Teaching Philosophy

Philosophy of Teaching and Learning

Tyler G. Cline, April 2020

As a professional archivist, I believe in leading an engaged classroom. To do so in the study of history and archival science requires the rigorous exploration of primary sources. My most memorable and valuable classes used two methods of teaching to accomplish this exploration: direct interaction with primary sources and thorough lecture. These teaching experiences went beyond “names and dates,” using both the raw materials of history as well as postmodern scholarship to paint a rich and detailed portrait of the world. Like the Continental artists of the late 19thcentury, my teaching is impressionistic, bordering on pointillist. Only when a student steps back from his original perspective does the entire portrait become coherent.

A key component of my teaching is keeping students engaged, and it can be achieved through facilitating participatory discussion in the classroom. Discussion and debate activities among students helps to spur critical thinking and the formation of knowledge. This is, by definition, learning: the process by which we as human being acquire information. Based on the theories of Piaget (1972), learning is also the process by which we take content and form it into context for our lives; it is the construction of meaning itself, for ourselves. Additionally, it is important to the process of learning to meet students where they are in their education and psychological development, gently encouraging critical thought without being intimidating.

As an information professional, I believe that facts form the basis of knowledge. That being said, following the linguistic turn in scholarship in the twentieth century, and the general development of postmodernism thereafter, it is important for me as an educator to acknowledge the inherent subjectivity of lived experiences, both of students and as reflected in primary source material. A judicious and rigorous exploration of primary sources helps drive scholarship and knowledge creation, and leads to a more well-informed citizenry. Therefore, students must learn the origin and context of sources, through direct exploration as well as lectures. I believe that the traditional college lecture can form part of the portrait of knowledge for students. It is important to include contemporary scholarly research in recent revisionist and intersectional scholarship, and to teach history in context. I favor the style of the annales school in teaching the history as longue durée (Armitage & Guldi, 2014).

Just as lectures make up the outline of the portrait of knowledge, direct student activities fill in the dots. Learning the nature of how history is recorded is a fundamental facet of archival science, and as such students must work directly with primary sources in the archives. Encouraging learners to draw their own conclusions from primary source material can be facilitated through partnered or small-group activities. Activities of dialogue, discussion, and debate further critical thinking skills. Bloom (1956) describes a hierarchy of learning that moves from simple recitation of facts through understanding and analysis to create a synthesis of knowledge. As archival science grows and changes in response to the information age, students can progress through Bloom’s taxonomy of learning through opportunities for students to engage with digital sources, and evaluate how technology both fosters and hinders the spread of information.

Acknowledging the needs and differences of students in their development means allowing for multiple forms of participation to count towards a grade. Group activities, individual essays, and student presentations are all a part of the educational experience, but no one group should be weighted higher than another. While attendance should never be mandatory, in that it would count towards a final grade, certain activities require in-person interaction with unique archival material. It is important to offer students paths to academic success within a class through open-ended assignments. I believe in giving feedback that is timely, tailored to the student, and thorough without being intimidating. Students should never have to fear in the classroom, whether that is their lecturer or their peers.

The measure of success as an educator is not in a student’s final grade, recitation of names and dates, or any outward display of engagement with the course. The measure of success is how well student experiences in the classroom contribute to their personal and intellectual growth as members of a connected community (Freire, 1970). It has been said recently that universities should “not be all things to all people.” Respectfully, I disagree. The values of universities as institutions of higher learning, for the liberal arts, and particularly in my field of the humanities, reflect a definite focus on the holistic totality of the human experience. As a teacher I strive every day to embody those values and put them into practice. My policies and philosophy of education aim to meet students where they are, encourage critical thinking through the exploration of primary sources, and incorporate contemporary scholarship while addressing the long arc of history.



Bloom, B. (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives, handbook I: The cognitive domain. New York, NY: David McKay Company.

Guldi, J. & Armitage, D. (2014). The history manifesto. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Piaget, J. (1972). Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood. Human Development, 15(1), 1-12.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed