Faculty Highlight: Ian O’Toole Programs Classes for Student Success

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

By Jennifer Keefe 

Professor of Computer Programming and Analysis Ian O’Toole believes that just because computers are known for lacking feelings, that doesn’t mean programming professors need to be that way. Ian, who first joined the College in 2007 as a part-time tutor in the programming lab, is now in the third year of his tenure process. His formula for student success? It comes down to empathy.

“Empathy, to me, means that I try to assume the best when I am working with students,” he explains.

“I try to understand them and what they are going through with their academic journeys and their non-academic responsibilities as well.”

Part of Ian’s empathetic approach to teaching includes finding ways to connect with students that work for them and their schedules. “Email, phone, Teams, Zoom, Canvas discussion forums or on-campus meetings — the greatest ability you can have is availability,” he says.

Ian also works hard to be approachable to his students. “I don’t try to erase the gap between professor and student, but I don’t want that gap to become a gulf we can’t communicate across,” he says. “I meet students where they are as much as I can.”

For his action research project, Ian looked at the trouble his students were having with applying and implementing the computer programming concepts they were learning. His observation: there is very little that is intuitive about a student’s first experiences with programming. That’s why he implemented his project in COP 1000, Introduction to Programming Concepts. The class is a prerequisite for most other advanced programming classes.

To help his students succeed, Ian developed a series of what he calls programming walkthroughs. These walkthroughs are short videos he created about how to write computer programming code. Each one starts with a blank screen. In the videos, Ian provides what he calls a “scaffolded approach” to solving the problem they are given.

“The goal is to get them from understanding the concept to implementing the concept to programming solutions,” Ian explains.

At the end of the lesson, students submit screenshots to prove they viewed the whole video.

Ian captured student reactions to his project via a Qualtrics survey. He says he got great feedback in the survey as well as more unsolicited positive feedback when his students sent their screenshots through Canvas. He’s still analyzing the data from his project.

Implementing his action research online during the pandemic-related campus closures worked out really well for Ian. He says it helped bridge some gaps lost by the lack of face-to-face communication and gave students some extra help with assignments.

Something Ian actually stopped doing during the pandemic has actually led to more authentic participation in his online classes. He decided to remove the number of required posts and word counts for posts from his online discussions. He also allowed students to solely reply to their classmates’ posts instead of creating their own original discussion threads. He used more open-ended discussion topics and even allowed students to use a multimedia approach to posting to discussions.

“That’s a good way to provide a more equitable approach and engage and participate on their own terms. It creates a more genuine sense of community,” Ian explains.

It turns out, the approach led to more participation in discussions and more thoughtful responses to the questions he posed.

Ian earned a master’s degree in innovation and technology as part of the inaugural class in that program at Florida Polytechnic University. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in information systems technology from Seminole State College. Oh, yeah, and Ian now teaches in the program where he earned his first academic degree, an associate degree in computer programming and analysis from our own Valencia College.

Something else you might not know about Ian is that he’s a master at making daily to-do lists. He uses OneNote every Friday to make a list of lessons to prepare for, meetings the following week and grading he needs to finish. When Monday comes, he’s ready to hit the ground running.

“I think having that opportunity to let things percolate a little helps me to get organized,” he explains.

Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight.



  • Paul Wilder said:

    Great work, Ian! I appreciate your focus on student success!

    PMThu, 28 Apr 2022 23:08:12 +0000Thu, 28 Apr 2022 23:08:12 +0000pm22,11:08 pm

  • Andrew Ray said:

    Ian is a great asset to our AS Programs at Valencia – super personable and sincere in his desire to help students achieve their goals.

    AMFri, 29 Apr 2022 10:21:42 +0000Fri, 29 Apr 2022 10:21:42 +0000am22,10:21 am

  • Sidra Van De Car said:

    Fantastic job, Ian! We are so lucky to have you here.

    PMFri, 29 Apr 2022 12:47:15 +0000Fri, 29 Apr 2022 12:47:15 +0000pm22,12:47 pm

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