Meet Cheelan. Cheelan Bo-Linn is the Senior Specialist in Education in the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL) at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Instructor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership. In her position in CITL, Cheelan is responsible for the promotion of teaching excellence in campus-wide faculty consultations, programs and innovative initiatives, in addition to working closely with academic units, most recently with Illinois Colleges of Medicine, Business, and Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. Areas for consultation have included course and curriculum design, learning outcomes and assessment, and active learning. She also leads and coordinates the campus faculty development programs, such as the annual Faculty Retreat, the Junior Faculty Seminar Series, and the college Teaching Academies.
Cheelan has provided her expertise during multiple GET training programs. During GET's higher education management programs from 2017-2019, Cheelan held workshops on teaching, learning, and pedagogy for higher education administrators from Zhejiang University. She has also collaborated with GET to provide workshops overseas to international educators. Cheelan shares her process and perspective below.
“Opening the Classroom Door”
Teaching shouldn’t be a secret. I compare it to research. In research, you go up and say, “I have a problem. Help me try to figure out how to make sense of this.” We want CITL to be not a place where you go to the principal’s office, right? But to a place where you go, and it’s a community. You try out ideas, you learn new things. You elevate the importance and value of teaching. I call it “Open the Classroom Door.” You open it up for reflection, for sharing. You want it to be a very collaborative, safe place.
GET: How do you build a sense of safety and security with executives, administrators, and faculty who attend your workshops?
I want all of my new faculty to come in and do well at the very beginning. Why suffer, why stress out? That’s why we’re talking about building goodwill about the center [CITL]. I’m so happy with working here. Because we work with the faculty, that means our relationships are for a long period of time. That’s why you see these [desk] drawers that are full of [files about] people. We’re in this model, you know, where we are trying to quantify the number of hours [that we serve], but we’re never done. We never say goodbye.
[Our workshops] are very interactive. When I work with faculty, we can take all sorts of risks, try out things - they can be very honest - because this stays confidential. And they’ll say, “What is this? Why would you do that?” And I kind of joke with them, so that’s why they trust me. They may get the wrong answer, but they can figure it out.
GET: Can you talk about your experiences with GET? You previously worked with the Zhejiang University Higher Education Management program.
It was a fabulous opportunity. I mentioned it to [GET leadership], saying, “If you ever get a request, I’ll go.” The interesting story is Deyu Li, [professor and Director of the International Division at Beihang University in Beijing, China], who was the person they had been [communicating with], was in my program four years ago [at Illinois]. He could tell me the things that he remembered, which he did not make up. He was absolutely right. You never know the impact, and you must be authentic and as accurate as possible. You’ve got to seize the moment.
I did something wild. I said, “Is it possible that you could get faculty members whose English skills are good enough that I don’t need a translator?” It’s hard to translate what I say and how I say it. It was over a hundred people. And it was five days [long], and they were still in the midst of finals. Two of the days, we were in monsoon weather. Pouring! And, as soon as [the rain] stopped, they were all there.
On the importance of global education - both as a teacher and learner:
[There are] some key concepts or philosophies that are trying to get spread, regardless of the learning environment. This is basically about the best ways in which human beings learn. It’s translatable. What you’re trying to do in GET is define similarities, you know, common goals. What’s the best way for students to learn? It doesn’t matter about the educational system. You have to be cognizant of the culture. You cannot go in and say, “Here it is, and here is the best way to do it.”
The first time I went to Taiwan, I was presenting at a conference. So that’s what I tell my colleagues when they ask, “How are you getting these calls?” And I tell them, “You’ve gotta get out there.” I presented and NTU (National Taiwan University) went, “Ah! We want you to come and present.” When I do that, I take the opportunity to look in the classroom. I look at, “What kind of support they have, what is the academic life in there?” I carry it back here [to Illinois].
GET: How do you continue to be a life-long learner?
I read a lot. I ask people a lot of questions. What I say to faculty when you have to take this creative bent, I say, “You can’t say: ‘From 2 o’clock to 3 o’clock, this is what I’m going to be focusing on.” I let things simmer; that’s how my mind is.
You’re trying to get the curriculum not in a silo, but to be more interdisciplinary, in terms of the experiences and the readings. One of the things is to cross boundaries - that while I may have learned or heard about something here, I always kind of translate to see how it can be over there.
That’s what I ask faculty to do. Not to set aside [something] totally. Let it simmer in the back of your head, when you’re walking around or you’re listening to something. When we work with faculty, they’re content experts. But it’s not just about delivering the content. It’s what is the best way in which to deliver the content that’s effective, efficient, that’s engaging.
GET: How do you encourage faculty members to connect with their students?
They have to have enough self-efficacy, to believe that they can do it. I went into to a faculty workshop at the College of Engineering. I tested this cartoon or this joke out, with everybody, and it failed miserably! Actually, the engineering professor got a little upset. And I went, “Oh! Stop.” And I walked out, and I came back in and said, “Hi! We’re starting all over again.” And they laughed!
You have to have enough faith in yourself that you can pick up the moment. Faculty sometimes don’t have that map ready in there [the classroom]. That means if they go off [on a tangent], that they don’t go back to the map and the road. And that’s where students get lost - because it all makes sense to [the faculty member]. Because you know you took a right turn and a left turn and then you circled around and came back to the original [spot].
Students are just following behind you, and that’s why you have to make it explicit what the road is, by learning objectives. If you don’t put those markers in, you’ll wander off, and the students will get lost with you.
On the nature of connection and teaching:
What is that thing that they always say about testing spaghetti? Have you heard that one?
GET: What’s that?
Oh, when spaghetti is cooked, and you throw it against the wall, then it sticks. You don’t have that much time with these students. You can’t just throw it and hope it sticks! And that’s what I’m saying - you plan, like: “Where do I stand? What are the questions I’m gonna get?”
The reflection afterwards is very important. “What did we do? Why did we do that? Why is it important? How would you translate it to the class?” You always have to do that.
GET: How do you know when you’ve found collaboration between content and instruction?
For a faculty member to stop lecturing and say, “Okay, talk among yourselves.” That’s being innovative. When they think of innovation, they think of drones or VR. It doesn’t have to be. Innovation is something that is new to you, and it brings you great excitement.
It’s sort of like the KonMari thing, “Does it bring me joy?” So, that’s what I’m looking for when I work with the faculty. Is it new for you? Do you get excited about it? And if you do, then that’s being innovative. It doesn’t have to be the latest technology. Being innovative, or creative, when they’re teaching means anything that’s different.
I’ll show this to a faculty member, and the faculty member has a lightbulb go off. And then I say, “Keep in touch, let me know if you did something differently.” We talk about it, because it’s gotta be emotionally engaging. Once they get it, they get it.