My teaching perspective

For your personal edification and mine, I thought I’d share my results from the Teaching Perspectives Inventory:

Transmission total: (Tr) 32.00
B=10; I=10; A=12

Apprenticeship total: (Ap) 31.00
B=11; I=12; A=8

Developmental total: (Dv) 35.00
B=12; I=13; A=10

Nurturance total: (Nu) 31.00
B=11; I=12; A=8

Social Reform total: (SR) 25.00
B=8; I=10; A=7

Beliefs total: (B) 52.00
Intention total: (I) 57.00
Action total: (A) 45.00
Mean: (M) 30.80
Standard Deviation: (SD) 3.25
HiT: (HiT) 34.00
LoT: (LoT) 28.00
Overall Total: (T) 154.00

If you’ve never seen this before and have no idea what this is about (as I hadn’t) I’d encourage you to follow the link to read about the significance of each category.  The jist is that everyone comes to the teaching role with some previously held opinion of what teaching should be about, and what a teacher’s Goals (not just goals) are.  The inventory asks some questions and attempts to clarify what perspectives you hold.  For me, only one category, Development, scored high enough to be a “dominant perspective,” while Transmission, Apprenticeship, and Nurturance all scored fairly high, and poor little Social Reform scored as a “recessive perspective.”  Development, Transmission, and Apprenticeship all do in fact ring true to me with regard to what a “good teacher” should provide, in engineering, at least.  Engineering is primarily a “doing” profession that – rightfully – values real-world experience, and it is based on mathematical laws and principles that are very concrete and therefore conducive to being taught systematically, as the Transmission perspective suggests.  These aspects of the field probably are behind my respect for the Transmission and Apprenticeship perspectives.  Ultimately, however, if an engineer is to be anything other than a technician (and to avoid being replaced by a computer), he or she must develop and maintain a very sophisticated thought process.  It is this aspect of the Developmental perspective that I cling to the most; engineers are creators as much as artists, and so must have the same appreciation for the abstraction of ideas and recontextualization of familiar strategies and concepts.  Engineering professors, therefore, should be constantly developing the skills necessary to reassemble the mathematical and scientific tools at hand into something simultaneously achievable and useful.  This is an art, and it is what separates us (engineers) from machines.

Incidentally, it’s not that I don’t care about Social Reform; I just don’t think it has so much to do with my role as a teacher as it does my role as a human being. In engineering, some of the “values and ideologies that are embedded in texts and common practices within [the discipline]” (from the description of the Social Reform perspective) could be enumerated as

  • the reliability of your work (e.g., can I guarantee that a genetically-engineered strain of bacteria is harmless to people and the environment),
  • effectiveness (this will work as described),
  • and efficiency.

I want to inspire and demand these and other more general values whether I’m teaching or not.  It’s not that teachers, engineering or otherwise, should not care about Social Reform; this is just what I feel was my main objection with the questions in the survey which were obviously leaning in that direction.


2 responses to “My teaching perspective

  1. Good post…both reflective and forward thinking in terms of how you thing it might affect your teaching and course development. It appears as though this exercise was helpful–at east in the sense that it affirmed for you what engineers are all about. Do you think engineers are any different than engineers who teach? At least in terms of some of the criteria in this TPI index (like nurturing, social reform, etc.)?

    • There’s certainly a wide range of perspectives among engineers, but I’d be surprised if the dominant perspectives varied significantly between practicing engineers and engineers who decide to teach.

      It may be tempting to guess that practicing engineers are more pragmatic than teaching engineers and would therefore prefer the Transmission or Apprenticeship roles, but my experience is that there is a wide range of what people expect from their education. At VCU’s school of engineering the dominant sentiment I’ve encountered (among undergraduate students) would indeed be, “teach me what I need to know to be a good engineer, and give me a degree so I can get out and get a job and make some money.” At other places I’ve been, including at Clemson in my own undergrad experience, the feeling was less “results driven,” for lack of a better phrase. We tended to geek-out more about the material and the engineering process themselves. There are of course exceptions to both of these generalities, and each perspective has its own value, but many of those students are now practicing engineers, and I would guess that many value the development and nurturing that was provided to them and count those qualities as necessary for good teaching.

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