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The Philosophy of Effective Online Teaching

I recall, when I was in college, that my favorite classes were always those taught by professors who were approachable and easy to get to know.  In today’s online learning environment, it can be challenging to develop meaningful relationships; email communication and online discussions are efficient, but they don’t afford the same opportunities as traditional classrooms where all participants can enjoy the benefit of face-to-face interaction.

With that in mind, I wanted to share a bit about me so that, should we find ourselves working together, you’ll already know who I am and how I approach my responsibilities as an effective educator here at Purdue.

I have worked as a PR and communications executive for over 30 years I have worked with virtually every kind of organization, including global corporations, small businesses, nonprofits, start-ups, and mid-sized companies.  My work has entailed the full gamut of PR and integrated marketing communications and, in addition, has expanded to include organizational development, executive coaching, and management consulting.  

The ability to coach and guide senior executives has proven to be invaluable; I learned early in my career that no amount of marketing dollars could mask leadership and organizational issues.  I found it fascinating that CEOs of large, national companies would eagerly spend millions of dollars on public relations campaigns when that money should have been spent fixing internal perceptual issues.  Note: Creating façades is not the objective of ethical PR practice.  Thus, it became necessary for me to cultivate the skills and expertise required to successfully consult with leaders on these kinds of high-level matters.  In doing so, I discovered that consulting and teaching are synonymous in many ways.  Helping others identify and understand issues, solutions, strategies, and best practices is the foundation of teaching and also the basic nature of good consulting.  

In essence, the classroom is much like a consulting environment.  Issues are presented, dissected, and discussed, and guidance is provided to foster learning, discourse, action, and positive change.  My experiences have shown me what it takes to be both a successful consultant and an effective educator.

Many universities require professors to prepare what’s called a “statement of teaching philosophy.”   This document describes the professor’s values and approach to teaching.  I’m pleased to share my own statement with you, which I’ve edited slightly for the sake of brevity:

Albeit I am very fortunate to have a successful professional practice in public relations and communications, I have always considered my role as an educator to be the most important, relevant, and fulfilling.  

My teaching style is based on holistic and metacognitive principles and has been described by my students and colleagues as “nurturing, supportive, collaborative, innovative, engaged, experimental, and visionary.”  I heartily embrace the concept of the classroom as a “living laboratory,” i.e. an environment that fuels inquisitiveness, critical thinking, experimentation, and the effective application of course material.  Further, my classrooms provide a safe space in which students can challenge their thinking and the status quo.  Diversity, inclusion, and the appreciation of individual differences are highly regarded.  I believe there is great merit in the Pygmalion effect which states that students rise to the level of their professor’s expectations.  

As educators, we are charged with an enormous responsibility, and that is to appropriately prepare our students for the array of real-world experiences that lie before them.  I believe that, when working with students, we must consider the whole person.  I am committed to excellence in teaching, as well as to the development of well-rounded human beings who are grounded in integrity, innovation, service, and social justice.  I advocate the concept of the scholar-practitioner and strive to develop these high-level attributes in my students.

Another central theme to my teaching is active engagement.  I truly enjoy interacting with my students, whether it be exploring concepts in a traditional classroom, examining ideas in an online discussion forum, or processing a question via email, Skype, or phone.  It gives me great joy to observe students assimilating and applying knowledge, and honing and demonstrating their skills.  To know that I have had some small hand in their cognitive, personal, and professional development is immensely rewarding – and one of the many reasons why I teach.

In every course, I conduct a mid-term evaluation wherein I seek candid input from my students regarding the course content, technology applications, and instructor engagement.  I do this because it is a proactive way to gauge the students’ interest, satisfaction, and participation well in advance of final course evaluations so that any adjustments, if needed, can be promptly instituted.

Finally, I believe that teaching is also a process of lifelong learning.  I continue to learn through my own research, study, and professional development.  But, even more important, I learn from my students every day.  They bring a wealth of global perspectives, cultures, world views, and life experiences that fascinate, inspire, and motivate me to continually raise my personal bar.  They teach me compassion, empathy, patience, mindfulness, grace, and humility.  They fuel my curiosity, delight me with their humor, and provide a sense of fulfillment that is unparalleled in the other aspects of my career.

I appreciate this opportunity to share some of my experience and perspectives with you.  While I admit that I am far from perfect, I will always do my best to create learning environments that fuel curiosity and develop exemplary scholar-practitioners.  I hope to see you in one of my classes soon!

Learn More
Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

About the Author
Debra Davenport is the president and CEO of Davenport Public Relations, a full-service firm with offices in Phoenix and Los Angeles.  She is a faculty member with Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication where she teaches in the Strategic Communication masters program.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.