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Since entering graduate school in 2015, I have had the opportunity to teach a wide array of undergraduate Communication Studies courses, from required first-year introductory public speaking to topic-specific study abroad capstones to mid-level major fundamentals. Furthermore, I have been lucky enough to experience teaching from a variety of perspectives, including as a graduate instructor, adjunct faculty, and full-time Lecturer.

Despite these differences, my affinity for teaching has been guided by my passion for course design and my willingness to remain grounded in the experiences of modern undergraduate students, many of whom are balancing coursework with financial and care-taking responsibilities, long commutes, and mental health challenges. With these considerations in mind, I believe that my philosophy towards teaching can best be articulated in three areas: Accessibility, Transparency, and Practicality.

First, my teaching philosophy centers on my commitment to accessibility. As an instructor, I make myself open and available to students 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I make sure they know it. On Syllabus Day, I explain to students that the easiest way to get in touch with me is by email, always adding, “If I’m awake and not in class, I’ll answer.” Although students roll their eyes, they are pleasantly surprised when they receive responses from me within minutes and on weekends, and I frequently receive more emails as the semester continues and students realize I mean what I say. Similarly, students are shocked when they pop by office hours on a whim and find me, as promised, sitting at my desk. “I didn’t have an appointment,” they often marvel, “I didn’t think you’d be here.” When I kindly explain that I attend my scheduled office hours whether expecting someone or not, there’s always a glow of appreciation. Although this amount of accessibility is not sustainable for every instructor, I thrive on it, and I am confident it is why student evaluations have described me as “approachable” and “always open for questions.”

In addition to instructor accessibility, I am also a firm believer in accessible course design. I am a proponent of open educational resources (OER) that limit the need for students to purchase course materials. For example, when designing an online asynchronous section of Media Literacy, I assigned scholarly journal articles that students could access for free through our university library and used media examples available on free platforms such as Spotify and YouTube. My dedication to accessibility also extends to material design: after participating in a Center for Educational Innovation (CEI) session on Digital Accessibility for Instructors, I made changes to my hyperlinking within documents, use of headings, and attentiveness to color contrast for lecture slides. My participation in an Online Design & Teaching Program led by UMN Teaching Support also taught me to create subtitles on videos, add alternative text to icons, and run my Canvas site through an accessibility checker. I believe that my attentiveness to these strategies is why students have noted that I “teach to all styles of learning.”

Second, my teaching philosophy focuses on the value of transparency, both in how I lay out my course and how I assess my students. I pride myself on providing students a strong foundation of what to expect, both in content and schedule, from the very beginning. On the first day, all students receive a printed syllabus and course schedule that outlines every reading, assignment, and due date for the entire semester. I communicate that while unforeseen circumstances may cause slight modifications during the semester, any changes will be announced both in class and on Canvas and revised versions of the affected documents will be posted. I also make clear that any changes made will only lessen students’ workload, such as eliminating readings or delaying a deadline. As described by one of my students, I strive to “make sure everyone understands what is going on and the deadlines,” and I have found that providing this level of course transparency has reduced my students’ anxieties and better prepared them for assessment.

Aside from course layout, I also provide transparency in how I assess student progress. In addition to providing a syllabus breakdown of all formative and summative assessments, I also provide students individual assignment sheets and grading rubrics for every summative assessment no less than two weeks before the due date. Each assignment sheet outlines the assessment purpose, a suggested process for completing the work, and an estimate of how long it should take to complete the assessment “fully and successfully.” Each rubric articulates grading categories and how points are allocated across each area, that way students know which parts of the assessment require the most attention. Being a Communication Studies instructor, I also provide written feedback on all graded assessments that addresses the strengths of the submission, weaknesses or questions that I noticed during my review, and - if the assessment will be revised or completed again - areas that I would like to see improved. Time and again, students tell me that my feedback is often the best they have received during their education, with one student mentioning that it “felt like someone actually took a care into what we did rather than just a grader.”

Finally, my teaching philosophy forefronts a need for practicality in every element of instruction, both extrinsically and intrinsically. Externally, I aim to mold my courses and assignments around my students’ personal interests and ambitions. When teaching Introductory Public Speaking, this manifested as designing my students’ speeches around their future career goals; in this case, my students delivered three speeches related to a career or industry of their choosing, all culminating in an elevator pitch to their dream company. Similarly, when teaching a senior capstone course in Environmental Communication, my students expressed interest in learning about potential environmental careers, so I cleared a day at the end of the semester and put together a Q&A session with three panelists doing environmental work in the non-profit, governmental, and freelance sectors. Although this sort of practicality requires a certain level of adaptability, it has been well-received by my students, one of whom appreciated that I “tailored...projects to our goals and interests.”

Internally, I assess course practicality with one question: would I be willing to do what I am asking of my students? As mentioned earlier, I know that students are balancing many classes, responsibilities, and hardships, and my course may not be their top priority. Nevertheless, I hold all my students to a high standard, making it vital that their path to success is feasible and valuable. For example, I assign due dates based on my ability to return student grades and feedback in a timely manner; if I suspect I will be unable to uphold my end of this bargain, I anticipate that my students are similarly swamped and thus offer the class an extension. Similarly, my technology policy permits students to occasionally check their social media and email, as I worried I would be unable to keep myself from checking similar applications and felt it was only fair to provide students the same trust and responsibility. Yet most often, my focus on practicality emerges in my continuous evaluation of assessment design, as I am constantly verifying that my students have the appropriate skills and time necessary to complete the work that I assign them, and furthermore, that they understand why it is being assigned them. If I cannot explain the purpose of a reading or assessment to myself in a sentence or two, I remove or significantly revise it. Overwhelmingly, this is where my students believe my strength lies: in my ability to explain “stuff in a way that helps me better understand why we are learning it.”

Having taught only a few years, I know that there is much I still have to learn about pedagogy, instructional design, and student learning. However, my dedication to Accessibility, Transparency, and Practicality guides me as I determine what new skills to add my Communication Studies instructor toolbox. Even as my list of potential readings and classroom tools grows, I remain grounded by my “understanding of the minds/attention spans of our age group” - a group that I affectionately call the modern undergraduate student.

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