Spotlight: Temitayo (Tayo) Arikenbi
Interview by Liz Cardenas, PFF Fellow and Doctoral Student in the School of Community and Global Health. Liz is also the Assistant Director of Leadership Equity, California Primary Care Association.
Temitayo (Tayo) Arikenbi is a third-year doctoral student in Information Systems and Technology. He also recently completed a master’s degree in Economics from CGU. His dual degree program exemplifies the trans-disciplinary nature of academic studies and opportunities at CGU. His research area of interest is in data science, data analytics, and the use of information systems for development. Tayo lectures part-time at California State University, where he teaches classes in management information systems and business application programming.
“One of the key things I have learned is that every student is unique, and their journeys are totally different.”
1. How were your expectations different from the reality of teaching?
Yes, the expectations were different from reality. When I started initially, my understanding was that to teach well, all you need to do is study hard, put the material together, be very thorough in the academic aspects of the curriculum, and everything will be fine.
But the reality is very different. I found that the learning experience for students is not 100% about the academic experience or your ability to convey the technical details; it’s more about your ability to communicate and engage. This shift in expectation is still an ongoing process for me in finding new ways to communicate better. I’m still finding things about what would be the best possible environment or the best possible outcomes for my students. I still don’t have the answer to what reality should be or what reality is. But what I do know about reality is that it keeps changing. It’s totally different from what I thought it would be when I started.
2. What have you learned about teaching from your students?
One of the key things I have learned is that every student is unique, and their journeys are totally different. And in some ways, success in a class for some students is not so much about getting a letter grade. For some students, it is about the opportunity to engage in class. For some, it is the satisfaction of doing something that no one in their families has ever done before. For others, it may just be to get a grade. No matter what your student’s expectations or your student’s realities are, the exciting thing about teaching is that these different experiences, in some ways, will begin to shape how you craft or how you design your communication, your content, and your interactions.
Trying to find that balance of meeting everyone’s expectations is a challenge and an opportunity to learn and improve. One of the most important things I have learned from the students is trying to listen to the expectations and finding ways to accommodate those expectations. Finding ways to engage with them, change how to deliver some of these expectations, and in the end, come to a positive agreement. I have learned that sometimes technology does not answer or address all the needs and can hinder student learning. It is important to seek alternatives to technology or alternative technologies that allow students to use multiple modalities.
3. What are some of your best techniques for inclusive and equitable learning?
This is constantly evolving, but one key thing that has worked is listening to comments, feedback, and messaging. These messages are not just in the form of words but also as cues and signs. If I give an assignment and nobody responds on time to an assignment, that is a message. So being open to feedback and actively looking for opportunities to hear what has been said with words or actions.
Also, being willing to accept criticisms and use them to find better strategies that ensure everybody’s voice gets heard. I believe it is also important to use formal constructs from PFF, including using inclusive language and tone. Taking time to reflect on the different demographics represented in your class has helped ensure that everybody feels that they are important in the classroom. Another technique is constantly engaging, constantly asking questions, and requesting feedback so that you can make corrections and improvements as quickly as possible.
4. What are some changes you would like to see in higher education?
What I would like to see might be idealistic, but it would be great to have smaller classes. At least in my experience, my class size is an average of 40 students per class, and I hear that there are even larger classes that go up to 80 students per class, which can be difficult because students get lost in the crowd. And you also do not have the same level of engagement. And I see that happen a lot.
The other thing that I like to see is making it a requirement that every teacher, tutor, and instructor engage in programs like PFF. Before PFF, I had preconceptions about how educational teaching should go and had blind spots without even realizing it. As I shared earlier, you may feel you are doing an excellent job if your classes are always on time, you give assignments and feedback when you grade. But teachers who have these preconceptions might miss an opportunity to impact beyond academic content.
PFF, in some ways, opens your eyes to new ways of seeing pedagogy and connecting the classroom experience to societal outcomes and societal evolution. It’s fantastic, and it’s something that I believe would be of value to any teacher, but many people may never have the opportunity if it’s not made a requirement. So, I think a critical change that I would recommend is having PFF be made mandatory in some ways.
5. What are your predictions for how you see higher education changing?
The prediction I have is influenced by my area of specialization in information systems and technologies. These are opportunities to find ways for the technologies to help craft the teaching experience. I feel similar technologies will also begin to percolate into an educational experience where it will be a requirement or necessary condition for you to understand students on an individual level better. I think it’s an opportunity waiting to be explored and will become more common.
Technology shouldn’t be an overwhelming experience and should enable people to engage efficiently and express their unique qualities. For example, with learning management systems, you have discussion boards, and you can say everyone should engage however they prefer. If you don’t want to write, record a video or draw a picture to represent your message. Those are personal interactions that clarify what the preferences and inclinations are of each student. I see technology allowing those possibilities to expand and offer students better opportunities to interact and use technology.
6. What are three key pieces of advice for other teachers or your younger self?
Number one would be actively listening and not hearing what you want to hear. Hear what people are saying, and don’t be quick to jump to conclusions about people. It is important to let people talk. Find ways to allow people to express themselves as best as they can.
Secondly, one of the core values I took away from the PFF experience is not to be judgmental, not to discriminate, or categorize people. This starts with being honest, fair, humble, meeting everybody with an open mind, and giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.
Lastly, do not beat yourself up too hard. Go with your best effort. Sometimes you’ll make mistakes. Sometimes you’ll be wrong. When you’re wrong, you can accept and learn from it. But don’t be too hard on yourself, in the same way, that you shouldn’t be too hard on other people and give yourself the benefit of the doubt as well.
7. How has the PFF program impacted your teaching?
One is the overall philosophy of what teaching and what the classroom experience represents. It is not just a way for me to regurgitate what I know but is a way to impact students’ overall learning experience. It is also a way for me to be impacted by students whom I’m fortunate to share a classroom with.
PFF has also given me a better sense of managing content and the principles of chunking. You can determine what is most relevant, most timely, and what can be handled by the audience within the constraints of time and resources. Create your learning content in manageable sizes and pieces, and not be too focused on completing everything.
Also, using mixed modalities to improve accessibility in the classroom, understanding ways to use different formats beyond written content and verbal instruction. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how I can teach with new modalities in my technology class. Maybe it’s just figuring out how information can best be represented with my students. And perhaps it’ll help someone do just a little better in the class. I am open to these kinds of conversations and possibilities for improving my content delivery and expectations.
8. What do love you most about teaching?
One of my favorite things is the effect I see teaching has on my students. You get a sense from students that there is a significant value-added because of that experience. The fact that something is added to the student’s life is very rewarding to me. I enjoy engaging, interacting, and learning from my students in the classes I teach. After I finish a class, I will sometimes maintain a relationship with students, run into them outside of the classroom, and get feedback on the impact the class had on them. It is one of the gratifying outcomes of being a teacher; having people who compliment after and still say it was a good experience is awesome.