Donald W. Drumtra
Teaching Philosophy

MS Word version

Kuan-tzu, a Chinese philosopher noted, if you give a man a fish he will have a single meal. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat all his life. This is the basis of my teaching philosophy-to teach students how to learn by themselves rather than giving them all the answers.

A university education should not only prepare students for their specific future professions at a level of detail above that which they may have received in their high schools, but it should provide them a broad basis of knowledge so that they can understand their profession in the context of the outside world. Universities provide students a unique opportunity to gain an understanding of many different disciplines and their relationship to each other. Although specialization in a particular college is important to obtaining high paying employment after school, each college has an obligation to ensure the students in its programs learn something about fields outside of the college's internal curriculum. That outside education should include at least introductory courses in philosophy, humanities, and fine arts if the student is in a professional field (Law, Engineering, Business, etc.).

In the future, I plan to teach in the field of Library and Information Science (LIS). Although, there is not universal agreement on what is included in that field, most scholars would agree that it includes the research and study of information, its nature, management, and preservation. That information may be in books, records, computers, films, tapes, and all sorts of media. It includes study of the traditional institutions that manage information in our society including public libraries, school libraries, business libraries, archives, business record offices, and museums. It also includes less traditional institutions such as those that manage computer-generated information (such as Webpages), film, compact disks, and other media. Special sub-fields, called informatics, deal with the specialization in providing needed information to medical, law, and other professionals. Recent research and practice in the field over the last five years has also included knowledge management in corporate and government institutions.

Although the LIS discipline has been focused on graduate students, there is a growing movement in the U.S. to develop courses at the undergraduate level. I believe undergraduate courses would a valuable addition to the discipline. My goal is to concentrate on introductory courses both at the graduate and undergraduate level preparing for the future. I believe my background in science, engineering, political science, business, and information management provides me a unique understanding of the way that LIS fits into society. It is through that understanding I hope to help students understand the importance of information and how society benefits from its good management in the information institutions (libraries, archives, etc.).

The teaching methods I have found successful in the past include a mixture of assigned reading of fundamental principles and student selected reading from a list of texts dealing with the fundamentals of the discipline. Students could substitute other readings on a case-by-case basis. Students may, by that approach, select topics that interesting them the most. Student response is in the form of discussion and short essays dealing with the selected topic. In addition, I believe team projects are useful, with several students participating in a essay or presentation on a team with selected topics. I have found that student presentations contribute more to learning than instructor lectures particularly with team projects. I support written examinations only if the course material lends itself to examination and then only to determine if students understand fundamentals principles of the field. The exam is thus valuable as a tool to evaluate both the student and the instructor.

Many have suggested that teaching at a research university is particularly challenging. In advanced courses, research results can sometimes be incorporated in course material. Most valuable research would, however, be more advanced than material taught in introductory courses.

Teaching introductory courses presents a second challenge with most departments because it requires that the curriculum be integrated into the curriculums of more advanced courses. This is particularly difficult in the field of LIS where there are not only different opinions on the relationship between library science and information science but fundamental differences in the definitions of the fields themselves.

A third challenge is teaching academic subjects to students who are most interested in the professional aspects of a field. At the Masters Degree level the LIS degree is considered to be professional degree rather than one that would lead to further academic work. Introductory courses also to be of much value to students would have to blend theory and application carefully to make them most useful to students. Marcia Bates, a LIS professor at UCLA, has written:

It needs to be understood by all involved that the ability to translate between different intellectual and practice cultures is a very special talent, and not at all common in any field. Most researchers cannot do it and most practitioners cannot. Those who can should be treasured. . . . Few are the researchers who can take it still a step further and extract implications for practice and present those implications in a way that practitioners can make immediate use of. That is quite a challenge. Where that ability does exist however, it deserves to be richly rewarded.

My teaching goal is to become one of those rare individuals.

Marcia Bates. (1999) The role of the Ph.D. in a professional field. Los Angeles: UCLA. Retrieved September 3, 2001 from http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/bates/phdrole.html


June 16, 2003