- Lieber Memorial Teaching Associate Award (2018)
Collin Bjork has astonished his supervisors as well as his students with his gusto for teaching and his eye toward continual improvement in the classroom. “As a graduate student, Collin joined our teaching staff in 2014, and since that time has actively sought to acquire a depth and breadth of teaching experience and expertise far beyond that of most associate instructors,” say Patricia Ingham, chair of the Department of English, and Kathy Smith, director of the department’s administrative and instructional affairs. For a Ph.D. student, he has taught an ambitious number of courses, including classroom-based and online versions of English W131 (also known as First-Year Composition), as well as Visual Rhetoric, Multilingual Composition, Service Learning Writing, and many others. For W131, Bjork has designed class activities and assignments that push students to achieve the critical thinking and reading goals of the course. He also has met regularly with his students during office hours and ensured that feedback to students is instructional, encouraging, and provided in a timely manner. Ingham and Smith agree that his development of the online W131 course and his innovative Cross-Cultural Composition course show that he has chosen “not only to take advantage of every teaching opportunity that presented itself, but to take initiative to create opportunities for himself as well.”
Alex Penn, assistant director of composition, identified the core of Bjork’s teaching while observing him during a lesson: “I saw Collin consistently demonstrate three values that are key to his instructional ethos: respect for students, clear expectations, and a spirit of adventure.” Bjork displays obvious enthusiasm and sincere respect for student-generated ideas and is able to set reasonable expectations and guidelines, Penn notes, without becoming overly prescriptive.
Former students concur that in Bjork they had a rare instructor who helped them to grow as writers and who made the subject matter interesting. Hiroko Hanamura, who took Bjork’s Multilingual Composition, says, “For any student, learning academic writing is a challenging task; however, in Professor Bjork’s class, each assignment had very specific goals accompanied by clear grading criteria of what he was looking for, which would become a building block for the next assignment.” Similarly, student Margaret Mehringer notes her enjoyment of Bjork’s online W131 class: “The online class experience did not degrade the rigor or integrity of the course whatsoever,” she says. “Instead, it provided a level of comfort and openness between peers, allowing us students to really open our minds and actively engage in discussions about the material.”
In all of his teaching endeavors, Bjork surpasses what is expected of him. Of his own volition, he partnered with the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL) to develop teaching videos and supplemental pedagogical materials for other online W131 instructors. And although Bjork acted as a teaching assistant in Professor John Arthos’ Visual Rhetoric course, Arthos notes, “Collin acted as a full partner in teaching responsibilities” and even took the initiative to schedule “lab hours” to help students prepare their final video essays for a public showcase, which he coordinated.
Not content to confine his work to campus, Bjork also serves as a conversation group leader for VITAL (Volunteers in Tutoring Adult Learners) at the Monroe County Public Library. Bethany Turrentine, VITAL assistant manager, observes that Bjork’s class for international learners has a “near-cult status,” and, as a result, has had to relocate to a larger classroom. “We have just been knocked out,” say Ingham and Smith, “by Collin’s dedication, his commitment to his students, his developing expertise, and his ingenuity as an instructor at IU Bloomington.”