Teaching Philosophy Statement

In the Study Guide, the "teaching philosophy statement" is described as "guiding beliefs relating to the teaching and learning of adults". As a result, this is an attempt to frame my response appropriately, although with the caveat that the following description is strongly orientated towards "higher education", which is not necessarily synonymous with "adult education". The later can include, for example, various forms of technical and continuing education of which personal experience is limited to the need for structured approaches (lesson plans, equity issues, assessments, etc).

With a background in philosophy, convergence between ontology and epistemology is crucial, not just in the teaching of adults, but in teaching for all people. With a neo-pragmatist orientation, this is implemented by using evidence-based material that matches empirical experience with intersubjective language. From developmental psychology particular insights on what people are capable of learning and understanding is elucidated; adults are meant have to the capacity to engage in formal and abstract operations on a cognitive level, and engage maturely in post-conventional moral reasoning. This level of development is not just something that is based on the individual (as is usually the case in conventional psychology), but also with an elaboration of the concept of a "zone of proximal development", where intelligence and knowledge is socially located, as with educational constructivism. Adult learners do not only have their own knowledge and intelligence to draw upon when confronted with educational challenges, but also social networks and the artefacts of socially-available repositories of knowledge.

To allocate particular researchers to these points of view, the philosophical orientation comes from a tradition from John Dewey to Jürgen Habermas. In terms of developmental psychology, primary influences are Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. The zone of proximal development is from Lev Vygotsky; there is an interest in combining this model with the methods used by Paulo Freire. On a related topic one other matter than must be mentioned as part of an democratic educational philosophy is a commitment to open-source knowledge. This commitment is based on the premise that research is best conducted when it is available for peer review. Comment can be made about the required use of proprietary software in this course (Blackboard, MS-Word) when better and open alternatives are available (Moodle, LibreOffice).

These theoretical foundations are no mere fancy; they are attitudes that have gradually come from over two decades of interest in the social sciences and educational theory. It is also, at least in part, informed by the experience of the particular educational objectives as formulated by the foundation professors of Murdoch University and the structures that were implemented. This includes a high level of dedication to mature-aged entry and external studies, experience-based prior credit, multidisciplinary foundation courses, general studies, flexibility in grading, etc. Many of these innovations were considered quite radical at the time, and some senior managers of the University made real efforts to lessen their impact or remove them entirely. Today it is notable how many other institutions have adopted them as if they were entirely sensible and uncontroversial.

In terms of teaching practise, for over five years I have taught high performance computing to postgraduate researchers in relevant disciplines conducted over three courses. Often these researchers arrive with little to no experience with the very tools they need to master in able to achieve their research objectives. As such, the courses begin simply, starting with an conceptual introduction to how clustered computing systems work and why they are so effective, a practical introduction to command line operations, an introduction to environment modules, and some simple job submissions. In the intermediate course, the researchers are provided with more complex examples, including shell scripting, regular expressions, job arrays and dependencies, and program compilation. The advanced course includes computer architectures, and parallel programming with a message passing interface.

These courses, over time, have developed to include a number of components which match the educational philosophy described. There is an assumption that the learners have adult mental abilities. The courses do require abstract reasoning in both the practical examples and on the conceptual level with balance sought between providing these immediate "hands on" practical skills along with the deeper conceptual knowledge of the system as a whole. Motivation is encouraged by empirical metrics from successful implementation of the skill-set (using proximal learning with distal benefits). The gradual implementation of the necessary skill-set generates confidence, relevant examples helps generate interest, feedback and discussion for encourage a sense of equality, and shared tasks and activities to generate a social network of knowledge among peers. Course material is presented in different media formats to facilitate preference choices among learners. To date, formal feedback (as part of an ISO standard) suggests that adult learners are happy with this approach.

In Vygotsky, ZPD refers to what a child's can do unaided, with assistance, and what they cannot do. For the latter tasks the child requires social connectivity (parent, teacher, etc).

To quote Vygotsky: "human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them" (Mind in Society)

For a few years now I've been exploring (quite haphazardly and informally) the idea of applying and elaborating the ZPD to adult learning and social networks, on the premise that intelligence and knowledge is not just something that is located within the individual but should also include the network of knowledge and research ability that individual has to access to.

In 2009 I gave a paper at the Australasian eResearch conference where I mentioned this in the context of social networking tools for e-researchers (are there any other kind these days?).

c.f., http://levlafayette.com/files/eresearch2009.pdf