Teaching Statement

Bret's teaching

Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is shaped by two primary principles. These principles are related to networked learning, a self-directed and social approach to learning. My first role as an educator is to affirm and strengthen students’ agency. I invite them to co-create their learning experiences, help them self-reflect, and guide them toward asking better questions. Second, I strive to model, and invite students to practice, the principles of open science. By this, I mean that students learn “out in the open,” sharing both their processes and products to create opportunities for feedback.

I teach toward these principles through several strategies. First, I create a structured plan for my teaching, giving careful thought to overall course organization and flow. I weave a common thread through the course. That is, I offer variety in specific learning tasks but maintain consistency across modules to reduce cognitive load. Second, I assign students meaningful work. That is, I encourage students to connect assignments to real problems they face. For graduate students, this means applying course concepts to tackle thorny problems in their professional context; for undergraduates, this means anticipating their future work. At the start of each semester, I tell students that if they cannot figure out how an assignment will be useful to their professional context and practice, we will work together to adapt the assignment so that it will. Third, I emphasize formative assessment by giving feedback that is timely, thorough, incisive, and kind. I give feedback through various modalities, including video chats, emails, screencast recordings, and comments in documents. In addition to my instructor feedback, I facilitate multidirectional feedback in the form of self-reflection and peer review. Third, building on formative assessments, nearly all the assignments I give are iterative in nature. I design courses around a semester-long project, with regular assignments that help students progress incrementally toward their final product. I emphasize that this process is not linear, but cyclical and responsive to feedback. Students complete work, but then revisit and improve. Fourth, I invite students to practice social scholarship (see my 2019 work with Greenhow and Gleason, published in British Journal of Educational Technology) by tweeting questions and posting work publicly on a blog.

As a specific example, in a Master’s course called Learning Technology by Design, students develop a problem-of-practice project (i.e., their semester-long task) rooted in their own professional context. Students learn the theory and applications of design thinking by moving their problem-of-practice through one full cycle of a design process, which I draw from the Stanford d.school model: understand the audience, define the problem, ideate (i.e., brainstorm and incubate ideas), prototype, test, and iterate. At each stage, I give substantial, formative feedback through text comments on work documents. In addition, I assign students to “design teams,” where they reflect with teammates on course materials, ask questions, pitch their in-process problem-of-practice progress, and give peer feedback regularly through frequent, brief, asynchronous video posts on Flipgrid. Completed assignments take the form of typed documents, handwritten notes, sketches, and video—all of which are compiled into a design report at the end of the semester.

My teaching has been affirmed in a variety of ways. The program coordinators of the M.A. in Educational Technology program at Michigan State University (MSU) invited me to facilitate a workshop for my fellow instructors based on my teaching approach. As a doctoral student, I was invited to teach as lead instructor and simultaneously mentor less experienced graduate assistants, for both undergraduate and Master’s level courses at MSU. I was also invited to redesign and rewrite both undergraduate and Master’s courses at MSU, and I was hired to write a course called The Evolving Landscape of Educational Technology for a new Master’s program at Concordia University. Students have consistently rated my teaching between “Superior” and “Above Average.” More importantly, students have frequently commented in course evaluations how they appreciate the feedback I give them, how I organize courses, and my kindness and enthusiasm.

In sum, I have substantial teaching and course design experience at the university level on a range of topics. I have taught each of the courses in Michigan State University’s Graduate Certificate in Online Teaching and Learning. I am prepared to teach courses, both online and face-to-face, at the doctoral, Master’s and undergraduate levels. I look forward to continuing to teach in ways that increase students’ agency and facilitate their practice of open science principles.

Student Feedback

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate how helpful and understanding you have been all semester. Your approach to teaching is heartwarming and gives me hope for higher education. I’m not sure if you plan on going into a faculty position somewhere after your PhD, but if you do, your students will be very rewarded by your style and knowledge. It is not always a guarantee to have a great instructor, but when you do, you remember their name and refer back to the work you did with them because the learning experience was memorable.

Even though this was an online course, Bret was the best professor that I have had at MSU thus far. His class was extremely organized and easy to follow, he was very quick to respond to emails or any questions that I have. He returned grades quickly and always took time to give meaningful feedback for weekly assignments. He even commented on our discussion posts! I was so impressed with this course and this professor.

Bret was amazing and I am so happy to have had him as my instructor. This is my first semester of grad school and to know that my instructor was so cool, it gives me hope that my other instructors will be just as cool throughout my program. Bret, thank you for everything that you’ve done for me throughout the semester. I appreciate it all of your feedback that you gave and I am happy that you pushed me to go beyond my limit.

Bret was always understanding, easy to contact, fast to reply and concerned about student’s performance. I was really impressed with the way he reached out and communicated with me, I was able to ‘know’ my teacher without having to physically meet them. I think that would be really hard for me to do otherwise through an online class but Bret did a great job of that.

I primarily worked with Bret. He communicated so effectively. He provided clear constructive feedback, was always available when I had questions. He helped me learn based on where I was personally, and not assuming I would be an expert on design. I really felt like I came full circle with a lot of realizations about how this course content can be applied to my real life work.

I absolutely loved this course and the professors. This was probably my favorite course in the MAET program. It was wonderfully taught with design thinking in mind which lent itself well to the content being taught. I learn so much in this course. This course completely impacted my classroom teaching. I will be continuing on the project that I started in this course to hopefully make a lasting impact in my classroom. I could not say enough good things about this course. Fantastic setup, wonderful instruction, great feedback, all wonderful!

I did my MBA online with a few face-to-face classes. Looking through it all, this is the first online course that I really enjoyed. It was online, but hands on and engaging. The students were free to wander and experiment with topics. The tone was interesting and respectful. This is a practice I intend to emulate going forward with teaching online.

K. Bret Staudt Willet
Ph.D. Candidate

My research focuses on networked learning; specifically, I explore how social media platforms support online communities.