Statement of Teaching Philosophy

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I once accompanied a group of excited undergraduates on an outing I arranged to the former East German border checkpoint at Eichsfeld. Here, at the onetime crossroads of Cold War ideologies, we toured the guard rooms and interrogation booths that had since been converted into a museum on life in the former East Germany. As we walked along the former border through the rolling green hills, looking at the cement towers and barbed-wire fences that once divided the countryside, one of the students turned to me and asked, “You mean to tell me that they built all of this to keep the people in?”

The question was innocent, perhaps even humorous. But despite its apparent simplicity, I believe that it also signaled a fundamental shift in the way that this student approached education and the world. For her, history was no longer black and white pages in a textbook and the German language had ceased to be mental and vocal gymnastics done in a classroom. Both had become alive, exciting, meaningful, and – above all – a way to connect with and understand the world we live in. For me, these personal moments of insight and discovery are some of the most thrilling experiences I can share with my students. Moments like these, I’ve come to realize, are more likely to occur if my teaching practice is guided by four key principles:

1. Learning is interdisciplinary. The most meaningful learning experiences, I’ve discovered, can best be found at the intersection of disciplines, where ideas from different intellectual traditions can cross-pollinate and where students are exposed to a wide variety of disciplinary expectations and research styles. In my design of courses I intentionally supplement student learning with material from outside the discipline and from across multiple media formats and platforms. For a class on the heroic figure in German literature, for example, I asked that students play a contemporary video game to better understand how player choice and game mechanics create new forms of heroic narrative and to experience first hand what happens to us psychologically when we assume the role of a hero. Interdisciplinary learning is also a hallmark and essential element of the extended reality lab that I launched. Working together in teams on demanding development projects, students from diverse academic fields have learned to communicate clearly with people possessing an entirely different educational background and skill set and to see a problem space from their perspective. This interdisciplinary approach in the lab allows students to develop the metacognitive skills, technical training, and problem-solving strategies that will make them competitive candidates in a global twenty-first-century marketplace.

2. Learning involves the real world. Another way for me to promote meaningful learning involves finding ways to bring the subject matter into conversation with the world. I’ve discovered that this can best be accomplished by taking students out into the world and by working with students to develop public-facing digital projects that can benefit a wider audience beyond the classroom. Field research is an important way for me to closely connect classroom activity with real-world applications. In the past I organized a week-long research trip to Louisiana for students developing a virtual reality experience of the Uncle Sam Plantation. Field research at several plantation complexes in Southern Louisiana, university special collections at Louisiana State University, and museums dedicated to interpreting the story of American slavery gave the students a more nuanced understanding of agricultural history, the role that weather played in sugar production, and the economy of slave plantations. Witnessing first-hand the conditions in which enslaved people lived and toiled ultimately allowed the students to design a more empathetic and sensitive virtual reality experience. While working on these and other extended reality projects, I always try to inculcate the idea in my students that education is a powerful means of helping and benefiting others. An important way for me to realize this goal is to distribute these projects under a Creative Commons License as open educational resources (OER) for the global public good. Knowing that their work on the projects will ultimately benefit other high school and college-level students beyond their own institution, students on the development teams approach their own work more reflectively and strive to make their contributions more meaningful.

3. Learning is student-centered. I’ve also been able to promote more meaningful learning by giving students opportunities to explore their own identity and diversity, by providing them with personalized and flexible instruction, and by inviting them into the design of the learning experience. Students have multiple identities and group memberships with which they identify and find meaning, and activities that tap into this natural diversity are an excellent way to open the classroom to rich discussions of identity, representation, and advocacy. Activities I regularly use in the classroom to foster these discussions range in scope from small group work analyzing LGBTQ player rights in the German national soccer league to larger semester-long projects exploring multicultural German identities through the scripting of non-player character (NPC) dialog for a 3D computer game. In addition to these classroom activities, I’ve also been able to foster meaningful learning by creating blended learning environments that extend beyond the classroom. Through a combination of weekly face-to-face labs and online learning modules that layer language for specific purposes (LSP) instruction over existing introductory German coursework, students created their own personalized and flexible learning track that gave them the necessary linguistic, cultural, and professional skills for working in a German business environment after graduation. Finally, I’ve discovered that some of the most useful ways of promoting meaningful learning empower students to make choices about their own learning and the design of their learning experience. Both these insights have shaped the activity of the extended reality lab I founded. In the lab, students lead bodystorming exercises and Scrum sprints that help them design the application they would like to program, make team goals for developing and testing the application, and then track their progress toward these goals.

4. Learning is modeled. The last principle is perhaps a bit unusual in that it presupposes my fallibility as a subject-matter expert and a teacher. I’ve been an educator long enough to know that I can’t possibly know everything about the material I am covering. Or know all the best ways to present it to students. Failure and ignorance, I’ve discovered, have just been the first steps on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. I may not have the answers, but I am committed to searching them out. Revealing these flaws to students – in short, admitting that I am no sage on the stage – has created a relationship between us that is founded on honesty, mutual respect, transparency, and a shared purpose of seeking out the truth. It is a state of being and habit of mind that I hope students will carry with them through the rest of their lives.

Program Development

2016-PresentGrinnell College Immersive Experiences Lab (GCIEL)
Obtained and managed internal grant funding ($154,000) to launch an interdisciplinary community of inquiry and practice for creating virtual reality (VR) experiences of liberal arts subjects (e.g., history, mathematics, English, and German). Established a lab speaker series that invited outside scholars and professionals to discuss immersive technologies, how they complement the work they are doing in their respective fields, and to provide networking opportunities for students. Mentored students working in development teams on project management and communication, software best practices and workflows, team collaboration, site-based research, rapid-prototyping methodologies, Unity game engine programming, and 3D asset development (3ds Max and Substance Painter). Worked with faculty to disseminate research and teaching findings through conference presentations and journal publications, and to develop their VR experiences into a minimum viable product (MVP) that can be referenced in external grant applications.

GCIEL website
GCIEL GitHub profile
GCIEL Twitter account
GCIEL YouTube channel
Transcript of GCIEL focus group (PDF)
Article in the Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy
Article in the University-Industry Innovation Magazine (PDF)
Proposal for GCIEL budget regularization (PDF)
2011-15Business German Program, Elon University
Obtained and managed internal grant funding ($15,410) to develop a blended learning environment that layers language for specific purposes (LSP) instruction over existing face-to-face coursework. Established a program speaker series that invited representatives from German-based businesses in the Southeast United States to campus for the purpose of discussing their respective fields, explaining how knowledge of the German language and culture is critical for the fields, and providing students with networking opportunities. Taught students linguistic and cultural competencies for German business environments through co-curricular labs and online instruction and prepared them to take the prestigious Prüfung Wirtschaftsdeutsch, an internationally-recognized Business German exam.

Business German website
Business German Speaker Series
Business German brochure (PDF)
Sample online course module
Article describing the design of the online modules (PDF)
Best Article (2017) in Die Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching German

Student Mentoring

2013-15Bethany Hill, Lumen Scholar, Elon University
Bethany Hill, Student Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Scholar, Elon University

Project Title: Performing the Bride: Visuality, Female Authority, and the Sacred Spaces of Mechthild of Magdeburg’s “Flowing Light of the Godhead.”
Mentored the recipient of two highly-competitive undergraduate research awards. Helped her develop skills in analyzing medieval German manuscripts and reading Middle High German, locating secondary research materials, formulating questions for research at medieval religious sites in Germany, and presenting her findings at regional and international conferences.

The Lumen Prize
Student Undergraduate Research Experience
Bethany Hill’s Lumen Application (PDF)
Bethany Hill’s SURE Application (PDF)
Bethany Hill’s SURE Poster Presentation (PDF)


2020Online Course: Flexible Approaches to Teaching, Grinnell College
This course introduces faculty to best practices for developing online and hybrid learning environments. Topics covered include: the ADDIE instructional design model; multimedia design and cognitive load theory; content sequencing and learning object granularity; digital accessibility and transparency principles; and iterative information gathering and course design.
Summer 2016Faculty Workshop: Stories for the Eye and Mind – Immersive Environments for Teaching, Learning, and Research, Grinnell College
This four-day workshop introduced faculty to 3D and virtual reality technologies as a means of augmenting the liberal arts. Topics covered include: current 3D and virtual reality hardware and software; virtual reality applications developed at other institutions; theoretical approaches to immersive environments and research currently being done in the field; and opportunities for the use of virtual reality in teaching, research, and grant-writing.

Workshop Report
Workshop tweets (#gcielSW17)
Fall/Spring 2008-15GER 121/122: Introduction to German Language and Culture, Elon University
This course sequence introduces students to German culture as a way of achieving basic proficiency in German, both listening/speaking and reading/writing. Topics of cultural study include: stereotypes about the Germans; daily life, leisure, and travel; shopping and commerce; likes and dislikes; geography and cities; housing and modes of living.

GER 121 Syllabus (PDF)
GER 121 Student Evaluations (PDF)
GER 122 Syllabus (PDF)
GER 122 Student Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2009GER 321/371: Developing Fluency (The Play of Language), Elon University
This course improves students’ command of German through an in-depth and more advanced investigation of German culture and society. Topics of study include: current events and contemporary issues as depicted by digital media, film, literature, and music. Using their examination of these topics as a starting point, students will create narrative content for a German-language computer game as a course capstone project.

GER 321 Syllabus (PDF)
GER 371 Student Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2015GER 322: German During and After World War II, Elon University
This course examines the transition from dictatorship to a stable democracy (1939-1949), with a specific focus on the post-war period. Events and trends to be studied: Nazi cinema and propaganda; the ruin and devastation of the mid-1940s; the division into two states in 1949; the rebuilding period of the 1950s; the Nuremberg and Auschwitz war-crimes trials.

GER 322 Syllabus (PDF)
Spring 2014GER 324: Germany in the New Millennium, Elon University
This course examines Germany’s changing identity, politics, and values in the new millennium. An in-depth look at current events shaping Germany is grounded in a study of how key figures and moments in German history continue to influence the people, politics, and institutions of Germany today. Topics of study include: questions of Heimat; issues of migration and identity; medievalism; the role of Germany in the European Union and the world. The course makes use of news broadcasts and news websites, contemporary film, short fiction, and other cultural products.

GER 324 Syllabus (PDF)
GER 324 Student Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2008GST 264: Love, German Style – A Romantic Introduction to German Culture, Elon University
This course is an English-language introduction to German culture and history with a specific focus on the subject of love. Topics of study include: depictions of gender roles, personal and social identities, love as protest, representations of men and women, interpersonal and multicultural relationships, and love as a stabilizing and/or destructive force.

GST 264 Syllabus (PDF)
Fall 2014GST 398: Warriors, Intellectuals, and Supermen – The Hero in the German Cultural Imagination, Elon University
This course is an English-language introduction to German culture and history with a specific focus on the subject of the heroic figure. Topics of study include: heroic poetry, epic poetry, Arthurian romances, chapbooks, epistolary novels, operas, memoirs, silent films, fantasy novels, graphic novels, and video games.

GST 398 Syllabus (PDF)
GST 398 Student Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2013Elon 101, Elon University
This course supports the transition of first-year students as they become active participants in an academic community. Topics of discussion include: expanding academic and interpersonal skills, enhancing confidence and competence, making informed decisions, exercising social responsibility, and demonstrating personal integrity.

Elon 101 Syllabus (PDF)
ProposedGBL 254: Barley and the Vine – Viticulture and Brewing in Europe, Elon University
This study-abroad course examines the cultural significance of wine and beer in Germany and Italy. Topics of study include: the chemistry of brewing and fermentation; brewing and viticulture as a vehicle for constructing and expressing national identity; the impact of climate change on wine and beer regions; organic and biodynamic agricultural practices; the globalization of wine; small business practices and entrepreneurship in the European Union; viticulture and oenology; and the economy of importing European wines and beer to the United States.

GBL 254 Syllabus (PDF)
Study Abroad Course Proposal (PDF)

(Photo by Justin Hayworth/Grinnell College)