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Faculty Profile: Ryan McFall
Associate Professor of Computer Science

For Dr. Ryan McFall, teaching at Hope is an opportunity to give back to a community that has been important to him.

“It was a place that had a big impact on my life,” he says, “and so I wanted to be able to come back and hopefully have that same kind of impact.”

Dr. McFall graduated from Hope in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and mathematics. He was a third-generation Hope student, following the college paths of his parents and grandparents. After Hope, he went on to get his master’s and doctorate degrees from Michigan State.

Now, as a professor, he is incorporating his computer science talents with a family tradition of teaching. His parents, grandparents, and brother have all been somehow involved with education.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” he says.

He was initially interested in mathematics, but discovered that he also enjoyed the hands-on challenge of computer science. “When I’m given a problem, I want to see if I can do it,” he says.

Dr. McFall’s most recent research combines his love of a challenge with his passion for teaching. In 2003 and 2004, he headed research on educational technology, particularly on the development of electronic textbooks.

His goal has been to combine the best features of a printed text, including access to information and even the ability to highlight important passages, with opportunities to add notes and examples and even communicate online with others in the class. He sees an e-textbook as an alternative medium that can help students with active reading comprehension.

“Being able to further explain some text on my part, and wanting the students to be able to interact with the text on their own -- those are the sorts of things that an electronic textbook allows you to do,” he says.

While Dr. McFall’s work aims to use technology to aid students, his teaching often aims at helping students to use technology within a variety of disciplines. As technology becomes increasingly important in a variety of disciplines, he notes that students need to ask, “’How do I have to think to be a successful person using any particular kind of technology?’”

Ultimately, though, teaching computer science for Dr. McFall is more about imparting a way of approaching education than it is about familiarizing students with particular technologies.

“My goals are to be able to have students who have a life-long ability to learn and to be able to impact students’ lives,” he says.

This profile was written by Melissa Sexton, a 2005 Hope College graduate from Kalamazoo, Mich., for the 2005-06 Hope College Catalog.

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