Rob teaching a section of BUS:3306 Business Communication at University of Dallas (Credit: Gerard Shaughnessy)In the "Teaching Resources" links to the right, you'll find a selection of some of the instructional aids I have developed during my time as a college instructor. Hopefully, these materials will give you a clear picture of my teaching style and capabilities.

 If you're looking for Sensei Rob's Five Rules of Presentational Speaking, you'll find it in the link list to the right, along with some sample lectures from traditional courses and narrated learning modules designed for distance learning classes.


Teaching Philosophy

Throughout my time as a college instructor, I have identified a number of beliefs about teaching, students, and education in general that inform my approach to teaching and learning in the college classroom.

The first task of the teacher is providing relevance. Students enter the college classroom with widely varying motivations for college education in general and differing attitudes toward particular courses. My first task as a teacher, then, is to persuade those students who lack intrinsic motivation or positive attitudes toward the course that the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they stand to gain are important, valuable, and useful; in short, to make the course content relevant to my students. Like any persuasive act, in order to be effective, the task of providing relevance must be adapted to suit the individual students in each particular class. This is a persuasive act that must be repeated throughout the duration of a course to continually remind students why I am teaching what I am teaching.

Good teaching is focused outside of the classroom. This is a corollary to my first observation. In reminding the students about the why behind the what, I always look for ways to connect course content to their future aspirations. In this way, the learning becomes particularly relevant because they can see its utility outside of simply completing the required assignments and earning credit for my class. This approach also provides students with a meaningful context (their own lives) in which to apply the course material, further enhancing the likelihood that they will retain the information beyond the final exam or project.

The best teachers teach students how to learn. With the current rate of information production, a university diploma is obsolete as soon as it is printed if students lack the ability to continue accumulating knowledge and skills beyond the confines of the classroom. The task of the modern instructor is not so much teaching information as it is teaching the best ways of finding, managing, and using information to achieve goals. In every class I teach, I make it a priority to not only teach course content, but to provide students with the skills and the tools to expand their knowledge and abilities after they have completed my class. This involves the intentional inclusion of reflexive assignments that require students to identify their own strengths and weaknesses related to the course content and to develop strategies for shoring up the identified cognitive, affective, and behavioral deficiencies.

Good teaching is guided by well-articulated course objectives.
My best teaching has always been the result of good planning that is focused on post-course objectives. When I set out to craft or refine a course syllabus, the first place I start is with the course objectives – what do I want my students to know, believe, and do once the class is over? In a well-designed course, every reading, activity, assignment, and exam should be carefully designed to address one or more of these objectives.

“Busy work” has no place in collegiate instruction. College students hate busy work (or, at least I hated it as a college student). As paying consumers for a product (education), they deserve to receive the maximum value for their investment. On the first day of every course, I tell my students that I don’t assign busy work. Further, I instruct them that if at any point during the term they believe an assignment qualifies as busy work and I am unable to provide a rationale for the assignment as it relates to the course objectives, we will strike the assignment from the syllabus. Making this commitment to my students early in the course highlights for them my desire to provide a meaningful learning experience. It also gives me extra motivation to avoid designing learning activities that lack a clear purpose.

Feedback is the ultimate tool for teaching a
nd learning. Good teachers make extra effort to provide their students with timely, specific, and meaningful feedback about their work. Good feedback is more than just a grade and a sentence or two of affirmation or encouragement. Rather, it provides students with specific areas where they excel, or with particular steps they should take to improve. In many college classrooms, individualized feedback like this is the most personal interaction that students have with their teachers. This interaction goes both ways, however. I make an effort to not only provide my students with high-quality individualized feedback, but also to provide opportunities for them to provide feedback for me. This communication loop builds immediacy and trust in the student-teacher relationship and is a primary source of identifying areas for teaching and course improvement.

The job of the teacher is not to be popular; it is to help students learn.
There are serious structural incentives in many higher education environments for instructors to assign little reading, simple assignments, and easy exams in order to earn high student evaluations. Unfortunately, these structural incentives have resulted in serious deficiencies in many college graduates’ abilities to think critically, reason logically, and rise to the challenges of life beyond the academy. The best teachers understand their primary mission of education and structure their classes accordingly – providing students with achievable but ambitious assignments that require significant engagement to excel.

Grades should be meaningful. Ever-present departmental and university concerns about grade inflation aside, students are best motivated when the grades they receive actually mean something about the quality of their work. When everyone in a class receives a similarly high (or similarly low) grade on an assignment in spite of clear differences in the quality of work, good students are discouraged from making the effort to be excellent, while poor students are deprived of the impetus to work harder to improve. Thus, the guiding principle I use when grading is that grades should be meaningful and should clearly distinguish between excellent, average, and unacceptable work.

Good teachers admit when they make mistakes. Students respect teachers who are honest with them. Whether the mistake involves student grades, a poorly designed assignment, or an overly ambiguous exam question, the best tactic is to admit the mistake, take whatever action is needed to mitigate the harm to students, and resolve to do better the next time.

Good teachers never “arrive.” Rather, good teaching is a constantly reflexive process where improvement is always the goal. Every lecture, activity, assignment, project, or exam could always be at least a little bit better. The best teachers always look for ways to improve, even in the courses they’ve taught dozens of times before.