Through my academic journey, my teaching pedagogy has continued to evolve. I believe that good teachers develop through a combination of curiosity, observation, empathy, and constant self-improvement. So, I recognize and embrace the different types of learners and intelligence in my teaching. I also believe that learner-centered teaching environments, where the focus is on student learning and empowerment, are preferential than being content-driven, providing the best teaching conditions, and encompassing the best available knowledge about how learning occurs. In this teaching environment, the teacher and the learners take ownership and responsibility for the content, the assessments, and the learning process. Learners are empowered as critical thinkers with long-term learning knowledge, skills, and attitudes that produce engaged citizens.
Student engagement with instruction is also evolving, so teaching methods and techniques must grow and adapt to be effective and meaningful. The best way to deal with an evolving learning environment is to use a learner-centered approach coupled with backward design, where a teacher begins the course and the learning project by first developing and agreeing on the desired learning outcomes with the students. I have been using backward design for over ten years when teaching packaging sustainability. Under my guidance, the students make decisions regarding critical activities and outcomes for the class, and, as a result, they have an increased sense of ownership. For example, two groups from the Packaging and the Environment course published an article from the class project “Compostability of PLA bottles,” in JT&E, DOI: 10.1520/JTE102685.
To encourage a learner-centered environment, I include lectures, in and out of class activities, and informal and formal assessments to parallel Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of cognitive domains. I believe that learner-faculty contact is at the center of a healthy learning environment. As such, I promote interaction with an “open-door policy” and regular online contact. I recognize that new learners embrace technology as a way of life, so I utilize diverse learning technologies, such as web-based tools, course management systems, personal response systems, and just-in-time teaching (i.e., teaching the concepts when they are needed), as ways to help improve instruction. I recognize that embracing any new or trendy teaching technology can create a noisy and cluttered environment, so I always strive to deliver a balanced teaching environment centered on learning. Besides this foundational activity, I provide group assignments that generate a cooperative learning atmosphere among learners and between learners and faculty. By working in groups, not only is it possible to create cooperative learning, but it also facilitates the acquisition of life-long learning skills, preparing students to develop problem-solving strategies to work effectively in the real world. Honor and respect in the class environment among the students and between students and the faculty are fundamental. For that, I require “class honor codes,” “group contracts,” and group and individual evaluations performed by every student. These policies help to reduce the chance of plagiarism and to enhance fairness and even work among team members.
As a Lilly Scholar, I take a research perspective to my teaching. I have been able to consecutively reassess the classroom environment to obtain my students’ best outcomes and engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning. During the last 18 years at MSU, I have taught four different undergraduate courses and three different graduate courses. I co-developed a unique undergraduate course around packaging sustainability (PKG 470) and graduate courses in the areas of polymeric packaging materials (PKG 825) and life cycle assessment (PKG 880). Due to the significant need for teaching and advancing sustainable packaging systems, I co-authored the textbook for PKG 470, titled Life Cycle of Sustainable Packaging: from Design to End of Life (forthcoming from Wiley in 2022). Also, I championed the development of the new undergraduate packaging curriculum assessment methodology for the SoP.
My overall goal for my present and future teaching program is to inspire students to be passionate about their profession, empower them to be creative and productive individuals, and prepare them to become global citizens. To achieve this goal, I continue to encourage students to be part of research experiences in my lab, critically evaluate my teaching methodologies through collecting and analyzing data, and apply these findings to improve learner experiences, my teaching, classes, and the overall development of packaging systems for the circular economy.