Tech Savvy

Professors honored for creative use of technology to teach English

When Professor Mike Sfiropoulos pauses in his classes to show short clips of popular TV shows, students watch attentively. Some laugh out loud.

Despite the laughter, they aren’t watching for fun. They are listening for mistakes in subject and verb agreement, pronoun agreement and other English concepts and rules.

Mike Sfiropoulos, Professor II
M.A. Linguistics, Florida Atlantic University
B.A. Spanish and B.A. Linguistics, FAU
A.A., Palm Beach Community College

“I’m actually making my students think critically about what they are experiencing as they’re watching TV, so if they hear a concept like ‘me and my friend went to the mall,’ they’re going to say ‘hold on I learned that concept in class, and it should be my friend and I,’” Sfiropoulos said. “It’s more of a creative way to teach the same material.”



Sfiropoulos, who teaches developmental English at the Lake Worth campus, is among two professors who received Palm Beach State’s 2014 Stewart Distinguished Teaching Award for innovative work to engage students in the classroom. The annual award comes with a $5,000 prize and is open to all of PBSC’s 329 full-time faculty and instructors.

Christopher Schmersahl, an English professor at the Belle Glade campus, also received the Stewart award for using videos created in class to teach students how to identify and use visual literary devices and the pathos, logos and ethos appeals in their work. For the assignment, students work in groups to create a television advertisement for a fictional product or service. The ad must contain all of the types of appeals and at least two visual literary devices such as hyperbole (an exaggeration) or metaphor.

Christopher Schmersahl, Associate Professor M.A. English, University of Missouri-St. Louis B.A. English and Philosophy, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale
Christopher Schmersahl, Associate Professor
M.A. English, University of Missouri-St. Louis
B.A. English and Philosophy, Southern Illinois

Schmersahl records the students as they present their ads, and he edits them in Windows Movie Maker. He shows the videos to the class, and the students together identify and explain the types of appeals and literary devices used. They also individually write a response essay, summarizing and explaining the features and their role in creating the project. “They’re having such a good time with it that many don’t even realize they’re mastering sophisticated concepts until later,” he said.

“Student engagement is very important, so I’m always trying to find ways to engage them more,’’ Schmersahl said. “The more ways you have students engaged in a set of concepts, the more ways their retention of knowledge and understanding of core ideas will be increased.”

Sfiropoulos and Schmersahl both say that with today’s students, many of whom grew up with the Internet, it’s important to include technology in the class.


“This speaks to the generation of students that we have,’’ Schmersahl said. “They have constant access to that visual medium so they relate to it.”

“The younger generations are very into technology; everyone is walking around with smartphones and iPads. With YouTube and Hulu and all of these other easily accessible forms of electronic media, students are really immersed these days in technology,’’ Sfiropoulos said.

Sfiropoulos says he watches shows on TV, and when he hears a grammar issue that he can use as a teachable moment for his students, he records the clips on a DVR, burns them onto a DVD, edits them on his computer and imbeds them into PowerPoint presentations.

“It’s time-consuming, but it’s very effective,’’ Sfiropoulos said. “Just teaching out of a book is the traditional way, and students tend to respond in a certain way to that. Teaching with technology gives a chance to touch on other learning styles because some students are more visual than others. They react better and are more engaged when they hear things and see them happening at the same time.”

A 10-member committee of faculty and administrators selected the winners for the award following a self-nomination process. Schmersahl and Sfiropoulos are among 16 professors to receive the award since it began in 2006 with a grant from the Douglas and Virginia Stewart Foundation.

Schmersahl joined the PBSC faculty in 2013. Prior to then, he worked as an adjunct professor at various colleges in St. Louis. Sfiropoulos has taught at PBSC for 10 years. Before that, he taught at Broward College for three years.