Instructor Spotlight: Agnieszka Chalas

With classes going online late last year, our educators were thrown headfirst into a brave new world. Students and staff alike are so grateful for our amazing instructors here at the Faculty of Information, and so we at Living the iLife are profiling some instructors whose online instruction have truly stood out to our students this term.

Every instructor discussed in this series has been specifically nominated by you, their students.

Today we’re chatting with Assistant Professor Agnieszka Chalas of the MMSt program. Her teaching this past term has received rave reviews from students, with one student reaching out to us to thank Dr. Chalas for keeping her lectures so accessible. “One thing that has really stood out to me is that she posts her slides with her script at the bottom. Most profs I’ve had either post PDFs or slides without their additional info, but Agnieszka posting all her info makes such a difference when I’m having trouble focusing or hearing!” We’re so happy to celebrate and hear from this amazing educator today.

Assistant Professor Agnieszka Chalas.

What has been the most surprisingly fun thing about teaching online?

I really like reading the lively conversations that take place in the chat feed before the start of my classes. These are conversations that I wouldn’t necessarily be privy to in a physical classroom setting. They give me a sense of what people are thinking and feeling each day and provide me a better sense of who my students are as individuals. I recently learned from my students that Tik Tok dances are a thing.

What was the biggest change you had to make to your courses to adapt them online?

In addition to lecturing, I tend to provide students in my classes with ample opportunity for small group discussion and engagement with authentic hands-on activities. Perhaps the biggest change I have had to make to my courses has been adapting the discussion strategies and activities I typically use in a face-to-face scenario to an online environment in ways that still promote interactivity, community building, and experiential learning. Breaking larger into four separate tutorial groups on Zoom and creating sessions on BB Collaborate for students to use for group work have all been helpful in this regard.

How have your students risen to this challenge? How have they made this online environment more engaging for you as an instructor?

An assignment I have implemented in one of my courses tasks students with presenting a summary of one of the assigned readings. In addition to summarizing the key ideas put forth in the reading, students likewise make connections to their own lived experiences and facilitate an activity that further engages their peers in the class content. Learning from both the examples of practice that students present and the engagement strategies they develop has been are a highlight for me in the course

What lessons will you take from your online teaching experience and apply in your in-person teaching once we’re back in classes?

Online teaching has required instructors re-think their pedagogical strategies and both learn more about and experiment with new modes of delivery. The spirit of continued professional development and experimentation with teaching and learning is one that I intend to apply to my in-person teaching in the future.

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