Originally published in “Notes of Excellence” newsletter, issue 009 – March 2013.
Yoosun Chung is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Education, where she teaches special education courses, as well as affiliate faculty in the Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities. A two-time Mason alumna (undergraduate and doctorate), Dr. Chung’s research interests include individuals who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, the relationship between individuals with disabilities and the internet, and cerebral palsy. In 2012, she received a university Teaching Excellence Award with special recognition in teaching with technology. Dr. Chung is also a disability activist who advocates for individuals with disabilities and promotes assistive technology (AT) knowledge to the public.
What is the most innovative thing you do with your students and/or your classes? Why do you think it is effective?
I believe that my classes are extremely innovative because of full technology involvement. My classes combine lectures and hand-on lab activities, which coincide with class topics. For example, in the case that the class topic is assistive tools for individuals with physical disabilities, I first lecture about the characteristics/difficulties of individuals who may have physical disabilities, what features can help individuals who have physical difficulties, what kinds of assistive technology tools are available in the market for them, etc. After my lecture, I let my students play with the assistive technology tools, including software and hardware. I let my students explore the software/hardware individually or as a group, depending on a lab activity sheet that has different reflection points/questions in a different format each week. My students really appreciate that they can have hands-on experiences with current technology in class, because they feel that they can immediately use what they have learned, in terms of how technology (from low-tech to high-tech) and strategies can effectively support their students/clients in real-life settings, by doing hands-on activities.
What do you do that creates a strong learning environment for your students?
One thing I always keep in my mind is that every student is different and has a different learning style. Some students learn better when visual support is provided. Some of them can learn better when additional auditory support is provided. Some can learn better as a group. I know I cannot make each student satisfy my teaching style, but I have tried to provide lots of support materials/ways to maximize student learning outcomes. For example, my PowerPoint slides include intensive information about the topic subject, including necessary additional resources (i.e., hyperlinks to websites or articles). Next, I often use video clips for the visual learners. My students have appreciated my effort to recognize their individual learning styles. In addition, I usually provide students step-by-step tutorials. I sometimes let them follow me as I go through the tutorial. In part, I sometimes push them to figure it out by following the tutorial on their own. Since I know everybody’s learning style is different, I want to give them a chance to learn in a different way during the same class.
In addition, I like to make my class welcoming and favorable. I usually teach late-night classes (7:20pm-10:00pm), and I know my students are already tired from working full-time when they come to my class. Thus, I like my students coming into a stress-free and anticipated class. A great tip on making a class favorable is welcoming each student with a smile when they come in the class. Also, one of the ways I bond with my students easily is that I try to remember my students’ names as quickly as possible.
What’s one tip that you would offer to faculty new to teaching at Mason?
I believe that the course should evolve as the semester goes, and this can be done by seriously considering students’ comments. I have created my own course evaluation survey using the survey tool on Blackboard in order to get students’ immediate feedback at the end of semester, so I am able to add/remove/modify the course materials as needed to improve the courses in the following semester. Reading students’ comments have made me think about what I have done well as well as how I should improve courses and make them even better.
What’s the most challenging thing for you in your teaching, and how do you address this challenge?
As an individual with cerebral palsy, the biggest challenge that I have faced is preparing all I need to say in class in advance. I use an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) system, which basically transfers all my texts into synthesized (computer-generated) voices. This requires typing all of my lectures in advance to prepare for my classes, and I feel like it takes forever. While preparing my lectures, I often think about some possible questions that students may ask, and I develop several different versions of answers for the anticipated questions. As you can imagine, this process takes up tremendous time. However, once I have prepared the “teaching script” for each class session, my lectures are the same as any other college professor’s lecture. The only difference is that instead of using my voice, I let my AAC talk on my behalf along with my PowerPoint slides.
Although speech synthesizer voices have greatly improved, the voices of any communication system are still monotonous compared to human voices, which can lead to boredom for the listener. Thus, in order to get my students’ full attention, I often make funny topic-related jokes and present multimedia solutions, such as adding interesting video and sounds. Currently, I combine use of my natural voice, my main AAC system, and an iPad communication application to encourage students to pay attention. Among many valuable comments from my students, my favorite quotes are: “When she did lecture, she made jokes and kept the class engaged in the material while keeping them entertained, as well,” and “Professor Chung is an incredibly enthusiastic teacher, and her enthusiasm is contagious. She loves teaching students about AT, and it shows!”