Wednesday, June 29, 2022
By Jennifer Keefe
For some, criminal justice might seem cut and dry, right and wrong, but for Professor of Criminal Justice Technology Susan Yawn, criminal justice is a conversation. Susan uses a variety of techniques to encourage her students to actively take part in class, from interactive lectures to giving students terms to look up and use during class.
“There is a lot of back and forth in my lectures and that keeps students engaged. I am constantly injecting questions into lecture material,” she says.
Susan also relies upon current events to keep her classes relevant.
“Sharing current events, and there are many in criminal justice, gives students a look into the real world of policing, corrections and the courts. It seems I am constantly adding new material to a module when something happens in the world of criminal justice, whether it be at the local, state or federal levels,” she explains.
Susan embraces the cultural diversity of her students and uses videos and assignments that reflect that diversity in all of her classes.
She also relies upon unique assignments and discussion topics and offers a lot of feedback on student work.
“Students love to hear about their work. I compliment them when they engage in online discussions and you can just tell they did so much more than they were asked to do,” she says.
Susan also enjoys getting a little feedback from her classes.
“When a student comments, ‘I really liked this assignment…’ that means a lot to me.”
She also assigns presentations to students in her face-to-face classes, even if they don’t like public speaking.
“Encouraging some students to make presentations can be challenging, but if they are looking for a career in criminal justice, communication skills are paramount, so I try to ease them into speaking to classmates,” she says.
Scenario-based learning is also a huge part of Susan’s teaching arsenal, but for students in her criminal law and report writing classes, she’s not the one setting the scene. In those classes, Susan has her students create the scenarios that show they understand the material they are learning.
Susan earned her tenure at the College in spring 2022. Her action research project centered on improving student ability to identify and define the two main elements of a crime.
“For students who may ultimately work in policing, corrections or law, it is imperative that they be able to explain both the criminal act and the criminal intent defined in a criminal statute,” Susan explains. “This isn’t as easy as it may sound, and students were struggling with this.”
Her project focused on creating a module with multiple activities and assessments that helped students improve their identification and explanation of the key elements of a crime.
“Susan says that her students who go on to work in the law enforcement professions will have to create reports sufficient for a prosecutor to build and prosecute a criminal case. That’s why they must comprehend the basics of criminal law, report writing, the criminal statutes and the elements of crimes.”
As for a teaching philosophy, Susan credits her more than 460 hours of Valencia College professional development classes with helping her shape her thoughts on teaching and learning. She views her role in the classroom as initiator, facilitator, guide and helper. One of the ways she helps her students is by scheduling conferences with them as soon as she recognizes there is an issue with their performance in the class.
“I have found that we cannot rely on the student to contact faculty first. Some will not do that and end up dropping out of the class. So, early conferencing has saved a few students from failure,” she explains.
Susan started teaching part-time at Valencia in 2000 while she was working full-time for the State of Florida Department of Corrections. After working in probation and parole for 35 years, she “retired” and applied for a full-time teaching position at the College in 2017.
Even with all of her experience, she still sees her teaching as a work in progress.
“I still experiment with different teaching strategies, and I’ve never been afraid to try something new,” she says.
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.