As I reflect over the past two years as a VIPEr Fellow, I cannot help thinking about Raphael’s fresco, Scuola di Atene (School of Athens). Now, to liken the VIPEr fellows with Plato and Aristotle would be far-fetched. When I look at this fresco, however, I see the diversity of learners and teachers openly engaged with each other in writing, listening, and speaking. It is this welcoming environment and the freedom to learn that was created among the VIPEr Fellows. After two years as a VIPEr Fellow, I was transformed as a teacher and aspire to recreate this kind of openness in my classroom.
Thinking back nearly three years ago, I can say that I was ready for a change in my teaching. I was at a local American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting and heard Barbara Reisner’s talk about the history of inorganic chemistry with ACS. Because of her talk, I finally understood why inorganic chemistry was so diverse in topics (and unloaded me of my guilt for not knowing more bioninorganic chemistry), and, more importantly, I immediately became interested in the Fellowship opportunity. I wanted to know more! At the time, I had just moved from a Primarily Undergraduate Institution to a research-focused, PhD granting program, and the Fellowship seemed like the perfect opportunity to network with the inorganic chemistry community and to stay connected with my teaching interests.
In the very beginning of the first Fellowship year, we were asked to collect oodles of data from our students. I had always heard about data-driven decisions, and this seemed like a rare, but meaningful, opportunity to collect data (beyond the end-of the-semester student surveys) and make informed decisions about my teaching. Two years of data on exam scores, motivation, self-efficacy and observations gave me the courage and desire to implement VIPEr learning objects in an engaging and intellectually stimulating manner. I had always imagined that talking about chemistry literature to my inorganic chemistry students would be impossible. I timidly implemented a literature activity my first Fellowship year, and to my surprise, it went over so well, that I did three literature activities as a second-year Fellow and contributed to a new literature LO this year! The VIPEr Fellowship transformed my teaching.
The Fellowship also served as a very nice welcome to the IONiC VIPEr community. I have never been in an environment where everyone was supportive of faculty doing the hard job of teaching. We were allowed and encouraged to talk about our successes and disappointments openly. We were not embarrassed to ask another Fellow about teaching or content. We read papers together and wrote learning objects to share as public open-source material. In short, this community of teachers is the modern-day view of Raphael’s Renaissance painting, School of Athens. I am grateful to continue to be involved in this community beyond the Fellowship experience, and I along with my future students will be the beneficiaries.