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Upcoming Wall of COOL awards celebrate faculty innovation

By Cynthia Haro and Kevin Corella, Apr. 12, 2022

Cal Poly Pomona’s Center for Advancement of Faculty Excellence will be presenting the 2022 recipients of its annual Wall of COOL Awards on April 22. Four individuals from the university’s biology, math, English, and management departments will be presented with the awards in person after a year of the event being held online.

CAFE’s Wall of COOL Awards recognize the efforts by faculty members to have an interactive classroom setting. The Wall of COOL celebrates courses that use a wide variety of technology to engage their students and provide a memorable learning experience. It is a website that seeks to exhibit the nominated choices of courses with admirable design annually.

2022 Wall of COOL recipients Janel Ortiz (top left), Iman Hemmatian (top right), Berit Givens (bottom left), Kate Ozment (bottom right), and special guest Jose Bowen author of Teaching Naked. (Courtesy of Richard A. Feldman)

Janel Ortiz, an assistant professor in the Biological Sciences Department, nominated herself for her work in the classroom on the topic of redlining, a discriminatory policy in the United States that racially segregated housing for minorities.

“I think a lot of them (students and staff) did not know the background to the topic we were talking about. Redlining was a historical practice that basically dictated different communities to be outlined as different letters,” said Ortiz.

Ortiz explained that in this project, “A” was labeled as the best neighborhood and “B” the worst. The project found that lower income and minority communities tended to be a part of these worse neighborhoods.

“This practice, although it is not enforced anymore, it’s a historical practice, it’s supposed to be nonexistent,” Ortiz emphasized. “I think it was just something that students had not thought about.”

Courses from all departments and of all formats are eligible to receive an award so long as it is nominated. Faculty can either be nominated by others for their work or they can nominate themselves to promote their courses; the latter is the most common way for a nominee to be submitted.

Beginning her work at Cal Poly Pomona in 2003, Berit Givens, chair of the Mathematics and Statistics Department, nominated herself for her work with mastery-based grading. In her classroom, grading is not based on the scores received on quizzes or exams but by the level of understanding a student has of the course.

“You have multiple chances to pass on certain standards; at the end what matters is whether you pass them eventually,” Givens said, explaining the importance of her mastery grading. “To get a C in my class, the students had to pass a certain number of standards, but they could get as many tries as they needed to pass them.”

Similarly, many educators have sought out innovative ways to create a more hands-on learning environment that encourages students to be passionate.

During the pandemic, Kate Ozment, an assistant professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages, began her search for an interactive classroom-like setting.

“It (Zoom) ends so quickly once you press the end session button,” said Ozment.

Using Discord, Ozment began to form a community within her online course, allowing them access to a different platform with more engagement. Her hopes for the course were simply to encourage her students to become passionate about what they were learning.

“My students tell me that there is nothing wrong in being a nerd about the topic that you love because they care when I’m excited reading my topics to them,” emphasized Ozment.

Courses that create a unified learning environment not only motivate students but prepare them for their future endeavors following their time at the university.

After coming to the United States in 2012, Iman Hemmatian, a professor in the Management and Human Resources Department, became determined to create a course that would reflect the world students were heading into.

In his strategic management capstone course, students were provided with the tools to navigate through the problems that a CEO will typically face daily. The course allowed students to choose their preferred learning style and manage themselves accordingly.

“Everyone learns differently, so I have different types of teaching for them: videos, questions, articles, PowerPoints, to allow them to learn at their high capacity,” explained Hemmatian.

Through the nominated course, students can interact and exchange feedback on their work.

“It allows the students to make mistakes because they are always worried about losing points,” said Hemmatian.

Recognizing the work that faculty members put into their classrooms has become a way to encourage others to revamp their courses.

“It takes somebody that is excited about teaching and wants to try innovative methods of teaching,” explained Givens. “The university values good teaching and they take the time and resources to recognize it.”

The Wall of COOL Awards ceremony will be held in Building 163, room 1015 and will be followed by an interactive workshop. To attend, guests may register on Eventbrite or view the event via the Zoom link provided on the organization’s website.

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