My Pedagogical Beliefs

My personal set of beliefs about teaching and learning and pedagogy has evolved through the years. Today, it consists of the following components.

Problem-based Learning

A central tenet for me is the idea of problem-solving and problem-based learning. Over the years, as I have gathered significant experience in teaching at the undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels, this personal philosophy has evolved. As it happens with many of us, the highs and lows of student responses and our abilities to respond to student expectations have often collided with my preconceived notions about what content is important for students to acquire and hold. By now, even as I continue to try different techniques in the classroom, I am convinced that my personal teaching style is dictated by the core idea of problem-solving. This is the simple assertion that problems come before solutions. Handing out content to students without allowing them some form of personal motivation to acquire it is something that I no longer believe in. This can mean significant consternation for students, who often face a problem, which can force them to ask questions about what they need to learn.

  • Purao, S., (PI) J. Bagby, B. Cameron and S. Sawyer. 2007-2010. Learning to build systems of systems. National Science Foundation. $ 393,400 (Collaboration with Georgia State, Total ~700k).

Resource Exploration

Instead, my teaching is now dictated by efforts to create teaching materials that students can explore on their own, engineering opportunities that will allow them to decide how they will engage with the materials, and using the time during class sessions for discussion and dialog as well as moving forward on problems and projects. As I have started on-line teaching over the last several years, this mode of teaching has brought forth much more enjoyable outcomes for both students and teachers. I have started importing these techniques and modes of interaction into my traditional classroom teaching. As I have done this, I have realized that these ideas are similar to what is being described elsewhere as ‘flipped classroom,’ i.e., instead of using the classroom time for delivering instruction, it can be used for interaction and dialog.

  • Purao, S., M. Sein, H. Nilsen, E. 2016. Larsen. Setting the Pace: Experiments with Keller’s PSI. IEEE Transactions on Education. Forthcoming.

Moving to Synthesis

Connecting these ideas to perspectives on learning, one can say that following problem-based learning, the students appear to move much more quickly towards synthesis and evaluation along the cognitive dimension of Bloom’s taxonomy. The in-class or online dialog and interaction seems to make the transition towards these higher-level stages much more rapid. At times, I have consciously used Piaget’s stages to help students reflect on their experiences to derive more abstract lessons for themselves. At other times, I have tried to use what may be considered Vygotsky’s ways of looking at zones of proximal development to design the cases and experiences for class interaction so that the students can grow their learning in small steps.

  • Cameron, B., Purao, S. 2006. Enterprise Systems & Integration Education: Innovative Approaches Utilizing Experience-based Learning. Proceedings of the 1st International workshop on Enterprise Systems. With ICIS, Milwaukee, WI.

Learning involves Unlearning

I am a firm believer in iterative learning and reflection, which is essential when we realize that so much of our where learning is also tied to unlearning. As an example, learning  about research methods often requires much unlearning because of our preconceived notions. As we learn new terms and attempt to place them inside old structures, a time comes when the previous structures must be dismantled. This cannot happen in a single step. Helping students realize this aspect of participation is essential to helping them along their journey.

  • Mathiassen, L., Purao, S. 2002. Educating Reflective Systems Developers. Information Systems Journal. 12(2), April. 81-102.

Technology for Teaching

I am very much a technophile. I have actively incorporated technology into my teaching and assessment activities since I first started teaching. As of mid-2010’s, the areas where I use technology platforms, beyond the use of platforms such as Angel and Blackboard, include: (a) use of online quizzes, following a gaming metaphor; (b) use of audio-recorded lectures with slidedecks with voicethread that students can explore; (c) ultra-rich interaction platforms such as adobe connect; (d) use of a platform for online exams such as speedexam.

Teaching Technology

The expectations for a faculty member teaching technology are many. S/he must present material that the students are expected to absorb. On the other hand s/he may wish that the students learn underlying principles and are able to understand and apply these technologies given a problem. The different pedagogical schools of thought support these objectives to varying degrees. The learning of basic tools and syntax, which must be presented by the instructor, is best supported by the objectivist camp. Learning the underlying principles requires that students construct their own stock of knowledge, arguing for a constructivist approach. Finally, interaction with other participants, while instantiating and applying the principles learned to specific problems argues for a social/cultural approach. The broad mapping indicates that a pedagogical practice for teaching information technologies must manage to integrate all three camps in a concerted effort. This integration of approaches presents a difficult challenge, as the roles the instructor must play – an all-knowing instructor vs. a participant in a democratic learning process – can be in conflict. Balancing these is the challenge that we face.

  • Nilsen, H., Purao, S. 2005. Balancing Objectivist and Constructivist Pedagogies for Teaching Emerging Technologies: Evidence from a Scandinavian Case Study. Journal of Information Systems Education. 16(3), Fall, 281-292

An Egalitarian Pedagogy

An egalitarian pedagogy is my attempt to move from a traditional pedagogy to one that is more participative, open and reflective. The word ‘Egalitarianism’ connotes some sort of equality, asserting, favoring, and promoting greater equality across all participants in the learning experiment. My version of egalitarian pedagogy includes the following core principle: Breaking down the separation of Teacher and Student roles. Unlike traditional pedagogy, which reflects a power-distance between the teacher and student that is continually reinforced by both, this the teachers as well as students. The teachers often end up summarizing the material or pointing out important things that students should pay attention to. The students often ask for teacher-lead elements such as lectures, study materials, and example questions so that they can better prepare for exams and quizzes. Together, these behaviors perpetuate the separation of roles via the institution of “examinations.” This principle invites both teachers and students to break down these traditional roles. An egalitarian perspective, instead, argues for an emphasis on intrinsic goals that drive student participation and learning.

  • Purao, S. 2014. Towards an Egalitarian Pedagogy for the Millennial Generation: A Reflection. In J. Carroll (Ed.), Innovative Practices in Teaching Information Sciences and Technology, Springer, Pp. 43-52.