Submitted by Caroline Saouma / University of Utah on Wed, 11/11/2020 - 21:37
Reflection Piece 2

I signed up to be a VIPEr fellow the first year I taught undergrad chemistry. The class was taught traditionally, and I struggled to teach it effectively. Many of my students have families and/or work, leaving little time for studying outside of class (course enrollment ~ 60-80 students). I relied on this website extensively for ideas to make class time more fun and interactive, so being a fellow made sense to me. In addition to being more effective at teaching, I wanted to create a nurturing and inclusive environment. 

Being a fellow gave me both a community, and a safe-space where I could bounce ideas or have my teaching methods assessed so that I can improve upon them. I always looked forward to the check-ins, as it was a time to discuss how our teachings were going, and to get ideas from others. The fellow organizers were always very encouraging, which gave me confidence to try new things that I otherwise would not have. The first year of being a fellow, was the first year that I flipped my class. My own assessment was that it was okay, and the COPUS data told me what I suspected, and also what I needed to hear: that my class was not yet student-centered. It prompted me to reflect on how I used class time, and I recruited more TAs and moved my class to an interactive classroom. The second year I was a fellow, I was happy with how I taught and made use of class time. Finally, it was student-centered, and scores went up immensely. Teaching became fun again, because I spent class time teaching small groups.

Now, I teach my flipped class (online), and I am confident in my approach- this confidence would not be there had I not been a fellow. I have time to dedicate to the students, and see them not as students, but as humans. Despite the remote teaching, I find it easy to connect with students, and know my class better than any of the three prior years I taught it. I found that using Microsoft Teams as a communication method allows for facile discussion, with a low barrier for students to reach out. I also incorporate DEI discussions- something I would not be able to do if I did not have a good relationship with my class. 

Overall, being a fellow helped me grow as an educator. The students in my class keep surprising me with how well they are doing (and working together!), and I am happy that the grade distribution suggests that all can succeed. I enjoy helping the students, and getting to know them.