Education is a critical form of social capital and a means for cultivating informed, engaged and successful participation in society. With this in mind, I approach each opportunity for teaching as an opportunity to affect change. To that end, my teaching philosophy is grounded in three basic tenets: (1) experiential inquiry, (2) collaborative learning, and (3) education as a vehicle for individual and collective empowerment and social change.
Experiential inquiry starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios—rather than simply presenting established facts or portraying a smooth path to knowledge. It also relies on problem-based learning and the identification of research issues and questions to develop knowledge and solutions. For me, experiential inquiry is at the foundation of an effective approach to teaching health policy and health services research. When teaching doctoral students who are very early on in their health services research doctoral training in a Research Methods course, I often rely on the tenet of experiential inquiry. For example, my lectures and discussions with students focus on describing the value of a conceptual model or framework and how it can support a research question. I have students begin by posing a question, problem or scenario and working to consider all of the components that may contribute to the problem, ultimately creating a framework that will allow them to identify and hone in on their research question while simultaneously developing their knowledge of potential contributors to the problem and potential solutions. My goal for the students in this course is to understand what it means to be an active producer of research. Experiential inquiry has also been of great value in teaching Health Policy. Early in the semester, I ask students to identify a policy problem that they will work on over the course of the semester. They then have to rely on problem-based learning to identify the appropriate research to support the policy problem, to recognize the political climate and relevant stakeholders and to fully develop all sides of the issue. I also teach them the relevant skills to be effective in influencing policy such as writing an Op-Ed, preparing and giving an elevator speech and writing an issue and policy brief. The policy problem and subsequent skill building is the heart of the class and the means by which students integrate “big picture” learning (e.g., ontology, epistemology, and axiology) with “practice skills” (e.g., developing and writing policy questions, identifying stakeholders, and developing policy solutions).
The second tenet of my teaching philosophy is collaborative learning, which centers the production of knowledge on the class and between students. Through peer review, students have the opportunity to read another classmate’s work and provide constructive and collegial feedback. Students also have the opportunity to reflect on their own work while reading a colleague’s. Additionally, I provide opportunities for peer sharing. Students are asked to share how things are progressing with their policy projects, including any challenges or surprises they are facing. This open check-in fosters a sense of collective learning and collegiality. Further, sharing from personal experience opens the door to deeper discussion on larger topics we have covered in class around health policy. For example, a class conversation spurred by students grappling with political will and the Affordable Care Act developed into a critical and impassioned conversation about the social, economic and political effects of health care reform. I find collaborative learning to be so valuable that even when creating an online version of our Health Policy course, my colleague and I strived to maintain and foster as much of that collegiality as possible in an online setting. We created small groups for students (based on their policy topics) to share and discuss their work in an online forum throughout the semester. We also encouraged students to use tools like Google Hangout and Skype to connect with their small groups. We found that students who did so more actively, tended to have more polished and well thought out products at the end of the semester. We also required students to record and post videos of themselves sharing and discussing their policy briefs and other work so that their classmates across the country could put a face to a name. Course reviews reflect our success in establishing an environment of collaborative learning and a majority of students reported that we were more successful in doing so than any other online course they had taken to date.
The final tenet of my teaching philosophy is that education is a vehicle for personal and collective empowerment. To this end, many of the final projects generated in my courses have a life beyond the confines of our classroom. For example, every semester at least 2-4 students (out of 30) have their Op-Eds published in a variety of newspapers throughout the U.S. One of the more exciting examples of this happened in Spring 2015 when a student had his Op-Ed about Hepatitis C and clean needle exchange programs in Kentucky published in the Louisville Courier-Journal. The topic was being debated in the Kentucky State Legislature that week and his Op-Ed helped contribute to a dialogue that ultimately resulted in the state lifting a clean needle exchange ban. Students also make long-lasting connections with key stakeholders on their health policy topic and continue to influence legislation in their respective areas long after the course has been completed. For some, these connections have led to jobs ranging from Field for a U.S. Senator to a position at the Department of Health creating a Tuberculosis intervention program that the student had developed as a policy solution in the course. These are just a few the many real life examples of my belief of the potential that my work in the classroom has in helping students to effect social change. While some may believe that students learn skills in the classroom to affect social change later on in their lives after they graduate, I operate under the notion that student’s have individual and collective empowerment for social change right now. It is my goal for them to understand the power that they hold and to instill in them the skills to affect change successfully and effectively.
EVALUATIONS & FEEDBACK
"The most valuable aspects were the discussions and input from our professor and TA."
"The group discussions and conversations were extremely beneficial...Professor Hardeman has knowledge in her brain that I want! The guest speakers were fabulous as well"
"It is important to consider social determinants of health and histories of discrimination and inequities when going forward in my career, in order to make inform policy and research appropriately.I will improve my general awareness of inequities and do what I can to help underserved communities."
"I will definitely be looking at things in a different light now. I was always so proud of stats MN produced, but I'll need to dig deeper into everything I read from now on to make sure policies are fair."
"I am not sure what my future career will look like, so I'm not entirely sure how to answer this question. However, I do believe this course may shape the career path that I choose to take. The systems of institutional racism are so embedded in our public health system that the knowledge I received from this course is sure to be useful no matter what my career is."
"Definitely more classes like this one! More classes that address inequities and the structures supporting them. I think this is so relevant for all of us."