PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Walter Shriner

What works: Observations from the field

Wally Shriner

Wally Shriner is Associate Professor of Biology at Mount Hood Community College.

Faculty for the 21st Century members reflect on their experience in making a difference for their students and for the communities of which they are a part.

If a visitor were to come into your classroom/lab—the environment in which you work with students—what impression would s/he leave with?

One of my main objectives in creating a learning environment is to make the excitement of discovery alive, so I would hope that the impression of a visitor would be of students and instructor excited about learning and comfortable with each other in the discovery process. The visitor would see students smiling, students asking questions, students questioning me. They would also see me pushing the students to move beyond the simple answer, pushing them to move beyond a quick "I don't know". And, they would see an instructor who was always trying new approaches to engage the students and to help them understand the material.

What brought you to an interest in “advancing the frontiers of education” and to connecting your research to that work?

As an undergraduate I had a few instructors whose lectures were exciting and this form of instruction was wonderful in itself, but my most exciting courses were with faculty that interacted with me as an individual, who inspired me to search for answers myself. This was the kind of instructor I wanted to be. As I began teaching I realized that student success and student learning was all about motivation and that one of my principle jobs was to figure out how to motivate the students to learn for themselves. This desire to motivate is what has driven my interest in integrating technology into my classroom, what has kept me learning about more effective approaches to teaching and to trying these approaches.

Were there crises in doing this? What made you persevere?

The biggest crises are time and energy. It is much easier to teach the same course each term, to use the "tried and true" approach. To reuse exams, to pull down "the course in a box". Innovation, tweaking, etc. all take time and energy. The shared joy of discovery is what allows me to persevere. Watching the students grow makes up for the hard work and for the time investment. I am excited about the start of each term because I don't know what is going to happen and how it is going to go.

What connections have been of most value in doing this?

PKAL, of course! Seriously, I have returned from each PKAL meeting more inspired and more connected to faculty who are driven by the same desire to make education effective and exciting. Also, I have been blessed by great colleagues. At Mt. Hood Community College, I have had the chance to work with faculty who are committed to students and who think each day about ways to help students learn more effectively and to reach students from diverse backgrounds. These interactions are all inspirational.

What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and teaching?

As a faculty member at a community college, I will answer a different question - what culture needs to be in place to encourage faculty to incorporate innovation into their teaching? First, the faculty need support from each other. There needs to be a culture of mutual excitement and sharing and honest joy in the students. Administrators need to support innovation and to move beyond thinking about the short term. It is critical to have managers and leaders who are "big thinkers" and not "number crunchers.” Innovators will try to push in almost any environment, but their success is hindered if the culture is one of conservation and stasis.