The University of Iowa

Erin Irish, Associate Professor, Biology

Embracing Change - Erin Irish's Collaboratory Experience 

For more than two decades, Erin Irish, Associate Professor of Biology, has taught Introductory Biology, educating hundreds of students at the University of Iowa each year.


When Irish learned about the Learning Design Collaboratory, she jumped on the opportunity to reflect on her course with a community of faculty members.


“It’s always challenging to teach a large course,” she says, “and it’s especially hard to perfect a large course on your own.”


Irish wanted to ensure that she reviewed her course structure and materials throughout the semester to best benefit her students. She was confident that outside perspectives and expertise would be particularly valuable during this process, so she joined the Collaboratory Faculty Community of Practice.


Joining a Faculty Community 


Ania Kowalik, Teaching & Learning Specialist in the Center for Teaching, coordinates each Faculty Community of Practice with a strategic curriculum, discussion topics, and assigned readings, providing faculty members opportunities to reflect on their course objectives.


Irish felt particularly recharged and regenerated in these meetings when her Faculty Community colleagues shared their unique teaching strategies.

“The Community of Practice set the stage for instructors who were genuinely engaged and had a desire to improve their teaching techniques,” she says, “We devoted our meetings to thinking hard about our successes and challenges as teachers, and by doing this in a shared environment, we picked up on all sorts of interesting ideas from each other.”

Irish also found it valuable that her community consisted of faculty from a wide range of departments, teaching entirely different courses.


“Even the courses that seemed completely different ended up posing a lot of similar challenges,” she says.


Implementing Change 


When it came time for Irish to think about the aspects of her course she wanted to adjust, she realized that minor changes such as the organization of her ICON course could help students better piece together big-picture concepts.


“A challenge especially in an introductory course is that we have a lot of basic information to convey,” she says. “I know it's challenging for students not only to master all of the bricks that make up the foundation of the course but also to figure out how all the bricks fit together.”


Final Thoughts 


Irish expresses her appreciation that the University of Iowa is devoting such great resources to the Learning Design Collaboratory. 


“There are so many different missions at the University of Iowa,” she says, “Teaching in classrooms is something so many of us do, but to have programs devoted to thinking about how we can improve the product we deliver in the classroom is a really great opportunity.”