My teaching philosophy is simple: active learning. The outdated style of passive transfer of information from teacher to learner has been proven to be less effective with most students. Instead, interactive, two-way teaching is more impactful, promoting better knowledge retention in students. Simply because the students have a greater share of the responsibility type of instruction. The efficacy of this way of teaching is preserved in the ancient Chinese proverb that says:
“Tell me and I’ll forget;
Show me and I may remember;
Involve me and I’ll understand.”
In the classroom then, I see my role as that of facilitator, connecting my students with the knowledge they seek, in an engaging, memorable way. Naturally my style adapts in response to the nature of my students. Working with adults, I use andragogy, which means “the art and science of helping adults learn.” This is more effective on this demographic than pedagogy, a default style is only involved with “the art and science of teaching children.” Whatever their age or status, in my teaching, I find a way to involve my students. I know that every student comes to class with a different background, experiences, and expectation. For this reason, I utilize a dynamic syllabus. In the first class, I begin by surveying my students anonymously about what they would like to get out of the class (besides an A grade!). Based on the survey responses, I adjust my course schedule and foci within the scope of the course. This gives students greater control over what they will learn in our time together and foregrounds the subjects that are of direct interest and necessity for them.
Moreover, I believe this adaptable, responsive style reflects the subject matter I teach. The hospitality and tourism industry is a dynamic, fast-paced, perpetually changing industry. Data in most standard textbooks become outdated very quickly as a consequence. This is why, rather than rely on one standard text, it is a point of pride for me to constantly update my course content with current information, and provide contemporary additional materials for students as these are published. Provision of such extra materials also feeds students hungry to learn more about a specific topic, which I feel can raise the bar for the remainder of the classroom. Keeping to this standard certainly creates more work for me, both in research to stay current, and in explication of the new materials for my classes. However, I feel that maintenance of this higher bar is simply my core philosophy in action: that life-long learning occurs when students are not just being told recycled, outdated facts; but when they are constantly presented with cutting-edge knowledge with which they are excited to engage. My goal is to have my students leave the class secure in the knowledge that they have fully understood the subject matter and how to apply it to real life. Not only the facts and figures, but the pace and the needs of the field they intend to enter, since the ability to keep up competitively with such a constantly self-reinventing industry depends on each student taking responsibility to follow the industry closely. To ensure this habit I draw my teaching examples both from actual, recent news events, as well as leveraging stories inspired from my own life and those around me. This engages the students because it helps them relate the theory that they learn, to real-world, practical situations. To further cement in their minds the pragmatic application of their classroom learning, I usually hold 2-3 field trips and host 2-3 guest speakers from the industry to infuse each course with the very latest in contemporary knowledge for my students. (For one example of a guest speaker I was honoured to host in my class, please see: https://vimeo.com/295811140 ).
However, as passionately committed as I am utilizing the above techniques to always bring the most current knowledge to my students, I am very aware that each student must also be brought to the knowledge. That is: everybody learns or perceives information differently. Differences always exist in economic, ethnic, cultural, and educational backgrounds, to say nothing of personal preferences; therefore, there will always exist differences in student learning styles. These differences can be accounted for and adapted to most effectively, I feel, when the learners themselves are each made consciously aware of their own learning styles and preferences. This empowers them to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of their overall learning, which ultimately results in higher achievement. This is why I issue a learning style assessment test in the first week. Based on the learning style assessment test results, I call into play different teaching methods and activities such as: problem solving, graphical analysis, data visualization, and stories during the classes to ensure the attention, comprehension, and involvement of each student.
And, of course, one of the best open secrets about our profession is that, even while teaching, we ourselves are constantly inspired to keep learning, too. I am energized to report that I feel my own education never stops. I constantly attend workshops and conferences (especially sessions by industry professionals) to learn about current and future trends in the hospitality and tourism fields, and I eagerly bring this knowledge back for my students’ consumption. I also am constantly checking the current reports published by major hospitality associations such as the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), the Hospitality Financial Technology Professionals (HFTP), the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and the National Restaurant Association (NRA). I always provide these reports as additional materials for my students.
Another joy we professors are privileged to share is to witness those moments of comprehension as they strike students both within the classroom and outside it. I constantly watch my students for their aha! moments. This is the main reason I encourage personal interaction with students. I always communicate the fact that I am available for them outside the classroom, by e-mail or by phone. It is really rewarding to work with students in such a tailored way, both in class and individually during office hours. I have seen the extra attention help them to progress, and the extra time with them rewards me with a more personal feeling of pride in them as they do. This is in keeping with my philosophy that it is imperative for every professor to ensure that students are made to feel comfortable in expressing their opinions, knowing they can approach me with their questions and will never be judged for doing so. Since Socrates Western education has understood that the process of learning demands learners’ rigorous questioning. To this end, I encourage my students to contact me frequently: another way I show my active commitment to engage — and engage them — in the best practices for their learning.
Those best practices are guaranteed to change more frequently now than at any previous time in the history of higher education. To profess to teach in our current era is to understand that we are helping Generation Z learn: a generation of digital natives who grew up always playing with mobile phones or tablets. Like no other generation the planet has ever seen, they have come of age in a hyper-connected world. It is futile to attempt to keep them away from their phones, tablets or computers. Consequently, I am committed to incorporating their native tools for the purpose of furthering their learning in the classroom, by challenging them with surprise questions but allowing them to use the internet to search for the answers. I also create digitally-based research groups in the classroom and ask students to report back to the class. In this way, they not only learn, but also are challenged immediately to teach others: the part of the process, as we teachers know, where 95% of the real learning occurs.
The final component of my teaching philosophy and methodology accounts for the humbling fact that nobody is perfect. There is always room for improvement for each of us, and I for one am constantly driven by my commitment to improve. For this reason, I have adopted a practice handed down from my own mentors, of issuing a satisfaction survey to my students during the denouement of every course. My method is to create an anonymous online survey where I ask students their personal opinions of the semester we have just spent together: what they liked and disliked about the course content, lectures, field trips, speakers, materials, topics, and me. I seek their opinions regarding what I should keep for future classes and what I should edit into the trash bin. Every student is free to fill out the evaluation form without fear of repercussion, since it is anonymous. I usually have about a 90% participation rate on these final evaluations. Then I bring their de-identified suggestions back into the classroom and share with them how I will proceed differently based on their suggestions for the rest of the semester and for future classes.
To reiterate, my philosophy of teaching is simple, but it is not easy. To constantly engage students by means of tailored, evolving, always current materials involves dedication and responsiveness, no less from me than from them. However challenging, I feel such a committed teaching approach is merely what is demanded by the dynamic, high-energy, and rapidly pivoting character of our chosen industry. Our field is going to demand everything our students have. In preparation, I believe to my core that they should be provided no less than every advantage we can confer.
Muhittin Cavusoglu, PhD, CHE, CHIA