system created by the learner make sense? Will the connected system function with the components as included by the learner? Will the connected system function without the components as excluded by the learner?
The final objective is to create a learning experience that enables learners to engage actively. Desks inside the classroom are arranged in a circular or U-shaped pattern so that all learners can see each other. Any learner when called upon to speak can make eye contact with not only me but to all other learners. This makes it easier for others to hear and understand what another learner is saying. Learners would be more inclined to participate in a conversation. When learners disagree on a topic, I step in to mediate. If the disagreement is based on a misunderstanding of the lesson, I refer to the relevant text and clarify further. If the disagreement is based on a different situation, I ask each learner to explain how he applies the topic in his environment. The explanation would then help the other learner to see how the topic can be applied differently. During a typical day, my role would frequently switch between a lecturer who provides instructions and a facilitator who moderates discussions. Learners don't need to rely on my word as the only authority but can hear from the experiences of their peers. I often learn from my students. For those who have contributed in the discussion, I would rephrase learners' remarks for clarity so that all other learners can better understand. The learning experience, thus, becomes richer.
Evaluating the learning experience involves observing the level of civility in the discussions. Did the instructor give sufficient time to every learner to speak? Did listeners treat the speaker with respect and vice versa? Another evaluation method relates to the rhythm of the lessons carried during the allotted time. How well did the instructor fluctuate his speech in tone, speed, and quality during the entire lesson plan, and were the changes and style appropriate to communicate the topics effectively? Did the lesson topics flow smoothly from one to the next? Was the switching from lecturer to facilitator and back again constructive? I will reflect on how each day went in a weekly report. Anything that didn't work properly in the rhythm of the lessons will be rethought and adjusted. Learners would report their general satisfaction along with any problems or issues in a survey questionnaire administered at the end of the course.
This teaching philosophy describes key methods for teaching and evaluating formal educational courses and informal training workshops. Methods may be added and changed, based on consultation with peers, feedback from learners, and academic research. Although this philosophy is written for the management discipline, the objectives, methods, and evaluations can be broadly applied (with modifications where appropriate) to other disciplines. Learners would be able to engage with each other to understand and apply the lessons in practical ways suitable to the environment of every learner.
Revised 17 October 2018