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.
One notable experience from the VIPEr fellows program was getting together with other Inorganic faculty. Most of us are the only Inorganic instructor in our respective departments, so being able to connect with 20+ others who you can bounce ideas off of and get some idea of what they are doing in their course has been extraordinarily helpful for me. It turns out many of us struggle along similar themes, and some have come up with better solutions than myself.
Being a VIPEr fellow allows me the unique opportunity to share and reflect about the best practices in active and engaged learning. I do this on my own for the most part, but the Fellows workshops helps me to do this more thoughtfully and efficiently. I can trust the IONiC/VIPEr community to give me honest feedback and ideas about teaching so that I can implement them in my classes more successfully. Last year (Fall 2018), I started to implement one literature discussion in my course.
Great teachers emerge, they touch the lives of their students, and perhaps only through some of those students do they have any influence on the broad art of teaching. For the most part, their insights die with them, and subsequent generations must discover anew the wisdom that drove their practices.
Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do1