I base my approach to teaching on the premise that students attend university expecting to learn from experts providing instruction in their area of expertise. My role as a professor, therefore, is to be an expert in my field of professional psychology and to effectively teach students what they need to learn to become psychologists. While the former is one of my life’s passions and the reason I joined the academy, the latter has challenged me to practice reflectively in order to ensure that I am facilitating learning.
Learning is a process of either assimilating information and thereby buttressing what we already know, or accommodating information and thereby restructuring existing knowledge. For learning to take place, therefore, new information must be sufficiently familiar to be comprehensible, yet sufficiently unfamiliar to provoke change. Not all information is given equal consideration, however. When we encounter information that is irrelevant to our concerns—even if it is new to us—we are indifferent at best, bored at worst. When presented with information that is novel and can be put to use to further our goals, we are enlivened, engaged and motivated to learn.
The interpersonal environment is also crucial to the process of learning. Because human beings are inherently loss-aversive, when under threat we cling to what we know in order to avoid the negative consequences of making an error. Only when the potential benefit of trying something new significantly outweighs the risk of the loss that would result from being wrong, are we willing to consider new information and ideas. When we feel safe to consider new ideas we are open to learning.
Thus, I approach teaching by: a) continuously developing my scholarly expertise; b) developing novel learning objectives congruent with students’ goals; c) establishing a positive interpersonal climate conducive to learning; and d) teaching reflectively in order to be able to foster learning.
Graduate Student Supervision
I have supervised 17 doctoral and 20 Master’s students to successful completion of their degrees. I like to begin by helping students formulate an answerable question in which we are both interested. We then identify other supervisory committee members who would supplement the student’s inquiry. In particular, I am not a methodological specialist. I am comfortable in quantitative and qualitative methods, and prefer to enlist a supervisory member who has expertise in the method the student will be using.