Philosophy of Teaching
My philosophy of teaching has developed over a period of time beginning with my own undergraduate experience. As a college student I noticed that courses, even those with very similar formats and requirements, could vary remarkably in terms of the level of student involvement and the amount of critical thinking required. The courses that most impressed me were the ones in which the professor was able to do three things. First, the professor challenged students to work beyond their perceived potential. Second, the professor not only expected students to be able to explain and interpret the course material, but also the instructor formulated exams and essays in a manner that required students to compare and contrast opposing concepts or to defend one theory as superior to other options. Third, the professor conducted the class in a manner in which students were encouraged to be continuously and actively engaged with the course material.
My teaching philosophy further developed when I participated in an optional graduate course, GS 302 Pathways to the Professoriate (a.k.a. College Teaching and Course Design), and in a Seminar on Racial, Cultural, and Ethnic Diversity, which was funded by a grant from Wabash. The graduate course emphasized the importance of clear teaching objectives aimed at engaging students in the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (i.e., Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation), which is now updated and known as Anderson and Krathwohl's Revised Taxonomy
(i.e., Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating). The course stressed the need to focus each pre-class and classroom experience on moving students toward one of the learning objectives along with the need to incorporate a variety of assignments in order to accommodate different learning styles. The Wabash Seminar highlighted the need for professors to develop an inclusive pedagogy that fostered an atmosphere of openness to diverse ideas and perceptions by creating a sense of community in the classroom through collaboration and class discussion. (Based on student surveys, the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education has identified teaching practices that promote peer understanding among diverse student populations).
Teaching within the field of New Testament
Within my field of New Testament studies, I have taught three undergraduate Religion courses at Duke University and two semesters of Hellenistic Greek at Duke Divinity School. The undergraduate courses included two courses on the Life and Letters of Paul (Rel 108 Life and Letters of Paul, Summer 2008 and Rel 108 Life and Letters of Paul, Summer 2006 ) and one course on The New Testament ( Rel 102 The New Testament, Summer 2007). Since I view my role as a facilitator, I assign pre-class readings and activities that provide enough background information for even the novice to grasp a fundamental concept. Class time is then used to move beyond a passive acquisition of knowledge. In order to encourage active involvement with the course material, I use a variety of teaching formats: announcing that a particular lecture will present a theory opposite from that presented in a reading for the purpose of class discussion and/or debate; requiring students to apply a learned concept by writing a persuasive paper in which they argue that one theory is superior to another one; and assigning students to create and to deliver a presentation from their research with the expectation that their presentation will be subject to questions and comments from their peers, etc. For example, after presenting a lecture on the Problems of Pauline Chronology in Rel 108, I posted on Blackboard a Writing Assignment in which the students were required to argue for the cogency of one theory over another one. The goal of the assignment was to help students learn to interpret and critique primary sources in light of the historical context in which the sources were written and to formulate theories that account for conflicting information. In Rel 102 (see page 3 of the Syllabus), the students presented the fruits of their research on a particular topic at the end of the semester. I have found that requiring my students to consult with me in choosing a topic of research greatly enhances the quality of the presentations. By providing guidance prior to the start of their research, I am able to help students decide on a topic that interests them and is likely to produce a quality presentation. I have also been quite pleased with the quality of the questions that the other students have asked about the presentations.
While I encourage student discussion of the course material in the last portion of each class, I also realize that students differ in their willingness to speak up, especially early in the course of the semester. In addition to encouraging all students to take an active part in classroom discussions, I require my students to participate in discussions with their peers on Blackboard (see Rel 108 Discussion Question for Response 1, Rel 108 Discussion Question for Response 2, and Rel 102 Discussion Question for Response 3); however, to foster the appropriate environment for these discussions, I stipulate ground rules for classroom and Blackboard behavior in the syllabus for each class. It has been my experience that the timely feedback that I give to students regarding their online posts encourages all students to be more willing to participate in peer discussions in class. It has also been my experience that giving several small assignments (e.g., three position papers and three Blackboard discussions) allows students to improve their persuasive writing skills and their critical thinking skills throughout the semester by incorporating the feedback that I provide into the next assignment. This procedure not only allows students to know at what level they are performing, but it also gives them a chance to improve their skills on the assignments that do not make up the bulk of their final grade. I feel that students do better on the essays that they write for the final exam when they have been given appropriate feedback throughout the semester.
On the Student Evaluations for my undergraduate courses, I consistently received the highest possible rating (a 5 on a scale of 1-5) for the quality of the course and the quality of instruction. See (Kathy Barrett Dawson Summer 2007.pdf and Kathy Barrett Dawson Summer 2008.pdf).
In the Greek classes (GreekSyllabus1.pdf and GreekSyllabus2.pdf), I challenged the students to gain a high level of reading competency during a year of study. Asking them to work beyond their perceived potential worked well with the students since I assured them that high expectations would be accompanied by fair grading (Student Evaluations for Greek.pdf). Throughout the year I posted several documents onto the course Bb site in order to help the students understand concepts and to prepare them for exams. Two documents dealt with helping the students initially understand parsing Greek nouns (Worksheet for Parsing Nouns.pdf, Worksheet Answers for Parsing Nouns.pdf). Since I believe that students in language courses benefit greatly from constant review exercises, I tried to review basic concepts prior to giving exams. One review helped prepare them for the Midterm Exam ( Practice Sentences for Midterm Exam.pdf). And five reviews were uploaded prior to the Final Exam in order to revisit the grammatical constructions that had been covered during the year of study (Final Exam Practice 1.pdf, Final Exam Practice 2.pdf, Final Exam Practice 3.pdf, Final Exam Practice 4.pdf, and Final Exam Practice 5.pdf).
Teaching Development and the Use of Technology in Teaching
In addition to the technology that I require students to use in out-of-class discussion boards, I have supplemented lectures and class discussions with an occasional PowerPoint presentation. In order to help students understand the worlds that constituted the historical background of the New Testament and to align my Rel 102 course with Duke's initiative to integrate the use of various forms of technology in teaching, I incorporated The New Testament World into my initial class session for the course. However, I limit the use of PowerPoint presentations in my teaching since I believe its overuse by instructors diminishes the students' active interaction with the course material. I have found the resources on Teaching Naked Improving Student Preparation for Class to present helpful suggestions for utilizing technological resources in pre-class assignments.
I intend to continue to develop my teaching skills by teaching a "Flipped Class" in the future. If the current research on Flipped Classrooms is correct, students may greatly benefit from this active learning approach. Given the recently published results in Change on educationally purposeful experiences for undergraduates, I would also like to experiment with teaching a Service-Learning Course.
Balancing Teaching and Research
My immediate research interests have grown out of my dissertation, Reading Galatians As Rhetorical Parody: Paul’s Reinterpretation of Scriptural Demands for Obedience to the Law and the Implications for Understanding Faithfulness and Apostasy, which proposes that our understanding of the letter is greatly enhanced if we view many of Paul's statements as examples of rhetorical parody. First-century CE rhetorical handbooks describe rhetorical parody as a persuasive device that was frequently employed by literate persons in Greco-Roman society. I intend to explore the ways in which my research on rhetorical parody may have implications for our understanding of Paul's view of the Jewish Law.