Teaching Philosophy

Just as conversation is the cornerstone of my research, it is also a center piece in my teaching. As a notable example, many of the ideas that form the foundation for the collaborative research on classroom discourse I am leading with Lauren Resnick in the context of the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center as part of the Social and Communicative Factors in Learning thrust are at the heart of my own classroom teaching. While leading class discussions was a challenge for me when I first began my teaching career, I have continued to work to put into practice the methodologies that research has proven effective, and now the classroom discussions that come out in my own courses are what I most look forward to as an instructor. I believe it is this emphasis on lively class discussion that is largely responsible for the steady increase in teaching scores I have earned over my years of teaching.

What fascinates me most about studying the role of conversation in learning is that new ideas may be created when exchanging alternative viewpoints. The new ideas that emerge through conversation may draw from the differing perspectives of the participants but nevertheless be distinct from the ideas that existed in any of their minds prior to the interaction. The research literature on group learning provides strong evidence that the success of such interactions between students depends upon the ability of the instructor to facilitate this process. The instructor creates opportunities for learning by meeting the students on their own path and offering the support necessary to draw out the studentsí differing perspectives and ideas. In the midst of this conversation, the instructor is well situated to present the content of the course in a way that is seen by students as relevant to meeting their own goals. In creating an environment where students see their involvement in a course as a means to move forward on their own path, the instructor has the opportunity to play the role of a mentor who comes along side students to offer experience and wisdom and to help them navigate the maze that is before them. That investment of the instructor in individual students yields the greatest increase when it is internalized by the students and then brought back into small group activities and the whole group discussion. Thus, my philosophy of teaching is to strive for a personal connection through conversation with and between students.

An essential ingredient in this learning conversation is the differing perspectives of the participants who are involved. The School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon is made up of distinct, tight knit communities of specialization that are situated in such a way as to provide many opportunities for exchanging views. This is an ideal environment in which this philosophy of teaching can flourish. Thus, in my position with appointments in both the Language Technologies Institute and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, I have taken advantage of the opportunity to create four several courses designed to promote understanding and strengthen interactions between departments and to keep the conversation active. This list includes Machine Learning in Practice, Conversational Interfaces, Summarization and Personal Information Management, and Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, which I developed before my last promotion review, and Computational Models of Discourse Analysis, which has been developed since and taught twice.

One thing I greatly appreciate about teaching in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University is the tremendous freedom we have here as faculty to design and teach courses according to our interests, and I immensely enjoy teaching a wide variety of courses, which nevertheless synergize and build on one another. In addition to the four bridge courses mentioned above, I have designed and taught a cross-cutting course called Research Design and Writing, which emphasized the connection between research design and scientific writing. While the course touched upon basic issues in research methodology, the focus was on writing, evaluating writing, and revision.

Contributing to the broader university community is important to me. Thus, in addition to curriculum development and teaching I have done for the two departments I am directly affiliated with, I have made an effort to invest in resources that meet the educational needs of students in the broad campus community, including outside the School of Computer Science. For example, the Machine Learning in Practice course taught each semester regularly has more than 40 students from outside of SCS who are either enrolled or waitlisted. Beyond this, I have developed a unit on Verbal Protocol Analysis for the PIER course on Research Methods in the Learning Sciences and collaborated on the development of the Information Literacy unit for the online Computing@Carnegie Mellon course, which all Carnegie Mellon students take in their Freshman year. I also serve on the Computing@Carnegie Mellon steering committee. In the past I also developed a unit on architectures for robust language understanding that I taught in the Spring 2004 offering of Grammar Formalisms, a unit on Human-Computer Interaction as part of the Software Engineering for Information Systems course in Fall of 2007. I also added a computational track to the Meaning in Language course, with primary instructor Mandy Simons in H&SS, which was a precursor to the current Computational Models of Discourse Analysis class.

Since my last promotion review, a big focus in my continued development as a faculty member has been revitalizing my approach to mentoring. In conversations with senior faculty and during my own reflections while reading books on mentoring, I identified as an opportunity for growth the skill of building confidence in my mentees. In particular, I have learned to make conscious choices to value opportunities for building confidence over a singular focus on productivity, especially at early stages in a studentís development. Drawing from the motivation literature, I considered how important it is for students to feel a sense of autonomy, an appropriate level of challenge, and to experience some success early on. Part of this has been learning to take a step back to allow students to make their own mistakes, particularly when there are important lessons to be learned from them.

In conclusion, just as my research interests in supporting and shaping learning through collaborative conversation informs my teaching, my teaching also informs my research. My conversations with students and observations of their interactions with each other in my courses and in my lab give me insight into their learning processes, which I can then apply in my research.

Carolyn Penstein Rose (cprose@cs.cmu.edu)/ Carnegie Mellon University