Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is updated annually in the spirit of the following quote…

“There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge. . . observation of nature, ​​reflection, and ​​​experimentation.  Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.”  ~ Denis Diderot



Fall 2011
Web-Based Multimedia Design for Educators
Graduate, Online

“Come on, Er, you can do this!” I attempt to encourage myself as I stare at the tiny eyelet camera in front of me. This was the seventeenth time (yes, I was counting) I’d attempted to record a one-minute introduction to my first university teaching experience, at the graduate level, no less!

“It’s gotta be easier than looking sheepish in front of twenty or so freshmen, right?” I coax myself to continue sharing aloud the script I’d read through in my head what seemed like a million times previously. “Welcome to Web-Based Multimedia for Designers! I’m your course instructor, Professor Erica Holan…”
Spring 2013
Writing for Cyberspace
Undergraduate, Traditional

“It’s so nice to see your shining, happy faces! Well, those that are peeking above the monitors anyway,” I say, smiling.

“Hello, Professor!” Manny shouts from the back row of the room. I can sense he’ll be one of my “talkers” this semester.

I take a deep breath, telling myself it’ll be alright. I’m nervous as hell. “Give yourself a break, it’s your first face-to-face class for Pete’s sake!” the internal dialogue continues.

“So! Who’s taking Writing for Cyberspace as an elective this semester? …”


The above snippets detail the beginning of my university teaching experiences, which took place only a few years ago. Since then, I’ve taught a variety of face-to-face English courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels (College Composition, Business and Professional Writing, and Introduction to Writing for the English Major, to name a few), and I’ve spent fourteen consecutive semesters as an online instructor for a graduate course entitled Web-Based Multimedia for Educators. I’ve been the only professor on record for the latter class since it first launched as part of the online Educational Technology Certificate Program offered to educators in the state of NJ and beyond (I’ve had at least two students take my course who teach overseas). Still, many of my online students haven’t yet stepped foot (figuratively speaking) in a classroom, because they have no intention of becoming classroom teachers. This is why we use the designation “educator” in the course’s title: we want to support anyone who embodies the spirit of a pedagogue, whether they train others through their place of employment or are life-long learners who wish to hone and develop their own 21st century skillsets. As I began working with my research cohort back in January 2010, I fully embraced this idea that we can ALL be educators, even if we aren’t in a K-20 classroom. My mother never attended college, but she taught me how to read, write, tie my shoes… Would these important literary acts be considered any less educational because she lacked a teaching credential approved by the State?


Wherever I am – at the library, my home office, a classroom, on the bus, on a road trip, in the subway – I’m always learning, and I’m always looking to learn. I thrive on new information, I live to experience what I haven’t yet discovered, and the ability to share that knowledge for a living is both a blessing and a privilege. I didn’t know when I first entered university back in September 2000 that I’d become a college professor, but I knew since I was 12 years old that I wanted to be a mother. Yes, you read that correctly: I said “mother” and not “teacher,” which might come as a surprise in a teaching philosophy statement. But the two aren’t as different as some might think. In fact, I would argue that my lifelong desire to be a mother not only inspired me to become a teacher, but has made me a better teacher.

I’m now almost finished with my PhD in Education through Rutgers, having taught the past four years of my life (excluding my undergraduate subbing and student teaching experiences), and I’ve always considered my university students as my children. Regardless of age, they have and always will be “my kids” – and I loved every moment of it (okay, almost every moment of it). I’ve learned so much from them and they from me; our varied and lively exchanges during each class session have always been as unique as the very students themselves. I cherish these open dialogues, the opportunities for teachable moments, making connections to everyday life, putting learning in perspective, what real world experience is all about.

But it wasn’t until this year that my ultimate aspiration was realized, the one I’d known in my soul was going to be the most tremendous learning experience of my life: motherhood. So what would become of my daily lectures in the Fall now that a baby was on the way? I’d still continue teaching online, as that didn’t require me to be on campus at least four times a week, but I’d miss the in-person journey all too much, the smiling faces of my students, the conversations about whichever text we were reading at the moment… With this in mind, as much as I enjoy the interaction I have with my online students, I have a strong desire to return to teaching face-to-face – after all, being a mother will only enhance the instincts I’ve already been practicing in the classroom for many years now.


But how does my ideology translate into practice? My lesson plans are usually based on a combination of what appears on the syllabus (developed in accordance with departmental requirements, standards, and the like) in addition to current events and other resources that I may come across in preparation for the class (pulling articles from reputable newspapers, magazines, peer-reviewed journals, and other online periodicals). For example, in my Business and Professional Writing courses, students were required to build resumes, compose business correspondence, and complete oral presentations over the course of the semester per departmental requirements. Based on my previous personal experiences as an undergraduate while on the job market, I required my students to create an electronic portfolio of all of their work that showcases their marketable skills (website development, electronic correspondence) to prospective employers. Beyond the core requirements of the class, I also had my students complete more in-depth critical exploration of business documents, including the rhetorical analysis of a reputable business magazine or journal article related to their fields of study. Together we would review a piece in class, systematically breaking down each element of the article, including the design (I tend to use web-based articles) and the use of multimodal tools embedded within the article (hyperlinks, video, imagery, etc.), in addition to conducting a traditional rhetorical analysis of the text within the piece itself.

I also take pains to produce nuanced and thoughtful discussion and analysis by capitalizing on my students’ varied perspectives. This is true across courses, across multiple sections of the same course, and among individual students within a single class – I’ve already discovered that what works for one group of students may not work for another. For instance, I’ve taught Composition to three classes in one semester, and the results of each class varied widely, dependent upon a number of factors, including the students’ interest level, preparation for class, and prior experience with a particular genre or text. One example is especially salient: I had all three classes read a text selection (in this case, Murray’s “The Maker’s Eye”), but the students who participated in class discussion brought vastly different perspectives to the reading based on their personal educational experiences with writing, which ran the gamut from urban to rural to suburban high school backgrounds. The cultural differences of my students alone contributed a great deal to their perspectives, which in turn led to more rewarding discussions and sparked deeper critical analyses of the texts we covered in class. I purposefully drew upon my own cultural experiences in order to model how readers perceive and identify with various authors’ works.


In the same vein, reflection is a large part of my pedagogical practice. Although the iterative nature of preparing, teaching, and reflecting on the experience was constantly drilled into my brain as a student teacher, back then I just saw it as one more class requirement for graduation purposes. It wasn’t until I began teaching (on my own terms) that I truly recognized the value of reflection. Although I was initially trained to write in a journal after lessons that were particularly difficult or enjoyable (or both!), I found that I would naturally reflect on my experiences, replaying aspects of my lecture, class discussion, or hands-on computer lessons in my head (as opposed to on paper), contemplating the highlights and lowlights of each period. Whatever my methods, it’s clear to me that reflection has become a fundamental component of my growth and development as both an educator and lifelong learner.

In sum, my teaching has been significantly shaped by my desire to learn, to share my knowledge, and, just as I would with my own children, to nurture my students’ intellectual curiosity and critical thinking skills while simultaneously exposing them to the world beyond the traditional textbook page.



Perhaps it seems peculiar to begin my philosophy of teaching with a quote about insecurity, but by the end of this reflective statement, it’s my belief that anyone reading this will know exactly why it’s taken center stage.

I honestly think that writing a teaching statement is an impossible achievement without any prior experience in which to base it on…which is probably why I’d previously considered this task “mission impossible” level when writing it for my teaching portfolio during my undergraduate days.  Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching in a variety of contexts, at both the K-12 and college level.​

My current administrative position as the Assistant Director of the Kean University Writing Project has afforded me the ability to work with teachers currently teaching in K-12 schools, so that I can retain an “insider” perspective on what issues our nation’s educators are currently facing.

My role as a part-time lecturer through Rutgers University, teaching an online, graduate level course entitled “Web-Based Multimedia Design for Educators” (offered as part of an Educational Technology certificate program) has also allowed me the unique perspective of discussing issues affecting today’s educational climate through discussion with my students.

So what does all of this have to do with a quote about insecurity, you ask?  I think insecurity is one of the most powerful emotions we can feel as human beings — it can paralyze us with the fear of uncertainty, the unknown, or the fear of not knowing, can truly break us down to the very core of our soul.  PhD students are often plagued with what is commonly known as “Impostor Syndrome” — the thought that we were accepted to graduate school by accident, a fluke… “No one in their right mind thought I was bright enough to get in this place — it was a lucky break that the admissions committee accidentally put my application in the acceptance pile!”  Believing that others are more capable, prepared, or better than ourselves in comparison to our own abilities to conduct research, teach, write, present at conferences, etc.  You name it, the insecure graduate student has thought it — I know I I’m not alone on this one.

Realizing that this insecurity has taken such a hold on our life can go one of two ways — it can continue to paralyze us, make us self-doubt, feel less than worthy of our accomplishments, or it can be faced head-on, challenged, and used to make us push ourselves harder, further, to achieve our goals — whatever it is that we put our mind to.

Does this feeling not describe what you felt like when you walked into your classroom the first day you started teaching?  Was it not how you felt the first time you started doctoral school?  The first time you presented at a conference?  Or EVERY time you present at a conference?  Insecurity is what makes or breaks us…empowers or imprisons, determines or defeats… Teachers who aren’t tenured, those who are exposed to new curricula that they haven’t received professional development to guide the proper implementation of, often worry that they won’t be able to pass muster in front of their supervisors during classroom observations.  Even experienced teachers feel this way when exposed to new policies, new technologies, new pedagogical elements for teaching and learning.

ed tech – taking a leap of faith.
Educational technology is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of teachers.  They may not want to learn new ways to deliver content… They may feel that it isn’t worth their time or energy to develop 21st century skills because their classrooms don’t have enough computers for all of their students so the whole idea of innovation is a wash.  They may feel unprepared to teach in a climate that holds STEM subjects superior to all others.  Discussions with my colleagues have explored the connotations of all of these possibilities.  The implementation of the Common Core standards doesn’t allow teachers to give the excuse that there isn’t enough technology to go around.  I also see the exact opposite of this trend, where the teachers have the hardware coming out their ears, but they either don’t have enough man-power to assist them when technology troubles plague their endless supply of iPads — “It won’t turn on!  Why is it frozen?  This app isn’t installed properly!” or they have no idea how to authentically purpose the use of said electronics.  This is the “old wine in new bottles” effect, as Lankshear and Knoble so notably coined the phrase, in reference to the idea of new literacies (e.g. computer program like Microsoft Word used to type notes instead of just writing them with the good ol’ pen and paper method).  To subject students to this form of “learning” — those who are lucky enough to have a 1:1 laptop ratio in their classroom — is a perfectly good waste of time, money, and valuable resources, to say the least!

I’m lucky enough to be able to teach a course that challenges all of the aforementioned challenges and fears.  The students I have worked with over the past several semesters have expressed their concern about educational technology, media literacy, the evolution of learning in light of STEM education, and the habits of their students outside the classroom setting (where a WHOLE LOT OF LEARNING is taking place without the kids even realizing it!)  We discuss these issues in online learning communities — we reach out to educators outside of our course to hear what their opinions are on the matter — we face our fears of the unknown in relation to educational technology head on.  We know that technology is constantly evolving, and in light of that knowledge, we continue to attempt to discover as many cool new Web 2.0 tools as possible, so long as they’re free for teachers!  When those become pay-per-student, we move on to fresh alternatives, because that’s part of learning in our techno-driven culture.

it’s an iterative process.
Evolve, not revolve… In other words, you need to change with the times, the world does not revolve around you.  Students do not live for you to impart knowledge to them — the “banking model” of education doesn’t fly — the teacher has no business pouring information into their students’ heads; rather,  I wholeheartedly believe in the “teacher as facilitator” model, where you should be learning WITH your students and FROM your students as you guide them through the inquiry process.

In reviewing my Twitter feed the other day, I noticed someone posed the question of where educators will be in light of all the knowledge students can discover through the Internet.  I thought to myself, “Is that a serious question?  Isn’t it obvious that students will need more guidance than EVER as they come across knowledge that they cannot discern as realistic or fiction?  Ever hear of the Tree-Octopus?  Well, perhaps you should Google it sometime.  There’s a whole website about it!”



The YouTube clip above is an “exemplar” case for why we MUST learn the ways in which to make our students think critically about what it is that they can find on the web.

teaching significance.
In a more pedagogical context, plagiarism isn’t cool, and it’s not legal.  Remixing is cool, and is legal when you are aware of the proper protocols for citing work that wasn’t yours to begin with, but is now “yours” due to your modifications (Creative Commons attribution license).  Oh, wait, did that picture you digitally altered come from outside of the US?  Did the person who originate it say that you could use it as long as you shared it with others?  That would mean the author posted a license that stated “This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.”  If none of this is making sense then you need to Google it — immediately.  These are the very concepts our students need to learn, understand, and PRACTICE themselves in order to know what they will be expected to know when they leave our worlds [1] behind.

Technology is changing the way we live, the way we think, the way we learn, the way we think, the way we exist.  Who we are online may not be who we are in person.  We may have multiple identities — where we live out our fantasy lives (Second Life); where we get to kill the bad guys and be a hero (Grand Theft Auto); where we get to be the experts (online discussion forum on [insert your favorite hobby here]); where we get to be a kid again (Club Penguin account developed with son or daughter).  Yes, the possibilities are endless.  The insecurity ends here.  It’s time to be secure-in knowing that we won’t always know everything, that our students will teach us a thing or two, that technology may not have all the answers but it may certainly assist us finding some, and it will challenge us to think in new ways that force us out of our comfort zones — where thinking “inside the box” means Googling it, and thinking outside of it means knowing better than to trust the 134924+ results in 2.8 seconds our search query just returned.  It also means knowing there are more “boxes” out there to search other than Google!

the magic of web 2.0. and peer pressure.
Once admittedly il-Twit-erate myself, I reconceptualized my practice of avoiding useless 140 character sequences in favor of harnessing the sheer power of crowdsourcing; collecting a plethora of juicy lesson plans, thoughtful articles, and free resources all from the power of selecting only the most worthy of Tweeps to follow through a free app downloaded to my iPhone 4s was just too good to pass up.  My FOMO [2] wasn’t helping this avoidance-conflict any, either.  Even as I write this reflection, I weep at the prospect of discovering the official release date of the 5, which Apple is poised to do no later than the end of September 2012.  :'(

in sum.
All this talk of tweeting has led me back to my original intention for beginning this piece with a quote on insecurity… If anything that I’ve mentioned here is unknown to you, then there’s a very good chance you aren’t the only one, and there’s an even better chance that, despite what Prensky says, they aren’t all digital natives, and we aren’t all digital immigrants.  A majority of your students (if not your whole student body) probably have no clue what the Creative Commons is.  When they use Twitter, it’s to see what their favorite cast member of the Jersey Shore is up to.  Don’t discount the hype, but don’t believe everything you read or hear — learn WITH your students — don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from pursuing technology integration in your classroom.  Fight for a BYOD [3] policy, find out what your colleagues are up to, gamify your seventh period English class, discuss mobile learning with your principal, create a QR code for your syllabus, create a VoiceThread to introduce yourself to your students’ parents/guardians prior to Back-to-School night!  Insecurity and discovering what mentally keeps you within the confines of a tech-free classroom can be the very thing that turns your thinking around, liberates your thinking and approach to teaching, and makes really cool things happen with a little ingenuity and courage.  Caine didn’t build his arcade in a day, ya know! [4]


[1] This would be the figured world of “6th” grade (for example), where they are sheltered from the digital culture at large due to firewalls, limited Internet/computer use in the classroom setting, a far cry from the “reality” that hits them at 3pm each day, like a breath of fresh air or a wintry storm of stark, cold loneliness, dependent upon their socio-economic status, upbringing, location in the universe, etc.

[2] FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out!  Dude, how could you scroll to find out what this meant?!  You should have known that one!  Or, did ya just Google it — it’s okay, you can admit it… That would be a worthy reason to think inside the box 😉

[3] BYOD = Bring Your Own Device

[4] Caine’s Arcade = The digital story of a little boy from East L.A. who built a cardboard arcade in his father’s auto parts store during his summer holiday from school.  An awesome guy named Nirvan stopped by the store one day, discovered the world of the “Fun Pass” and made Caine an International superstar over night.  The kids made fun of Caine saying there was no way he made an arcade, but instead of being insecure about the students reactions to his creativity, he continued to plug away at his little figured world of imagination brought to life.  Sometimes you gotta be like Caine — sometimes you just have to repurpose the box (literally) to make it work for you!  Nirvan certainly made the box work for Caine — only hours after posting his video to the web, the power of the people led to his video to Reddit a.k.a. “the front page of the Internet” as Nirvan stated in his first mini-documentary about the boy-made arcade.