Wednesday, May 1, 2019

‘I can’t remember not wanting to teach’

Michelle Gibson can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher.

For more than 20 years, Gibson has brought science to life as a Biology Instructor at Montcalm Community College, but she has been teaching for much longer than that.

“As a kid, I remember making my brother play school with me,” she said. “My parents were teachers, so it’s just part of who I am.”

In addition to Biology, Gibson teaches Anatomy and Physiology I and II, Microbiology, Animal Science and Medical Terminology. She also serves as a summer camp instructor, exposing area youths to  agriculture and science through hands-on learning.

“I love what I do at MCC,” she said. “I don’t have to teach the same class over and over every semester, which is often what happens in the university setting. At MCC, I get to teach all kinds of things, and I have the ability to change the way classes are delivered. I can change content to better serve the needs of my students.”

Gibson said one of the tools she uses in her classroom is electronic clickers, where she asks a question and students answer anonymously by clicking the answer. The system immediately tallies the replies, and Gibson instantly knows if the students understand the concept they just covered.

“It has helped me be a better teacher immediately,” she said. “If the majority of the students miss a question, I know I need to go over the concept again. I don’t have to wait until I get a test back to know what they’re learning.”

Through the course of her career, Gibson said she has seen a shift in how students learn and has tried to adapt to change, especially technology.

“Many students now are in the instant gratification mode,” she said. “You can’t teach patience to students who have had everything at their fingertips all of their lives.

“I have learned that I have to adapt to the students in front of me. I don’t inhibit my students from using their cell phones and computers in the classroom. I don’t police it. I am as engaging as I can be when I lecture. I am better at that than other things. I think every teacher has their strengths and should use them in the classroom,” she said.

“I try to be funny. I think if you get their attention, they will learn from you,” she added.

Helping students overcome barriers is key to student success and its an area in which Gibson is always trying to improve.

“At the community college level, we talk a lot about barriers for students,” she said. “Common barriers for success are concerns such as balancing work and family commitments, transportation, technology, affording tuition, books and other materials needed for class work, all while trying to find time to attend class and study.”

Group projects, Gibson said, are beneficial yet are often difficult for students to complete without support from their instructor.

“My students automatically are forced into a group when we do labs together,” she said. “If I put them into groups for a specific project, we do it in class because I find it’s hard for them to meet outside of class. They learn a lot from each other going back and forth, and they gain valuable skills in learning to work together in a group environment.”

Gibson said for group projects she has clear outcomes to achieve and she provides all of the necessary supplies.

“Early on, I realized that much of the feedback I would receive on group projects is that students didn’t have time to meet outside of the classroom due to work and family time, and they didn’t have supplies to do the project. It’s amazing how many of our students don’t have access to materials or the money to buy them,” she said.

Gibson also has committed much of her time to creating Open Educational Resources (OER) for her classes. OER are high-quality teaching, learning and research materials to support classroom instruction. In Gibson’s courses, they take the place of textbooks and are free for students to use.

“By compiling my own resources, I am able to bring more consistency to the material being presented,” she said. “I revamped the flow of material to match my teaching style and the order in which I present information.

“As an instructor, it’s my job to put the information together in a way that’s best for my students to learn,” she added. “Through OER, I offer the same types of readings, sample quizzes and other educational resources that book publishers provide with the ability to update them in real time and at no cost to our students.”

“I really believe in OER,” Gibson said. “It has made me a better teacher, and it’s good for my students.”