Elon University

Teaching Philosophy
Dr. Ryan Kirk
Department of History and Geography
Department of Environmental Studies


I teach spatial technology, geography and environmental management courses in a liberal arts setting. This educational niche intrigues me because of the competing objectives between the liberal arts ideal of developing general intellectual skills and the practical need to develop professional and technical skills. I feel these competing objectives provide a unique opportunity for both the teacher and the students to combine the cognitive and technical aspects of learning.


With this context in mind, my three priorities of teaching are, in order, to:

1) foster critical thinking and communication skills,

2) instill resourcefulness in the subject area, and

3) convey a predetermined set of knowledge on the subject matter.


I readily admit that these priorities are much easier to claim than to fulfill, but I strongly believe in them nonetheless. It is a challenge to me as a teacher to design and deliver courses that truly meet these aims. Any course I have the privilege to teach will be built upon the following six beliefs.


1) I believe the foremost challenge of teaching is to connect with the students, to get them excited about the material and your approach to teaching it. For me, this means always being fully prepared, energetic, forthright, accessible, approachable, and responsive to student feedback. It also means getting to know each student and his or her learning needs.


2) I believe teaching requires a dedicated effort focused on student learning. Sharing knowledge is relatively easy, especially in this age of information. It is the other aspects of teaching that are hard, such as maintaining enthusiasm, challenging perceptions, and promoting knowledge retention. I feel that only through thorough and relentless effort can these more difficult aspects of teaching be effectively addressed.


3) I believe the teaching environment should be interactive and engaging, and should reach far beyond the lecture hall. Using a variety of technology and teaching strategies, including field-based and service-learning exercises, helps keep the class fresh over the course of the semester. Whenever possible, I aim to emphasize: a) inquiry-based learning, where students develop questions and answers rather than being told information, and b) applied “real world” projects in collaboration with local organizations.


4) I believe academic and career advising are fundamental components of teaching at the college level. Any given course is only one small fraction of a student’s education. I think a good teacher will respect this and be a part in improving the entire educational process. In this regard, teachers should be proactive, well informed on the process of advising, and knowledgeable of available resources. Also, I consider it valuable to spend class time on the process of learning and career development, covering topics such as research, writing and critical review methods.


5) I believe individual feedback is the most important aspect of student evaluation. I feel that instructor comments, private meetings, and anonymous peer evaluations provide students with more useful tools for self-reflection and reinforcement than number grades (although number grades are indeed important in their own right). I vow to commit as much time as possible to providing direct and useful feedback to each student.


6) I believe teaching, just as much as learning, is an adaptive and evolving process. No course should be taught exactly the same way twice. Teachers should continually update content with new developments in the subject area, modify material based on student feedback and the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, and incorporate new and pertinent assignments.


Teaching is a privilege not to be taken for granted. By taking these teaching priorities and beliefs earnestly, I am confident that I can provide students with an enjoyable education experience, a core set of knowledge and technical skills, and an improved intellectual skill set for facing their continued educational and professional careers.


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