Teaching and mentoring approach

Backward course design

I learned about backward course design at a workshop offered by Stanford University for their lecturers and teaching assistants. This approach proposes to start designing a course by establishing the learning objectives and skill development goals. The course material and evaluation strategies are then prepared to serve these objectives and measure that these goals have been reached. In my experience, this approach has helped me diversify my teaching styles when appropriate (interactive activities, example-driven lectures, flipped classroom, etc.) as some styles appeared better suited to specific learning objectives. I also appreciate that it provides objective and quantifiable ways to evaluate students’ progress and offer a solid foundation to provide feedback to students.

Growth mindset

My recent encounter with the work of Dr. Dweck and her colleagues on mindset has had a profound effect on me and is now guiding my teaching and mentoring approach. Dr. Dweck is an Education and Psychology scholar who pioneered research on mindset and its link to (scholarly) success. Her work and that of her colleagues have identified sets of beliefs associated with fixed vs growth mindsets. While everyone lies somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes, their research has shown that students with a growth mindset were more successful and resilient. Fortunately, a growth mindset could be cultivated by educators and oneself. I now try to integrate recommended practices to nurture students’ growth mindset. For example, I go through examples with students and mentees and share my thought process with them and explain how the failure of current models (including those we are working on together) is required for scientific progress and personal growth. I do my best to provide specific, formative, and supportive feedback so that students understand where and why improvement is necessary.

Inclusive teaching environment and mentoring practices

I am strongly committed to contribute to a more diverse and inclusive academic environment. Education and social science scholars have repeatedly shown how providing students with clear and explicit expectations and learning goals, transparent criteria for success, and a non-stereotypical environment and teaching examples increase students’ feeling of belonging (for example see Cheryan et al, 2009; Fischer et al, 2019). This, in turn, improves their academic performances, especially for students from under-represented groups or backgrounds. Backward course design (see above) supports the establishment of explicit learning goals and expectations. In addition, because, from a very young age, children integrate stereotypes about scientists and what they should look like (for example see Bian et al, 2017; Barman, 1999), it is essential to provide kids and teenagers with diverse examples of scientists. It is always a pleasure for me to participate to outreach activities, especially with underserved communities to foster a sense of belonging from a young age. Finally, despite my best efforts, I may not be fully aware of my implicit biases and may do or say things that are not fully aligned with my values and commitment to diversity, inclusion, and belonging. If you notice that from me, I’d be grateful if you could let me know so that I can apologize, repair the hurt if needed, improve my behavior, and support our community better.