In January 2020, faculty from Waubonsee Community College participated on a panel to discuss their experiences learning together in ACUE’s course in Effective Teaching Practices. The faculty were among a cohort of 30, 15 adjunct and 15 full-time, who began the course in 2019 to better their teaching practice. You can see a video of the panel on the Waubonsee website.
Waubonsee panelists included Dani Fischer, associate professor of biology; Amy Chaaban, assistant professor of information systems; and Jason Chatman, instructor of sociology.
Waubonsee facilitators Robin Luxton, adjunct faculty and Dave Voorhees, professor of earth science and geology, as well as Carmen Macharaschwili, regional director of academic programs at ACUE, also joined the conversation
Here are some of the highlights from the panel discussion. Some of the responses have been edited for clarity and length.
How is the ACUE program beneficial to faculty and students?
Chatman: I’ve been teaching for nine years, so I’m not new to it, but I wanted to learn how to teach better. With this course we have the opportunity to sit in a class where it’s all about that. This first semester when I was in the class and simultaneously trying some of the methods in my sociology classes, I noticed a difference. It makes the class more enjoyable for me, and it makes it more enjoyable for the students. The ACUE material can really empower you to build a much more enriching and rewarding classroom experience.
Chaaban: I’ve been teaching for a long time—I’ll be starting my 20th year in the fall—and I felt like I needed a revamp to refresh myself. Also, you get to learn more about your students because there are some very quiet people in the class who have unique perspectives. These new methods help me to relate better to those students and figure out ways that I can approach them and design the exercises with them.
Fischer: I think it is really good for my students to realize that I am a student too—that we are learning together. Doing some of the ACUE activities made me learn that some of my students were not coming to class with prior knowledge I thought they had. So now I know to add it to my arsenal of things that I’ll do all the time.
What is the ACUE experience like?
Chatman: When you’re in one of the modules they introduce a technique to you. You watch several videos that show you some examples of people doing it well. Then they show you an example of a person not doing it well and the class going really badly. You then talk about it with your colleagues who are taking the course with you. You decide to either implement it in your classroom yourself, or you plan to do it in the future, and you do a write up on it.
Chaaban: This written reflection allows you to go deeper into what you learned—what worked, what didn’t work, and how you’re going to implement it. It takes time and dedication to plan those things out, but I look forward to doing it. It is certainly doable and you’re going to get out what you put into it.
Chatman: I’ve never found the class itself to be overwhelming or burdensome. It takes you out of your routine, but the more you do it the more natural it becomes.
How have you applied some of the new practices in your classes?
Fischer: I implemented a peer-review activity in my biology class. I originally assumed there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity in my type of classes for peer review, but I did it for a formal lab. I was really surprised at how completely the students filled out the document. They got to see what other people’s work looked like, which otherwise they wouldn’t, and I think they got the opportunity to make themselves better and make their partner’s work better. It was very successful.
Chaaban: I used the fishbowl method in my computer ethics class. The students had a week to prepare—reading a scenario and doing their research. When they came into class on the discussion day, three people sat in the middle of the circle and started talking. When one of them would mention a fact, you would see all the others working to see if the fact was true. It was phenomenal how engaged all of them were. I just took notes—I didn’t have to give them any prompts or assistance. It was fascinating from my standpoint to watch them do this. Afterward, I had the students do an evaluation of the activity and they all loved it. They thought it was very worthwhile and wanted to do it again.
Chatman: The activity that I thought was most effective was when we did the jigsaw in my class. There are three primary sociological theories that get used. Prior to trying this I would normally give some lecture material on it and have students discuss. But when you do the jigsaw activity, you have groups specialize in one aspect of what you’re learning, so I had groups working on each of the three theories. They studied it and learned it for 30 minutes by themselves and then started interacting with each other and teaching the other groups what they learned. By the end, the class as a whole had a better understanding of all the different theoretical perspectives. It opened up and established what we call the “sociological imagination” so deeply and broadly in all of them. It’s the only way I’m going to do it now.
What motivated you to take the course, and what continues to intrigue you?
Fischer: The number one driving factor in my taking this class was that you can get graduate credit. The second would be interacting with other faculty. Since there was a split between adjunct and full-time faculty, I got to meet new people I haven’t interacted with before.
Chaaban: The online resources are phenomenal. First thing I did is download all the PDFs, put them in a folder and keep them, because I want to be able to have those afterwards. And what I love too is that you can go back into past modules and review. They’re not closed to you.
Fischer: And you don’t have to come up with all this content on your own. There are a lot of supportive documents that you can utilize for any activity in your class. You don’t have to build from scratch. I also love that there are a lot of options in each module, so you don’t have to do the same thing.
Chaaban: I don’t love this class; I adore this class. It’s absolutely phenomenal and I can’t say enough about it. This has really changed my teaching dramatically.
Fischer: When you’re collaborating with faculty from all over the country—teachers from UCLA or University of Michigan—it almost feels intimidating, but you realize they’re all dealing with the same thing you are, which is nice.
Luxton: I have been impressed at every level…I have been nothing but pleased by the experience so far.
Voorhees: This is the real deal—this is where you can truly get a good exposure to how to be a teacher. Most of us are content experts, but we don’t really know how to be teachers. This class excels at giving you a quality product on how to be the most effective teacher you can be.