I have been teaching Inorganic Chemistry for over two decades. Amazingly, the workshop gave me both the motivation and the tools to improve how I conduct my classes. In particular, I plan to make two major changes this fall.
As part of the first cohort of VIPEr fellows, I was excited to meet and work with other inorganic chemists from around the country. However, I was a little more cautious about one part of the program - recording and reviewing several of the in-class lectures from the past fall. I felt pretty confident that I had done a good job preparing and presenting the material those days, and I was even happy to show off some active classroom approaches that I had tried out.
One year complete as a VIPEr Fellow, what a ride! Along the way there were questions on whether or not my IRB was actually approved (it did get approved, thank you Justin!), plenty of surveys given, a video camera in the class, questions on what to expect, questioning myself am I doing this correctly, questioning is my class like the others participating, wondering do I need to start covering everything on the ACS exam and finally a frantic compilation of course artifacts to submit.
One of the biggest hesitations I had coming into the VIPEr workshop is that my class is a bit different from the courses of other VIPEr fellows because I teach a large (55-85 students) general chemistry course rather than a sophomore or junior/senior inorganic course. We cover a lot of foundational inorganic content in my course, but there are special considerations for a course where the students are primarily first years, with some sophomores. For many students, this is their second college chemistry course (and second semester on campus).
Sweat equity; I frequently mention this term to my students as a simple expression of how you develop as a chemist, that you develop yourself through effort. (I also have a painted picture from a weightlifting magazine of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing on my office wall with the sage advice “Keep Pumping” written on it, for students that need an object lesson. Yes, it’s as awkward as it sounds.)
As a relatively new faculty member I’ve struggled with how to best evaluate and improve my teaching, only having my students’ course evaluations and my own instincts to gauge how successful my course was.
Being a VIPEr fellow has been very interesting for me because I have been a member of IONiC since before IONiC even existed. I know the main themes and the overall goals of the project as well as the leadership team, but for the past year or so I have been deliberately kept out of the loop as the team leaders planned the workshop. This has been so that I can have an authentic experience as a participant, and also so that I can relate my experience to the leadership team in case there are any unforeseen problems in communication or day-to-day running of the workshop.
For me, the first VIPEr Fellows cohort workshop has come at a time of personal transition. I was awarded tenure this spring just a few weeks after I had my second baby. As I start to think about returning to teaching after maternity leave, I look around and wonder: What now? What am I supposed to be doing?
What a long, strange trip it’s been…over the past year at UWSP, that is! As someone who’s part-administrator/part-faculty, I’ve come to value my time in the classroom as emotional and psychological therapy. Teaching is when I get to focus on engaging students and doing what I love—teaching inorganic chemistry. Being in the classroom means I don’t have to worry about budgets, budget cuts, cutting budgets (see a trend?), or hitting enrollment targets; I get to do what I was hired and trained to do. And this is why being an IONiC VIPEr Fellow has meaning for me.