My teaching philosophy:
THIS IS IT!©
Over the past few years, I developed a teaching philosophy I call “THIS IS IT!”. My teaching focus has been on coaching students in their BSc. and MSc. thesis trajectory. Their task has a clear overlap with my job as a researcher. Therefore, the philosophy below can also be seen as a guideline for my own work. I also taught a couple of courses, and try to apply the same philosophy when lecturing. What is it?
There is more to it than immediately meets the eye. The first set of four topics (THIS) are skills I believe are important for the development of the student personally. The second set of topics (IS) are social aspects that I deem important in the practice of Finance. The third set of topics (IT!) are often ignored interpersonal skills that can help students achieve their goals. Below is a short description of each topic.
I encourage students not to memorize formulas, but to focus on understanding the thinking behind them. During my lectures, I like to spend some time deriving formulas and analyzing them. My intent is to encourage rational thinking, which goes much further that simply being able to apply a formula. During lectures, I reformulate questions in ways that help me understand whether the students fully grasp the concepts presented.
Many students start their Finance studies with the unrealistic idea that there is a number of “set-in-stone” theories and formulas they will simply need to apply. When confronted with ambiguity and uncertainty in the field, many become frustrated. I believe it is important to transmit students the idea that science is an evolving process and it is ok to have doubts. In fact, scientific development comes from a “questioning the status quo” attitude. I encourage students during their thesis trajectory to question their own assumptions. When teaching courses, I try to make students aware of the shortcomings of the methodologies I teach. Confronting them with Case Studies is a good of illustrating the complexity and conflicts in the practice of Finance.
Learning happens beyond the lecture hours and contacts with the teacher. I try to stimulate students to dig deeper into a topic by briefly mentioning recent news items or recent academic research. My goal is to encourage them to independently seek for more information than what I am able to convey during a lecture. In our information age, this happens quite naturally. However, it is important to heed students for the sources they use, and urge them to always double-check the information they get. Given the recent developments in information and media technologies, I believe this will be a very relevant topic in the future of teaching.
I believe learning is a self-reflecting process. To achieve progress, it is important to set your own learning goals. In the first session with students in their thesis trajectory, I always ask them what their learning goals are. I then urge them to assess where they perceive to be at that moment in the road towards reaching those goals. What skills and tools do they possess? What is the gap between the goal and the perceived stage at that moment? How do they plan to close this gap? What skills and tools do they need to acquire? How do they plan to acquire them? This usually makes students aware of the steps required to achieve their goal. That is, in my opinion, the first step towards achieving it.
I believe Finance is a powerful tool for positive change. When I teach, I try to make students aware of this. Countless papers in the academic literature have established a link between Finance and economic growth, or prosperity measured by several other standards. I often share the findings of this literature with my students. But I also recognize the shortcomings of Finance. One of the master thesis topics I have been working on with students, “Too much finance?”, seeks to find answers to the question of whether the financial system has become too large and complex in developed countries. Hopefully my students will have a positive impact on society. Finance has developed a negative image over the course of the last decade, in part due to the recent financial crisis. That is why the point below is so important.
Most students are able to grasp financial concepts and apply financial formulas. Yet, Finance struggles with a negative image caused by unethical behavior. In my classes, I try to make the students aware of the dilemma’s they will encounter during their professional career. Finance can only fulfill its potential for positive change if the agents participating in the process have high ethical standards. I believe it is a primary role of Finance teachers to constantly remind students of their ethical and social responsibilities.
I stimulate interaction during classes. I believe a lecture is not a “one-way” traffic of information. I can learn from students, and students can learn from each other. During my lectures, I often pause to give students the word. Besides that, I encourage my students to interact with each other outside the lecture. I stimulate communication as a tool for achieving learning goals. Peer feedback is a very valuable and often ignored assessment method. I encourage students working on the same topics in their theses to interact with each other and provide feedback on each other’s work. I also occasionally organize plenary sessions with all students working on the same topic.
Questioning the status quo drives science and is important for learning and growth. In academics, there is always another point of view one can learn from. Students often find this confusing, but I stimulate them to learn about as many points of view on a topic as possible. Communication, listening and exchanging ideas with others often leads to rethinking our own ideas. Thinking again has the additional advantage of restarting the whole THIS IS IT! cycle.
Copyright © 2017 José Albuquerque de Sousa.