Dr. Maha Sweis-Dababneh is on a roll with back-to-back college awards. Last year’s Master Teacher, Sweis-Dababneh is this year’s Professor of the Year, an honor she received because of her innovation in the classroom and the thoughtful ways she cares for her students.

One of her nominators said, “This professor has been there to help all her students. She is dedicated and cares. She does not ignore anyone. She helps explain the course in a way for all her students to understand. She has made online learning easy for us. She is not the type to have us teach ourselves, and I really appreciate that about her. She is respectful and will tell us if we did something wrong. She tells us in advance of what will be done in the next class so we can prepare ourselves. Overall, she has been one of the best professors I’ve had here at Moraine Valley.”

When many faculty were frantically moving their classes into an online format last spring, Sweis-Dababneh was calm, as she had created her Arabic classes online in 2012. At the time, it was the only online course of its kind in the Illinois community college system. Her work on that project earned her that year’s Innovation of the Year Award.

Sweis-Dababneh follows the philosophy by educator Ignacio Estrada that, “If the students cannot learn the way we teach, then we have to teach the way they learn.” That belief led her to create fun and interactive material that embraces the use of instructional technology. Her library of content includes 10 learning modules, each consisting of objectives, homework and learning activities such as a series of videos that also are supported by written packets. She created over 300 study-sets on the Quizlet website with interactive study materials and games for each unit of the required textbooks. She uses various websites to supplement teaching online, as well as different technology tools, apps and teaching methods. Sweis-Dababneh introduces students to the class by creating tutorial videos and using a variety of free online tools and apps that allow them to do their homework and submit photos, videos, recording, conversations and blog posts.

“All students are individuals, and everyone learns in their own unique way. I use multiple methods of teaching to reach students, so no one is left behind. Central to my philosophy of teaching is the creation of a stimulating yet noncompetitive and non-intimidating environment in the classroom,” Sweis-Dababneh said.

To learn any language, students must do extra work outside the classroom hours, but motivating students to work at their own pace is a challenge, as is having native and non-native speakers in the same classroom. To help students learn the Arabic language, she made all of her class materials accessible for any device, and developed a YouTube channel with over 400 videos supported by closed captioning for all face-to-face and online classes. She developed Kahoot educational games for each unit of the textbook for each Arabic language class, and created hands-on games and activities, so students can gain interactive learning experiences.

Sweis-Dababneh also works to educate faculty and staff about the Middle Eastern culture through Learning College Day and Arab Heritage Month presentations. Her participation in multiple organizations such as the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages, American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages and Chicago Arabic Teacher Council benefits the college and her students. She also was invited by the Illinois State Board of Education to participate in a test development conference for the Illinois Licensure Testing System, and to serve on the Foreign Language: Arabic Committee and take part in two different test development activities.

“Winning the Professor of the Year Award is an honor that is not only encouraging but truly humbling. It was great to be nominated by my students during the pandemic, during the uncertainty where the screen was the only tool to connect, engage and work together. I am thankful to my students, and I am grateful and elated to be selected among amazing professors at Moraine Valley,” she said. “Receiving recognition and winning awards means I have an obligation and responsibility to continue to make a difference as the years go by. I continue to look forward to teaching and giving back to my students, department, college and community. Winning this award would not have been possible without the inspiration from my students, my colleagues, and the support throughout the years from the dean of Liberal Arts, Dr. Wally Fronczek, and the department chair, Dr. Tom Dow. I will be forever grateful for this recognition.”