Professors lauded for classroom ideas

Four OCCC faculty received Great Ideas for Teaching (GIFT) awards this year, the highest number of awards the college has received in one year, said OCCC President Paul Sechrist.

The Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges hosts an annual conference during which they have submissions for ideas that professors, faculty and other community college members believe are significant to classroom learning.

A committee selects the top five winners, who each receive a $500 stipend with their award. They also are asked to give a presentation of their idea during a following ceremony.

Political Science Professor Markus Smith is one of this year’s top five award winners for his “Allegory of the Cave” idea.

“It is an assignment that I have been doing over the past 10 years in terms of really challenging my students to think critically,” he said.

“What I have found throughout the years is that students are very narrow-minded, can be very stubborn, and then ignorant of many things. And ignorance is just a lack of knowledge or education.”

Smith said he challenges students to get out of their comfort zones.

“I break [students] up into two groups and I set it up like a moot court,” he said. “I’ll give them a very contentious topic, like same-sex marriage … One group has to argue for same-sex marriage, the other group has to argue against it.

Smith said he then places a twist on the assignment by having the students argue the opposite of what they believe. He said the assignment challenges students to be more open-minded.

Smith said it was his first time to submit an idea.

“It was a very humbling experience to see so many other educators and professors attend my presentation.”

Smith teaches American Federal Government, Religion and Politics in America and Scopes and Methods of Political Science, a capstone course.

Adult Education and Literacy Instructor Susan Bernard’s idea, “Which Answer Shall I Wear?” also was in this year’s top five winning ideas.

She said it is an elimination method that helps students understand math in a practical way.

“I compare multiple-choice answers to different sizes of clothing, like a T-shirt for instance,” she said.

“In our GED tests, answers are always presented from the smallest to the largest numbers on the multiple-choice answers.

“I teach them to start in the middle with the medium size and try that answer.

“If it’s too big, then the large and the extra large will also be too big. But if it were too small, not only would the medium not fit, but the small and extra small would be too small also.

“So by starting in the middle, they can either get the right answer on the first try or they can eliminate three answer choices.”

Bernard said her goal is student success.

“When they can be successful at something, then they can feel more confident to tackle something that was more difficult.”

Bernard said this also was her first time submitting an idea to the GIFT awards.

Winner Jeff Provine uses YouTube videos to relate modern culture to his Mythology class.

“The trick is finding something that we’re already interested in,” the adjunct English professor said. “I’ve been to many YouTube parties where we just hang out and watch different videos and see what we come up with.

“Using that idea, we can apply that to whatever the topic is at hand.

“The best example … is on our (class) discussion of interculturalism, studying different cultures and what we can garner out of them. So, this being last year, we looked at ‘Gangnam Style’ by Psy.

“It was the number one video of 2012 and everybody’s going around saying ‘Oppa Gangnam Style’ and nobody knew what that meant. So we watched it through and we actually slowed it down, parsed it out and got into Korean culture and we defined ‘oppa’ as ‘older brother’ or ‘your boyfriend’.

“So we talked about that — what does that mean and [how] we would apply to that and how we would also draw connection to that in our culture.”

Provine said there are several benefits to these discussions.

“Number one is, they’re fun,” he said. “Number two, working with YouTube, it is a cultural experience, same as going to an art museum.”

Provine said he hasn’t been able to work in “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” to his classroom yet but he is considering it.

Adjunct Professor and GIFT award winner Lynnda Newby said her idea practices extensive group work and competitiveness.

“My idea kind of developed over the years,” she said. “One of the things I did was ask [students] why they came to OCCC.

“What I liked to do, is after they would tell me (their reasons), I would write them on the board. I would write down other things that the college offered. By the time we finished, we realized that this was a pretty special place to be as a student and that kind of set the whole tone for ‘I’m proud to be here.’”

Newby said from there, she started splitting students into groups.

“The first group would tell their reasons, and then the second group’s reasons were already given, a lot of them,” she said.

“So the next semester I changed it so that each group would get one reason at a time and that way, everybody got a chance to talk and get accustomed to talking to their classmates.”

Newby said one student inspired her to take off with a new idea.

“One semester I had a particularly competitive student,” she said. “This group that this student was in always had one more thing to say … It got to be hilarious.”

Newby said the following semester, she added a competitive element by continuing the activity until all but one group runs out of ideas to share with the class. The last group to present an idea is the winner.

Newby said the activity is very beneficial to students.

“It’s fantastic,” she said. “They get acquainted with each other and people that are really wickedly creative, everybody recognizes that. Nobody in the group can fail.”

Newby said winning an award was a surprise to her.

“I didn’t expect to win … and I didn’t expect it to be this recognized,” she said. “When I submitted it, I knew it was a pretty good idea but I knew there were probably a lot of really great ones.

“But if you don’t try, you don’t know whether anything will become of it. It’s really quite an honor.”

Newby received a ceramic sculpture by two art teachers at Rose State College and a bottle of Rosé wine from an Oklahoma winery.

Newby teaches College Preparatory English II classes and has been an employee of the college for 21 years.

Newby said she hopes more professors will start looking at the classroom work they are doing and consider entering their ideas in the future.

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