Cynthia Patterson, English


Cynthia Patterson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English
College of Arts and Sciences
Co-Editor, American Periodicals, Journal of the Research Society for American Periodicals

Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy relies on five primary pedagogical practices: 1) inquiry based, student-centered teaching and learning; 2) learning-community based collaborative learning; 3) competency-based education; 4) experiential learning; 5) project-based, real-world assessment. I was trained in these pedagogical practices at George Mason University's New Century College (NCC), a small, interdisciplinary college-within-a-college in Arts and Sciences, offering a wide variety of integrative studies degrees. And because I spent the majority of my working life outside the academy – in three previous careers in journalism, medical office management, and fitness – I have an informed perspective on the benefits of these pedagogical practices in the college-to-workforce transition.

I believe all learning should begin with inquiry – that is, by encouraging students to ask the questions that will drive the learning experiences in a given course. I find that students work best when they work collaboratively on projects, so in every course I teach, I create smaller "learning communities" of three to five students. Each of these learning communities in turn shares its findings with the rest of the class, creating a larger community of learners focused on building knowledge around the major course content and themes.

At NCC students must earn 12 credits of experiential learning (EL), via a range of modalities: 1) built-in course projects; 2) course add-on EL; 3) field trips; 4) study abroad; 5) project-based independent study; 6) internships; 7) co-ops. I have observed that students "learn by doing," so all of my courses require a hands-on component that results in a tangible product.

As students work on their group projects, I infuse my guidance of their learning with reflective practices designed to encourage students to identify the major competencies – skill sets – developed while engaged in this process. I follow NCC's guidelines for competency-based learning, mirroring the widely-recognized model initiated by Alverno College. This model focuses on the following competencies: 1) communication; 2) critical thinking; 3) problem-solving; 4) valuing; 5) civic engagement; 6) global awareness; 7) aesthetic appreciation; 8) collaboration; 9) digital literacy. While I cannot cover every competency in every course, most of my courses focus on developing competencies in communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, aesthetic appreciation, collaboration and digital literacy.

I believe students need to graduate with real-world skills, no matter what their major or intellectual pursuits might be. Therefore, every course I teach involves the creation of a tangible project/product that students can share with potential employers. I assess these projects using rubrics that clearly spell out the learning outcomes. Students have created web sites, databases, eportfolios, social media projects, newsletters, and brochures – again, focused on course content and themes, but using digital platforms widely available in the work place. I believe these kinds of projects produce transferrable skills that students will be able to mobilize when faced with similar challenges in the work place.

Whether I teach face-to-face, hybrid, or fully online synchronous or asynchronous courses (and I have taught in all these modalities), the focus remains the same: creating a community of learners that uses inquiry-based learning to create tangible, real-world products demonstrating the competencies students need to be competitive in today's work place.