My goal as an educator is to foster the development of critical thinking and analytic skills by designing courses that motivate and engage students. To accomplish this, I draw on theoretical and empirical work in the fields of psychology, learning, and instructional design to inform my approach. While my work is in higher education and my expertise is in teaching American politics and political institutions, the same principles can apply to designing instructional experiences across topics, fields, and environments.
START WITH A CLEAR PLAN
In designing a course or learning experience, I draw on the behaviorist tradition, beginning with clear, measurable learning outcomes. From there, my courses are structured in such a way as to encourage students to build mental models, connecting new knowledge with prior knowledge, and providing frequent opportunities for student practice, feedback, and knowledge transfer. This approach is consistent with a variety of instructional design models, including Gagné’s nine events of instruction (Gagné, Briggs, & Wager, 1992), the ADDIE model (Rothwell et al., 2016), or Dick and Carey’s model (Dick & Carey, 1978). While these models have differences, their common emphasis on objectives, instructional support, and retention and transfer provide a valuable starting point to organize instruction.
BUILD LEARNER MOTIVATION
Motivation is essential to any learning endeavor as it determines the level of participation in learning activities and the degree to which learners will make the effort needed to learn (Allen, 2016). I consider Deci and Ryan’s Self Determination Theory (SDT; 1985, 2000) to inform the development of course materials and build intrinsic motivation in learners. SDT focuses on an individual’s need for autonomy, competence, and connection in order to develop motivation. I design lessons that support a leaners perception of regulating their own behavior, provide challenges at an appropriate skill and capacity level, and deliver opportunities to connect with others. Consistent with the behaviorist approach, learning is broken down into small units and scaffolded, allowing participants to progress consistently, feeling successful as they gain new skills. In this way, my courses emphasize the development of intrinsic motivation in the participant.
ENHANCE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT
Engagement with course materials often stems from motivation (Ambrose et al., 2010). Once learner needs for motivation have been met, learners are engaged with subject-specific material though the use of varied instructional techniques, including interactive technology, cooperative learning activities, and student-centered pedagogy (see Cromwell 1993; Steinert & Snell 1999; Damron & Mott, 2005; Williamson & Gregory, 2010). These activities build positive emotional engagement, a factor previous literature has connected to improved course outcomes (Manwaring et al., 2017; Halverson & Graham, 2019).
PROMOTE KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER
My approach to instruction is designed for students to both retain and transfer knowledge to future courses or their daily lives. This requires learners to organize their new knowledge into existing schema (Merrill, 2002). The transferability of new knowledge from the classroom to the real world may look different for different types of courses and lessons. In political science courses, this often means students develop their approach to critical thinking and become educated consumers of political information and data – skills that are useful in future courses, but also as active and engaged members of their communities.
Finally, consistent with the systems approach to instruction and behavioral approaches more generally, evaluation is a key aspect of instruction (Chen, 2005). Accountability comes in the form of participant evaluations, but also through an assessment of student achievement of the objectives. Evaluation and revision plans are implemented throughout courses to allow for an assessment of how well the course is accomplishing the objectives and how effective the course is in the eyes of participants.
- Chen, I. (2005). Behaviorism. In Encyclopedia of Distance Learning (pp. 127-147). IGI Global.
- Cromwell, L. (1993). ‘‘Active Learning in the Classroom: Putting Theory into Practice.’’ Experiential Learning Quarterly 18(3): 18–23.
- Damron, D. & J. Mott (2005) Creating an Interactive Classroom: Enhancing Student Engagement and Learning in Political Science Courses, Journal of Political Science Education, 1(3), 367-383
- Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.
- Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227–268.
- Dick, W. & Carey, L.M. (1978).The systematic design of instruction. New York: HarperCollins.
- Gagné, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wager, W. W. (1992). Principles of instructional design (4th ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.
- Halverson, L.R., & Graham, C.R. (2019). Learner engagement in blended learning environments: A conceptual framework. Online Learning, 23(2), 145-178.
- Manwaring, K. C., Larsen, R., Graham, C. R., Henrie, C. R., & Halverson, L. R. (2017). Investigating student engagement in blended learning settings using experience sampling and structural equation modeling. The Internet and Higher Education, 35, 21–33.
- Merrill, M.D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Education Technology and Research Development. 50, 43–59.
- Rothwell, W.J., Benscoter, G.M., King, M., & King, S.B. (2016). Mastering the instructional design process: A systematic approach. (5th ed.). Hoboken: NJ.
- Steinert, Yvonne and Linda S. Snell. (1999). Interactive Lecturing: Strategies for Increasing Participation in Large Group Presentations. Medical Teacher 21 (January): 37–42.
- Williamson, J., & Gregory, A. (2010). Problem-Based Learning in Introductory American Politics Classes. Journal of Political Science Education, 6(3), 274–296.