Innovative Pedagogy Interview

Curiosity Creativity and Innovation

Austin Fitzpatrick

Here at the CEE we are starting the spring semester with finding new and innovative ways to enhance your classroom. That’s why this month’s innovative faculty highlight is Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, assistant professor of political sociology at the Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego. Interested in some experiential, discussion-based teaching techniques to jumpstart the semester? Read Choi-Fitzpatrick’s profile below for his innovative insights.

When Choi-Fitzpatrick first arrived at college he was hoping it would be a lot like Hogwarts in Harry Potter; “I always wanted to go to a school with ivy and libraries and a huge fireplace. With professors walking the halls in robes, murmuring. I had this idea that universities were where you went think thoughts, experience things, and meet interesting people. I expected a life of the mind, with professors actively engaged in ancient problems and new conundrums.”

In the end, Choi-Fitzpatrick admits, he was a bit disappointed to discover that many professors were “just people with jobs.”

“Certainly it’s our job to enliven the mind,” he reflects on liberal art schools like USD, where students and professors are able to explore ideas together.

“I’m in academics because I’m fundamentally curious and I think the joys of being in any classroom centers around this intense curiosity about the world we live in—what works? what doesn’t work? what should we do!?

In an attempt to engage these questions Choi-Fitzpatrick incorporates fishbowl conversation techniques, concept-pitch sessions for prototypes that the class works on through the semester, video scavenger hunts, guest lectures from community leaders, and class trips to off campus. “I’m always looking for new ways,” Choi-Fitzpatrick told me, “to challenge what we assumed, to hear from others, to create new things, to have new ideas.”

“That can’t happen when I just stand there and lecture—“ Choi-Fitzpatrick pauses to admit: “—though I really can just stand there and talk and talk and talk. New teaching techniques help get us out of that old mode, which has its place, but can’t be all that we do!”

A key ingredient for teaching? Choi-Fitzpatrick suggests it’s the thing he missed all those years ago: “I think the professor's job is to model curiosity and creativity … ideally the classroom is a place where new things are happening. Not like a Pez dispenser with old information, but people bringing their own ingredients and coming away at the end of the experience.”

“In the end,” he says, “I believe classrooms are emergent properties—you wait to see what happens at the intersection of the space, the professor, the people in the room, and the material at hand. New things can happen! A lot of learning is out of professor’s hands and that’s what makes it cool. Who knows what’s going to happen?”