Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

Philosophy of teaching and learning

Mindful Learning Cropped_resized-1I see all learning as social. Social learning as I understand it is meaning-making emerging within and through everyone in a learning community.  My role as a teacher is to model and create an environment for mindful learning, which involves “the continuous creation of new categories, openness to new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective” (Langer, 1997, p. 4).

In order to create this environment, all that I do must create an atmosphere of trust, where not-knowing is not only tolerated, but encouraged. That means I must be willing to be transparent about my own learning: model taking risks to encourage risk-taking.

Because every student learns differently, I give a survey at the beginning of class that elicits students’ preferred modes of learning, and I work hard to be responsive to the amazing variety of student learning styles. I leave room for the slow deep thinker (Davidson, 2012) by leaving space and time, and by offering choices about ways to participate.

I see all participants in my classes and workshops (whether students or faculty)  as producers of knowledge, as well as consumers. This means that, while we read and discuss texts, the value is added through our analysis and interpretation of concepts in the context of our own unique experiences, our profession, workplace, or other working environment. I believe that the richest, deepest learning occurs through interaction and collaboration with others and through doing (see my post about the research behind collaborative learning, and some practical techniques to facilitate group projects). Team projects are a favored strategy for this purpose, and the protocols and rigors associated with functional teams are meta-skills that I work on with each team (and I include peer assessment in my assessment of student work). I limit the use of lectures and presentations as classroom activities. I hope that the value for each student will emerge through participation in class discussions, individual reflection, presentations by all class members, and through application of their learning to an authentic project.

Ultimately, what I emphasize is the ability to ask good questions, not to have “the” answers. I reinforce this by asking students to identify a question that emerged for them in each reading assignment in my classes.  In the technology side of my field, the shelf-life of particular knowledge about technologies is short, and answers expire quickly.  On the pedagogical side of my work, it is very important to always go deeper, and also to pay attention to emerging theories and practice, or become stale in understanding.

Lineage of Conceptual Frameworks

Valuing the lineage of ideas is embedded in the culture of higher education. That is, there is a meaningful history for ideas, as they’ve developed in human culture, and often these are mapped within certain disciplines. As a scholar of teaching and learning, I honor the lineage of  conceptual frameworks founded in theories of the mind, learning and practice, which are based on one of two major theoretical perspectives: cognitivist and post-cognitivist theories.

From a cognitivist perspective on mind, learning and practice, learning is a process that occurs in individual minds and the focus of attention is on helping individuals gain knowledge or skills at using knowledge. From this perspective, knowledge is external and learned (and grounded in a reality that is “out there”). The post-cognitivist perspective is based on a subjective view of reality, and a conceptualization of the sociocultural nature of learning as a process of enculturation through authentic experience. Community is central and learning is seen as a social practice involving doing and being (identity), instead of an individual process of knowing.

From the  strongly sociocultural perspective I espouse, constructivism builds upon the human need to make sense of the world, to understand and resolve uncertainty through action, and is based on a theory of learning as the reciprocal social and cultural construction of meaning and identity.


Davidson, Lisa. (2012) Private conversation.

Langer, E. (1997). The power of mindful learning. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

One comment on “Philosophy of teaching and learning

  1. Pingback: Planning for teaching | Vicki Suter

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