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UCI’s Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI) recently announced that Continuing Lecturer of Computer Science Shannon Alfaro has been named a 2018­–19 Faculty Fellow, along with Paul Spencer from the School of Humanities. DTEI works with faculty, graduate students and postdocs to maximize students’ academic success by cultivating exceptional learning environments. The DTEI Fellows program spotlights faculty members deeply invested in the success of their students and committed to advancing UCI’s mission of using innovative, evidence-based teaching practices.

“I love learning new ways to improve outcomes for my students,” says Alfaro, who is grateful for this opportunity to act as a Faculty Fellow, serving as a role model for others. Her commitment to teaching is evident through not only her work as a lecturer at UCI but also her position as curriculum developer for Dreams for Schools, a program focused on youth STEM education. “As curriculum developer, I’ve created materials used as part of the mentor training sessions for the DFS AppJam+ Mobile App Competition,” she explains. “Topics include effective mentoring, team-building strategies, as well as guided tutorials for a beginner-friendly mobile app-development environment.”

In the new DTEI Faculty Fellow role, Alfaro and Spencer will lead quarterly faculty reading groups, covering a broad range of topics, including how to help students develop a sense of self-attribution and tap into intrinsic motivation. In addition, they will conduct classroom observations, which can be “tremendously fun,” notes Alfaro. “I always learn a new trick or technique from watching other faculty, regardless of discipline.”

Alfaro and Spencer will also offer campus workshops to share their knowledge of evidence-based teaching practices. “Proof is imperative when instructors and students are asked to deviate from the traditional lecture-based ‘sage-on-the-stage’ teaching model,” says Alfaro. Strong evidence can convince skeptical instructors to try a new teaching practice and can help them get buy-in from the students. “Whether the goal is to increase matriculation rates for underrepresented groups within a major or to improve the mastery level of specific student learning outcomes, evidence-based teaching practices provide comfort to all parties that a trail has been blazed to a desired outcome, and that the journey is worth the effort.”

With her enthusiasm for both teaching and learning, Alfaro will continue to act as a trail blazer, furthering DTEI’s efforts to build learning environments that encourage and support student success.

— Shani Murray