“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, New International Version). The greatest among His perfect creation—all of which was communicated into existence—was humankind. He created Adam and Eve in His image, capable of perfect communion with Him and with each other. However, they were tempted and willfully chose to disobey God, thus destroying the perfect communion that had existed in the Garden of Eden. Experiencing one of the consequences of sin, humankind has been unable to return to that optimal condition of communion despite countless efforts. These efforts to attain the original intimacy and fellowship can be observed most evidently in our attempts to communicate using human-created language and media from the beginning of time. By God’s grace and through the perfect sacrifice of the Immanuel, we may accept the gift of abundant life that comes only through a relationship with Jesus Christ. As we grow in that relationship, we long to become more Christ-like in all areas of our life, including our communication with Him and with others.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
— Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am commanded to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind and to love my neighbor—each individual with whom I come into contact. This includes my family, friends, professional colleagues, and my students. In seeking to be obedient to these two greatest commandments, they have become the foundation for my life philosophy and are most appropriate for the academic life to which God has called me.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.
— Romans 12:2 (NIV)
As a scholar-teacher of communication, I am committed to transforming lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. As my students and I explore the fields of human and mediated communication, I endeavor to connect the theories (scholarship) with practical application (service) in light of our commands to love God and our neighbors. This essay highlights the methods and underlying philosophy on which I am constructing my practice as a scholar-teacher.
1. a structure built over a river, railroad, highway, etc.
to provide a way across for vehicles or pedestrians
2. a thing that provides connection, contact, or transition
There are three major players within the academic community: the student, the scholar-teacher, and the subject. Each must be connected to the others and the scholar-teacher has the opportunity and obligation to facilitate those connections. To illustrate those connections and my broader educational philosophy, I visualize a bridge. The first two definitions of “bridge” in Webster’s New World Dictionary encapsulate the purpose and nature of the structure. Just as a bridge provides for a passageway between places separated by some obstacle, the bridges within the academic community create a connection across gaps that can be equally as challenging to cross as geographic barriers. From the perceived dissimilarity between students and faculty to the oft-encountered disparity in a subject being studied, bridges can provide the critical support along the way.
The connections between each are critical, for the scholar-teacher’s effectiveness is rooted in the successful linkage of the student as well as oneself to the subject. As numerous researchers—including Richard J. Light, author of Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds (2001)—have found, the connection between the student and the teacher cannot be ignored. This is especially important in the Christian liberal arts college or university where the teacher is also charged with a having a holistic interest in his or her students.
As I look at the illustrated model, I personalize the labels to reflect, first, the specific communication subject that I am teaching, whether it is a human or mediated communication class, public relations, communication theory, research methods, or a production course. Next, I consider each of the individual students in my classes. Each connection is critical. If even one bridge is left incomplete, the effectiveness of my scholarship and teaching may be jeopardized. In the remainder of this essay, I elaborate briefly on each bridge to elucidate my philosophy and practice as a scholar-teacher.
Scholar-Teacher and Subject Bridge
A survey of “outstanding” teachers should certainly uncover a passion and enthusiasm for their subject matter. This is the most evident manifestation of a scholar-teacher’s connection with the subject. Years of study and practical experience establish the scholar-teacher as an expert on the subject matter. However, mere credentials as documented on a professional dossier or curriculum vita are not reasons to abandon the activities which maintain one’s connection to the constantly evolving subject, especially in the dynamic field of communication studies. By vigorously reading scholarly, professional, and popular publications, I stay abreast of current trends and research within my field. Relationships with other scholars and practitioners in the field are enabled by my involvement with professional organizations such as the International Communication Association, National Communication Association, Southern States Communication Association, and the Public Relations Society of America. I seek to learn new techniques for effectively delivering content and facilitating learning among my students whenever I am conversing with colleagues at my own institution as well as those across the field and even in other disciplines. Finally, by asking questions and seeking answers for them, I am motivated to also be a researcher. And this motivation is much more appealing than the “publish or perish” paradigm frequently attributed to higher education. By asking questions about the subject’s relevance and application, I am better able to anticipate similar questions that may be asked by my students.
Scholar-Teacher and Student Bridge
It is usually a given for the scholar-teacher to love his or her subject. But the effective teacher also must equally love his or her students. The relationship between the teacher and the student is another essential connection to be made since students are more receptive to teachers they trust and with whom they identify. Because of the hierarchical power that typically exists in academia, the teacher must be proactive in initiating this connection with the student. The first step to facilitating the connection is to possess a genuine interest in one’s students. Recognizing the value of each student, I am eager to learn about their personal journeys before, during and after our paths cross. I seize available opportunities to connect with my students in and outside the classroom. Whether in conversations before or after class, over dinner at my house, or through my involvement with co-curricular activities such as student organizations and media, I share my life with my students and get to know them beyond their participation in class discussions and beyond their authorship of course requirements. The investment of time and energy in getting to know my students, their interests, and their backgrounds is immensely rewarding, both personally and professionally.
The most dynamic element of the model that guides my philosophy of education is the student, because each is unique in terms of expectations, values, experiences, backgrounds, and personalities. The academic community is the vortex where streams of diversity meet. As a teacher, I desire to develop a collegial relationship with each of my students so that I am able to understand their particular frame of reference. With that understanding I am more prepared to connect with them in and outside the formal learning space of a classroom.
Student and Subject Bridge
With an authentic and personal connection with my student, I can help her or him connect with the subject, which is often considered the ultimate aim of higher education. Admittedly, there is tremendous reward in seeing my students demonstrate their grasp of the subject and apply their newly discovered knowledge and skills immediately in their personal lives, practicum experiences or internships. The chief purpose of the bridge between students and the subject is the students’ preparation for their future vocational callings. To create this bridge, I strive to see the subject from the students’ perspectives. I have been immersed in studying the field of communication for many years, thus the skills and knowledge associated with the subject usually come easily. However, an effective teacher must recognize the potential difficulties for the student in grasping the subject as it may be their first exposure to the content. By looking at the subject matter from the student’s perspective, I discover new ways of presenting the content as relevant and applicable.
To further create the bridge between my student and the subject, I seek to understand the student and his or her readiness, orientation, and motivations for learning. Then I execute instructional strategies that are pedagogically and andragogically appropriate for my students. This includes the use of multiple methods for delivering information and aiding the educational process, from creative lecturing to the use of collaborative and independent learning exercises. Though I am always sharpening and adding to my toolbox of instructional strategies, I tend to utilize most frequently technology-enhanced lectures, class discussions, Socratic questions, handouts, and creative projects. I typically provide and encourage the use of an array of supplemental resources for students to further explore the subject. Finally, I seek opportunities for and encourage students to relate the subject’s concepts to “real life” applications beyond the classroom setting, including client-based projects, field trips, and service-learning projects. The most effective learning is active, so I seek to engage the students by exciting them about the pursuit of knowledge of communication and validating their findings that the study of communication is relevant professionally, personally, and spiritually.
There are many who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is curiosity.
There are others who desire to know in order that they themselves be known; that is vanity.
Others seek knowledge in order to sell it; that is dishonorable.
But there are those who seek knowledge to edify others; that is love.
— St. Bernard of Clairvaux