I really didn’t know what I was getting involved with when I applied to be a fellow. A colleague of mine had done it previously and I was encouraged by my department to look into it. So, I genuinely approached this entire journey as a blank slate. Actually…I might have been a skeptic. I’m probably not the only faculty member here who chose to go into academics because they enjoyed their classes while a student, and those classes were predominately traditional lectures. I always liked being talked to by experts in the field and simply listening (while occasionally asking questions). I felt comfortable learning that way. From that perspective, when I began teaching several years ago, I naturally thought that my own students would just enjoy listening to me too!
At this workshop, while reviewing videos of my own teaching, it was eye-opening to see (a) how much I talked and (b) how apathetic to my talking the students were. Even though my students are performing fine, I can’t help but wonder what types of missed opportunities I’ve had in reaching out and inspiring more of my students.
During this first year while getting involved and jumping through the some of the initial hoops that I needed to as a fellow, I also had my first child. It was hectic but incredible. As he continues to grow and reach new milestones, I can’t help but think that he would never progress if I only told him how to do new things. He isn’t going to learn to walk by sitting through a series of PowerPoint slides! To walk, he needs to try to stand up and then fall down a bunch of times (probably bumping his head a time or two). Eventually, this will help build his balance, strength, and coordination to take those first steps. It’s the doing and failing that will eventually afford progress. Along the way, I need to provide a safe place to for him to explore and help balance and protect him along his journey. This dramatic learning occurs with minimal communication from me and is simultaneously happening with young children around the globe regardless of social status or background.
After being a fellow for a year, taking advantage of the VIPEr website, attending this workshop and interacting with the wonderful IONiC, I now see that teaching students is much the same way. Lecturing may work for some but given the diversity of our classrooms its naïve to think that it’s a sustainable way to educate and inspire the next generation of inorganic chemists. I can see my role much better now as trying to provide a venue for my students to safely fail on their own (bump their heads) as they learn to walk in the world of inorganic chemistry.
I probably have always known that many of the techniques espoused within IONiC would yield positive outcomes in my teaching. But it seemed daunting to incorporate these activities and strategies to my classroom. We’re all stretched so thin as it is as faculty…how could I possibly pull this off? This workshop showed me that there are very small steps with low activation barriers that I can start to take towards this journey of becoming a more effective educator. I’m not sure how getting my students more active is going to go, but I feel like I have the tools to try. I’ll probably fall a few times and bump my head too (as if I’m learning to walk) …but I feel optimistic that I’ll eventually get it to work.