Pamela Wisniewski


Download my [Curriculum Vitae]

Engage, Individualize, and Challenge

“Don’t be confused. This is a classroom, not a lecture,” I said to my students as I welcomed them to class in a 280 capacity auditorium seating lecture hall. “I don’t want you to think that I am going to stand up here and talk for three hours.  That’s a lecture.  That’s boring for both you and me. A classroom is interactive where you give your input and help make sure you get what you need from this class.” I expect my students to be active participants in class and encourage this by asking directed questions and treating them like adults. It is important to me to entertain points-of-view that are contradictory to the text and to add my real-world industry knowledge to show students that questioning facts is encouraged for deeper learning of a topic.  I received the best compliment this past semester; a student said that he was usually shy in class but my classroom had been the first time he felt comfortable enough to express his opinions and contribute to class discussions. My classroom environment is casual and engaging to the point that we’ve been reminded to close the door so others aren’t disturbed by our spirited conversations and even laughter. My students know that I have fun teaching which helps make otherwise dry materials more enjoyable to learn. For example, to introduce my lecture on JavaScript cookies, I bring Oreos and Chips Ahoy! to class for my students. I joke, “Enjoy these cookies because after today, you will never look at cookies the same way ever again.” Learning can be both fun and productive.

I feel that many university level courses have become “one-size-fits-all,” where professors do not take the students’ goals into account.  Therefore, I make it a point to learn my students’ names and find out their individual career objectives. In Web-Application Development (ITIS 2300), many of my freshman and sophomore students were still uncertain about their career paths.  Their first assignment (“Different Hats”) was were to go to corporate websites and research job postings for web developers, business analysts, project managers, network administrators, and other roles that were involved in web application development. Throughout the semester, I mentored students to align their career goals to their strengths.  For instance, I encouraged some students to consider a role as a business analyst because they enjoyed technology, were articulate writers, and hated programming. In addition, I taught Management Information Systems (INFO 3130) to college-level seniors, most of whom were not MIS majors.  One common complaint students have about this course is that the material is not relevant to their future careers in marketing, accounting, finance, international business, or other business related fields.  To mitigate this, I divided project groups by majors and assigned students a software demo of a functional business system that was relevant to their fields.  As an example, marketing majors chose to demo Salesforce, a leading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application. The end result was that each student realized how information technology was relevant to their major and their future career.  Because I have industry experience and my students know that I am interested in their personal end goals, they often contact me for advice even months after taking my class.

While my students generally like my teaching style, they have never called any of my classes easy. In fact, I have a reputation among students for having the most challenging section (if taught simultaneously by multiple instructors) and heaviest course loads (across all classes a student is enrolled in for a semester). I do not believe in assigning busy work; my assignments are difficult yet they are a practical application of the course materials.  For instance, the end deliverable for my web development course was a fully functional personal portfolio website to showcase students’ experience and skills to potential employers. Though this was a rigorous goal, many students informed me that their website played a large role in obtaining a summer internship or entry level job. One student said, “I entered her class without any web development skills, and shortly after completing her class, I was able to obtain a position at a web development company.” I believe that students need to be pushed to achieve their full potential. My students complain during the semester, but in the end, they are surprised by how much they have learned and are proud of their accomplishments.

Over time, I have realized and gladly accepted the fact that challenging students also means challenging myself.  In most cases, I have created all of my own lecture materials, assignments, and examples for the courses I teach. I know that more assignments means more grading but I will not commit to teaching a class that I do not believe is conducive for my students to learn. Therefore, most of my classes have weekly assignments. I don’t foresee myself ever teaching a course that consists of three scantron exams as the only way to test a students’ mastery of the course. Because I ask so much of my students, I also make sure they know I am approachable for help.  My office hours often morph into study sessions with 3-10 students. I help students on a first-come-first-serve basis and then have those students in turn assist their classmates because I believe one of the best ways to learn is to teach. Part of the reason I enjoy teaching is because I continue to learn as well.

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