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ACUE Focus: Joe McAfee

Friday, June 24, 2022

More than 110 UA - Pulaski Technical College faculty have improved their teaching practices through a program with the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE). This rigorous, evidence based, 25-week course engages instructors with independently validated research to improve student achievement and close equity gaps. ACUE Focus is a question and answer series where faculty share their experiences with ACUE.

Joe McAfee

Joe McAfee
Instructor of Electronics and other technical courses, Department of Technical Sciences
Education: Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Technology, UA Little Rock
Experience: 29 years manufacturing and controls engineering; 20 years technical instruction

1. What ACUE Cohort were you a part of?

Cohort #1 Spring 2018. It was one semester, so the pace was pretty fast. After that, I think it was extended to two semesters.

2. What do you teach and how do you think you benefited from the ACUE course?

I teach Electronics and other technical courses. Although experience in industry can make one a subject matter expert, that is very different from being an effective teacher. In the past I’d taken several of the online courses that Pulaski Tech had offered for improving instructional skills, but ACUE was by far the most comprehensive and applicable of all. Most of the material could be immediately put into practice. In fact, many of the assignments required students to develop a plan incorporating a module’s content into their class and then report the effects of the implementation. The immediate application and feedback were great.

Not only would full-time instructors benefit from ACUE, but part-time instructors would also. Many of these folks are sought for their technical expertise and experience but without the corequisite instructional skills, they cannot be as effective as they need to be.

3. Best thing you learned from ACUE?

The overall best thing was how to convey what might be dry, factual material in a way that shows students the value of learning the material and generates and holds their interest. I think students now actually look forward to coming to class.

Beyond that, there were many other valuable lessons on building effective quizzes; building syllabi that will get read; the value of rubrics, how and when to use them; and too many other points to mention. I still have all my notes from the class and refer to them frequently.

4. Do you think your students benefited from you taking the ACUE course and if so, how?

I had always though of myself as an effective teacher before ACUE but taking the course helped me realize just how much I didn’t know. One thing I learned and put into immediate practice was the value of low stakes quizzes. Instead of three or four high stakes quizzes that can make or break students, I now have several low stakes quizzes to assess progress. One benefit from this is it reduces what students call “test anxiety”. Another is that no one particular quiz will significantly impact their grade. This is especially so since can I now afford to drop their lowest quiz grade.

The immediate feedback from these frequent assessments helps me and students see where they need help before they get so far behind they can’t be helped. This is a great retention tool.

5. What was your favorite module in ACUE?

I learned so much from each of the ACUE modules but one in particular dealt with helping under prepared students. That doesn’t just mean the student who comes to class without having done their homework. In the case of students studying electronics, it means not having the math skills they need. Even though most have taken the prerequisite classes for the courses, many of them have forgotten the concepts needed. I tell students that these are “perishable skills” and they will lose them if they don’t use them. To address this, I developed the practice of “Just-In-Time” teaching, reviewing the math needed as we start a particular lesson.

Also, even though the college has tutoring labs, there are no tutors for the courses that I teach. To deal with this I’ve set aside time after my classes are over for the day to have tutorials for students requesting help.

Another approach I’ve taken to help students is to record all my classes, including tutorials. If any student must miss a class, they can watch its recording. This is a great tool for note taking also, since students can repeat a lecture if needed to catch details they might have missed the first time around. If a student’s work schedule changes so their job interferes with coming to class, they can watch the lectures, take notes, and avoid having to drop the class.