sherilee harper

EcoHealth Research with Indigenous Communities

Teaching Philosophy Statement

Learning is a complex and interrelated process of constructing and reconstructing knowledge and it is shaped by one’s personal experience.1,2 Therefore, I believe that the role of the instructor is to facilitate this process by creating the space for students to direct their own learning in order to remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, and create theories, concepts, and skills in a holistic manner both in and out of the classroom.3 I envision the process of facilitating deeper learning to be similar to the sufficient-component cause model of disease which is commonly used in epidemiology and environmental public health.  According to this classic model, a cause of disease is something, which initiates or permits, alone or in conjunction with other causes, a sequence of events resulting in an effect.  A cause which inevitably produces the effect is sufficient and a cause which must be present for the effect to occur is necessary.4 Similarly, I believe that there are component causes that together facilitate deeper student learning; some of these components are sufficient, and some are necessary.

I believe that an important component cause of student learning is a clear and organized method of content delivery.  Therefore, I value being prepared for lectures, providing clear learning objectives for each lecture, making effective use of class time, answering questions, providing timely feedback, and summarizing what has been presented will assist the student’s journey through the course material in a systematic and logical manner to facilitate student learning.5 Furthermore, I find it useful to frequently discuss with students that some aspects of one health can be quite challenging and I make it explicitly clear to students that I have high standards and expectations.  While my expectations of student achievement are high, I also remind students that they are very capable of achieving success, and I emphasize that I want them to succeed.  When I encourage students’ efforts while simultaneously challenging them to achieve high goals, I believe that students become motivated to learn.5

Another important component cause of student learning includes instructors showing enthusiasm for course content.  Students often comment that my enthusiasm and passion for one health approaches comes across very clearly when I teach.  When I lecture or lead tutorials, I make my motivation to use one health approaches clear and I explicitly explain why learning the course material will translate into their daily lives.  I believe that showing my enthusiasm for the course material will intrinsically motivate students to become interested in the discipline and will also encourage students to develop their own passion for learning and professional development.6 Moreover, when students perform well on assessments, I congratulate the whole class in lectures, or individuals in private emails.  I believe that this recognition emphasizes that it is possible to succeed in the course, and extrinsically motivate students to continue learn.

I believe that student engagement is a necessary cause of successfully facilitating student learning: without student engagement, I believe that deeper learning will not occur.  Indeed, research across disciplines agrees that encouraging students to actively process incoming information is essential to learning.6  Peer-teaching is a great instructional tool that engages students and promotes deeper understanding of course content and application.6  As content experts, we are less likely to understand why a student does not grasp a concept compared to their peers; however, a student who has recently learned the concept is more aware of the struggles that their peers are experiencing.  Therefore, I believe that peer-teaching is an effective teaching tool and I use it often.  For instance, in larger class settings, clicker-technology can facilitate a process of peer-instruction where students (i) independently solve a problem and submit their answer using the clicker, (ii) discuss answers with their neighbour, (iii) re-submit their answer using the clicker, and (iv) finally, I summarize the solution.  In smaller classes, similar peer-instruction can include techniques such as ‘think, pair, share’.  I have found that students enjoy these techniques, and it allows them to actively describe the course content in their own words, express opinions, admit confusion, and reveal misconceptions in a safe low-stake environment.

Methods of student assessment should not only be used for evaluation purposes, but also as opportunities for student learning.  I have found informal methods of assessment, such as unmarked in-class ‘minute papers’, to be useful for both me and the student: it allows me to gauge how well I have explained concepts, and it allows students to gauge how well they have understood concepts.  Moreover, I have found that students appreciate formal assignments that ask students to synthesize course material and use skills that reflect how they will confront the problem in the real world.  These types of assignments include problem based learning activities (e.g. outbreak investigations), role playing (e.g. ‘town hall’ meetings), reports on current events (e.g. communication campaigns), assignments that offer choice (e.g. research proposals), and reflective exercises (e.g. food journals).  I think that these methods of assessment encourage students to use the course material in a meaningful way, in a context that will reflect how they will use the course content and skills in everyday life.  I think that when students develop skills through these real life problems, they will be more likely to use these skills outside of the classroom after graduation.  Indeed, cognitive psychologists have suggested that when we think about course material this way, our underlying brain structures will change and promote deeper learning.7

I believe that in the end, we are all students: humans are curious when they confront new complex problems and enjoy mastering these problems.6  Given the heavy use of statistical tools in the public health, environmental health, and veterinary health field, it is too easy for instructors to default to traditional lecturing that focuses on transfer of information, and not assimilation of information.  Therefore, I not only focus on what to teach, but also how to teach it and strive to create a learning environment that is cooperative, collaborative, and supportive so that students can use the theories, concepts, and skills outside of the classroom in new and complex problems and situations.5


(1) Barr, R.B., J. Tagg (1995).  From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education.  Change, 27:13-25.  (2)  Kolb, A.Y., D.A. Kolb (2005).  Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education.  Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4: 193–212.  (3) Anderson, L.W., D.R. Krathwohl (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Longman: New York.  (4)  Rothman, K.J. (1976).  Causes.  American Journal of Epidemiology, 104(6): 587-592.  (5) Pratt, D., J. Collins (2001).  Summary of Five Perspectives on ‘Good Teaching’. Last accessed 16 Nov 2010.  (6)  Svinicki, S., W.J.  McKeachie (2011).  McKeachie’s Teaching Tips.  13th Edition.  Wadsworth, Cengage Learning: California, USA.  (7)  Leamson, R. (2000). Learning as biological brain change. Change, 32: 34-40.