teaching Philosophy

Active Learning

My teaching style falls into the 'Active Learning' school, where the teacher facilitates students' comprehension of complex material. Although a significant amount of information will be passed from teacher to student in lectures, students must also integrate material from a variety of sources (multiple lectures, outside reading, etc.) to understand the course material. This approach means you will have to spend some time thinking about how material from different lectures integrate into a larger conceptual framework. You will also have to direct yourself in finding relevent pages from reserved reading to review.

Textbooks and Outside Reading

In some courses I teach, a textbook is recommended; in other courses, a canonical textbook is not used. This situation arises for many reasons:

When a textbook is recommended, exact page numbers for your reading may not be provided; as an upper-division university student, you will be expected to locate relevent material using the Index and Table of Contents, and read enough to convince yourself that you understand the material. Additional outside reading will be provided on reserve in Langley Library. You may check these books out to supplement your lecture notes. If you find this arrangement inconvenient, I can recommend a potential combination of commercially available textbooks, but these options may be expensive. Moreover, some outside readings may be in the form of specific journal articles, which cannot be easily purchased.

Lecture Notes

After the lecture has been presented, I typically post my lecture notes on this class Web site. These notes serve several purposes:

Remember that these are my lecture notes, and are not a summary of all the material you need to know for class, or a substitute for textbooks or outside reading. Many times, complex ideas and integration of material from several lectures are not fully presented in these notes. Rather, they should serve as a study guide for review of your notes and reading material.

Office Hours

Office hours are noted on the class syllabus; during these times I make every possible effort to be in my office. Students are also encouraged to make appointments if they need extra time. Students are encouraged to stop by for many reasons:

I encourage all students to stop by and discuss the course material. The material covered in these courses is complicated, and the Active Learning paradigm necessitates learning outside of the classroom. Stopping by an instructor's office demonatrates that a student is interested and motivated, and will use every resource available to learn the material.

Grading on a Curve

As are most upper-division courses, my classes are graded on a curve; that is, students are not evaluated on an absolute scale, but relative to each other and relative to my expectations. Throughout the semester, students are evaluated by exams, quizzes, and problem sets. After each evaluation, the students are given their score and their standing with respect to other students; I do not assign letter grades until the semester is over. After exams, the student's cumulative rank is also provided so that the student may assess their performance. At these times, I advise students who are in danger of not passing the class.

Final grades correspond to the following relative scales:

Grade University
My Interpretation
A Superior
  • Grasp of virtually all of the material
  • Mastery of much of the material
B Meritorious
  • Grasp of most of the material
  • Mastery of some material
C Adequate
  • Grasp of much of the material
D Minimal
  • Grasp of some of the material
F Failure
  • Grasp of almost none of the material
  • Failure to complete coursework

Last Updated 14 August 2006, by JG Lawrence