As a university teacher educator, I work with pre-service and in-service teachers to use technology confidently, creatively, and responsively in their classrooms. This requires me to understand the lived experiences of teachers who I teach and the students they serve. My teaching experiences in university and K-12 settings teaching coding in India, underpin my passion for supporting students with diverse cultural backgrounds and abilities to help them prosper and feel empowered. I accomplish this by designing culturally responsive educational experiences where students feel welcome and comfortable to share, acknowledge, and actively listen to each other’s truths and co-create new realities. My teaching philosophy is shaped by my identity as a queer woman of color, understanding of coding and computing as influential technological agents of change, passion for science as a powerful tool for meaning-making, and embracing the socio-cultural aspects of learning and meaning-making.
Learning with Digital Technologies through Creative Play
In my teaching, I employ transdisciplinary and critical perspectives to implement innovative ways of using technology and social media to address issues of access, identity, and asymmetry of power and propose tangible pedagogical solutions. For the past six years as a PhD student, I have co-taught three sections of an undergraduate-level course to pre-service teachers (20-25 students per hybrid section), “Teaching and Learning with Technology (CEP416),” addressing psychology and research-based approaches to teaching with technology in K12 classrooms. In this course, I worked with my students (pre-service teachers) to break disciplinary boundaries through an understanding of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, Media and Information Literacy (MIL), Design Thinking and Computational Thinking competencies for educators, coding as a necessary 21st-century skill, and incorporating play-based learning in classrooms. I was able to introduce students to computer programming through play incorporating digital tools and technologies such as Scratch (block-based programming software), Sphero, Dash, Cubetto, Padlet, Flipgrid, and the SparkFun Inventor’s kit. In developing the course material, my primary goal was to use digital technologies and tools that were easily accessible in K-12 and easy to use. Dealing with the students’ daily challenges and scarcity of resources in urban and rural settings, teachers need creative and novel ways of using technology in effective ways to engage students with the content and help them become critical citizens.
Although I have taught several technology courses, the one that remains tethered to my experiences as a teacher educator is a graduate-level course, ‘Creativity in Teaching and Learning’ (CEP818, 18-20 students in each of 4 online sections). I was actively involved in the curriculum design of this course that helped elementary, middle, and high school teachers critically analyze and support creativity utilizing technological tools. As an instructor, I ensured that teachers understood that to succeed in this course they did not have to pass through a series of standardized activities. Instead, I focused on providing personalized feedback to each student in their Creativity Google document workbook and scaffolded assignments to support their individual needs. The course was designed around an in-depth assignment supported by relevant readings on critically examining creativity in teaching and learning, peer-review-based feedback, and discussion forums, which allowed teachers to explore creativity through critical lenses and consider the constraints of society.
At the graduate level, I have also co-taught ‘Approaches to Educational Research’ (CEP822, 20-25 students, that sought to prepare pre-service and in-service teachers to be better consumers and producers of educational research. In this course, teachers completed small research projects to evaluate qualitative and quantitative research designs, explore research ethics, and examine both external and internal research validity. I worked with teachers to help them develop a basic understanding of statistical analysis of datasets including but not limited to means and standard deviations, z-scores (standardized variables), t-tests, correlation, and probability. Having teaching experience in both quantitative and qualitative methods and research experience with qualitative methods, I have found successful ways of reaching students in quantitative interests with an appreciation for qualitative perspectives and vice versa.
Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning
At the undergraduate level, I have also enjoyed teaching foundational learning theories and educational psychology principles to pre-service teachers (‘Reflections on Teaching and Learning’, TE150, 25-30 students in each of 2 face-to-face sections). In this course, I constantly engaged with my students to critically question the status quo in educational practice and examine issues of race and gender that create inequity in the classroom. Furthermore, I urged my students to reflect on the importance of incorporating local community practices that are intricately woven into the lives of their students. A common thread throughout my teaching is to urge students to recognize how and why intersecting race with gender and social class promotes distinct questions of self-image and oppression that are rooted in culturally deficit beliefs.
As an example, in TE150, I asked students to create Flipgrid video logs and comment on at least two of their peer’s videos as a part of their “Cultural Competency Project”. In this project, students attended the Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience (MRULE) roundtable meetings where they discussed topics such as, the Syrian war and how it is connected to climate change, violence, and racism in the United States. In their videos, students reflected on these meetings and how the discussions connected to their experiences and understanding of culture and their roles as teachers. This activity helped create a culturally responsive learning environment where: (a) students pushed their beliefs about other cultures through discussion on global and local issues with peers and other students on campus, (b) students felt empowered and welcomed to share their stories without the burden of worrying about grades or being judged, and (c) students learned how to address issues of access, identity, and asymmetry of power in their own teaching. Designing courses to be culturally responsive and sustaining is not easy; it is an ongoing process. I would hope to continue my work towards designing culturally inclusive and equity-oriented experiences in educational technology courses.
My teaching effectiveness is evidenced in my consistently high student ratings and evaluations. One of the students in my face-to-face class expressed, “Swati always pushes students to think deeply into what are under the surface. She is a great instructor and is able to support us even out of class. Also, she provides us with information about other opportunities to learn cultures.” Another student in my online technology class shared, “I liked the new materials-in my other ed classes we only touched on the importance of technology but did not receive information about how to use it or incorporate it in the classroom.”
Teaching is deeply tied to my roots and identity as the daughter and granddaughter of political science educators in India. As a teacher educator, I attempt to develop in teachers a value for creative play through the use of innovative digital technologies that are easy to use. Drawing from my professional experience as a computer science teacher and lecturer across diverse learning contexts and cultures, I try to design courses that are culturally sustaining and provide teachers with the skills and understanding to teach a diverse student population. Above all, my role as an educator is to step up to empower students—with agency, knowledge, skills—and then to step back to let them find their own way to become critical teachers and scholars.