Teaching & Learning Champions are faculty and staff who contribute to student learning (Guided Pathways Essential Practice #4). We share their stories to celebrate their dedication to instructional excellence & innovation in a series of spotlight articles. #ACCExcellence

Meet Lisa Marie Coppoletta (LMC), Adjunct Professor of Communication Studies!

by Alexa Haverlah, TLED Content Marketing Intern 

Published May 6, 2021

Lisa Marie Coppoletta (LMC)
Photo by Colton Ashabranner

When the Shark Comes Out, You Better Watch Out

If you haven’t heard of Lisa Marie Coppoletta (a.k.a. “LMC”), Adjunct Professor of Communication Studies at ACC San Marcos Goodnight Center, perhaps you have seen her wildly popular logo, in which she rides atop a shark with its jaws fully extended, teeth bared. She wears a shirt with the outline of Texas, suspenders and combat boots and holds a microphone in one hand and gives a thumbs up with her other hand.

Outside of the classroom, Coppoletta spends her time as a “political operative,” working to fight gentrification in the San Marcos community and advocating for transparency. Recently, Coppoletta spoke out against three developments, two of which were blocked by the City Council. At one development, she was the only citizen to speak.

“It proves you don’t have to have a law degree or a protest of 5,000. It can just be one person who’s well-researched,” says Coppoletta.

Her shark logo made its debut as part of her campaign for City Council in 2016. She didn’t win, but Coppoletta says she’s more effective as an outsider. “People underestimate the effectiveness of one person. I’ve never been a joiner, I’ve never been one to be part of an organization. I’m literally an army of one.”

As for the idea behind the logo, Coppoletta says, “I’m tired of being the friendly dolphin skipping through the ocean gleefully, I’m going to be a Megalodon, the greatest predator to ever roam the Earth. And developers, city staff and election officials who are not citizen-centered, they’re going to be my chum.”

Total Mastery Learning

Coppoletta has taught public speaking at ACC since 2007, although she says what she really teaches is strategic thinking, a transferable skill that fosters better nurses in an interpersonal situation, better executives in a team-building situation, and better professors and attorneys who speak publicly on a daily basis.

Coppoletta even wants her students to become better communicators than herself! On the first day of class, she draws a bell curve on the whiteboard. “Do you know what this is?” she asks her students.

According to the bell curve graph, Coppoletta explains, most students should receive a C letter grade, with groups of students on either side receiving Fs and As. Despite the data, Coppoletta is determined that every student earns an A in her class. She calls this pedagogical approach “Total Mastery Learning,” where students can try as many times as necessary to make a 100 on an assignment.

Stump the Professor

On multiple-choice assessments, students are encouraged to persuasively argue why their answers should be considered correct. If students successfully make their case, they and everyone else who selected the same answer will get points back, an exercise Coppoletta calls “Stump the Professor.” This method emboldens students to stand up for each other and speak out, although she adds, “It’s called ‘Stump the Professor,’ not ‘Piss Off the Professor.’”

During the pandemic, flexibility, socialization, and relationship-building have played a key role in Coppoletta’s teaching. Coppoletta has extended online office hours from 9 p.m. to midnight, where students can join others in group consulting sessions or meet with Coppoletta one-on-one.

She’s flexible with due dates, too, although she rewards students’ time management skills for turning their work in early. “I think it’s important as professors that we award behavior that we want our students to model in this pandemic,” she says.

Coppoletta requires all students’ cameras turned on, but she’s still flexible if someone is having a bad day or feeling sick. Feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive; students say they feel like they are in a “real” classroom.

Additionally, Coppoletta creates an area of Blackboard for students to leave tips for one another, including study/time management tips, tips for getting through the pandemic, and tips related to mental health. The space is designed to build community among students.

Not only does Coppoletta want students to engage with each other, but she’s also determined to build relationships with each student individually. Before their first speech is due, Coppoletta meets with students in “private consulting sessions” to address any social or speech anxiety they might have and to reassure them.

It has been Coppoletta’s experience that her quietest students surprise her by being some of the most compelling and powerful public speakers. She points to Jim Carey and Robin Williams, both famous introverts and brilliant comedians.

A self-described recluse, Coppoletta has taken up gardening and ecclesiastical Latin over the course of the pandemic. The extra time at home has allowed her to dive deeper into her Catholic faith, which you can learn more about by visiting her blog, thequarantinecatholic.com.

Coppoletta’s other home is ACC, where she says the faculty are very supportive of each other and she appreciates all the mentoring that takes place. Her shout outs go to three courses she has taken from ACC faculty over the past year:

    1. Becoming an Equity Minded Instructor and Serving Men of Color Students
    2. Online Course Redesign Academy (OCRA)
    3. Service-Learning Summer Institute 

Connect with LMC via email: lcoppole@austincc.edu

Recommend a Colleague:

Do you know someone who is a champion of teaching & learning? Send their name & why you’re nominating them to TLEDcomms@austincc.edu.