110. Fostering a Growth Mindset

Some students with fixed mindsets enter our classes expecting to be unsuccessful while others believe that they have a natural talent in the discipline. In either case, these students often get discouraged when they experience challenging tasks. In this episode, Sarah Hanusch and John Myers join us to discuss how they have revised their classes and used metacognitive exercises to help students develop a growth mindset and to recognize the benefit of learning from mistakes. Sarah and John are both Assistant Professors in the Department of Mathematics at SUNY Oswego.

Show Notes

Transcript

John K.: Some students with fixed mindsets enter our classes expecting to be unsuccessful while others believe that they have a natural talent in the discipline. In either case, these students often get discouraged when they experience challenging tasks. In this episode, we examine how two faculty members have revised their classes and used metacognitive exercises to help students develop a growth mindset and to recognize the benefit of learning from mistakes.

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John K.: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John K.: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.

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Rebecca: Our guests today are Sarah Hanusch and John Myers. Sarah and John are both Assistant Professors in the Department of Mathematics at SUNY-Oswego. Welcome, John and welcome back, Sarah.

Sarah: Thank you.

John M.: Thank you.

John K.: Our teas today are?

Sarah: None today

John M.: Yeah, imaginary tea. No tea for me.

Rebecca: The imaginary tea…that’s what my daughter likes to drink. That kind.

John M.: Yeah, I’m in good company there&hellp;

Rebecca: I have English afternoon.

John K.: And I have a ginger tea.

Rebecca: We invited you here today to talk a little bit about how you’ve introduced a project on metacognition in some of your mathematics courses. Can you tell us a little bit about the project?

John M.: Sure, this began, I believe, in the spring of 2018 in a Calculus I course. And the idea was that, Calculus I is known across, basically the entire country…every school in the country…as being a very difficult course. So, you have a lot of students who are coming in, especially in the spring semester, who had bad experiences with calculus in the past. And in particular, I’ve been told by some colleagues that there’s going to be some students in there that more support than I suppose you would imagine. The situation was that on the very first day of class, I had students coming in who have had bad experiences with it in the past. And then at the same time, I have the students that are typically high performing. And they have difficult times also with perfection, you know, being obsessed with 4.0s and grades and that type of stuff. So the idea was that I wanted to simultaneously address failure with the students and perfection at the same time. And I was sort of led to think about this metacognition project, actually, funnily enough, on a flight back from San Diego. I was at what are called the joint meetings for mathematicians, and a lot of progressive newer teaching techniques are talked about at this conference. And I’m flying back from the conference on the airplane and I’m getting really introspective and I’m thinking like, I really need to do something to talk to my kids about failure and perfection. And then it occurred to me that there was this blog post that I had just read a couple weeks before by a mathematician by the name of Matt Boelkins at Grand Valley State University. And he had this idea for a metacognitive project that addressed all sorts of things like growth mindset, fixed mindset, productive failure, and all these different things. And I decided about a week before classes started that this is what I was going to do.

Rebecca: That’s when all the best ideas happen.

John M.: I know…right before class and on an airplane. I get really introspective when I’m on airplanes and staring out the window and thinking of all the big things in life and stuff.

Sarah: And essentially, John came to me and said, “I’m thinking about doing this project.” And I said “Well, that sounds cool. And let’s see if we can measure if it has any positive effect or not.” So, I sort of came in on the research side of it…of “let’s see if this is effective for changing attitudes towards mathematics.” And since then, I’ve stolen the project to use in my own classes. But, it really started as I came in sort of more on the research side of things

John M.: I think stolen might have been a strong word, but…

Sarah: I didn’t ask…I just took it. [LAUGHTER]

John K.: For the research project did you do pre- and post-tests on attitudes?

Sarah: We did a pre- and post-test, we use an assessment called MAPS which is the Mathematics Attitudes and Perceptions Survey. It’s a 31-item survey. It assesses, I think, it’s seven different dimensions. Some of them are growth mindset. Do they view mathematics as being answer focused or process focused? The categories were growth mindset, the applicability of mathematics to the real world, their confidence in mathematics, their interest in mathematics, their persistence in mathematics, their ability to make sense of mathematics, and do they view mathematics as being answer focused or process focused?

John K.: Sounds like a good instrument. Before we talk about the results, let’s talk a little bit more about how you implemented it. How was the project structured in terms of what activities did the students do during the class?

John M.: So the idea was that over the entire semester, they would have a selection of articles online to read, they would have a selection of YouTube videos to watch and it was essentially experts that are addressing these various topics. So, like for example, there is a clip by Carol Dweck, one of the originators of the theory of growth and fixed mindsets, and they were to watch these clips and read these articles across the semester. And then I think it was probably with two weeks or three weeks left in the semester, they’d have to write a reflective essay. It was an attempt to sort of shift the culture in the classroom towards viewing mistakes and failure as productive and as opportunities for learning. Because I think in wider culture, everybody believes that math is just about the right answer. And that if you can’t get the right answer, then there’s no worth in whatever effort it was that you put in to get to that point. And I wanted to provide sort of a counterpoint to that, so a counter narrative. Being honest about how many times per day mathematicians actually do fail, you know, that type of thing. So yeah, the main component was this essay that was reflecting on the stuff that they read and watched over the semester, and then there was sort of like daily conversations.

John K.: Were the conversations online or were they in class conversations?

John M.: In class…in office hours, just kind of whenever they popped up. I remember a couple conversations that happened after I gave back exams, for example, or rather right before I gave back exams. So for example, I would say, you know, I’m about to hand back exams. And I want you when you see the score, when you put the paper over and see your score, I want you to immediately think how are you going to frame this result in your mind. Are you going to look at that score and be happy with it and chalk it up to just your natural talents? Or are you going to say, “Oh, this is a result of hard work?” And then if you’re not happy with your score, are you going to put it away and never look at again, or are you going to engage with your mistakes and make them productive mistakes? It was sort of intervention through conversation that happened on an almost daily basis.

Rebecca: Did you notice a difference in the kinds of conversations you were having in class because they were doing these readings and watching these videos, maybe conversations you hadn’t experienced before in the classroom?

John M.: Yes. In particular, I had students come into office hours and they were relentless with trying to understand the material because they knew that they were going to have another shot to get it right. And I had never experienced that before. In fact, in one of my student’s essays, I had a student tell me that when she’s not done well on exams in the past, she would just take the exam and stuff it into her book bag and never look at it again. And she told me that just because of because of how I was structuring the course that she doesn’t do that anymore. She actually pulls it out and engages with the mistakes and the comments that I put on the exam and comes and talks to me about the exam and everything. So I did see a change in the students.

John K.: Was some of it based on the reflections or was it also partly based on a restructuring of a course to give students more opportunities to redo things or to try things again?

John M.: I believe the latter had something to do with it. Because the idea was that I could say these things out loud to them. But I wanted to actually build components into the course in addition to the essay that sort of reflect the themes that I’m trying to communicate to them.

John K.: Telling them that they can learn from mistakes, if you don’t give them the opportunity…

John M.: Right.

John K.: …to learn from mistakes might not be as productive. I think both components are really valuable. I just want to make sure we were clear on that, too.

John M.: I think that you risk sounding like a cliche motivational poster, if you don’t actually put some meat on the bones with it.

Rebecca: Can you talk about some ways that you actually built that into the course?

John M.: I did test corrections. I don’t remember exactly, I think it was get back half the credit they missed or something like that. So, the idea was that they had to engage with the mistakes on their exams and correct them. And it had to be perfect. So they had a week to turn in their test corrections, and then I would re-grade them. This was very time consuming, as you might imagine, but the students I believe, really responded to it. It really sort of hooked in with the theme that I was trying to send.

Sarah: And since then, we’ve both moved to more mastery based grading. John before I did, but a system where students keep trying things until they get it right. And that really helps sort of drive that “learn from your mistakes” message home.

John K.: Are you able to do some of that in an automated way? Or is this all involving more grading on your part?

Sarah: The way I’m doing it, unfortunately, it’s more grading on my part. Although I will say this semester I’m doing these mastery based quizzes, but I’m not collecting homework. So, it’s kind of a toss up in terms of how much…it isn’t really extra grading. I’m just grading more things in another category.

John M.: Right, I would not do test corrections again. Not only was it a lot of time to grade, but then I had issues with academic honesty. The mastery based thing I have found is, I believe, much more effective.

John K.: Another thing you may want to consider that we’ve talked about in a couple of past podcasts is having a two-stage exam, where in the first stage, they do it themselves. And then you have them break up into groups and do either all the questions or a subset of those as a group. So, you’ve got some peer instruction going on as well…and that way it’s done right in class and it can be done, if the exam is short enough or the class period is long enough you can do both of it. A common practice is to do two-thirds say individual and then one-third for the group activity, which has many of the same things. They don’t know what they’ve gotten wrong, but when they’re sharing with their peers, they’re talking it over and it means you only have to grade the group exams on the second stage, which makes it a whole lot easier than individual ones.

John M.: Right. Yeah, I have a friend I believe he has done that stuff like that. So yeah,

John K.: The Carl Wieman Science Education Institute, I believe, has a lot of information on that. I’ve been doing it the last couple of years, and it’s been working really well. Doug Mckee was a guest on an earlier podcast, we talked about that as well. Are there other things we want to talk about in terms of what you’ve done in the courses?

Sarah: One thing that we’ve both done since this initial project is we’ve taken some of the ideas of this project, but interspersed it more throughout the course. One thing I know at the time that John observed was that he felt like a lot of the students started the projects in the last week, right? And so what I’ve done instead of doing a big project of these topics is I’ve taken these articles and done the second week of class, you have to read one of them and respond on it. And then the fourth week, you have to do another one, and so on. So it’s a little bit of it throughout the whole course instead of all loaded at the end. I think it helps having some of those conversations with the students as well because they’re not just seeing the ideas in the conversations. They’re not just seeing the ideas in the paper. They’re kind of seeing both and it just helps intersperse it a little bit throughout the semester. I know I’ve done that a couple times now. I think you’ve done that since as well.

John M.: I did a pre-semester sort of essay and then I did a post-semester essay. But it was in response to the first time we did that, which is referred into the paper, and one of my students actually told me in their essay, he was like, ‘Hey, I wish I had this at the beginning of the semester.” So yeah, it’s definitely like a “duh” moment. Like, I probably should have done something earlier in the semester, instead of waiting all until the end. But, you learn as you do these things, so. But the essays that the students wrote… I provided them with prompts just to alleviate any sort of writer’s block that they may have. But, the students who basically ignored my prompts and told me their personal stories were the essays essentially that I still remember. I had students that were straight A students that were telling me exactly what I thought was going to happen: that they’ve been the smart person their entire life, and they kind of feel trapped by being a smart person. They don’t want to take any risks because if they risk something and fail, then that’s their identity as a smart person, right? They’re not smart anymore. I’ve had students from the other end of the grading spectrum who basically told me that the first day they walked into the class before I even said anything, they were already convinced that they were going to fail the class. I had students tell me about mental health problems. I had adult learners talking about balancing life and school issues. I mean, it’s just absolutely amazing what they told me, they opened up basically. That made a big impression on me.

John K.: Tying into an earlier podcast, Judie Littlejohn and I had introduced something really similar where we have weekly discussion forums. And I also noticed the same sort of thing, that I got to know the students much better because when they were talking about some of the barriers or the issues they face, they were sharing a lot of details about their life. And you get to know them better and they also seem to form a little bit more of a tighter classroom community because they also got to know each other a little bit more.

Rebecca: It is kind of interesting how when students are talking about their process or who they are as learners, is very different than talking about the subject matter. And it does get them to open up and may be engaged with faculty in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise.

John M.: And I have found being honest about my own failures in the past has been a catalyst for conversation, right? Because they view us as professors, they view us as the authority figures, the experts in that we never fail. And basically telling them how many times I fail on a daily basis in my own mathematical research. It goes a long way, I think… finding common ground with them. And acknowledging how difficult the subject material is. I mean, there’s a reason that calculus has a high failure rate because it’s a hard course, among other reasons. Yeah, just having the humility with the students and kind of stepping down off of the pedestal in front of them, I think that it helps.

Rebecca: So do you want to share some of the results that you got from your study?

Sarah: We saw some very significant quantitative results. I mentioned the MAPS instrument is what we use. It’s a 31-point scale. Its reliability and validity has been established pretty well, especially in calculus classes. One of the things that they did was they looked to see if the items were consistent with expert consensus…. So, with how mathematicians view it and all of the items were valid with the attitudes of mathematicians except some of the growth mindset scales. Research says that that’s an important scale as well. And on this 31-point scale, we saw an almost 4-point improvement from pre-test to post-test…of the students becoming more aligned with the expert opinions, which is a really significant amount…I mean, almost 10% improvement, which is even more remarkable, because when this assessment was first validated, they found that there was usually a negative result from taking a Calculus I class. So, the attitudes get worse pre-post in a calculus class and ours had statistically significant improvement. In addition, we saw statistically significant improvement among all of the sub scales. Now some of them were better than others. Some were just barely below .05 in terms of significance and others were much more significant. I mean, we really saw that over the course of this semester, they really did change their attitudes. We also had some evidence, as John’s already talked about, from their essays…where they said how they started to view mistakes as productive, and they started to feel like there was value in making mistakes and learning from them.

John K.: You mentioned alignment with an expert scale, can you explain that for our listeners?

Sarah: Essentially, what the original authors and it was Code et. al. that did this paper and develop this instrument. They gave this survey to students and they gave it to mathematicians and looked for alignment. Particularly they were looking for whether or not the mathematicians agreed on the items. And the idea was our goal is to get math students to have attitudes more like mathematicians, because that’s our goal, right? …is to develop future mathematicians. And so we would like those attitudes to get closer to how mathematicians view mathematics. They had high agreement among the mathematicians on every item, like I said, except one or two of the growth mindset questions. So, in other words, this survey reflects how mathematicians view mathematics. And that was how they determined the right answers on the survey, whether a particular item is something you should agree with or something you should disagree with. They went with the expert consensus.

John K.: So now, I may be misconstruing this, but are you suggesting that perhaps a lot of mathematicians had adopted a fixed mindset? So, there was a bit more variance there on that?

Sarah: I will say that was what the results of their validation showed.

John K.: Okay.

Sarah: And leave it at that. [LAUGHTER]

John K.: It does remind me of that study a few months ago, that found that when instructors had a growth mindset, the achievement gap narrowed and the drop-fail-withdrawal rate was much lower in courses, then for those instructors who had a fixed mindset. I think that maybe even more of an issue in the STEM fields than it is in humanities and social sciences, but I think it’s not uncommon everywhere.

Rebecca: I say it’s a common problem everywhere.

John M.: I’ll say it…mathematicians suffer from fixed mindsets. I’ll just say it, right? [LAUGHTER]

John K.: Many academics do.

Sarah: Yeah.

John M.: Yes, of course.

Sarah: I mean, the people who choose to become academics are often the people that were successful in school and they decide to continue with it. I mean, it is less likely that people who felt unsuccessful decide to keep going and to go into academia.

John K.: Selectivity bias there and that reinforces a belief in a fixed mindset, perhaps.

Sarah: Precisely.

Rebecca: What kind of response have you seen from students from…I mean, it sounds to me like this one study lead to good results, and then that changed many classes in that you’ve taught or the way that you’re teaching, how have students responded?

Sarah: Generally positively. I think doing the projects at the end of the semester wasn’t the best idea because they just feel so overwhelmed at the end of the semester with exams and projects and everything coming due. So, I did get some responses of “W hy do I have to do this now.” But generally, I think they appreciated learning about learning.

John M.: I think that given the opportunity to talk about their past experiences, I think they appreciated that. For the most part, I’ll agree with Sarah. I think that the message landed with an awful lot of students like I wanted it to. Some of my favorite essays were students who told me that they thought I was crazy on the first day. I mean, you go into a math class to learn math, you don’t go into a math class to study metacognition, or whatever it may be. I had one student the first time around, who basically told me it was all a load of crap, like why this is not working at all. And I had a student the last time that I did this, she was very skeptical towards the end even. Basically, aliken it to just some cheesy self-help stuff. I think that most students responded positively.

Rebecca: Have you seen the response impact other faculty in your area? For example, if they really liked having those techniques and things introduced in your class, have they asked other math faculty to do that in future classes or are you finding that its not many math students who were actually in that particular class?

Sarah: We haven’t done any tracking, so I don’t know where his students have gone. I mean, I’m sure some of them went on to Calc II…I’m sure some of them did not. Right. I mean, I guess most of them would have had Jess the following semester, right? Did she say anything?

John M.: No, she didn’t say anything. I’m teaching Calc III right now, and I have some of my former calculus students that were in this and they’re doing well.[LAUGHTER] Small sample size, but yeah, they’re doing well.

John K.: That could be an interesting follow up though to see how successful they were in the subsequent classes.

Sarah: Yeah.

Rebecca: Sometimes we’ve heard anecdotes, of departments and things when there’s been change that if students really respond well to whatever the techniques are, that they will demand it of other faculty members, and John’s talked about this before in economics.

John K.: Yeah, when you can show results…

Rebecca: Yeah.

John K.: …that there’s been some gain, and especially if it comes from students at the same time, it often puts pressure on other people in the department because if you’re able to show people that your technique has been successful and students are coming in and saying, “G ee, I wish you would consider doing this. I did this in my intro classes, and it was really helpful.” That sometimes helps make change much easier.

Sarah: Yeah, so one of the things that we did look at was we compared the final exam scores of John’s sections to the other sections of calculus that semester. Now, there was some other issues that clouded that data a little bit. His scores were a little bit lower than the other instructors. But what was really surprising, essentially, if you look at, I don’t remember if it were just the final exams or the semester grades. The DF rates were the same among the sections, but the withdrawal rates were significantly different. And that almost no one withdrew from John’s sections. I think there were two if I remember the data correctly, whereas there was like five or six on average from the other sections. And so the DFW rates were different, but the DF rates weren’t. So I just thought that was an unusual circumstance. So, it seems like the students were sticking with his class… and pushing through.

John K.: And if there is a larger portion of students staying with the class, then perhaps a slightly lower average grade is not necessarily a bad sign…

Sarah: Exactly.

John K.: …because student success is partly measured for persistence to completing the course.

Sarah: Exactly. I think because there were more students who stuck it through to the final exam, then his final exam scores ended up being a little bit lower. But again, if you looked at like overall course grades, they ended up being pretty consistent, other than the W rates. I wanted to make sure that there weren’t significant differences in the rates and I think it was just shy of being statistically significant. Like, if you had one more student that would’ve been significant. But just to make sure that, especially like adding the test corrections in wasn’t substantially making the class too easy, right? Because that’s often a critique that, you know, “Well you make these changes, but is that just making the class too easy and people who aren’t really prepared, are they passing?” And so I just did this analysis of the, like I said, it was really just a t-test analysis, but just to see whether or not it was significantly lower and it wasn’t significant. It was lower, right, just not significantly. And then like I said, I looked at retention rates just more as an explanation for why the average was lower.

John K.: In a lot of studies of interventions, the dependent variable is the drop-fail-withdrawal rates, because that’s a measure of success in completing the course. That by itself could be an interesting focus of a study. I’ve been running this metacognitive cafe in my online classes for a while and I did have a student in the class who wrote a few times about the metacognitive development that was introduced in one of your classes. They didn’t specify who but they said, we’re also doing some work on metacognition in the math class, and they said it was really useful and it was nice to see it in two classes.

Sarah: Yay!!

John M.: Good.

John K.: So there’s at least one positive data point there or one additional data point there. So are you going to continue this in the future? And if so, what might you do differently?

Sarah: Well, I think we’ve mentioned already that we’ve worked on including some of the ideas at the beginning of the semester and throughout the semester, rather than one project at the end. For the reason that it really benefits them most at the beginning of the semester when things are getting started. I think we’ve also both changed different things about our grading systems to incorporate more opportunities for growth.

John M.: The last time I did this, I introduced some articles that were a little bit more rigorous with the data and the science, because I sort of wanted to counter that kind of criticism that all this “Oh this is just a bunch of TED Talks…” that kind of thing. So, I really wanted the students to see some of the science behind it, the science of learning, because I really wanted to send that message that “No, this is not me just standing up here saying, ‘Oh, this is going to help you or anything, right?’ This is actually stuff that researchers have thought about before.”

John K.: I had a very similar response the first time I did this. I had a video I posted which was a TED talk by a cognitive scientist who talked about research that showed that learning styles were a myth. And some students had come to believe in the existence of learning styles because they’ve heard of them and often been tested, multiple times in multiple years, on their learning styles. Sometimes even through college and that’s rather troubling. The students said, “Well, this is just one researcher, I’m sure there’s lots of other studies. I don’t believe it because it’s not consistent with what I’ve always been told or what I’ve heard.” So I decided to modify it then and I added to that discussion, five or six research studies. In case you don’t believe this TED talk by someone who’s done a lot of research on this, here’s a number of studies, including some meta analyses of several hundred studies of this issue, and that has cut much of that discussion. They’re less likely to argue against it when it’s not just a talking head or not just a video when they can actually see a study even if they don’t understand all the aspects of it.

Sarah: Yeah. So I think that’s one thing we’ve tweaked what articles and what videos are we showing. I know the semester I gave my students a article that had just come out this September, that students perceive active learning as being less efficient, even when they’re learning more. In some physics classes at Harvard, they gave two weeks at each thing… two weeks of active and two weeks of lecture, and then they had them switch. And the students learned more with the active learning, but felt they learned less. And my students have been feeling frustrated because they feel like they’re not learning enough and that I’m not telling them what to do.

Rebecca: You’re not “teaching” them.

Sarah: I’m not teaching them. And we spend the class period, letting them vent. So all their feelings were out in the open. But, then I sort of countered with this article saying, “Look, I promise you really are learning things. You just don’t feel like you are. But you really, really are. And you’re actually learning it better than if I were using a different style.” So, that’s one way that we’re tweaking the articles because sometimes the research comes out that’s pertinent.

John K.: We refer to that Harvard study in a few past podcasts. We touched on it in a podcast that will release on October 9th. I haven’t shared it with my class yet, but I’ve been tempted to.

Rebecca: What was the discussion like talking about that particular article? Given that they were frustrated?

Sarah: I mostly was just trying to acknowledge that I understand their frustrations…and that, yes, the way I’m teaching this class can be frustrating. I agree. Sometimes I get frustrated about it. But I know that ultimately, they are learning things and that they are going to be stronger writers and stronger students of mathematics by using this structure. And so I kind of use it as evidence of I’m not changing.

Rebecca: So I hear you…

Sarah: Yeah.

Rebecca: …nut…

Sarah: I hear you, but…

John K.: I had this very conversation with my class today. They’re coming up for an exam very shortly. And I asked them, how did they review before an exam and the most common answer was they like to reread the material over and over again. And I mentioned some of the research on that. And I said, the best way to review is to work on problems with this. And I gave them several ways in which they could do that, that are built into the course structure. And I said, “But that doesn’t feel as effective. Why?” And one of the students said, “Well, I get things wrong.” And I said, “And when would you rather get things wrong, when you’re reviewing for an exam, or when you’re taking exams?” And I think some of them got that message. So I’m hoping we’ll see when they take the test next week.

John M.: Right? It seems like anytime you do anything that’s just not a standard straight lecture, there’s a certain amount of buy in that you need to get from the students. And sometimes that can be very difficult. There’s almost a salesmanship that you have to do throughout the semester to make sure that everybody’s on the same page and to kind of fight those feelings where the students give you a lot of pushback. Yeah, that’s the great fear is that when you innovate or you experiment that’s going to go horribly wrong. And sometimes it does, but, you know, we still keep going.

John K.: Because students are creatures of habit. They’ve learned certain things and they want to keep doing things the same way. And anything new can seem troubling, especially if they’re getting feedback along the way that says they need to work more on things…that’s not as pleasant as rereading things and having everything look familiar.

John M.: Right

Rebecca: Passively sitting in a lecture when things all seem like it makes perfect sense to you, because an expert is describing it who knows what they’re talking about, right? Always feels easier than trying to apply it yourself. And I think that students, even though the lecture might feel better, and learning is hard…over time…at the end, when they’ve seen how much they’ve accomplished, and you do have them reflect…many of them appreciate or come around. Sometimes, it’s not in that same semester, sometimes it’s emails, months or years later.

John K.: Yes.

John M.: Right. Right, right.

Sarah: If only if we could do course evals, you know, a whole year later,

John K.: Or five years later. That may not work too well in my tenure process, though.

Rebecca: We always wrap up asking what’s next?

Sarah: Well, the first thing is we’re hoping our article gets published. It’s been submitted. We’re waiting for reviewers. I’m going on maternity leave next semester…that’s really what’s next.

Rebecca: Sounds like a new adventure.

Sarah: It is a brand new adventure.

John M.: Wow, I don’t think that far ahead, I guess. Yeah, I guess I’m that unoriginal, huh. But, yeah, no I’m just trying to…

Sarah: We’re moving to a new building.

John M.: Yeah, moving to a new building, and getting a new department chair. Yeah, that’s right.

John K.: A new desk to go with the chair?

John M.: No. Ah… Yeah, funny, funny, funny.

Sarah: if only…

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us, this has been really interesting.

[MUSIC]

John K.: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

John K.: Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Kiara Montero.

109. Active Learning

Moving from a familiar instructional format such as lectures to a more active learning environment can be daunting. In this episode, Dr. Patricia Gregg joins us to discuss how she flipped her classes and embraced active learning. Trish is an Assistant Professor of Geophysics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Moving from a familiar instructional format such as lectures to a more active learning environment can be daunting. In this episode, we share the story of one faculty member who fully flipped her classes and embraced active learning.

[MUSIC]

John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.

[MUSIC]

John: Today our guest is Dr. Patricia Gregg. Trish is an Assistant Professor of Geophysics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Welcome.

Trish: Thanks for having me.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Trish: I am drinking a peppermint decaf tea.

Rebecca: …in what looks like a very nice handmade mug.

Trish: Yes! This was made last summer at the YMCA of the Rocky Camp in Colorado.

John: My tea today is a Harney and Sons chocolate mint.

Trish: Mhmm.

Rebecca: And I have a Prince of Wales tea today.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about some of the active learning techniques that you’ve used in your class and also a little bit about how you use a flipped classroom approach. But, before that, could we talk a little bit about your own experience in science classes, and whether active learning was common while you were a student?

Trish: I was thinking about this and it’s interesting because it’s sort of a yes or no type of situation. Geosciences in general is the fun major in that we pull together a lot of different disciplines. So, you have chemistry and physics and math and computer science and you’re using those all in applied ways to understand the structure and evolution of the earth. And so our classes typically have a lecture-based meeting time and then a laboratory that’s associated with it. So, when I was matriculating, most of my classes, there would be three one-hour meetings throughout the week where we’d be lectured at, and then we’d have a three-hour laboratory class at some point during the week or a field experience that would help to apply some of the knowledge that we gained in the passive-learning setting. But, then as you get at higher levels, and things become more theoretical, it really did switch to more of this passive-learning mode. And I don’t want to age myself, but I matriculated a while ago, so I didn’t ever really experience these new active-learning techniques that have become so much more widely adopted nowadays. So, even through graduate school, most of the classes were me sitting passively scribbling furiously to try to take notes as quickly as I could, while a professor lectured and basically tried to stuff as much knowledge into my brain as possible. So, I didn’t really know a lot about the types of things that you can do to engage learners until after I was out of that student mode. But, yeah, geology is cool, though, because you still do have active portions where you get to go on field trips with your professors, and they show you things in the field and you apply that knowledge directly. But, in the classroom, it really was sort of divided, like, “This is your passive lecture that you’re going to sit and listen to, and you may never get called on through the entire semester.” And then “Here’s your lab where you will look at a microscope and look at hand samples or do other types of things that are a little more active.”

Rebecca: What motivated you to do something different in your own classroom?

Trish: As a graduate student, I really didn’t have a chance to do a teaching assistantship. I was on fellowships through most of my PhD time. So, I knew that I was woefully underprepared for entering academia and teaching my own classes. So, as a postdoc, I applied to this call that I saw out by the Center for Astronomy Education. And it was in 2011, they had this course called Improving College General Education and Earth Astronomy and Space Science through Active Engagement. And I saw the ad for this course and I thought, “Oh, this sounds great.” And then I saw that it was three days in Hawaii, and I said, “Oh, man, I must apply to this.”[LAUGHTER] And so I applied and it was mostly astronomy graduate students and postdocs, and the workshop was run by Ed Prather and Gina Brissenden out of the University of Arizona through the Center for Astronomy Education. And they had been doing all this amazing research about how to engage students in 100-level classes, mainly for the idea that they would sort of entrain new majors and new science students. But, it was just a mind blowing experience. I for the first time learned what think-pair-share was, I’d never heard of that before. We did lecture tutorials, I didn’t even know that was a thing. They did all of these, like voting and role playing and these different pedagogical things that I didn’t even know it existed. And they use them on us throughout the workshop. So, we were learning about these techniques through them actively using us as guinea pigs. And then we each had the opportunity to sort of develop a little module. They gave us specific astronomy, like 101-type things, that we would be teaching and we got to teach the other workshop participants and get feedback immediately on things that we didn’t do so well and things that we could improve on. But, it really just blew my mind. I think that was one of the most transformative experiences for me because, up to that point, all the experiences that I had, had been very research focused and how to improve as a scientist and how to improve my research approach, but I’d never had an opportunity to actually learn how to teach and how to teach effectively. So, yeah, I credit that three-day workshop in Hawaii, which was awesome… to be in Hawaii. It’s just sort of changing my entire worldview on how education can be and how I could be a better educator. Had it not been for the Center for Astronomy Education, I don’t know what I would be doing now. So, I think what I took away from it more than anything is that not every student is going to learn simply through lecture… passive engagement… type of situation. And I was fortunate that I seemed to do well in that mode, but it was amazing. I loved that workshop……. It was great.

Rebecca: It sounds really transformative. But, the one takeaway that I hear is next time we want a faculty member to change what they’re doing, we just need to woo them to Hawaii. [LAUGHTER]

Trish: Well, I have to admit that being a postdoc gave me some flexibility in that regard. So, yeah, when I saw that call, I was like, “Oh, I want to do that… three days in Hawaii.” I took my mom with me and she hung out and snorkeled during the day while I was in workshops. It was wonderful.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about some of the techniques that you’ve used in your classes?

Trish: The first semester that I taught, I was given a class that had already been developed and it was sort of easing me into that mode of becoming the head lecturer of a course. So, I didn’t really have a lot of wiggle room to change the curriculum yet, because I was still sort of learning how one gets in front of a class and does things. And so in that first term, I started to use some of the approaches that I had experienced through the Center for Astronomy Education, and sort of trickled them into my class. I use lecture tutorials and think-pair-share a lot during that term. And then I even used some small group activities and jigsawing to try to figure out ways that I could engage the students. And it was sort of a perfect situation to get my feet wet because I had the scaffolding of a well- developed course where I could put in some of my own ideas and try them out and if things weren’t working, I could get immediate feedback from the students and change my trajectory. I was also really fortunate that the students were super kind to me, it was my very first time teaching, I told them straight out. I was very communicative throughout the course. Every time I tried something new, I’d say, “okay, we’re going to try this. I don’t know if it will work, but this is why I’m doing it.” And the students were sort of brought in as collaborators in that process, so they didn’t see me as sort of this professor that was telling them “Oh, you’re going to do this, this and this and just follow along and trust me blindly.” They realized that I was trying to learn how best to teach them and so they were very helpful and when things didn’t work, they’re like, “Yeah that didn’t work.” And then when things went well, they say, “Oh, I really liked that.” And even after that semester, I’d get emails from students. They do a lot of journal reading and science reviews. And one of the students had emailed me over the summer and said “Oh, that really helped. At my first job they asked me to review some literature and I was able to use the template that you provided in class and what we did as groups to do that for my job.” So, I gained a lot of confidence through that process. And then after that first term, I started looking around campus to see if there were faculty development potential to help me to do a better job of developing my next courses. Because while that one had already been developed, I was then sort of slated to develop three new courses, which would be mine and I’d have to start from scratch and really think about how I wanted to develop my teaching as a portfolio. So, one of the things that I really wanted to try was this idea of flipping and mainly it came from a place that I didn’t enjoy lecturing. I would get bored hearing myself talk… like there would be times where I’m up there at the dry erase board writing out things and then suddenly I forget what I was saying, because mentally I’d fallen asleep at that point… like, alright, I’ve been talking so long, I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. And I enjoyed the parts where we were actively learning as a group so much more. That was so exciting to me, where the students were doing things hands on, and I could walk around and help them to gain more insight on what they’re working on. So, I contacted the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning on campus and looked at the different things that they had available. And one of the facilities that they had advertised on their page was the Illinois iFLEX classroom. So, this is the Illinois flexible learning experience classroom. And I was able to get some training on how to use IFLEX classrooms from Dr. Eva Wolf here on campus. And that also then immediately changed my perspective of how teaching could be because these were classrooms where all of the tables were on wheels. So, you could move them around. They had monitors that students could plug in their computers or laptops, iPads or whatever too so that they could do collaborative learning. And she showed me some of the things that other faculty members were doing in these flexible spaces and it helped me to be inspired to think about what sorts of things I could do. So, as I started to develop my next class, I was like “Alright, I want to be able to use the computing facilities, I want to be able to use these flexible classroom configurations and I really want it to be flipped.” So, the first time I taught a flipped class, I recorded lectures and put them online and naively thought my students are going to watch them and they’re going to do the readings and they’re going to come to class prepared, and I did not have the assessment structured as such that the students had points awarded for doing those things. And boy did I learn quickly that students are not going to be these wonderfully motivated pupils that do all of the things on the list ahead of coming to class. So, I quickly spoke to colleagues around the department and found out about this edtech tool called PlayPosit. I don’t know have you guys had an experience with PlayPosit?

Rebecca: No.

John: That one I haven’t heard of.

Trish: So, PlayPosit is an edtech tool that you can integrate with a learning management system. We use Moodle on our campus. And you take your video lectures, and it embeds questions and prompts within your video lecture. So, students can’t fast forward and they don’t know when these questions are going to pop up. But, it’s a way to assess how they’re doing with the video… with the lecture as they’re watching it. So, sometimes I’ll use multiple-choice questions. In the upper-level classes I mostly use essay questions because I really want them to delve into the topic a little bit more. I also sprinkle in questions from the readings that they’re supposed to do because it’s another way to assess that they’re actually looking at the text or reading the papers that I’ve suggested. And then at the end, it’s great because you can put in some questions about what concepts did you not understand? What do you want to learn more about? Are there sticking points that are kind of confusing you? And this fed directly into learning about the just-in-time teaching method. So, I could have these PlayPosits that the students had to watch before class and I set them for midnight the day before. And I could come in the morning before class, assess how they did on the lecture and immediately I have a lot of information going into the classroom that day for where they’re stuck and I could modify my approach to the learning goals for that day based on how they did on their PlayPosit. And that just changed everything. That made it so much better, and I think from the students perspective, they felt more accountable because there were points that were associated to watching these lectures. And then I would come into class and the first thing I would do is sort of go through the questions and the things that they missed and talk to them about it. And it gave this really nice back and forth. And it sort of broke the ice a bit, because there’s always that little awkward start when you get into classroom, or at least there is for me, and this was an easy way for, say, “Okay, so on the lecture that you guys completed for yesterday, here are some topics that you didn’t really understand. So, let’s go through them together and maybe we can make sure that everyone’s on the same page.” And that sort of changed the game for me for the flipped classroom model.

John: Going back to the PlayPosit, you can also do the same thing with Camtasia and upload the videos as a SCORM package into Blackboard, Canvas, or other things as well.

Trish: Oh, I have to check that out.

John: Once the students arrived in class, you mentioned that you used a just-in-time teaching approach. How did you structure the class? What would your class generally consist of during the class time?

Trish: I originally taught on Monday, Wednesday, Friday for 50 minutes and realized that that was not a long enough time period for us to do what we wanted to do. So, I switched to a Tuesday-Thursday class so I could have a full hour and 20 minutes with my students twice a week. So, typically when students come to class, we have this sort of icebreaker where we go through the lecture material. And sometimes that might take 10 or 15 minutes if there’s a concept that the students really need to get for us to do our activity for the day. And then we usually go straight into a prompt for what the activity is going to be. So, for example, one of the classes that I teach… my favorite classes… junior-level class in volcanology… so, it’s just called volcanoes. And it’s a sneaky class because it’s actually a geophysics class. It’s very math and physics heavy, but I don’t tell the students that when they come, and they do not have an upper-level math requirement to take the course. And this was sort of my sneaky way to entrain students that might not realize that they can absolutely do this. So, I get a lot of diversity in that class: we’ll have communications majors, advertising, education majors, as well as the geology majors. The first time I taught the class, of the 20 students in the class only 4 were geology majors and the other 16 were just spread from throughout the campus. So, it was a really cool opportunity to empower students that “Wes, you can use math and physics and it’s not that intimidating”. So, we go straight into these activities and every exercise is quantitative. They get real geophysical data from deforming volcanoes and active volcanoes around the world, and they analyze it. And there’s a large social sciences component because I want them to think about the societal impacts of those volcanoes and potentials for eruption and how it might impact the communities that are around the volcanoes. And then also that communication thruway of how as we as scientists communicate hazards to local populations. So, they have a lot of different levels of work that they’re doing. Almost every class period is done in a jigsaw manner, where they’re broken into small groups and each small group is going to be working on some component that at the end of the class we’re going to come together and discuss. I typically start the prep of the activity, for example, “Okay, today we’re going to be looking at this type of volcano.” And maybe it’s a stratovolcano. And we’re going to look at Mount St. Helens in the US, we’re going to look at Mount Fuji in Japan, we’re going to look at Ruapehu in New Zealand. But, each group will have a different volcano. And they’re going to look at data directly from that volcano and the surrounding areas and do a small activity that helps them to understand that data set, the type of physical processing, and then at the end of class, each of the groups will come back together and present what they found to the group and then there’s some larger full-classroom group discussion questions that will go over as a class. So, it’s usually the activity I hope will take about 45 minutes, but it really depends. I try to keep them short in my mind, but then oftentimes they go a little bit long if the students get really excited about it. One of the things I think is really good about the flipped class is that I’m able to do so much more than I was able to do in sort of a classical passive learning model. And with that came a lot of grading. And so the first term I did flipped classes, I had not learned about light grading, and was buried in the amount of feedback I was trying to provide to students. So, if we had PlayPosits a couple times a week, we had these activities twice a week, they had additional outside of class things, they had midterms… so, it was unreal, the amount of grading. So, I was very fortunate to find out about light grading, and how to maybe back up the amount of feedback and time I’m spending on student papers and that really helped a lot. So, I think that one of the things that has to be said in conjunction with this particular model is: you need to do some sort of light grading, because there’s no way to stay on top of everything without losing sleep. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how you adjusted your grading in specific ways?

Trish: Originally, when I did the PlayPosits, again, there are a lot of essay questions. So, I would take a lot of time to really think through the answers to the essay questions and making sure that I’d have a rubric for what I wanted, what points I wanted them to hit on each of these essay questions, and I was very detailed about when they miss things and providing feedback. And so as I shifted into a light grading model, I would do that for the first couple of weeks. And then from then on out, it would just be a quick glance, like, did they hit this? And I wouldn’t spend as much time with the subtleties of “Yes, they wrote out a great answer, and they hit all these points.” And then for just the in-class exercises, the thing I started doing too was originally I had each student turn in their own exercise, even in the groups because I wanted to see their individual contribution. But, I recognize that there was enough individual assessment through the playp osits, and through their midterms, that having that additional individual assessment through the group activity really wasn’t necessary. And it wasn’t really contributing to their success in the class. By having individual assessment on the group assignments, it wasn’t helping students who were falling behind do better. And so after that point, I started allowing the groups to just do their presentations as a Google slideshow, and then I would have their Google slideshow. So, basically, in the jigsaw puzzle, they go into their group, they work on this presentation and when we come back together, each group shows a Google slide or Google doc of what they’ve been working on, and they present it to the entire class. At that point, I just say that’s good enough and I don’t require that each student then hands in the answers to the discussion questions in their own words. So, little things like that made it a lot more tangible for me. Whereas before when I was having each student providing responses for the discussion questions, and then on top of that having the discussion in the class, it was just too much. [LAUGHTER] But, I admit that it came from a perspective that I was concerned that some students would not fully contribute to the group activity, and I wanted to try to hold people accountable, but it really was a little bit too much micromanaging. And I think that the groups ended up holding each other accountable in their own ways without needing me to sit and say, “Okay, everyone needs to answer this question.” The other thing I really like about the small groups is that I’ve noticed that it brings out a lot of discussion from students that otherwise do not participate in the larger group discussions. And one of my favorite things in those small group activities is going around the room… and I typically spend a couple minutes with each group, and I just sort of keep roving around the classroom and it helps me to get to know individual students a lot better. And it also gives them so much more confidence to talk to me. And I feel like it’s made me more approachable as an instructor because they’ve had these smaller group interactions with me where I’ve sat at their table and said, “Oh, that’s a great idea…” or “Oh, have you thought about this” and those just little micro interactions really build up and it creates a student population where they feel more comfortable in the class. And then by the end of the term, I feel like, as a class, it’s much more energetic and engaged. And even in those larger groups discussion, some of the quieter students that you would never have heard from previously are starting to speak out and oftentimes with the encouragement of their group members. That’s another thing I really like about the small group setup.

John: Could you give us some feel for the size of your classes? How large are they typically?

Trish: My typical class size is 20. I usually keep the classes up to 40 students because that’s what the flexible classroom configurations will hold. One of the interesting things about the flipped class is that the first day of class, I do tell the students, these are my expectations. This is a flipped class you’ve signed up for and we go through what that model looks like and I always have students drop after that first day. That’s kind of fascinating for me, maybe it would be nice to follow up and find out…. Did you drop because of the model that was being used in the classroom? Or did you drop because of a schedule conflict? Or were there other things going on? But, I typically end up with 20 students that end up through the entire term. I teach mostly upper-level junior-, senior-level courses. So, I’ve not had the opportunity to try these techniques in the large introductory level classes.

John: I think most of them should scale pretty nicely, except for the grading aspect of it.

Trish: Yeah, I think that were to be done in an introductory class, you probably would want to have some TAs involved as well, just to help. I recognize that other instructors do these amazing small group activities in these large format lecture classes. But, I think having the logistical setup so that you can walk around and interact with groups, maybe not every group every time, but enough so that you can hit most of the groups once in a while, would be imperative because I really think that the students greatly benefit from that almost one-on-one interactivity with the professor.

John: I teach a class typically between three and 420 students in the fall, and I do wander around and I’ve found something similar. I don’t get to sit with each group. But, the students that I do interact with become dramatically more likely to stop by and ask questions, or if they see me in the hallway, to come up and just say hello. So, those individual interactions can make a big difference in practice.

Rebecca: I think it’s just a far more efficient way to give feedback as well. You can disrupt misconceptions and reframe things for small groups. And then if you stop by a couple of groups and hear the same kinds of misconceptions, you can address those more holistically to the whole group. I found that works really well for me, too.

Trish: Yeah, absolutely. And I always get tickled when I see that. I mean, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. But, when there are lots of groups that have the same misconception, because it means that there’s something that… or a piece of information that I have not given the students or something that’s missing in how we’ve set up the activity. And that’s always kind of nice to see and it helps me to redevelop how I’m going to teach it the next time. So, I really do like that. Because otherwise, if I were just lecturing, I would never realize that there was this piece of information that nobody got until the exam comes back and at that point it’s sometimes too late.

John: That’s one of the advantages of a just-in-time teaching approach. It allows you to focus your class time on the things that students are struggling with, and to skip over the things that they already understand. So, it lets you use your class time much more efficiently.

Rebecca: At the end of one of those class periods or even during that class period, I jot down what those things are, so that if it’s a while between each semester when you teach it again you don’t forget what those are because sometimes you can lose track. So, coming up with a system to routinely to check in on those things can be really helpful.

Trish: Yeah, a journaling effort or something. Yeah.

John: And I saw you also do something called Trashcano?

Trish: [LAUGHTER] Yes, Trashcano, Trashcano is an activity that we do late in the term once the weather gets nice. In the class we talked about different styles of eruptions. And one of the styles that we get to later in the class is explosive eruptions andTrashcano is a demonstration that was developed by my colleagues at Colgate: Karen Harpp, Danny Geist, and Alison Koleszar. And they basically developed this experiment where you take a trash can and you fill it up about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way filled with water. And if you submerge a two-liter bottle with liquid nitrogen in it, that bottle represents a pressurized magma chamber and it ends up rupturing because liquid nitrogen is boiling at ambient temperature. And so the two-liter bottle ruptures in that water and creates a column that sprays into the air. So, for this activity, the students do some calculations of plume heights so they can use their iPhones to measure the angle of the trajectory of the water and they can say, “Okay, the plume went this high” and they can do some back calculations to discuss what sort of pressurization caused that amount of uplift to the water. And then we also put styrofoam balls of different sizes and shapes into the trash can. And they can make isopach maps… basically how we actually map explosive eruptions where we take the different grain sizes, and we create a map of how far the different grain sizes spread from the center of the eruption. It’s a fun day outside. This past year, we did it in the rain, which was rather interesting to see how rainfall dampens the amount of distance the styrofoam can spread. I’m not sure that we’d want to do that in the rain again, but it was an interesting experiment. Yeah, we do a lot of little things like that so that the students can take their concepts, the actual equations that we’re working on in class and apply them in a tactile, physical way.

Rebecca: Trish, do you use consistent teams throughout the semester or do you rotate how your groups are formed?

Trish: I’ve done it a couple different ways. I’ve now had the opportunity to teach my flipped classes two to three times each at this point. And some terms I do let them switch around and some terms I keep it consistent. And I’ve found that overall, it works a little better when they’re consistent teams the whole way. I feel like the students build a lot of teamwork and camaraderie with their groups. But, I don’t know… I try to take it by a term-by-term basis because I have had situations where the students are eager to switch around and meet other members of the classroom. We do this a little bit with our jigsaw discussions. So, for example, we do a role playing exercise where each group is a volcano monitoring agency. So, in your monitoring agency, you have a volcanologist, you have a seismologist, you have a geodesist you have a communication specialist, but then all the communication specialists from each group will have to get together and work as a team for one of the activities and all the geodesists will have to get together and work as a team for the activities and then bring them back to their initial group. So, they do get some chances to interact with one another through these, I don’t know, is it a jigsaw puzzle within a jigsaw puzzle? [LAUGHTER] I’m not sure how you describe it, but they do get these opportunities to move around to other groups. But, that’s something that I still am thinking a lot about. I think you had a guest on recently. Dakin Burdick. In his he talked about how sometimes he likes to let the students all which groups all the time because then they get to know everybody in the class, and then sometimes it keeps them all together. It seems like a lot of people do different things with this. I don’t have a great method yet. But, I do tend to go on a sort of term-by-term basis and get a feel for the culture of the class and how people are melding. I do find sometimes when you do the consistent groups, it can happen that the group tends to congeal really well. And then it lifts up all of the students in the group. And so people attend class more regularly, and they’re much more engaged. But, I have seen it happen where groups have sort of fallen apart because one or two members just aren’t attending regularly, and they’re really not committed or engaged. And that becomes difficult. And then you really kind of need to reshuffle a little bit.

John: We talked about that in episode in early October with Kristin Croyle when she was talking about team-based learning where there are persistent teams. And one of the things she suggested is it’s really important to form teams that are constructed to be balanced so that you don’t run into that. But, there are some advantages of having persistent teams. But, if it’s a persistent, dysfunctional team with people missing, then that could be problematic. I think a lot depends on the nature of the activities. If you’re going to have persistent activities like in team-based learning, having well defined teams may be useful, but for other types of activities that vary class to class it may not matter as much.

Rebecca: Yeah, I think there are certainly advantages to both. I’ve had experiences where we’re doing long-term projects. So, doing some preliminary shorter activities with those groups that they’re going to have for their long-term projects can be really helpful. And getting those teams gelled before it really matters. And I’ve also had experience doing persistent teams when I’ve gamified a classroom. And that actually works really well in getting people to hold each other accountable and be competitive. So, I’ve had really good luck when I’ve done that as well. You’ve also received a lot of grants for your research.

Trish: Yeah, I’m in a fortunate position that my primary position is research. So, I don’t actually teach that much. I only teach two classes a year. So, I do try to find ways to integrate all of the exciting research that my group is doing into what we do in the classroom setting, but not just my classes, the other classes in the department too. We teach a 100-level course in oceanography and a lot of my research centers around seagoing expeditions and collecting geophysical data at sea to understand submarine volcanoes. So, we try to bring that experience back into the classroom for our introductory level students. Especially in a landlocked state of Illinois, many of our students have never seen the ocean. They’ve never been to the beach, and they don’t really have a concept for why would scientists be at sea collecting data? And what are scientists doing in our marine setting? So, bringing that into our introductory classes, I think, is really critical. So, the big push there was… I was chief scientist of an expedition we’ve just wrapped up. We had two seagoing missions to the eastern Pacific, it was called the Oasis expedition. And we’re investigating a line of seamounts on the sea floor. So, these are volcanoes that have been active over the past million years, and we were using this submarine to collect data, to collect rock samples from the sea floor, and it started because I have a young daughter and I was going to be gone for about 45 days, and I wanted her to feel connected to me while I was away. We don’t really have great internet at sea, as you can imagine. So, it’s hard to continue to feel connected with loved ones at home. So, I decided with the help of my husband, to create a YouTube channel that would chronicle our life at sea and link back to my daughter’s classroom and some local schools that they could watch what scientists are doing. And then we also ended up using those videos in the introductory courses on campus at a higher level so that students could see a sort of a hands on of what we do when we’re at sea. But, yeah, it started out predominantly as me wanting to stay connected to my then six year old while I was sailing, and became a really great way to provide outreach to a broader learning ecosystem. So, lots of people throughout the community,

Rebecca: I think it might seem more obvious that students in a landlocked state don’t have experience with marine life. But, at the same time, I think that our students don’t have much experience with many professional experiences in what it’s like to be in any kind of industry or research setting. So, I think that that same methodology works in a lot of circumstances to give students exposure to what it might actually be like to be a professional in the field.

Trish: Yeah, and I really like that sort of informal blogging aspect. So, these videos were [LAUGHTER] very informal. I had a blogging camera and I basically just filmed myself doing things. And I remember at one point, my husband sent me this email that basically said, “Wow, you look really tired. Are you doing okay?” Because I just was like, “Alright, it’s 4:30 in the morning, we’re getting ready to do some scientific stuff. I’ll put my camera on me and film what we’re doing.” But, yeah, it’s an exhausting process because it’s a 24/7 operation when you’re out at sea collecting data. You have this facility. For 30, 40 days, whatever it is, and you want to use every second of it to get as much information as possible. But, I think that’s important because a lot of people don’t know like, “Oh, that’s what an ocean scientist….” well, what my particular volcanology centered ocean scientist “…does for research.” And then the other arm of my research program is very much in volcano hazard. So, that feeds directly into the volcano geophysics courses I teach because my group works on developing forecasting mechanisms and algorithms for taking volcano monitoring data and providing monitoring agencies with information about how volcanoes are evolving and we have a lot of monitoring agency partners that we’re working with to try to provide some new quantitative methods for assessing volcanic unrest. So, these are things that we’re thinking about every day, but we certainly can infuse them into classes on volcanology and volcano geophysics,

John: Having that video channel would also let you do some time shifting… where much of the work that you’re doing takes place during breaks when classes wouldn’t be in session. And it still allows you to bring this into your own classes as well. I’ve watched several of your videos, and they’re really good. We’ll share a link to those in the show notes.

Trish: Oh, great… Thanks…. [LAUGHTER] They haven’t been updated for years. But, yeah, I think the asynchronous aspect is really cool. One of the things that we struggled with when we were first doing these expeditions was we were trying to schedule, within reason, because it’s really hard to schedule your ship time because you’re working with all the other scientists that are utilizing the facility, but we’re trying to schedule them such that students could participate synchronously with what we were doing. So, while we’re out at sea we’re sending back Q&As and doing videos. But, what we found was that you could still use all of this information after the fact so students have been benefiting from these videos for the last three, four years, which is really fantastic. And I think that it’s something that a lot of fields scientists could take advantage of. For example, the Antarctic field season is when everyone’s off for holiday. But, perhaps if they’re doing these videos, that they could bring them back and create learning modules for students to see more of what is it like to be a scientist working in Antarctica during the Antarctic summer… and not in a documentary way, I felt like one of the things I really wanted to do was provide that informal feeling for students so that they could look at that and say, “Wow, I actually feel like I could do that. And I could see myself in that role.” Whereas when you have that documentary, shininess, it’s harder to imagine that it’s not this esoteric thing that you could never aspire to be as I wanted to show like, “Yes, we’re up at 4:30 in the morning and we’re tired.” Yeah. I like that.

Rebecca: I think you’re right, that that polish sometimes makes it seem really not approachable to students, or that they don’t belong in the field, or they don’t belong in the discipline. But, if you’re showing that realness in that authentic moment through your own lens, it’s really beneficial to students… and I can imagine this working in just about any context, actually, to help students understand the day in the life that they might be pursuing.

Trish: Yeah, absolutely. It would be so helpful too for K through 12 students, because a lot of times they have no idea. Geology is an interesting discipline in that we’re kind of a found discipline. Students usually come to college thinking, “Oh, I’m going to go do chemistry or I’m going to do physics or engineering…” and geology is not really on students radar, but then they start to see how they can apply chemistry, physics, engineering, and math, all in one discipline, and they sort of gravitate towards us. But, we don’t get a lot of freshmen into our major but maybe if K through 12 students saw what geologists do on a daily basis and what a career looks like, they might say, “Oh, yeah, that’s a major I could be interested in.”

Rebecca: There’s a lot of disciplines and careers that students have no idea exists. The lens in which they see the world is largely through whatever classes they’ve been taking. So, it’s like, world is math, English, science, these really broad categories of things.

John: And they see it from the textbook perspective, as a well defined body of knowledge that they just have to learn or memorize, and not as an active, ongoing endeavor. And those videos you created, and these types of connections that you’re making for students help open up that possibility to them. As part of the OASIS project, you used a variety of social media including Twitter, Reddit, and I believe you did a Reddit Ask Me Anything. Could you tell us a little bit about your use of social media for this project?

Trish: One thing that we learned very quickly is that the internet on the ship was not great. So, the day we did the Reddit Ask Me Anything, it was a day that the Alvin submarine was on the sea floor collecting samples so we knew the ship could stay in one spot. So, it’s sort of like having an aerial antenna on your old TV and you’re trying to like bend it in just the right way so you have a good connection. So, we were able to set the ship in one location and then rotate it [LAUGHTER] so that the satellite was in the right spot so we could get on Reddit, and then we had to like shut down everything using the internet and we all crowded around one computer [LAUGHTER] and did the Ask Me Anything. And I think it was a really good experience. One of the things that cracks me up is that there was a scientist on a sister ship in the northern Pacific that responded to one of our questions and said, “Hey, we’re up here on the RV Armstrong. Hello.” [LAUGHTER] Yeah, I think that they’re Reddit Ask Me Anything was a great experience. It was mostly done by the graduate students on the ship. I was sort of running around doing other things. But, it was a great way, again, to provide outreach. It gives you a demographic that otherwise you may not have interacted with, which I think is important.

Rebecca: Sounds like another sneaky method, like not telling students that your volcano class has math in it. [LAUGHTER]

Trish: Yes. Exactly…[LAUGHTER] Exactly.

John: We always end the podcast by asking, what are you doing next?

Trish: One of the things that we’re working on right now, as I mentioned, we’ve collected a lot of video at sea and on the last expedition, we collected a lot of virtual reality 3D video with GoPro fusion. So, we use GoPro fusions to collect really nice 3D videos on the ship. So, things like how the scientists were cleaning tube worms that were collected from hydrothermal vents and how they’re processing rocks and just the day-to-day life on the ship. So, we collected all this virtual reality video and now we’re working with colleagues and the CITL, the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning on campus to develop VR modules for introductory classes. And this is been a really crazy learning experience for me because one of our goals is to give these experiences to students that would not necessarily ever have a chance to go to sea or to do this type of work. But, building and structuring the learning goals for these VR experiences is really difficult and I didn’t realize how big of a leap it would be from just the video content and lectures to creating a VR structured activity for students. And there’s some really cool things they’re doing here on campus. The medical school’s been doing a lot with VR techniques for med students and different procedures in VR. And there’s an Archaeology Professor on campus who’s been using it to like simulate an archaeological dig using VR. So, we’re working with some really amazing educators. And hopefully, that will come out with some fascinating modules for our students and upcoming offerings of our oceanography class. But, that’s sort of the big thing that we’re doing right now. I’m kind of excited to see how that will turn out.

John: We talked a little bit by email about you and your husband coming back on later to talk about some of that work. So, for our listeners, we will be revisiting this sometime in the next couple months, I think.

Trish: Yeah, hopefully we have a paper in review right now, where we look at asynchronous linkages to field expeditions and ways that you can collect videos and content while you’re in the field, sort of non-disciplinary-specific, of course we’re looking at marine sciences. But, again, you could use it in other fields and how you can bring that back to produce learning modules for your classrooms.

Rebecca: …sounds really exciting.

John: We’re looking forward to hearing more about that as well.

Trish: Thanks.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been really interesting.

Trish: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you guys. And I really appreciated your podcast, it’s been so inspirational to me and my work. I really appreciate it. ‘

John: It’s been a lot of fun for us too. We get to talk to people in depth. Normally, when we gave workshops, we’d hear little bits and snippets of what people on campus were doing, but being able to explore things like this is so much more valuable for us.

Rebecca: And we get to learn about all kinds of different disciplines too which is really exciting. to

Trish: I think what’s so cool is exactly what you said in your hundredth podcast that a lot of times faculty can’t go to those workshops. So, giving them a way to listen to the podcast while they’re commuting or traveling is just awesome. It’s very, very cool. Before going to sea, I always load up my phone and computer with all the podcasts I can get my hands on, because once you’re there, you’re there. That’s pretty much it. [LAUGHTER] Just download the entire catalog.

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John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

108. Neuromyths

Faculty design their classes based on their perceptions of how students learn. These perceptions, though, are not always consistent with the science of learning. In this episode, Dr. Kristen Betts and Dr. Michelle Miller join us to discuss the prevalence of neuromyths and awareness of evidence-based practices in higher ed.

Kristen is a clinical professor in the online Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership and Management in the School of Education at Drexel University. Michelle is the Director of the First-Year Learning Initiative, Professor of Psychological Sciences and the President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. She’s also the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology and a frequent guest on this podcast.

Show Notes

  • Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online. Harvard University Press.
  • Online Learning Consortium
  • Betts, K., Miller, M., Tokuhama-Espinosa, T., Shewokis, P., Anderson, A., Borja, C., Galoyan, T., Delaney, B., Eigenauer, J., & Dekker, S. (2019). International report: Neuromyths and evidence-based practices in higher education. Online Learning Consortium: Newburyport, MA.
  • Mariale Hardiman
  • Tracey Noel Tokuhama-Espinosa
  • Dekker, S., Lee, N. C., Howard-Jones, P., & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 429.
  • Alida Anderson
  • Macdonald, K., Germine, L., Anderson, A., Christodoulou, J., & McGrath, L. M. (2017). Dispelling the myth: Training in education or neuroscience decreases but does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1314.
  • Universal Design for Learning,” CAST website
  • Mchelle Miller, “65. Retrieval Practice” – Tea for Teaching podcast, January 23, 2019.
  • Vygotsky, L. (1987). Zone of proximal development. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes, 5291, 157.
  • Michelle Miller, “86. Attention Matters” – Tea for Teaching podcast, June 19, 2019.

Transcript

John: Faculty design their classes based on their perceptions of how students learn. These perceptions, though, are not always consistent with the science of learning. In this episode, we examine the prevalence of neuromyths and awareness of evidence-based practices in higher ed.

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John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.

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Rebecca: Our guest today are Dr. Kristen Betts and Dr. Michelle Miller. Kristen is a clinical professor in the online EDD program in Ed.D. Educational Leadership and Management in the School of Education at Drexel University. Michelle is the Director of the First-Year Learning Initiative, Professor of Psychological Sciences and the President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. She’s also the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology and a frequent guest on this podcast. Welcome, Kristen and welcome back, Michelle.

Kristen: Thank you so much for having us.

Michelle: Hi, it’s great to be here again.

John: Were really pleased to talk to you. Our teas today are…

Kristen: I’m drinking Apricot Oolong, a green Tea. Nice for the afternoon.

Michelle: And, I have a wonderful hibiscus tea.

Rebecca: And, I have… big surprise… English Afternoon tea.

John: And, I have ginger peach black tea.

We invited you here to talk about the study that you both worked on together on neuromyths and evidence-based practices in higher education. Could you tell us what prompted this study?

Kristen: Sure. As a lifelong learner, I decided I would enroll in a wonderful program being offered at Johns Hopkins University several years ago in mind, brain, and teaching led by Dr. Mariale Hardiman. In one of the courses, I read several articles that looked at the high prevalence of neuromyths in K through 12 education. And, one of the things that caught me by surprise was: One, I was a K through 12 teacher early in my career. I was, at the time, a professor in the School of Education, and in looking at some of the neuromyths, they actually looked like things that I had studied as part of professional development. And, I had not assumed they would be neuromyths. And, so it really intrigued me in terms of: Why is there this high prevalence and why are we not more aware of some of the evidence-based practices that are out there? Not just in the United States, but clearly these were studies that were taking place internationally. So, I decided to start looking at this through the lens of higher education, because that’s where I work and it’s my area of expertise, and I reached out to Dr. Michelle Miller. I was at the Online Learning Consortium conference. Her focus is on cognitive psychology. So, I approached her after the session and told her about this interest in looking at neuromyths within the field of education… really, across disciplines, in trying to see was it similar to what the findings were in K through 12 education, and what was really being done to integrate evidence-based practices into pedagogy or even andragogy. So, we decided to connect and start looking at this. I had a wonderful PHD student who I was working with at the time as well, who is from Armenia, very interested in this topic, and we quickly grew our small group to include a total of ten researchers from the total of seven different institutions nationally and internationally across three countries. And, everybody brought different expertise, everyone from two-year colleges, four-year colleges, public, private. And, we also were very fortunate because we were able to find, really some of the seminal researchers in the area of mind-brain education science, such as Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa. And, we reached out to the researchers who actually conducted the studies looking at neuromyths like Sanne Dekker, and we reached out to a Alida Anderson who worked with McDonald et. al. in their 2017 publication. So, it quickly grew from a point of interest in trying to identify what was happening in higher education, to really a much broader international study.

Michelle: Oh, and just echoing what Kristen has said here, we first did meet through the Online Learning Consortium, first at a conference and then they set up calls where we got to talk to each other and realize that even though we came from somewhat different academic backgrounds and published in some different areas, we really had this common ground of interest in how do we bring more evidence-based teaching to faculty in higher education and really throughout the world. And, to me, as a cognitive psychologist, it’s just an inherently fascinating question of, even though we live in our own minds, why do we not sometimes understand some basic principles of how the mind and how the brain works? So, that’s just an intellectually interesting question to me. But then it does take on this tremendous practical importance when we start to look at teaching practices throughout the world and bringing that really quality evidence-based design of teaching and learning experiences for our students.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how, once all of these researchers are now together, how did you put the study together and how was it conducted?

Kristen: I have to say it was not easy. Thank goodness, we reached out to some of the original authors. The survey instruments that looked at neuromyths and general knowledge about the brain. And, what was so interesting is almost all the studies were truly K through 12 focus, so the questions were very different. Even looking at lexicon, “girl and boy,” where we would want to look at male/female. So, we had a look at absolutely every question and make sure that we were able to revise that question within the framework for the lens of higher education. So, it was not an easy process, just in terms of time, because we had to go through so many iterations. And, I think that really helps with the integrity of the research. We had two pilot studies, even down to looking at the Likert scales that we used. One of the things that really stood out was the primary study that we looked at, which was a 2012 study by Sanne Dekker and several other researchers. They had a Likert scale that looked at correct, incorrect and I don’t know. There was a study by McDonald and colleagues in 2017 and they changed it to true and false. So, we decided early on, we would go with true and false. And, when we did that pilot, we ended up with half the participants stopping midway and simply putting, “I’m not sure if it’s true or false…” and they just didn’t complete the survey. And, I think, just looking at how we phrase the questions, it really affected the participation of our respondents. So, we went back, we modified some of the questions based on that, and we change the Likert scale. And, I think being able to have the ability to say whether it was correct, incorrect, or you didn’t know took away from saying it was true or false, because you can base it on knowledge or what you perhaps had been exposed to. And, we ended up having a wonderful pilot making some additional changes. And the feedback that we got, even after sending out the survey, we had a flood of emails saying “Can you please send us a copy of the study, we’re really interested?” So, we really looked at everything. And, I would say one thing that stood out most; and again I go back to the time we spent over two years on this study from point of inception to where we actually send out the survey, collected this study and then published it, was when we looked at the neuromyths, what we quickly realized was we needed to examine evidence-based practices as well. And, we looked at all of this from a metacognitive perspective. The prior studies that were done, looked at what they called “endorsing neuromyths,” and we weren’t so much looking at endorsing, we wanted to look at awareness, because all of us were involved in teaching… professional development. And, so it was a matter of trying to identify what the gaps were, what were instructors, instructional designers, and professional development administrators aware of and, if there is that gap, how could we develop a study where people would say “Wow, I also thought that was correct, but it’s incorrect… but, I would love to find out what the response is and how I can change my knowledge or understanding.” And, so we looked at absolutely everything and wanted to create a study that people would pick up and say, “This is where I am now. Gosh, after going through this in reading the report, this is where I am and my circle of knowledge needs to continue to expand, as things continue to expand through mind-brain education science.”

Michelle: As a collaborative effort, I haven’t been involved really in a study of this scale and scope. And, it’s simply the level of collaboration. You just heard about one of the iterations of the survey instrument that we put together and just how that piece of the study came about. But all the way through the analyses, the writing, it was such an opportunity, even apart from what we were able to share with the rest of the world, just from my own niche piece of the study as well. The opportunity, as a cognitive psychologist, to start infusing what I feel is more attention that needs to be paid to cognitive psychology and learning sciences. The opportunity to infuse that into this field in this area of thinking was also really exciting as well.

Kristen: So, in terms of how it was conducted, we sent the survey out for the Online Learning Consortium. When we originally started, we were just going to look at instructors, we were looking at neuromyth prevalence in instructors because all of the other studies that had been done were primarily K through 12 teachers and pre-service teachers. (although the McDonald study looked at a wider range). Once we started to bring together our team, then we started thinking, “Gosh, well, it’s not simply the instructors. It’s going to be the instructional designers, it’ll be anybody conducting some type of professional development as well because no course is truly an island.” There are so many people today involved in course design, course development and so the Online Learning Consortium was such an amazing partner for us and they touch on absolutely every part of that population. So, we reached out to them early on and said “We’d love to collaborate with you. You’ve got an extensive membership and listserv. Would we be able to develop this survey instrument, send it out through your membership, and ask them through snowball sampling to share it with others who may actually be involved in higher education, in one of these roles.” And, they could not have been a better partner. They’re just incredible to work with. So, that’s how it was conducted.

John: And, we were actually part of that snowball. I sent it out to a list of about 1200 faculty, staff, and professional development people on my campus alone. How large was your ultimate sample?

Kristen: We ended up with approximately 1300 respondents. And, then we actually looked at the full study, we ended up with 929, who met the criteria for inclusion. So, one of the things we wanted to make sure when we looked at the criteria for inclusion that they worked in higher education. You’d be surprised. So many people complete surveys, but they don’t necessarily meet the criteria. Even when you explicitly state you have to be within higher education: teaching or one of these areas. So, we had a total of 929 who met the criteria, and of those they also had a complete 95% of the questions for the neuromyths, and also for the evidence-based practices because we didn’t want to have any gaps. I would say it was an incredible response rate, especially for those completing the survey. They filled out I would say the majority of everything within the survey itself. The respondents were just incredible as well, because you talked about the cross section of participants, but we ended up with really an incredible number of instructors and that was broken down into full-time, part-time, instructional designers, the professional development administrators and it allowed us to run a lot of different tests that we’ll talk about when we look at the findings.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that’s really interesting about how you discuss the setup of the study is thinking about how many different individuals play a role in perpetuating myths, or even perpetuating good evidence-based practices too. That administrators is where funding comes from, so you have to have everybody in the institution on board with what you actually want to essentially Institute.

Kristen: Well, what’s interesting, and you bring up such a great point. One of the top neuromyths out there is learning styles. And, so when you’re looking at learning styles, this is something that almost seems to permeate. It doesn’t matter when you started teaching, whether it’s K through 12, or higher education at some point if you’ve been involved in education, you’ve come across learning styles. Now there are learning preferences and there’s lots of wonderful research on that. But this concept of teaching to learning styles, I think, unfortunately… we talk about this in section seven of our report kind of got mixed in with multiple intelligences. And, that is not at all what multiple intelligence was about, but it was almost the timing of it and so, having been a K through 12 teacher, I remember going through a professional development where we learned about learning styles and how it was something to look at in terms of teaching to learning preferences. And, even to this day when I do presentations, and I know Michelle has run into this as well, especially when we co-teach some of the OLC workshops, somebody will inevitably raise their hand or type in the chat area “Are you kidding? Learning styles is a neuromyth? We just had somebody on our campus six months ago, who taught us how to do an assessment to teach to learning styles.” So, it’s still out there, even though there’s so much in the literature saying it’s a neuromyth. It’s still prevalent within education across all areas.

John: So, you mentioned the issue of learning styles. And, that’s something we see a lot on our campus as well. We’ve even had a couple of podcast guests who we edited out there mention of learning styles and then had a chat with them later about it. I won’t mention any names because they had some really good things to say, but it is a really prevalent myth and it’s difficult to deal with. So, you mentioned learning styles. What are the most prevalent myths that you found in terms of neuromyths?

Kristen: When you look at the report, the first part of our survey had 23 statements. We had eight statements that were neuromyths. If you look at the K through 12 studies, they had many more neuromyths, but we had eight. And, I will tell you, the top five neuromyths in higher education, very closely parallel what you find in K through 12. Now our prevalence is not as high, but it still shows that instructors, instructional designers, and administrators are susceptible to them and that goes back to awareness. So, the top one: listening to classical music increases reasoning ability and that’s really that Mozart Effect. Another one: individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning styles. Some of us are left brained and some of us are right brain due to hemispheric dominance and this helps explain differences in how we learn. So, that’s really that concept of “Oh, I’m right brained. I’m left brained.” And, this again, is something that goes across higher ed and K through 12. Two other really big ones: We only use 10% of our brain. And, if you look at section seven of the report, you will find all of the responses, literally evidence-based practices or research-supported responses to make sure that people aren’t simply saying, “Oh, it’s incorrect. Well, we want people to know why it’s incorrect. So, they can reflect on that and change their understanding, really the rationale and the research behind it. And, then lastly, it is best for children to learn their native language before a second language is learned. This, again, is a big neuromyth. And I think one of the things I’m hoping that will come out of this study, because we talked about this really when we go into evidence-based practices, is this concept of neuro-plasticity, the fact that the brain changes every time you learn something new. When you’re engaged in an experience, the brain is changing. And, sometimes the brain is changing at a cellular level before you might even see that change in behavior, and so we’re able to see now through technology through f-MRI through fNIR so much more than we were able to see before. So, really keeping abreast of what’s happening in the research should be informing our practice because we have more information available than ever before. But, somehow we need to get that into our professional development training, seminars, and workshops or into the classes that we’re teaching in our schools of education or into our onboarding. But yeah, these are the top five neuromyths in terms of susceptibility, and they cut across higher ed and K through 12.

John: In your paper, you also provide some crosstabs on the prevalence by the type of role of individuals, whether they’re instructors, instructional designers, or administrators. Could you tell us a bit about how the different groups due in terms of the prevalence of these neuromyths?

Kristen: Well, the one thing I will say is, everybody is susceptible to neuromyths, so it wasn’t as if there was one group, and I know that’s always in the back of someone’s mind, “Gosh, who’s the most susceptible?” Well, we didn’t find any significant differences, and one of the things that we wanted to do as well was to really be break the participants down and look at other factors. So, when we look at full-time versus part-time faculty, is one group more susceptible to neuromyths. And we found no significant difference in terms of gender, in terms of age, in terms of working at a two-year institution, a four-year institution. And I really think that talks to the amazing reality of the opportunity to integrate professional development in looking at the learning sciences and mind-brain education science in the opportunity to decrease that gap. So, it wasn’t one group over another. But it’s everybody who has this opportunity to increase this awareness across all of these areas.

John: Didn’t you also find that some of these myths were less common among instructional designers relative to faculty,

Kristen: We found with evidence-based practices, when we looked at significant difference with evidence-based practices, instructional designers actually had in terms of percent correct, higher awareness of evidence-based practices. It wasn’t a large difference, but there was a significant difference and Michelle can certainly talk to this point as well. But, this is really the importance of having an incredible team when you’re looking at course design, course development, and part of that may have to do with, when you look at instructional design, there is so much new literature and research that’s getting infused in to that area, and so that may have something to do with it. But, I think there’s lots of additional studies that we could do to follow up.

Michelle: Kind of circling back to the point of the design and delivery of instruction in a contemporary university or college is fundamentally more collaborative than it was in prior eras. And, so I think we definitely need to have everybody involved start to really break out of that old school mold of class is identified with the teacher who teaches it and that’s what a course is. And no, courses reflect, today, everything from the philosophy and the support that comes down from the top to the people that the students may never meet, but who put their stamp on instruction such as instructional designers. And, this is something that I get pretty fired up about in my just practical work as a program director and just being involved in these things in the university, that there are still faculty who you say, “Hey, do we have any instructional designers who are working with us on this project to redesign? Is anybody assigned to help us as we develop this new online degree program or something?” …and you sometimes still get blank look.? Or you get “Oh, aren’t those the people who you call when the learning management system breaks down and that’s their specialty?” I mean, this report, I think, just really hammers home that idea that instructional designers are a key part of this collaborative team that goes into really good quality higher education instruction today. And it isn’t just about the technology. I think that they’re getting exposure to and staying abreast of what’s going on in research that relates to teaching and learning. And, what a great opportunity for faculty to not just rely on them for technology, but to learn from them and to learn with them as we build better courses together.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the awareness that you found in general about evidence-based practices? So, we focused a lot on the neuromyths, but what shook out when you started looking at the evidence-based practices?

Kristen: Well, one thing that stood out was awareness was much higher. And, that’s really exciting. I think that’s a huge testament to the professional development that we are offering. But, there were still gaps in areas where there certainly could be a lot of improvement. So, a couple of examples that I’ll give because we literally spent months looking evidence-based practices, and we wanted to make sure that we could support them. So, for example, when we look at percent correct, where most individuals across all three groups were not as aware, like “differentiated instruction is individualized instruction.” So, we know that this is incorrect. But most of the respondents did not put that that was an incorrect statement. So, they either stated it was correct, or they didn’t know. So, again, this is an area that we certainly want to explore. Because differentiated instruction is something that really, I think, adds to the classroom. And, there are other ones. For example, we’ll look at Universal Design for Learning. So, one of the statements we had in there actually comes directly from the CAST website, and it says “Universal Design for Learning is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” Well, the instructional designers, they were the most aware. So, 87% of them got that correct. Of the professional development administrators 74% got that answer correct. For the instructors, 58% got that correct. So, you can see the difference in the responses and when we share this nationally or internationally…. when we talk about the study, you’ll have a lot of individuals who’ll say “No, universal design for learning, that’s about accessibility.” Well, it certainly is about accessibility. But, most importantly, it’s about learning and how humans learn. It is probably the most dynamic and the most powerful aspect that we can add into pedagogy or into andragogy. But just by looking at the data here, it may not be something that everybody’s aware of, and that’s again a great opportunity to integrate that into professional development. So, there are a number of things. I mean, it’s exciting because when you look at it, there are 28 statements. And, as I mentioned, overall, the awareness was much higher across all three groups, compared to neuromyths or general knowledge about the brain.

Michelle: Just to jump in here, again, from my kind of cognitive psychology perspective, those evidence-based practices that we’re talking about also include, specifically, some items that are related to memory, a topic that’s really close to my heart. So, I think those are just fascinating as well. So, for example, we asked a variation on a classic question that many cognitive psychologists have looked at: “whether human memory works a lot like a digital recording device or a video camera.” So, is your memory basically taking in information that’s in front of you? And, here again, we’ve got 69% of our instructors saying, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. That’s how it works.” And, that is not how it works. 79% of our instructional designers identify this as an incorrect statement and 74% of our administrators, and we have a few other related things such as we asked people whether testing detracts from learning. And, as Tea for Teaching listeners know, that goes to retrieval practice. Testing doesn’t detract from learning, testing builds up learning. So, these are some as well that I think it’s very interesting to tap into what people know and really think about while these maybe seem like inside baseball, or very metaphorical or philosophical questions, if I’m an instructor, and I believe these things, that students are basically just running video cameras in their heads… well, that is going to lead to some different practices. I might be very puzzled as to why I got up and gave this lecture and the students eyes were pointed at me and yet it didn’t end up in memory. So, those are some of the items that I was particularly interested to see when we got all the numbers in.

Kristen: You know, I would say one thing: when anybody reads the report, what we want them to do is look at how it’s presented in terms of the tables, because everything is looking at the percent of correct or accurate responses. So, as Michelle said, when we look at “human memory works like a digital recording device,” 69% of the instructors got that correct. 79% of the instructional designers got that correct. And, 74% of the administrators got that correct. So, that means we still have a fairly large percentage, basically 20 to 30% that either got the answer incorrect, or they didn’t know. And, even looking at these responses, do they actually know why they knew it? Or did they guess or did they make that assumption like, “Oh, that’s got to be right.” And so, really, the intentionality of this study was awareness, really bringing out statements from the literature to help anybody who’s involved in teaching, course design, professional development to look at these questions, and really think “Do I know this?” And, “If I know it, how do I know this? Is it based on some type of research or literature? Could I defend that? If I don’t know with certainty, where do I find that answer? And how can I learn that? And, how can I integrate those practices?”

John: On the day when your report came out, we shared that on our campus to everyone on our mailing list. One of the nice things about the report is that it has all the questions and also provides references for the answers explaining why the specific answer is true or false. And, it’s a really great resource and we’ll share a link to that in the show notes. It is long. When I shared it two people sent back email saying “Maybe we should use this as a reading group for next semester.” And it’s not a bad idea, actually. But, much of that is appendices and so forth. And, it’s a really informative document. I believe in your survey, you were asking people about their participation in professional development, and you looked at the relationship between participation in professional development and the prevalence of these myths. Is that correct?

Kristen: We did. So, one of the things that we wanted to look at was trying to find out if educators were involved in professional development, whether it be neuroscience, psychology or in mind-brain education science, did that actually increase their awareness of neuromyths, general information about the brain, and evidence-based practices? And it did. We found that that it was definitely a predictor and it was found to be a significant predictor and so, for us, again, it looked at what a wonderful opportunity to be able to say that training does have a positive impact. And, that was really the crux of the study… and it’s interesting, you talked about the length of this study, because originally we had thought about doing two different or three different studies. So, we do one on neuromyths, one on evidence-based practices, one on professional development. Then when we brought the data in, the question was: “Do we separate them out into three different long articles or three different reports?” And, we collectively, across all disciplines said, “No, we need to bring them together.” Because first and foremost, it’s about awareness. You can’t really talk about evidence-based practices, until you’re aware of what the neuromyths might be. What are some of the fallacies that you might actually believe? What are things about the brain that you may or may not know? And, once you’re there, and you have that understanding, you can then move into the evidence-based practices, because it’s all really connected. So, when Michelle talks about memory, you can’t really talk about memory without having some understanding of the mind or the brain. And, so we decided collectively, we would bring it together as hopefully a seminal piece that would really present anyone with a continuum as to: “Where am I? What am I possibly doing in my classroom?” …being able to really do that self assessment and then find the answers, as you said, in that section seven, and realize that they’re not an outlier. I mean, chances are anybody that goes through this is going to fall within that span in terms of their understanding and knowledge.

Michelle: And, what I hope is coming out here is that this study is unusual, not just in its scale, its scope and that we focused on higher education, but that it is so explicitly geared to not just identifying gaps in knowledge or awareness, but addressing those. It’s not like we came along six months later and said, “Oh, by the way, here’s a really nice resource we put together.” It is one stop, it’s right there. And, what an exercise that was, as well. Kristen, I think you’ll remember back just saying, “Okay, in a paragraph… this item, all of us look at this and go ‘oh my gosh, that’s wrong’ or ‘that’s right.’ Why is that? and what are the very best empirical sources that we will trace back to, to demonstrate that?” So, we are trying to provide that and also to really be a model to say: next time that you get that handout or that workshop that says, “Oh, here’s some great stuff about the brain.” What are they backing that up with? Can you trace it back to the solid research sources that makes some of these really powerful principles for learning, and make other things just misconceptions.

Kristen: One of the things that I would say was probably the most exciting and the most challenging. We had 10 researchers, we had 10 researchers from different fields: people from nursing, biomedical engineering, psychology; we had people who work in the area of neuroscience, education (as I mentioned), and we needed to come out with a collective voice, writing a report that would be understood across disciplines. And, so when we wrote section seven, all of us had to be reviewers and we vetted it multiple times. Not just within our group, but outside, to make sure when you read about neural pathways, it actually made sense. Because to write something where somebody would not understand or not be able to connect would be a challenge. And, we wanted people to walk away. I know one of the things that we were looking at: Why neuromyths? Well, a lot of the research out there looks at the fact that when you teach, your teaching and your pedagogy is based on your knowledge, and in your understanding of how people learn, and so we wanted to really look at this area in terms of awareness, because it may impact pedagogy. Our study did not do that. And, I want to make sure it’s really clear. Our study was not designed to say, “Oh gosh, the awareness of neuromyths wasn’t very high in this area, therefore, you must be integrating neuromyths into your teaching. That was not the intentionality of our study and that’s not something that we’ve ever said. There are certainly recommendations we put in the study to look at. If there is a high prevalence of neuromyths,how does that affect pedagogy? But ours was simply looking at awareness and could professional development address gaps? So, we could do this across all different groups that would be involved in course design and delivery.

John: That’s one of the things I really like about it, that you do address all these things well, you provide the evidence, and it’s going to be a great go to reference for those of us when faced with neuromyths, with issues about evidence-based practices. We can just go and grab some of the citations and share them back out or refer them to the whole document as I’ve done several times already. These things are really common even in professional development. I was at a session not too long ago, where there were two neuromyths presented during the session. One was the learning styles thing. But the nice thing is, unlike other times when I’ve seen that done, there were two of us who went up and waited until everyone else talked to the presenter. And, we were both ready to do it after other people had gone so we didn’t embarrass her, but it’s starting to get out there. And, I know on our campus, we’ve got a growing number of people who are aware of this partly because of the reading groups we’ve had, where we’ve had a growing number of participants… and that all started actually with Michelle’s book about five years ago now when we first did the group. You came out, you visited, people wanted to do more, so we started a reading group. We’ve done four additional reading groups since then. We’ve had many of the same participants, but it’s spreading out wider. I’m hoping we’re making a difference through these reading groups.

Michelle: And, that’s so gratifying as an author and as a researcher, and I remember well working with your group in Oswego and the great ideas I took away as well. So, I’m a big believer in virtuous cycle. So, maybe we’ve started one.

Kristen: I think what really came out of this study is the passion that everybody has for student success. Everybody from those that are offering the professional development, the instructional designers that want to make sure that the students are successful, even though they might not be teaching the course. And, then the instructors themselves… and so to be able to work with that many individuals who are not only subject matter experts across their disciplines, but so passionate about making a difference. But I think being able to integrate all of this new research relating to neuroscience, psychology and education, it’s going to transform not only how we teach, but it’s going to transform pedagogy, andragogy, and this whole concept of learning.

Rebecca: I really appreciate the bringing it together and that you decided to keep it all together and not to make three separate reports. I think it’s actually really important to understand how these are all connected and related. And, I think that’s one of the most unique things about the report. I think the community is probably very grateful that we have this resource available now.

Kristen: Oh, thank you.

John: One of the things I’ve often been concerned about is how some of these neuromyths, particularly the left brain – right brain thing, and the learning styles belief, often serves as a message to students that they can only learn in certain ways or they only have certain types of skills, and they’re not able to make progress in other ways. And, it can serve as a barrier and can lead, perhaps, to the development of a fixed mindset in students which may serve as a barrier.

Rebecca: …or not even allow those students to feel like they can enter particular disciplines.

John: If people become more aware of this, perhaps it could lead to more opportunities for our students or fewer barriers placed in the way of students.

Rebecca: …or maybe even just more inclusive pedagogy in general.

Kristen: You bring up such a great point. So, if you believe in learning styles, and you believe that you are truly a visual learner, Michelle and I’ve talked about this a lot, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But you probably are an incredible visual learner because you’ve been told you learn better in this learning style, so you’re going to seek materials in that learning styles. So, the challenge with that, especially when you’re looking at younger students or anybody during their education, you’re precluding really other ways to enhance your learning. So, when you look at Universal Design for Learning, it’s so important because you’re looking at multiple means of engagement, representation, action, and expression. And, when you’re looking at learning styles, if a student believes they’re a visual learner and suddenly asked to go in and take a Spanish oral exam, it could trigger, all of a sudden, stress. Well, what do we know about stress? And, Michelle can talk more about that. But, when you’re stressed, it affects working memory. And, so just that thought of, “Oh my gosh, it’s an oral exam. I’m a visual learner. How can I perform well on that?” And it’s really creating, as you talked about, a barrier or it may decrease, possibly, performance. I know that Dr. Tracey Tokuhama-Espinoza is very passionate about this. And, you’ll see in her presentations, she’ll come out and say “Neuromyths do harm.” And so, I think it’s certainly something that needs to be explored. And, Michelle, from a psychological point, I’d be curious to find out what you have to say as well.

Michelle: When you say “self-fulfilling prophecy” and things like that, it also kind of reminds me of a placebo effect, in a way… and learning styles, and continuing that as an example, yeah, I might go: “Oh, visual learning. It is absolutely me,” like “Now I feel like I can tailor all this to myself. I’ll just find teachers, opportunities, and disciplines that are right there in visual learning.” And, I might have some subjective impression that that’s helping me, or from the teacher’s perspective, I might feel like “Well, I brought in some different materials and engaged different modalities and, what do you know, because of learning styles, we’re doing better.” Well, there’s lots of different reasons why that might be happening. An individual may walk away, and maybe they weren’t individually harmed. I just feel like… just like in modern medicine, there’s sort of a promise that we can do better than mere placebos. I think that ought to be the promise of modern pedagogy as well, that we can do better than simply trying to build up expectations or giving people a false sense that they have something based on science that’s going to help them individually do better. And, I hear so many kind of missed opportunities that really kind of get me activated as well. I think about, for example, the energy that goes into faculty professional development. These things come from good impulses. I really believe that. I believe that people who really pursue something like learning styles or things like that, they want to do better and they want to be more inclusive, but that effort is directed down the wrong path simply because of this gap in knowledge and gap in information in getting the right information to the right people at the right time. And, I can’t stand the thought of faculty, especially as limited as faculty time is and as spread as thin as faculty are, to think that they might try to pick up on some better information about teaching and learning and go down the wrong path. I never want that to happen again. And, maybe our report will be a step in the right direction.

Kristen: I’ll say one thing that we’re trying to do with the report, is really to align the report with best practices and evidence-based practices. So, when you look at the concept of neuromyths the wonderful study that was written by McDonald (and this was in 2017) and her colleagues, the title is “Dispelling the Myth: training and education in neuroscience decreases but does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths” and so professional development is not a silver bullet. Simply offering one workshop that’s going to address neuromyths is not going to necessarily get rid of neuromyths. So, we have to do what? We have to look at spacing. We have to look at interleaving. So, with professional development, how do you take information related to evidence-based practices and integrate spaced practice into our own professional development? How do we integrate interleaving? How do we integrate low-stakes assessment? So, maybe when faculty or instructional designers come in, you do a quick self assessment and find out what that baseline knowledge is, and then at the end to say, “Okay, at the end of professional development, we need to get to 95% or higher.” But, they’re able to actually test their own knowledge. So, we need to kind of turn professional development upside down and make it active learning and really engage everybody in what we’re looking at within pedagogy and andragogy.

Rebecca: Yeah, I always find it really ironic that a lot of training and things on evidence-based practices is not using evidence-based practices… or using really traditional formats: lecture or getting lectured at and not really engaging with the material. And, it’s no different when we’re working with our students. And, if they’re practicing in a way that’s not going to be effective for them, and they’re not successful. They could spend tons of time on something and just not really make progress. The same thing can happen with our faculty and staff who are designing curricula and what have you as well. They can be really invested.

Michelle: Absolutely.

John: We do have an excellent podcast on retrieval practice. In fact, it’s one of our most popular episodes. We’ll share a link to that in our show notes. We don’t yet have any podcasts on interleaved and spaced practice, but I’m sure we’ll be asking Michelle to come back and talk about these things at some point in the future, if she’s willing. So far, we’ve been focusing on the types of neuromyths that are common. What can we do to reduce the prevalence of these neuromyths?

Kristen: Professional development is certainly key. But, I would look at things such as onboarding, making sure that when people are getting hired on, that they’re really introduced to evidence-based practices from the very beginning. And, even individuals that would say, “Gosh, I’ve been in instructional design for 20 years, I’m familiar” …there may still be those gaps. And, it’s almost like adaptive learning. Everybody that comes in very much like the Vygotsky’s work of zone of proximal development, they may have all been teaching for 20 years, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have neurodiversity in terms of experience, knowledge about different practices. So, it’s important that it’s from the very onset of when people get hired and making sure it’s understood that we’re committed to best practices, evidence-based practices and what we do builds upon the literature and the research. Not only do we introduce it here, but we move it forward and integrate it into our pedagogy and what we’re doing in our classrooms.

Rebecca: So, we always wrap up by asking: What’s next?

Michelle: Conference season is upon us. We’re recording this fall of 2019. I’m gearing up to go to the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate conference in November. And so, I will just personally say come find me if you’re there and you want to talk more about this. I will be presenting on a related but different topic having to do with our ongoing Attention Matters project, which is also the subject of another Tea for Teaching episode. So, I’m really working on getting ready for that, and also the upcoming POD network conference. So, for those educational developers who will be attending that, I’ll be speaking there and hopefully having lots and lots of sidebar conversations with plenty of other people who are interested and fired up about these very topics. So, I/m working on those. I’m working on what I will now call a forthcoming book. It’s under contract with West Virginia University Press, tentatively titled Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology. So, maybe someday in the not too far off future, we’ll be talking about that project as well.

John: We should note that this podcast will be released during the OLC conference. In particular, it’s coming out on Wednesday of the conference.

Kristen: Oh, that’s exciting.

John: And, I should also note that we’ll be presenting there as well. I’m hoping we’ll get some people to listen to this podcast because we’re presenting the next day. So, we might get some new listeners. [LAUGHTER]

Kristen: Oh, that’s exciting. In terms of projects that I’m engaged in and working on. We’ve just launched a new lab in our School of Education at Drexel University. So, we’re bringing everything together and trying to align projects coming up for 2020. But it’s a lab called ELABS, Education, Learning, and Brain Sciences Research Collaborative. So, we’ll be looking at different studies related to the learning sciences and mind-brain education science. I am wrapping up an article with several researchers at Drexel University, some of our PhD students, that looks at immersive virtual reality and practice as well as transfer of learning. We also have a report that I’m working on. It’s an update to research that I conducted earlier on online human touch. So, I’m wrapping up that study and putting together an article there. And, then also looking at two publications for books looking at neuro plasticity and optimal learning. One would be for students to really understand neurodiversity, neuroplasticity, how you can optimize the stress response, and then looking at neuroplasticity and optimal learning from the instructor or instructional design perspective. How do you integrate this into your practice? So, those are the initiatives that I’m working on.

Rebecca: Sounds like lots of things for all of us to look forward to.

John: Thank you very much for joining us. This was a fascinating conversation. And, we’ve been looking forward to this report since I first heard a bit about it when you initially did the survey, and when I saw a preliminary presentation at all see last year.

Kristen: Well, thank you so much for having us. It’s such a pleasure to discuss this topic with you. And, I’m looking forward to listening to many of your upcoming podcasts that clearly is connected to this report.

Michelle: Thank you so much. It makes all the hard work worthwhile and we love the opportunity to get the work out to exactly the people with the power to spread it to faculty and instructional designers and leaders in universities today.

Rebecca: Thank you.

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John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

107. Project NExT

Faculty beginning their teaching careers often rely on the teaching methods that were inflicted on them when they were students. These practices are not always consistent with evidence on how we learn. In this episode, for Assistant Professors from the Math Department at SUNY-Oswego join us to discuss how our math department is transforming its instructional practices through the use of professional development opportunities provided by the Mathematical Association of America.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Faculty beginning their teaching careers often rely on the teaching methods that were inflicted on them when they were students. These practices are not always consistent with evidence on how we learn. In this episode, we examine how one department is transforming its instructional practices through the use of professional development opportunities provided by its national professional organization.

[MUSIC]

John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.

[MUSIC]

John: Today we are joined by four assistant professors from the Department of Mathematics at SUNY Oswego. Our guests are:

Sarah: Sarah Hanusch.

Rasika: Rasika Churchill.

Jessalyn: Jessalyn Bolkema.

Zoe: And I’m Zoe Misiewicz.

Rebecca: Welcome everyone!

John: Our teas today are:

Rasika: I’m having Earl Grey.

Jessalyn: I just poured myself a cup of lemon ginger.

Sarah: I’m not having any tea today. I’m not much of a tea drinker.

Zoe: I’m not having any tea today either. I just haven’t unpacked to that point yet.

Rebecca: And I have… English afternoon.

John: And I have Bing Cherry Black Tea. So, we invited you here to talk about Project NExT, which is something that people in our math department have been involved with. Could you tell us what Project NExT is?

Sarah: So, Project NExT stands for New Experiences in Teaching. It’s a program that is sponsored by the Math Association of America that brings new mathematics faculty…so you have to be in your first or second year of a full-time job…but they bring these new mathematicians in from all over the country to teach them about active learning.

Rebecca: How did your involvement, or the department’s involvement, with Project NExT get started?

Sarah: I learned about it as a graduate student, and was highly encouraged by a lot of people to apply. And so I kind of brought it into the department by saying, “Dear Department Chair, will you pay for this?” And since then, in part because of my starting it, we’ve encouraged everyone we’ve hired to apply. And as a result, there’s now five members of the department that have either completed or are still in Project NExT.

Jessalyn: Yeah, I will echo that experience. It was something that I was aware of as a graduate student, in part because some of my mentors had gone through Project NExT…it’s now 25 years old…just celebrated 25 years. And so for me, it was something that I knew I was interested in. And in fact, when I visited Oswego for a campus interview, and the department said “Oh, yeah, we have Project NExT fellows on the faculty, and we would be happy to support you in that,” that was a really exciting and encouraging thing about the department.

Rasika: For me, actually, I didn’t heard about that before. But, when I got the job offer, it came with that. I said “Yeah, sure.”

Zoe: I was just hired this past year and so I’m doing Project NExT, but I think I can already see the effects that it has had. It was a program I already knew about, I really wanted to participate in. So, as I was going through the hiring process, one of the first things I would ask the chair at a place was “Would you support an application for Project NExT?” …because it does require a bit of funding. And so seeing that there were already multiple Project NExT fellows in this department was also a good sign for the department as a whole when I was thinking of what sort of department I’d want to be at. And so I think it’s just showing that it’s already been recruiting people who are interested in it already, at this point.

Sarah: I was just going to clarify a little bit about how the funding for it works. There’s actually no fee to participate in Project NExT. The way it’s organized is that you attend special sessions at three of the national conferences in mathematics. So, you attend two math fests in the summer, and then the joint math meetings, which is in January. And so these are big nationwide meetings in mathematics. And so the idea is that you’re going for some special sessions during the meetings. And then your first year, you go for a couple days pre-conference for the really heavy duty workshop. So, the financial commitment from a department is just the funding to go to those three conferences.

Rebecca: You mentioned active learning. Can you talk a little bit more about how those workshops and things are structured?

Zoe: There were a lot of workshops about active learning and just using evidence-based pedagogy, so saying not only active learning is good, but we have evidence to support it and here are some of the things that you could do in terms of active learning. And all the sessions obviously are structured with that in mind. So, we’re not just sitting there listening passively to someone tell us about active learning, but they really make sure you’re doing something, whether it’s a fun little game like building a marshmallow tower, or some other interactive activity in each session. The sessions aren’t only about active learning, there’s a lot about inclusivity and diversifying the profession. So, a lot of sessions on that, or maybe I just chose sessions on that. But, there’s also a whole professional development stream. So, there’s stuff about how to get started in your career in terms of grants and so on. It’s really a lot of everything in there.

Rasika: It’s categorized like if you interest on the tactile learning, so are you interest on the group work, are you interest on some other…you know, inquiry based and mastery grading and so forth. So, depending on your interest, actually, they give more opportunity to listen, go talk with people and have a conversation: what they had, what they tried and what failed and what succeed. Which is like a really nice thing for us, as a beginner, to see what people have gone through and what I should expect, and so forth. Actually, I was interested about the whole program.

Sarah: So, they do some three-hour breakout workshops where you get to go based on what your interests are. So, I did one that was focused on teaching future educators because that’s my background, but I doubt any of these other ladies chose that same session because that’s not their expertise and not what their job is going to be about fundamentally.

Jessalyn: I will add, I attended two workshops that stand out to me in retrospect. One on making active learning intentionally inclusive. That was all about inclusive pedagogies and ways to incorporate group work in the classroom in a way that benefits all students and allows all students to participate fully. I also did a longer breakout workshop that was building a toolkit for student-centered assessment, that was all about learning objectives and exam structures from a more experienced instructor. And then there are also facets of Project NExT that extend well beyond the physically meeting in person. So, as Rasika mentioned, there are lots of ways that you can navigate the workshop according to themes that are of particular interest to you. So, if tactile learning or kinetic activities are of interest, or you’re really focused on educating future teachers or whatever that might be, you might be encouraged to declare a goal for yourself in your first year related to one of those areas of interest. And then we’ve got little email exchanges that go on for people who’ve declared interest in one of those goals like “this email list is all about mastery based grading, check in when you’ve tried something. check in with your questions.” So, there’s a little bit of accountability built into that structure that these people know what you’re trying to do, and they’re going to check in with you on it. But, then just the larger structure of email lists is that you have this cohort of other new instructors who will fire off questions like, “Oh, I’m teaching this class next semester I’ve never taught before, what textbook might I use?” or “I had this really strange interaction in my classroom, and I’m not sure how to handle it” or “I think this part of my syllabus is just crashing and burning. Help! Has anyone been here before?” And so you have this sort of communal resource and the community experience of brainstorming and problem solving together.

Sarah: …and included in that they assign each of us a mentor. So, a more experienced instructor that’s a mentor is assigned to each person in the program currently, and it’s always someone that is outside of your department. In fact, they will not allow anyone to be a mentor who has a fellow in their department. So, as long as we keep having fellows, we won’t have any mentors here. But, what’s nice is when you do send emails out on that list of “I’m trying this and it’s not going well, help!” you do get responses from your peers. You also see responses from all of the mentors for that cohort, which I think is also valuable because sometimes they have a little more experience than your actual cohort.

Rasika: We have a group that people who are interested on the inquiry based or tactile work, they have their own little Zoom conversation whenever they have time together. You get to know all different schools, what they’re doing and, you know, share your experience.

Rebecca: Would you all like to talk a little bit about how Project NExT has influenced your own teaching?

Rasika: For me actually, I was really interest on the tactile experience from this Project NExT. So, I decided to do some activities this semester starting as a beginner and also some group work. And also something that… not exactly what I’m getting from the Project NExT, but it’s like I will say, part of the SUNY Oswego Reading Group, that I was so interested on the book that we are reading. And I decided to give a couple of pages for the students every week to read, and I assigned them 5% for the final grade that they have to read and write half a page to one-page report for me and tell me what they think. Do they think like it’s feasible for them to change and try and do the things in that nature? So far, it’s really going well, and I have good comments from students saying that “you are opening up different ways of thinking…that we were stuck and never complaining about everything. But, we are now having, you know, in a broader way of looking at the things about growth mindset and so forth.” So, I was speaking here and there like chapters from some interesting books. So, that’s what my experience so far this semester, as a beginner.

Sarah: I think for me, it just gave me a lot more lesson plans and ideas to draw from. I already had a pretty active approach to my teaching, but it just opened a broader view of what kinds of things could work well. Especially in some of the more tactile things available that can be helpful for helping students to learn.

Jessalyn: Within my own teaching, I think it’s been really easy or natural to draw on resources from Project NExT in setting up my class or setting up lessons. When I taught Calc I, on day one, we made zip lines out of ribbon and key chains and measured average velocities and it was fun and it was memorable and it got students working in groups and they reported at the end of the semester. “Hey, remember when we did zipline? That was fun!” and I 100% would not have pushed myself to do something that involved or non standard, I’ll say, without thecontext of Project NExT saying “Oh, just try one new thing each semester.” I completely overhauled the Calc II class to be entirely mastery based grading in response to some of my own frustrations with how I had been setting up my class. And Project NExT supplied a whole lot of resources, a whole lot of people, a whole lot of information and motivation to try something like that, which I think was helpful. As far as department culture goes, I think the fact that we’ve had this many Project NExT fellows and continue to have Project NExT fellows gives us a shared language to talk about teaching. Some shared frame of reference on “Oh, yeah, you know, this person who tried this technique,” or “Have you heard anything about…. “”…Oh, hey, this came through on my Project NExT list.” That I think has encouraged just our conversations about teaching and being intentional in how we’re structuring our classes, or how we’re handling things.

Sarah: I’m experimenting with mastery based grading this semester because of the information you and John got, from your experience in Project NExT. And so your experiments with it last year has led me to experiment with it this year. So, it definitely has changed just how we even hear about new things to try.

Jessalyn: That’s delightful. I appreciate that it’s trickling around.

Sarah: It is trickling for sure.

Zoe: So, I’d say it’s still obviously fairly early. We’re only one month into my first semester after going through the first part of Project NExT. But, I’d say a lot of it has been both an affirmation of things that I have been doing and also it’s sort of given me the confidence to do the things that I was doing even more fully and to advocate for these approaches, even though I am brand new in this department. So, I’m not afraid to send to the whole department email list like “we need to be more positive toward our students and not say that it’s all their fault if they’re struggling. we need to take responsibility for that.” Or just to try things that may or may not work well. For example, I’m doing mastery-based grading just of the homework in my general education math course. And I’m using an online system that,it turns out, is not that great for mastery-based grading of that course, even though I’ve used it for other courses. Students, I think, still benefit from it, but it’s not quite as effective as I might have hoped. But, I’m just willing to try these things and willing to speak up about things, so those are the main impacts in my courses.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about how you’ve implemented mastery learning technique?

Sarah: I think we’ve all done it a little different. Why don’t you start, Zoe, since you were just talking about it.

Zoe: I’ve done it only in the homework, so not in their exams. So, the homework is done online, it’s 15% of their grade. And so for each little subtopic, they have to do a little quiz. It’s five questions: three medium, one easy, one hard, and they need to get at least 90% on it. And they can try as many times as they want, but they do have to keep trying. And so, in courses like college algebra…is the one that’s most similar to where I’ve done it before…the material all builds on itself and it divides nicely into little component and there, I’d say it’s going well. The students complain about it at the beginning, but already after I asked them to reflect on their first test performance, a lot of people said, “Oh, it’s actually really helpful that I had to go back and keep learning these things until I fully understood them.” Whereas in the first couple of weeks, there’s always a bit of pushback about “Why do we need to get 90% on this. It’s too hard to get 90%…couldn’t it be lower?” And then once the results come in, they see it’s worthwhile. The other course I’m doing is similar, the gen ed math course…it’s also their online homework…15% of their grade, but that textbook just doesn’t break down the material into as nice sections and the questions are longer and the grading of the online system is pickier. So, that one has some issues, but the same basic idea.

John: Are you using publisher provided questions then, and tools?

Zoe: Yeah, publisher provided questions and tools.

John: Are you allowing unlimited attempts or is a limit on the number of attempts?

Zoe: Yeah, unlimited attempts, and flexible deadlines too. So, I do say they need to achieve a certain amount before each of the test. But, the idea is that if you haven’t yet mastered something, you can still go back and do it several weeks later. As you keep practicing the material, we keep building on it. So, it’s not that you have just one chance and you’re done. The goal is to get them all to understand it fully by the end of the semester.

Jessalyn: My approach to mastery based grading in my first implementation was to go totally off the deep end, and just structure the whole class with a mastery-based grading scheme. So, what this meant was that I did away with midterm exams, everything was broken down into learning objectives roughly correlated to the sections that we were intending to cover in the textbook. And the primary mode of assessment was quizzes. So, my students had quizzes that they could retake as many times as they needed to. And each quiz had three questions and I wrote problem banks of many many questions for each quiz. And in order to earn an A at the end of the semester, the expectation was something like, “Oh, you need 18 of your quizzes to be three out of three and the rest of you two out of three.” So, it was not a points accumulation scheme, it was just quizzes and repeated quizzes. They also had online homework through web work and that was unlimited attempts. There were deadlines, and they just needed to… there was sort of a threshold percentage associated to an A or a B, or a C. And then I had a few more other activities and elements going on. But, primarily, the structure involves these mastery quizzes. And I owe a great deal in the structure of this class to Laura Taalman from James Madison University, who shared a lot about how she structured her class that way and so I sort of borrowed and adapted from her setup for my experiment.

Sarah: So, my class is pretty similar to Jess’s. The main difference is I’m doing it in a proof-based course, so it’s fewer questions. She had three questions per objective. I have one, because they’re a little bit longer questions. The only exam in my class this semester is the final and that’s only because I’m required to have some common questions on a final exam. So, I had to have a final exam…instead I’m doing weekly quizzes. Each week, we add one to two new objectives. There’s about 20 for the entire semester. So, our first week we had two questions on the quiz. The second week, we had four questions on the quiz, but questions one and two were the same objective as one and two from the first quiz. So, the questions are just going to grow cumulatively…so our last quiz will have about 20 questions on it. Although I did tell them once everyone has mastered a question, it’s just going to say mastered, it’s going to be no new question writing and at some point, I’m going to recycle some of the early ones.

John: Your building in some interleaved practice and spaced practice as well.

Sarah: But, the idea is that once they have mastered a question, they no longer have to do it again. They’ll have the questions for practicing and for getting ready for the final. In addition to these mastery quizzes, I’m having them write a portfolio, which is going to have a little bit more of that interleaving practice and making sure that at the end of the semester, they still remember how to write some of these early proofs and it’s also to focus on the writing aspect. So, to help make sure they’re really using the language precisely. Sometimes with a quiz when it’s timed, you’re a little more flexible, but I want to make sure that they have that precision of language down by the end of the semester. So, I’m sort of balancing those two aspects of it that way. They have “unlimited attempts” in air quotes…restricted by what? …there’s 12 times I could quiz during the semester…13 for something…So, restricted to…they need to do number one all semester long. They can have all semester to do it, but we are eventually going to run out of time.

Rasika: So, for me, I haven’t tried to mastery based grading yet. Maybe in the future.

John: Are there any other new techniques any of you have used in your classes?

Sarah: I’ve done a lot of experiments with this idea of embodied cognition, where you actually have students sort of using their bodies to experience things mathematically. One way that we did this with my pre-service elementary school teachers, I give them a bunch of clothesline, and I have them make a circle. So, you may think, “Okay, no big deal.” But, what happens is, it’s not good enough until it’s a perfect circle. Part of this is to elicit the definition of a circle, because to non-mathematicians, I’m going to pick on you for just a moment, Rebecca, how would you define a circle?

Rebecca: One continuous line that’s in a loop.

Sarah: So, a lot of times they come up with something like that. Well, how does that distinguish, though, a circle from an oval. So, it’s not really a precise definition of a circle, right? With the precise definition is being it’s all of the points that are a fixed distance from the center. But, what happens is, by forcing them to make their circle better and better and better and better, they actually all know that’s the definition of the circle. Maybe they don’t remember it, but they know that there’s this radius thing involved. And so by not allowing them to sort of quit until they actually are in a perfect circle, the only way to do that is you have someone stand in the center, and you take another piece of clothesline to measure your radius, and you move everyone in and out as appropriate. So, that activity of physically making the circle and by having to have that person in the center, and that radius gets them to say the definition of the circle properly, first of all, but they get to experience it in a way that they don’t get to otherwise. And that’s an activity that I never would have thought of without going to Tensia Soto’s session at my first Project NExT meetings.

John: It is certainly safer than giving them all compasses with sharp points where they can stab each other, which was how people used to do it.

Sarah: We still do compass and straightedge constructions in geometry, but again, that doesn’t actually help you really understand what the definition is. I think doing this physically actually helps them understand why a compass works. I know that sounds silly, but it really helps make those kinds of connections. I have another activity where we take clothesline and I make a triangle on the ground, and I make them walk the interior angles of the triangle and you spin 180 degrees and it, again, helps them experience that the sum of the internal angles of a triangle is 180 degrees. And again, that’s something that, the first time I did it, it was baffling because first of all, it’s hard to turn the interior angles. Your instinct is to turn the exterior ones, but you end up backwards. From a geometry standpoint, it makes sense, but somehow that physical aspect just really changes things.

John: It makes for a much more memorable experience, where they’re seeing things from a different perspective. And I think that’s really useful.

Sarah: I agree. That’s why I do it.

Rebecca: Does anyone else want to chime in about how having so many fellows from Project NExT has influenced the larger department? Because you’re not just five people in your department, you’re how many?

Sarah: There’s 14 of us tenure/tenure-track now. I do think it’s changing the way some things are done. It’s slow going. I think everyone would concur with that. Jessalyns’s smirk is definitely confirming that. It’s slow going, some of us would like change to happen faster. But, I do think change is happening. I think there’s a lot of respect from our colleagues that we are trying new things. I think a lot of them have a “You can do what you want, but don’t make me change yet.” But, I think we’re starting to get them a little bit, too.

John: If your students are more successful, that often convinces people and sometimes when students say, “I did this in this other class and was really helpful,” that’s often really persuasive to other faculty. But, it’s convenient that you had so many people all come in at once, because that’s not typical in most departments that have such a large cohort, in a short period of time.

Sarah: We have had a lot of retirements, one right back on top of each other. So, we have had an influx of young faculty in our department, which…that alone…to have so many in this program as well. Definitely.

Rebecca: I think it really helps to have models of ways that you can do things because if you didn’t learn using these methods or you didn’t have exposure to that as a student, you have no way of knowing how those really play out unless you have examples. So, it sounds like Project NExT played that role for you, but then you are playing that role for other faculty in your department.

Jessalyn: Thinking about department culture more broadly, not just among discussions and relationship among faculty, but in terms of the student experience, and this engagement that we’re having from our majors and the sort of activities that we’re involving them in. I think there has been a Project NExT influence there as well. Sarah, you and John started the Putnam Competition before I came even and a lot of other conversations and gatherings have come out of that, like we’re getting together with our majors and talking about preparing them for graduate school if that’s something they want to do. The math club or other organizations have taken on a different role in the department and I think a lot of that comes out of some of the ideas in Project NExT, like hearing about how another department celebrates their students participating in something like the Putnam Competition. But, it also comes out of the relationships you build in an active learning classroom and the way that we connect with students when we are trying new things. And we’re being honest with them and saying, “Hey, I’m trying something new. And I’m going to want your feedback.” The community that you build in a classroom flows into the community that we support and foster as a department.

Zoe: So, it’s a bit hard for me to talk about departmental culture change in the one month that I’ve been there not having seen it before I did Project NExT. But, I can certainly talk about how the department seems different from other departments, just in the willingness to embrace new ideas. And there’s also a sense that these ideas are just supported. Even if we haven’t had an explicit conversation, I know that there will be support for trying something new that was suggested in Project NExT. And it seems, when it comes time to make policies, that we have almost a majority just of Project NExT people. Obviously, we need a couple more people, but there are other people who haven’t participated in the program who would still support these sorts of initiatives. Knowing that that base of similar views is there, makes a big difference in what sorts of ideas we would even suggest or consider.

Sarah: I think a lot of our Project NExT fellows have also been very active with doing undergraduate research with students.

Rasika: I think even like talking to colleagues. For me, like I have a personal experience, because my husband is also a mathematician and teach at SUNY Oswego. If I learn something new, I share with him of course, he’s not a Project NExT fellow, but…

Rebecca: So, it sounds like the program’s working really well. You’re all really excited about it. It sounds like it’s engaging all of you. So, glad that you’re able to share it with us.

Sarah: The MAA has definitely done a lot to support improving teaching in mathematics and I do think it is a program that other disciplines could look at and possibly model. I will say they have put a lot of money and a lot of investment into making this a success. It is well run and has been well funded, which is a testament to how important professional organization views it.

John: We always wrap up by asking, what’s next?

Sarah: Well one thing that’s next is we’re trying to get one of our other new faculty, his application was rejected last year. We’re also hiring two people, hopefully this year…So, possibly trying to send them next year as well.

Jessalyn: Another immediate thing that’s next is that our two current NExT fellows will be attending the joint math meetings in January and maybe organizing some Project NExT sessions or at least attending some sessions.

Zoe: I’ll be helping to organize a session on getting started in math education research, which I was made part of because I said it was something I wanted to do, but it’s not something I have any background in. So, I’m finding it a bit of a challenge to assist in this organizational process. But, I also, possibly for Math Fest next summer, helping organize a session on reducing math anxiety, which is something that a previous NExT fellow who I follow on Twitter help organize this session. So, having attended NExT, I think, gave me the confidence to respond on Twitter to this senior mathematician and say, “Oh, yes, I’m interested in this topic.” And so that will come later. And that’s something I actually feel like you could contribute to in a meaningful way, unlike math education.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us. This has been really interesting.

Sarah: It’s our pleasure.

Jessalyn: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Zoe: Thank you very much.

[MUSIC]

John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

John: Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Kiara Montero.

106. Leveraging Faculty Expertise

Teaching centers with limited resources often find it challenging to be able to meet the needs of all faculty. In this episode, Chilton Reynolds and Tim Ploss join us to discuss how the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center at SUNY Oneonta has leveraged its impact through the use of a faculty fellows program. Chilton and Tim are instructional support technicians in the Teaching, Learning and Technology Center at SUNY Oneonta.

Transcript

John: Teaching centers with limited resources often find it challenging to be able to meet the needs of all faculty. In this episode, we examine how one teaching center has leveraged its impact through the use of a faculty fellows program.

[MUSIC]

John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.

[MUSIC]

John: Our guests today are Chilton Reynolds and Tim Ploss. Chilton and Tim are instructional support technicians in the Teaching, Learning and Technology Center at SUNY Oneonta. Welcome.

Chilton: Thanks.

Tim: Thanks for having us.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are…

Chilton: I’m drinking English Breakfast right now.

Tim: I’m drinking dark roast coffee.

John: We have a lot of that type of tea on this show.

Rebecca: Yeah [LAUGHTER]

John: And I have a ginger peach white tea today

Rebecca: I have lady grey. Look at that! Multiple episodes in a row that I’m not drinking my normal tea.

Chilton: What is your normal tea?

Rebecca: English afternoon.

Chilton: English afternoon, there you go.

John: All through the day.

Rebecca: Yes.

Tim: It’s still morning, I think, right?

John: She drinks it morning, afternoon and evening.[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Right, yeah.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about the Faculty Fellows program at SUNY Oneonta. Could you tell us about this? What is it and how did it get started?

Tim: Our director Michelle Rogers-Estable came on two, three years ago. She wanted to have a program where faculty like to do deep dives on software that faculty know really well. She wanted to have a support system setup for that kind of software. And of course, Chilton, myself and our other colleagues in the TLTC are pretty good with software. But we can’t do a deep dive on every flavor of it out there, because they would just be too much. So, our director wanted to have the cohort of people who could peer teach faculty how to use software deeply. And so we set up the Faculty Fellows Program. And faculty receive a stipend from us to be Faculty Fellows. And basically that makes them consultants that we can call when we have other faculty who want to know how to use a particular software that we have faculty fellow experts in, we can put them in touch with those faculty and they can learn how to do deep dives on deep software.

Chilton: And the thing I’ll add to that is that we like to have actual narratives of how faculty are using the software. So we learn software all the time, we learn how to use them, but to actually have narratives from faculty on what they’re actually doing with it in the classroom or doing with it for their research or how they’re using it is really powerful for other faculty to be able to hear. So, when they hear about something from us, they might not really get an idea of what it is, but when they hear from other faculty members they’ll be like “Oh, that’s what that means. I can do this with this, I can actually do some statistical analysis with this, or I can do better video conferencing with my students.” So, to have those narratives from their peers, I think, is really powerful as a part of that.

Tim: Yeah. People don’t want to hear from us level nerds. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: How many fellows do you have? And what’s their time commitment over? Is it a year?

Tim: So, currently, we have five Faculty Fellows and it’s a year-long commitment. We do half years if people have other obligations, but usually it’s for a year.

Chilton: When we start off I think our first year we had three… Is that right?

Tim: Yeah

Chilton: And then we moved it to five. Second year and now in the third year of this, we’ve continued with five

John Kane: Do you select the software packages or do faculty propose them when they’re applying to be fellows?

Tim: Faculty propose them based on their own expertise. And we go like “yeah, we don’t know much about that software. So yeah… [LAUGHTER] come show us.”

Chilton: In the beginning of last year, we did a call and said “Hey, what’s something that you things like you’re an expert on that you would be willing to share with other people.” And they submitted on different things and we chose from that pool to be able to do that. And as far as the time commitment…

Tim: Its a year-long commitment, in the broad sense, but as far as time commitment, as far as what they do in exchange for the stipend, is they do a couple of broad trainings for us a year. They show up at events that we host, where we’re showing off all the various things that we do, giving people an idea of how we can support them. And so we have the Faculty Fellows show up for those events. And then they’re kind of on call as consultants to us and other faculty as needed.

Rebecca: Can you give us an idea of what kind of software that Faculty Fellows have been the experts in over the last couple of years that you’ve been doing this?

Tim: The big one where we’ve seen high demand, high response has been Qualtrics Survey Software. We have a couple of faculty in psychology and another one in fashion marketing, who have done deep dives since graduate school in doing surveys and Qualtrics was their software choice back then. And that’s what they’re our experts in and it’s been fairly popular.

Chilton: We started that with just Qualtrics, but it turns out they take all that information and actually put it into SPSS. And so they started off as Qualtrics, but they’re really now Qualtrics ,and SPSS, statistical analysis experts. Because it turns out there’s a lot of faculty that are interested in doing more statistical analysis of things, especially qualitative data, being able to code it and then they’ll get some information out of that, which they haven’t been able to do in the past.

Tim: And we’ve got another faculty fellow who’s an expert in Articulate Storyline software that gets a lot of like “Oh, that looks really interesting.” And then people kind of back away when they see that it takes a little bit of time to work with, but we’re working on that. We certainly could use more interactive online content in our online stuff, online classes. That’s getting better. [LAUGHTER] But that one hasn’t quite caught fire the way Qualtrics did.

Chilton: We also have one for Zoom actually, for video conferencing. That faculty fellow has been very supportive in talking about how he’s currently using it in the classroom and giving some ideas on that. And then our final one right now is on Web 2.0 Tools. We have a faculty member who teaches online educational technology, and so is interested in using lots of different types of tools for Web 2.0 and so she’s been focused on helping support faculty when they want to do a deeper dive into a lot of different softwares that are interactive.

John: How do you work with the fellows? Are you working with them individually? Are they going off on their own and just checking back when they need assistance? Or does that vary depending on the fellow and the tool they’re working with?

Tim: I kind of think of them as consultants for us. We’re pretty broadly known across campus as the people to contact when you need help with software. And that is we, the TLTC, Chilton and myself. And we can’t do deep dives into every kind of software out there, so when it’s appropriate, we usually contact the fellows. Either we ask them for help, or we ask them to take over working with a faculty member or a staff member on the software that they’re interested in.

Chilton: Yeah, so we don’t have faculty contact them directly. We’re kind of the..

Tim: …first contact point naturally, I think, just because it’s software and technology.

Chilton: Yeah.

Rebecca: How have other faculty responded to having this program available or working directly with other faculty?

Tim: We haven’t really assessed that. [LAUGHTER]…. So I can’t give you anything more than just like, off the cuff, it seems to be working.

Chilton: Yeah, we’ve had faculty that are happy when they find out there’s somebody they can go talk to, so we call it “anecdata” [LAUGHTER]…… but it’s anecdotal. But our anecdata on this is that they are happy to be able to go talk to somebody who has used it extensively in their research, who’s used it extensively for a while to be able to talk with them about it. So, I think specifically about the Qualtrics fellows right now, when somebody finds out that they can go talk to them, when we’ve had them do presentations, there’s been a lot of feedback to say “we’d love to do more with them.” That’s kind of how we came across the “Oh we should do something with them on SPSS as well” because we did a presentation on how to use Qualtrics. And they were talking about moving into “How do you actually analyze all this data once you get it?” And they’re like, well, we can do that too. And we said to other faculty, like, “We would love to hear more about how you do that.” And so that’s where we started talking about doing more deeper dive into statistical analysis with all this data as well.

Rebecca: Do you find that the faculty who are engaged with this program are focused more on their own research or is it more about using technology in the classroom?

Tim: Certainly with Qualtrics, it’s their own research. Articulate Storyline is more… online classroom. So yeah,I think it’s balanced. It totally depends on the software. But Qualtrics is certainly inherent to a lot of faculty research. And so that makes sense that that’s where that ends up. Zoom i think is being used more for keeping track of students who are away on internships or otherwise off campus so that they can have interactivity face to face with faculty.

Chilton: Yeah, with our student teachers traveling around a lot that’s where it’s taken off a lot for us has been in the education department and so it’s been good to have faculty be able to talk with. But again, that’s mostly in the classroom, not as much for research.

John: Do you get more applicants for fellows positions then you have positions opening or do you generally end up with about five applicants per year?

Tim: We’ve had to turn down a couple of people in three years.

Chilton: We’ll say this year so far, we’ve just continued with the same fellows we had from last year. There’s a lot of positive feedback on those and so we haven’t put out a call this year. We’ve just continued the same fellows that we had from last year. And we’ve talked about doing a call possibly next semester to maybe add one more in and that’s still to be determined.

John: But you expanded the scope of what they were doing as in the case of adding SPSS to Qualtrics?

Chilton: Correct.

Tim: Right.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about some of the challenges of running a program like this?

Chilton: Our faculty fellow for Articulate Storyline is actually in the health center and she’s created a whole training online. It’s a full course that’s all about safe practices for students and so it’s really student focused outside of the classroom. So, I think the biggest challenge that we’ve had with that one specifically has been that she has really great examples, but they’re not classroom examples. And it’s a really large project that she’s done. So it’s overwhelming for some faculty, when they hear about it. They’re like “That sounds great. That sounds magnificent. I’d love to do that.” But, the amount of time she’s put into it is much more than a faculty member is willing to put into it. So, we’re in the process for this year trying to find some classroom examples… smaller, more manageable examples… for faculty so that it can be more useful for them and we can hopefully get some more faculty be involved in. That’s one challenge. The other big one was, last winter, we wanted to have, we call them “Tech Talks” on our campus where we have faculty talking, and we wanted to do one that was highlighted all of the Faculty Fellows. So, we invited all the faculty fellows to come for one day, we had different tables for every single one, all five of them in one room, and the day of had a huge snowstorm and nobody showed up, but the five faculty fellows! So it was a great, fascinating conversation that we had among the seven of us in the room, because it was all people that were passionate about the tools they were using. We just went around the room and shared because even the faculty fellows didn’t even really know what the other faculty fellows were doing. So, to have everybody just kind of have a chance to share was great, but we just missed an opportunity to be able to widen our audience with that. So we will not be doing that in January next time. This year we’re going to try and do that at a more appropriate time for non-snow events and see how that goes.

John: We do something similar. We have about nearly 100 workshops typically in January, but we use Zoom with all of them. So, that way people can participate remotely or present remotely if they’re stuck in a snowbank somewhere.

Chilton: Yeah, just as a side note, do you ever have it where there’s multiple presentations going at the same time when you’re trying to Zoom them all at once?

John: We do. We have three accounts, I have my own and then we were able to get our CTS to provide two others. We run, typically, three simultaneous sessions or up to three at a time.

Chilton: They have to be in separate rooms then for them to work though

John: Yes, we reserve a block of rooms from the campus. And since it’s in January, and there’s no other classes going on, we’re usually able to find space.

Chilton: Yeah.

Tim: Nice.

Chilton: I think that’s going to have to be on our radar for moving forward. I’ve always envisioned them being in the same room so people could kind of wander around in one room, but that wouldn’t work for something like that.

John: Ours are more full workshops, they’re not just about specific technologies. It’s various teaching methods and so on.

Chilton: Yeah. Very nice.

Rebecca: It’s almost like a little mini conference.

Chilton: And what do you call yours?

Rebecca: Winter Breakouts.

Chilton: Oh, nice.

John: And we do another set of spring breakout workshops right after the spring semester. Those tend to be the time when we can get the most faculty attending.

Chilton: Yeah,

Tim: Right

Chilton: Yeah, we’ve had something that’s happened in January that we’ve called boot camps up until this year. It’s to help prepare people for some training they’re going to be doing later in the semester. And we realized we need to rename those now, as we’ve changed the focus of what we’re doing there. So it’s no longer really a boot camp, we get people prepared. It’s more in that vein of what you’re doing, where it’s just kind of like a mini conference. So I’m always curious to hear other names so we can figure out what would be good to call it for moving forward.

Rebecca: Ours is clearly super uniquely named. [LAUGHTER]

Tim: We’re totally stealing it. [LAUGHTER]

John: We inherited it and people have gotten accustomed to it.

Chilton: There’s a lot of power in the name of that and once they know it, then yeah.

Rebecca: If it’s not broken, you can’t change it. [LAUGHTER]

Chilton: Yeah [LAUGHTER]

John: Although this year, for the second year in a row, we have to do truncated spring ones because CIT is earlier relative to our semester. So, we only have a few days squeezed in there between our semester and the start of the SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology.

Chilton: And we’re in a similar boat. So, you do your spring training after the end of the spring semester.

John: Yes.

Chilton: So even though it’s June and officially it’s summer, right?

Rebecca: We do it in May.

John: Yeah, it’s late May, first week of June, depending on where the semester falls because a lot of people have kids and they take off during the summer or they travel or they go to other places. And usually, though, there is a week or so after finals have ended where a lot of people are still on or near campus.

Chilton: Yeah, we start with the same thing. It feels weird to call it spring when it’s now summer break for students. Even though it is still spring, but then we do…

Tim: Yeah, commencement is usually at the end of that week.

Chilton: Yeah, so we’ve done some stuff in there too, and called it Spring Boot Camp. Actually, we had a Spring Boot Camp this past year. And then did some stuff before the start of the fall semester and called that our Summer Trainings. It just always feels weird to me to have a spring thing when summer break has started. [LAUGHTER]

John: Although fortunately, it doesn’t really feel like summer here typically in late May or early June.

Chilton: A good point.[LAUGHTER].

John: We’ve sometimes have had snow flurries during that time.[LAUGHTER]……That helps.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: When I first heard about your program, what I liked about it is it lets you extend your center by providing a network of faculty. And it sounds like a growing network of faculty who can help support other faculty, which gives you a bit of leverage in reaching more people and providing a broader range of support.

Chilton: Well said!

Tim: Yeah, that will be a summary right there. [LAUGHTER]

Chilton: And that was what we’re excited about with it… was the fact that it was bringing in more faculty to be able to engage with us in some different ways. And, honestly, some of them don’t need our services a lot because of the people that are out in front of things and are exploring things in new ways. And so some of these faculties we wouldn’t see otherwise. And so to be able to engage them into our center, it’s a great way to be able to support them and feel like they can be supported when they’re out in front of even us on some things.

John: Those are people you’d like to connect to and have as part of your activities.

Tim: Yeah.

Rebecca: I imagine that some of those fellows, although not technically fellows anymore, continue to be a network of support for the center and continue to engage.

Tim: Yeah, once we know who to call… absolutely.

John: We do the same thing, but we’ve never had stipends to give them… So, that way, at least you can feel a little bit better about sending people to other people for assistance.

Chilton: Well, another part of that too, is it gives them something they can put onto their vita, it gives them something that they can talk about and be able to have a name for it and be able to have a stipend kind of gives it a little bit more weight for them. So even if it doesn’t show up to you’re going to trainings, you still have something that you can kind of be able to tout as a part of that.

Tim: Right. It’s shocking that, yeah, money has value [LAUGHTER]…. Was that too blunt?

John: As an economist, it certainly seems reasonable. People respond to incentives. [Laughter]….. Are there any other topics we haven’t addressed?

Chilton: The only thing I would add is that, at this point, we don’t have any past fellows yet. We’ve continued to retain them and keep using them. So once we’ve got them on the hook so far, we haven’t let them go. Because we’ve been really happy with the feedback that we’ve gotten, and they seem to be happy with the support they’re getting from us. So we have no past fellows.

Rebecca: Just a growing cohort

Tim: …a growing cadre.

Chilton: Yeah, a growing pool.

John: So, we always end with the question, what are you doing next?

Tim: Oh, I don’t have my Outlook calendar handily available, so I don’t know what I’m doing next.[LAUGHTER]…. But,I think I’ve got something. [LAUGHTER] I think we’re going to try and expand the fellows program so that we can have more areas of expertise available to us and to have a better finger on the pulse of what faculty value as far as technology in the classroom. That’s a nice side benefit of the program.

Chilton: Yeah, and then outside of that, we are getting deep into accessibility in our center. So our Provost just put out a statement that all syllabi have to be completely accessible and posted on Blackboard by next semester. So, we are getting sucked up by that now, in a good way. A lot of time is spent on going around to the departments and individual faculty. It’s amazing how when you just say syllabus, everybody then interprets that to mean other documents as well. So people are looking at not just their syllabus, but then also other things as well and try to make them accessible.

Tim: Yeah, and that’s an okay interpretation.

Chilton: Yes. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: That’s a desirable interpretation. [LAUGHTER]

John: Sometimes it just takes a little initial prompt to get people thinking about these things.

Tim: Yeah, that. We’ve got a migrate people from turn it in over to Safe Assign in Blackboard, we’re having some revisiting budgets… that redundancy isn’t helping anybody. That’s boots on the ground stuff.

Chilton: Yep.

Rebecca: All important work that needs to be done.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely.

Chilton: It’s exciting and keeps us busy. I’ll say that. I think that’s it, anything else?

Tim: And we’re keeping the OER ball rolling.

Chilton: Yes. So open educational resources are moving along on our campus and really, we’re trying to support that.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us and sharing this program with us.

Chilton: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Tim: Our pleasure, thank you for having us.

Chilton: It’s fun to be here.

[MUSIC]

John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

105. Globalizing Classes

Improvements in communication and information technology have resulted in an increasingly interconnected global economy. In this episode, Dr. Blase Scarnati joins us to discuss ways in which our classes can be modified to help prepare our students to productively participate in this global environment. Blase is a Professor of Musicology and the Director of Global Learning in the Center for International Education at Northern Arizona University.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Improvements in communication and information technology have resulted in an increasingly interconnected global economy. In this episode, we discuss ways in which our classes can be modified to help prepare our students to productively participate in this global environment.

[MUSIC]

John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Today our guest is Dr. Blase Scarnati. Blase is a Professor of Musicology and the Director of Global Learning in the Center for International Education at Northern Arizona University. Welcome back, Blase.

Blase: Thank you. Really glad to be back with you both.

John: We’re glad to have you here again.

Our teas today are:

Blase: I’m drinking my everyday green tea. Chinesegreen tea Dragonwell Long Jing.

John: Very nice.

Rebecca: I have English Breakfast tea.

John: I have a pure peppermint tea. So, something plain.

We’ve invited you back to talk about your work with global learning. Could you tell us first a little bit about your role as a Director of Global Learning at the Center for International Education at NAU.

Blase: Primarily I work with faculty and departments, especially through our Global Learning Initiative, and the Global Learning Initiative (or GLI) is an across-the-curriculum global education initiative sited in all undergraduate programs and our liberal education program…also explicitly uses co-curricular experiences such as residence hall programming, department activities, community engagement, and so forth. And GLI established three interconnected and interdependent ideas that were all based and drawn upon long-standing campus values that were articulated as university-level thematic student learning outcomes around diversity education, global engagement, and sustainability. And so we kind of approached what global education can be in a very innovative way rather than just, like many institutions, privileging study-abroad-based experiences. We really broadened it out, and really defined it as diversity education, global engagement, and sustainability. And through that, when we were working to implement them at the department level, we really were asking departments not just to kind of hook up, to reach up, to those University outcomes, but rather recast them through the discourse in the discipline, so that departments truly would own those outcomes rather than just attend to them. We went about this after a lot of campus conversation for several years and it was adopted in 2010 by our faculty senate. Then we began to work with departments to implement and develop ways for them to think through…to create department- and program-level outcomes around those three thematic university level ones. And we used a backward design process: developing the outcomes, developing assessment strategies, and then determining sort of scaffolded learning experiences across the major curriculum. And especially with emphasis on reimagining courses; not just tossing courses out or adding courses, specifically. So how can you really get to the nub of modifying and internationalizing your particular courses. In 2012, GLI contributed significantly towards NAU earning the prestigious Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization awarded by NAFSA. And more recently, we’ve been shifting away from working with departments and program curricula and focusing on individual faculty and their courses. And we do everything from individual consultations and dialogues about individual courses. But, most excitingly, we’ve organized a lot of large-scale frameworks that we’re calling collaboratives that bring together faculty, undergraduate, graduate students, particular programs, community members, all to kind of begin to think through how different courses different programs can really more deeply internationalize their efforts. Jean Paul Lederach, the great peace organizer and theorist has talked about large, flat, flexible, democratic platforms. And that’s what we’re really trying to pursue because, if you have a chance to listen to my other podcast with you all, we’re really focused on a lot of strategies that are based in community organizing theory and practice and that’s been my driving approach.

Rebecca: I have a question, Blase, based on some of the things that you’ve already mentioned. Can you talk a little bit about the kinds of learning outcomes that you were using for backwards design related to individual faculty. I think sometimes we have an image of what that might mean, but might have difficulty applying it to different kinds of disciplines.

Blase: Sure, the university level outcomes are really quite broad based. And they were rather intersectional in the sense that sustainability was also leaning into diverse spaces. We’re talking about sustainable communities and so forth and cultures with an idea that it can accommodate…if we built these really large boxes that lean almost into one another like Venn diagrams, then that would offer kind of the maximal amount of space for programs and departments to dialogue and think through them. And really, the individual departments…It was quite quite diverse. Some were very, very specific and targeted about really hard skills that they might need that would help them establish careers…be hired out in post baccalaureate efforts…and others were a lot broader. In the humanities, for example, they were much more expansive, and it was really quite diverse. So all ultimately address skills and competencies, but they were framed very, very differently. And the key point for us was that they were really rooted in disciplinary discourse. So, they were truly real and meaningful for faculty in the department so they could use them as tools to help their program move and prepare their students to succeed in the world that their discipline works with students to place them successfully in.

Rebecca: You do Musicology, right? So are you in the music department at your school?

Blase: Yeah, I’m a professor of musicology…music history. I do work with critical improvisation studies, popular traditions. I teach courses in reggae and country music, and jazz…and yeah, and in music. we’ve approached them in sort of interesting ways: sustainability comes about through…for example, my wife is an oboist and between global learning and lots of pressures with urban expansion in Africa, the wood that they source for that particular instrument has become quite scarce and rare. And there’s also lots of issues about appropriating other cultures’ resources and so forth. So, that’s really driven a lot of internal dialogue about what are we doing, how can we do it and what other alternatives might be available? Initially, of course, they went to oil-based solutions, you know, looking at polymers, but then they’ve been exploring other kind of sustainable woods and just ways to go about and reimagining and still achieving really high levels of performance and expressiveness, using an instrument that will allow them to do that. But again, with alternatives and there’s been real efflorescence in the oboe world around having lots of different woods being used and explored. And our theater colleagues were looking also at green ways to save energy: reusing, using non-toxic paints in their flats and their staging. So there’s been a lot of different ways. And some of its quite strategic and often overlaps with other ways in terms of economic efficiency, given tight budgets and so forth. But at the end of the day, that’s the reality. For example, we make and create and help to enable students to be effective performers and music educators, they’re dealing with audiences and the world and they have to come to terms with that. Within that is what I can contribute about uncovering lots of issues about how does music function in and as culture? And what are the resonance around whose music is being played? How’s that identified? How is it commodified? Who owns that music? Who can speak for it? And it’s a quite fraught history in the US and and European traditions vis a vis world music. But this can help unpack a lot of social justice focused issues within disciplines. Many pursue them overtly. Some that’s kind of bubbling a bit more in the background. So in music it’s been, in spite of popular culture’s music, quite forward art traditions and so forth. It’s more akin to museum systems in the visual plastic arts. So it’s a little bit quite contested in some ways, a bit behind some other areas. So it’s been useful to help disciplines turn over the field a bit and help to move themselves in productive directions.

John: What other types of experiences have been used on other departments to try to reach this goal?

Blase: Well, when the department itself has embraced the institutional imperatives of the wind filling the sail as one where one has to complete it, it’s baked into the program reviews that occur every six years internally, and so forth. And, at the same time, what’s also driven a lot of it is student demand. Just one example… our Department of Philosophy went through this process…and all dear friends, but it was a bit pro forma. And, you know, it wasn’t necessarily the deepest engagement compared to some other departments. But a couple years later, they came back in and wanted to re-examine and reestablish new outcomes for their program to really deepen their practice and their thinking. The discipline had changed, and there was a huge student demand. Once they started opening opportunities in courses and uncovering these issues, like linking it more close to the bone of what’s gone on in philosophy courses, then students were really driving that change. So, really, to kind of get to the nub of the matter when you start talking with a colleague, and they’re saying, “Well, how can I do this in my class?” And that’s always a very, very interesting conversation because in some ways, it can be challenging because they may be frustrated, they see where things are…the state of the world. They’re driven by their own passions and values, their disciplines also, and sometimes bringing that to bear within a curriculum that they may have inherited from someone else in the department over the years, or a particular course, then how do they go about working their way through that? And that can be a very, very rich conversation.

Rebecca: It sounds like that’s the conversation we should have. So, Blase, how can I globalize my classes? [LAUGHTER]

Blase: From my perspective, there are two ways to go about globalizing your course. First off, there’s no need to scrap it, throw it away and start over. No one’s talking about doing that. There are two approaches. One is to work within the existing outcomes for the course. And the second is designing additional outcomes for your course that specifically address why your students should be globalizing their work. That might be a formal outcome that you place if you have the latitude to add that to your course or an informal one that can help you frame your thinking. So in the first one…working within the existing outcomes. We would have a conversation and frequently would just…first off, get off campus…go someplace and have coffee. You kind of break down the routine of this is me in my role, you as a faculty member in your role…I mean, I’m a faculty member too, but I come to them within this other frame…and get someplace where you can begin to think and imagine and begin to talk about what have they always really wanted to do in the course around some of these issues. So, how can you take those outcomes and find ways of moving the learning and moving and modifying learning experiences…projects…what you do…what you read…what you think about…what you discuss in the class… so that it has a more global dimension. And some of that can be shifting readings, shifting the locus of activity or thinking through a problem and where it’s sited, and then helping your students that may not have a lot of experience in that discipline, thinking about those things. So, helping them understand how you really think and work within that discipline with these issues. So the first one is the easy one: where can you substitute? Where can you supplement? Where can you modify? What can you change? The second one, it kind of gets at things at a deeper level and probably something that’s more impactful. So, if you design your own courses’ outcomes, you’re really going to have to think through: Why are you doing this? What will it enable your students to do? To what purpose? …and, given the restrictions you might have, that might be just lurking in the background, helping you make decisions about what you want to alter. What new sorts of ways of doing and knowing that you want to explore with your students, up to you just add it as another outcome and discuss it with your students as you walk through the learning outcomes in the first day when you go through the syllabus quickly and begin to consider what are we going to be doing in this class and why?

John: When faculty have bought into this, how have they responded?

Blase: Most are really, really enthusiastic and people tend to seek this out if they are aligned to the overall goals of the project. In the early days, sometimes we had reluctant departments or departments that there wasn’t a working consensus to move forward in any particular direction. And those were more difficult conversations. These days generally working with individuals or departments that they’re highly aligned with this. So it’s a matter of what more can we do? How can we do that? And the restrictions aren’t about globalizing the course or trying to internationalize different activities or projects. But, often it’s how can we do this with little to no additional economic support? So we can’t buy resources…we can’t send our students necessarily independently out. And then how can we expand where our curriculum is, and I can introduce them to colleagues in the Center for International Education and we operate not by using a service where our students pay and go abroad using a services infrastructure. Like many places anymore, we have individual departments…have reciprocal agreements with other universities that our students would go and take a range of courses in the study abroad experience and they would come back. They would transfer right in. Students are not going to be missing any time in their progression towards a degree. They pay our own internal tuition. So their scholarships and financial aid cover those expenses. We also have a very generous level of support for travel for those students in need, especially in economically challenged groups. So, there’s a lot of infrastructure that the department or the individual faculty member may not have. But we can begin to put people together in a broader network to help them as an individual faculty member achieve aspirations or collectively as a program, or our whole department. Oftentimes, it’s frequently very, very exciting because, if you kind of are talking at that level of what have you all wanted to do, then let’s figure out a way to make that happen. That’s a very catalytic encounter and a catalytic discussion because it’s full of possibilities. I always try to shift the conversation to what else is possible? What have you never had a chance to do? Don’t worry about the 1001 reasons not to do it, they’re always there. But let’s figure out what that is, then we’ll go and figure out ways to remove the barriers or to provide the resources if we can. So, it’s usually a very satisfying work. And it’s usually a very uplifting conversation, because people take that energy inside and really begin to spin it. So, they’re lit up, and how excited they are infects others in their networks and groups and it can kind of feed off of one another. And much like we were talking about earlier conversation, if you get enough activity going, and you begin to saturate the airspace as much as you have the latitude to do, you can create a locus of gravity that starts to pull others in. And that’s just based upon your active network of folks that are collaborating together.

Rebecca: Can you talk about some specific examples that you think are really powerful implementations of globalization of a class or a curriculum?

Blase: Sure. One early example that I use to open up conversation with departments because I usually would go in into a department meeting and here’s what this project GLI is all about. And then “How do you do it?” That’s the next question. One really great example was out of our civil engineering department, we have a big school of engineering of civil, electrical, and so forth. And they often have core courses that all of the different threads within civil engineering would take together and one of those courses had a bridge building project. So, it had two major components. One was you need to design the bridge. So, you need to do the mathematics…the engineering of a bridge that will span a particular distance…that will carry a particular load…and then the materials and construction management side of that. So, then how do you actually actually create that bridge. So, it was actually a semester-long project, and it was quite complex. On the surface, that sounds fairly easy, but it is very real world, because that’s what these students would do when they leave. And they would join a construction corporation and they would be building bridges and other types of projects. So, engineering wanted to globalize that project. They thought this was one place where they could really make an impact. The faculty sited the bridge building project in Kenya. And that’s a country where we have a lot of reciprocal programs and our engineering students are working and taking courses and working in programs there. So, it still addressed the very technical side of what was needed in the course. So they still design and engineer a bridge that carries load…that spans a particular distance. But now that it moved the construction and the materials management into an international frame, and in a particular country, where there are infrastructure issues. How do you ship and transport or source locally materials. And again, that actually aligns absolutely with what their students need because their graduates are getting hired by major international corporations that build projects all over the world. So, that actually gave them a richer set of tools that came out of that learning experience. So, they accomplished everything they needed. Plus, they were able to internationalize it in a way that helps students develop tools that were even more necessary, and actually more salient to their success in the future. I think that’s a very, very quick, powerful little story that gets a “How can you take something and make some changes to it, that actually brings more to it?” So it doesn’t just globalize, but it actually opens up a set of possibilities and experiences that are multiplied. So, it’s not just here’s one way that we can do this to globalize this learning experience. But then, how can we, at the level of outcomes truly, how can we develop a richer set of tools that our students can use to succeed as they go out and seek to build a richer life?

Oftentimes inertia and perhaps a department, for example, or group of faculty, they may think it’s a good idea, but they don’t see a ready quick access point. Civil Engineering, they saw it almost immediately. And they said, “Well, we can do this.” And then it led to “Well, what if we do more of this? How about if we went here, as opposed to there…just so they move down the road pretty rapidly. For example, with Physics and Astronomy, we had a chair that was actually part of our planning group that helped design the whole Global Learning Initiative. And she was very, very interested in wanting to help move the department in this direction. And they were quite split. And it wasn’t just the astronomers versus the physicists, but it was actually a more generational split and that was just peculiar to their department at the time. So, there were a lot of very senior gray lions that really didn’t want to go in this direction. They thought it was counterproductive. They thought it was beside the point. And so that opened a lot in a very long conversation. And over five years or so, there was some change, retirements and so forth. And younger faculty and then the rising senior faculty began to have conversations about what it can be within their context between physics and astronomy. And we’re lucky we’re adjacent to a number of indigenous nations, the Navajo Nation, which is as large as all of New England for goodness sake. Within that’s the Hopi reservation downstate, various Apache groups, and it’s a very rich international space that way. So colleagues in Physics and Astronomy started working with colleagues in the community college system on the Navajo reservation. And so they started bringing in traditional knowledge holders. So, within astronomy, they started offering courses around indigenous cosmologies. So, they were actually helping their students to think in very different international ways using different frames for how do you conceive the founding of the cosmos, and the workings of all that is out there. Even the most rigorous, focused astronomer that is working in radio astronomy, or some other variation of across their wide range of disciplinary practices, then they’re beginning to open up what’s possible, how and what does it mean to be talking about these things? And when I know that I’m talking about it through my contemporary U.S. international sort of frame, that’s one frame. And there are other ways that might be useful to think about the facts, the activities that we do, and what the information we receive. And then what does it mean to put it together in an argument and an explanation. And by thinking through other cultural dimensions that expands their abilities to do that imaginatively, creatively. I come out of the arts, so I’m kind of hard wired to want to do things very improvisatory creative ways. And from my perspective, the more we can all think about, how can we be catalytic and creative in our own disciplinary work? I think that’s the exciting place because it shifts you, not from the core to the periphery, but oftentimes to willfully and intentionally walk to that edge, where your discipline is interacting with all these other disciplines. And that’s a very fruitful and very exciting place to be, because that’s where new knowledge can come about really quickly, as you begin to fuse and think differently and expanding what’s assumed. For me, that’s personally and intellectually this very, very exciting work. And believe me, I can’t follow the details of my colleagues in physics and astronomy when they start unpacking things, but I can get and be really lit up by the direction that they’re going, and their excitement and what they’re seeing as possibilities. Because once colleagues find that this is a fruitful path, then that leads much like we found with physics and astronomy, and certainly the example from engineering, that leads to “what else is possible?” So, you just keep opening and opening and opening. And that’s where we all want to be, especially in a time when most or institutions are getting squeezed in terms of economics. That’s a very empowering place to be.

Rebecca: You’ve mentioned this is a fruitful place for new knowledge. That seems like a good transition to thinking through the lens of students and seeing the world in a different way.

Blase: Yeah.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about some of the student impact that you’ve seen, or maybe even a specific student or a specific story that might help us envision how this plays out?

Blase: I work with faculty who work with the students, but I just get that energy and how they’re able to create new things. And then especially as I see colleagues being able to morph and continually transform what their course is, so that it’s not just, we take something static, we’re going to do some window dressing, and job done, and that’s good for another 20 years. But, once you start moving the pieces, that energy, that motion, that kinetic sense just keeps going and flowing, and students are really excited about it. And what I hear are those more collective pressures to do more. And we have some assessment too: that we had over 80% of our undergraduate programs in just three years out of 91 of the programs at the time, complete the program level GLI process that comes with outcomes assessments and a curricular map of learning experiences. Study abroad, because what we did was we talked to study abroad and asked the departments to position a semester in the program in their sequence of courses where students could go abroad, take courses at institutions that they have confidence in courses that they’re taking, and come back so they’re not losing any time towards the degree. And we saw 136% increase in the number of students going abroad over eight years between 2011 and 2018. And also those students that went abroad, I owe this all from my colleague, Angelina Palumbo, the Director of Education Abroad here in the center. But students that go abroad also have a 87% graduation rate, which is about more than 10% higher than our average graduation rate, which is not bad, but still, that’s quite impactful. Everything from the example when I was talking about colleagues in philosophy, where once they started opening up some of these issues and giving voice to them, their students were asking for more. That’s sort of the level that I encounter.

John: Was the expansion in study abroad programs due to the global initiative.

Blase: Well, I mean, you know, it’s kind of a chicken and the egg thing. We had a new senior international officer (using the jargon, SIOs), Harvey Charles, who was a really, really innovative colleague. He was our SIO. I was working with him. We brought a whole bunch of people together. Basically, he established a presidential task force to help to internationalize the campus. The President was behind that. And working with Harvey, we brought from two or three of us that were focused on curriculum. Out of that task force, we invited 40 colleagues to come together to draft this Global Learning Initiative. And part of that was a concerted effort to expand study abroad. But what had been holding it back was the very things that we were able to address through the curricular side of GLI, that there was many programs didn’t have a targeted semester where their students could study abroad without falling behind. They didn’t have any particular countries or institutions that they had reciprocal relationships and confidence in their curricula. So, it was all at the same time, everything coming together. But the details of how many positions were added it actually tripled the number of positions working in education abroad. But again, that was in response to the huge increase of number of students that were going from our campus. And then also they were busy recruiting international students. We have a couple of thousand international students on campus. And that’s other parts of the infrastructure within the center that GLI wasn’t directly related to or focused upon.

Rebecca: You talked a little bit about economic barriers being a barrier for faculty and making change. Did you come across any other barriers other than maybe you talked about generational differences too?

Blase: Yeah.

Rebecca: Were those main barriers or did you see faculty coming up against some other barriers that they had overcome?

Blase: Some disciplines are just really deep…their disciplinary ways of thinking and knowing they’re highly aligned, right? They’re there…sociology, politics, and international affairs. There really wasn’t much of a discussion in terms of, they’re already doing a great deal of it, then let’s maybe see what else is possible. For a lot of other individual faculty, when we talk to them, or programs that are thinking about picking it back up…it’s kind of a reluctance either, like we’ve talked about before, I’m not sure how to go about moving and making further change, and/or this is a time when everybody is really stressed. On our campus, we’ve lost 60% of state funding in a decade, which is a radical truncation of our support. We’ve shifted to pretty much tuition-based funding, and that’s created enormous pressures…that level of tenure density has plummeted. So, there are a lot of lecturers and a plurality that’s a one-year non-tenured position here on our campus. It’s created a lot of internal pressures and schisms and issues and many faculty don’t have the additional emotional capacity to want to willfully step forward and say I want to create more change and uncertainty and chaos in what I do. When I was referring a little bit earlier to inertia, it’s not just intellectual laziness, it’s often just exhaustion. What’s happening nationally, I think has been exhausting many in the academy, and our politics, the level of incivility that’s increasing and rising on campus. Arizona… you just have to have one person agree in a public forum so that you can videotape and that could be the person behind the iPhone, if they’re agreeing to do it. And that’s all this needed. And of course, these courses and classrooms are public spaces. So, we’ve had lots of faculties classes being put up and being pilloried by different websites, various political perspectives, and some of its been in the Chronicle over the last couple of years. So, it’s been a challenging environment. There are many things going on that are tapping people out. But, for me, what has been the thing that always allows us to continue to succeed? If you’re talking about very mechanical things, or this is an obligation…we need to achieve these program outcomes, that doesn’t stir many people’s souls. But, if you actually have, in advance, thought about how can you position your initiative so that it’s focused and grounded in the values of your community, your literal community or your institution, then people can connect in ways that aren’t just focused on disciplinary interest or compliance. You know, you’re tapping into their heart and what they care about as a person and what motivates them. Again, sustainability in my own discipline of music, there’s a discourse there, and there are ways that one can think through it. But those colleagues (and I count myself) that are very passionate about the future of the planet, we’re motivated to do much, much more, and we’ll seek that out. So amid all the turmoil and depletion of energy and the exhaustion, if you can find ways to shift that conversation into this catalytic space that talks about possibilities, that taps into what people believe and what they value and what they care about deeply, then you’re feeding that conversation from a place that will enrich and nourish rather than just take away, exhaust, and grind you down into submission.

John: We always end with the question, what are you doing next?

Blase: Well, what I’m doing next is continuing on and more and more explicitly going back to the well of community organizing methods, strategies, and theory to help us come together collaboratively. For me, faculty on our campus, and I know a lot of places, feel increasingly radically disempowered either by state legislatures, distant boards, priorities that may be economically driven or politically motivated that are not aligned with where many faculty are themselves. And we tend to wait until we grow quite gray for change to come from the top. So, I’m a firm believer of coming together with colleagues to focus on what’s possible, what can we do together, and actively doing that. And good administrators will be happy to jump in front of that train and take all the credit they want. God bless them. But, just what can we do together to make this a better place, a richer educational space for our communities and for our students? That’s largely pretty much everything I’m doing. Of course…presenting, publishing, writing and more writing, but like everybody else, that’s the thing that really kind of keeps me lit up.

Rebecca: Thanks for joining us.

John: Yes, thank you for joining us. That was a very good discussion.

Blase: Very much appreciate it. Thanks so much.

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John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

John: Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Kiara Montero.

104. Social Capital and Persistence

Students who are the first members of their family to attend college often arrive with less information about navigating the college experience than students who had a parent that attended college. In this episode, Dr. Julie Martin joins us to discuss the role that social capital plays in student success, retention and persistence.

Julie is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University, and former Program Director for Engineering Education at the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Engineering. She has conducted a wide variety of studies on factors associated with the under representation of women and people from minoritized ethnic and racial backgrounds in engineering education, and she is a new Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Students who are the first members of their family to attend college often arrive with less information about navigating the college experience than students who had a parent that attended college. In this episode, we discuss the role that social capital plays in student success, retention and persistence.

[MUSIC]

John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.

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John: Today our guest is Dr. Julie Martin. She is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University, and former Program Director for Engineering Education at the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Engineering. She has conducted a wide variety of studies on factors associated with the under representation of women and people from minoritized ethnic and racial backgrounds in engineering education, and she is a new Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering. Welcome, Julie.

Julie: Thank you.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are…

Julie: I’m not drinking tea. I’m drinking water.

Rebecca: Well, that’s a good healthy choice. [LAUGHTER]

John: That’s what tea is mostly anyway

Rebecca: Yeah

John: I’m drinking black raspberry green tea,

Julie: And I have Oolong today.

John: Wow! You’re really mixing it up this week

Rebecca: I know. I am out of control.

John:
We invited you here to talk about your research on engineering education, but could you tell us first a bit about your path to an engineering degree?

Julie: I think I really had two motivations for getting an engineering degree. And the first one was really personal. Since I was a toddler, I have had a pacemaker which was needed to make my heartbeat regularly. And somehow I grew up understanding that engineers, along with doctors and other folks, contributed to designing and making those devices and improving that technology that really affects my quality of life every day. And then the second part of it was that I also had adults in my life that were encouraging my interest in math and science. And it was something that I was good at and enjoyed, and they helped me connect those interests to majoring in engineering when I got to college.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about what prompted your research interest on barriers for women and other underrepresented groups in engineering, specifically?

Julie: Well, the obvious first part of that is that I was a woman studying engineering. And then, early in my career, I worked at the University of Houston and that was a fabulous place to work. The student population there…. really diverse… there are many students who come from the Greater Houston area and that’s a really diverse city. So the students I work with, they came from a variety of cultural backgrounds and economic backgrounds. And many of them were first-generation college students. And my position was as the Director of Recruitment and Retention for the College of Engineering. So I was talking with students who were considering engineering as a college major and then I was working with those same students who were already engineering majors or the students that later came in as engineering majors. So, I started to see all of these, I guess I would call them structural issues, that were really making it difficult for them to succeed. So, there were students there that worked full time, on top of taking the full credit load of 18 hours of engineering courses, because they had to pay for their tuition or because they need to contribute to their family or both. And when I’ve talked about structural issues, one example of that is most professors’ office hours were only offered at specific times. So, if a student was working, in addition to going to school, they might not be able to get to the professor’s office hours, because they were working at that same time. So they couldn’t even get there when they had a question. This is, I think, an example of how a particular group, in this case working students, can unintentionally get marginalized in engineering education. Those professors weren’t trying to put up those barriers for the students who worked, but it was still a real challenge for those students.

Rebecca: Did you come across any other structural barriers other than some of these time conflicts?

Julie: I think that that’s sort of an example that cuts across a lot of different groups of folks… students that are working. Some of the other kinds of things, I think had to do with generational status in college. So some students who were first-generation in their family to go to college or maybe the first person in their family to go to college didn’t necessarily understand how to navigate the university system. And that was from everything from the application process, filling out the FAFSA (Federal Application Form for Student Aid), and all the way to even necessarily understanding what office hours were, and that it was a time that you could go talk to the professors about anything related to questions that you had in class.

John: You’ve done quite a bit of work on the effect of social capital on persistence in engineering degrees. Could you tell us a little bit about what you were looking at? And as part of that, could you explain what is meant by social capital?

Julie: I was initially drawn to the idea of social capital because it’s really about relationships, and that’s something that’s really important to me in my life. So the way that I define social capital is the resources that you have in your social network, in the relationships that you have. And so this research that I’ve done is really based on my belief that everybody needs access and support to making informed decisions about their academic and career plans. So by studying social capital, what we’re really looking at is: how do people get the information and resources that they need to succeed? So to achieve their goals. And in the context of getting an engineering education, achieving their goal would be getting an engineering degree.

John: What did you find in terms of the impact of social capital on student persistence?

Julie: One of the things that I’ve looked at a lot in my research is studying social capital from the perspective of looking at students’ generational status in college. How is social capital similar or different for different groups of students? And when we look at students who are the first-generation in their family to go to college, first-generation college students versus students who have parents that went to college, which I call continuing-generation college students, there are some interesting similarities and some interesting differences as well. So, for example, for those two groups, students who are first-generation college students, and those who are continuing-generation college students, many of the same people are in their social networks. Many of them have teachers and family members and peers and other educational kinds of personnel. But sometimes the role that each of those different groups of people play can be different. For example, continuing-generation college students may have parents that know things like how to navigate the application system to get into college or how to navigate a university campus or a university system. And first-generation college students, their families may not have that same kind of what we call instrumental knowledge to help them succeed, but they have shown like really, really strong emotional support. And we call that expressive social capital. So when their families really encouraged them to get a degree… Many of the students talk about how their families are behind them 100%. And so they receive a lot of support for going to college and for getting an engineering degree from their families. It’s just a different kind of support than continuing-generation college students received from their families.

Rebecca: What role do faculty play in terms of social capital for these two groups? Because I imagine, in some cases, it might actually be really different without us realizing it.

Julie: Yes. So I think one of the really interesting things is that I think faculty have an important role to play for all students. And this can be especially powerful for first-generation college students. One of the things that we see is that sometimes first-generation college students experience a delayed access to resources because they don’t know necessarily how to navigate the campus system or the university or the educational system, they might not know for example, that there is an Academic Success Center or a tutoring center, or they might not know that it could be important to join study groups or student organizations. And as a result, it might be a few semesters before they figure that out, kind of to have to figure it out the hard way. And so professors and faculty can play really important roles in a couple of different ways. I think they can help make sure that some of what we might hear called the hidden curriculum of going to the university and some of that intrinsic knowledge that folks that work in the university system or have families that went to college might know, is available up front for all students, so they can do things like connect students to places on campus, like I mentioned for academic resources. They might be able to share opportunities that they have for undergraduate research or other kinds of things like that, that helps students get involved. Faculty can encourage students to join student organizations. That’s one thing that’s been really shown to affect students persistence and their sense of belonging… and encourage students to form study groups… and faculty can also help students build their professional networks. And this can be something that can be really important, not just while they’re getting a degree, but after they get out and get a job or during their college studies, if they want to do a co-op or an internship. And then some of the things that we may not think about as faculty have turned up to be really important. So, just faculty sharing their own academic and professional experiences are things that students refer to and say to themselves like, “Well, you know, if she can do it, then I can do it too.” Or it can also help normalize students’ feelings about maybe the difficulty of their courses or the difficulty of persisting in an engineering program. Those kinds of things can really be just as important as some of what we call instrumental actions that are actually connecting students to resources and information on campus.

Rebecca: One of the things that I’ve experienced in my classes…I’m a designer. So it’s related to engineering in some ways… we have some of the same kinds of behaviors in the field… is that students don’t always understand what professional development opportunities can be, or what the benefit of going to a conference is. And it may be just because the students never had a family who did things like that. It just wasn’t a part of their everyday conversation. So sharing what it’s like to go to one of those kinds of events and what you get out of it, and then personally inviting a student who seems hesitant, but might really benefit from it, nd then also helping them find the resources to go… can be really useful.

Julie: Exactly! Those are exactly the kinds of things that I’m talking about. So not only helping the students understand the value of it, but then putting that extra bit in there… making sure that it’s accessible and available to all students with respect to finances and those kinds of things.

Rebecca: It also sounds like the social capital things that you’re talking about would be particularly important in first-year classes or gateway courses into a major.

Julie: I think some of these things that we’ve been talking about with first-generation students may have delayed access to some of the resources that are on campus… it’s just because they haven’t been made aware that they exist. So, first-year courses can be really important for that. Absolutely.

Rebecca: What are some of the barriers that you find with continuing-generation students that we might not expect?

Julie: So I don’t know that I’ve necessarily identified barriers there, but one of the things that’s really interesting to me is the roles that families play, and how that is different for these two different groups of students. I mentioned that first-generation college students have really staunch support from their families often for going to college and feel like their families are behind them 100%. And that kind of expressive support, that emotional support, can be really important. And certainly continuing-generation college students report those kinds of things as well. Sometimes it has a bit of a different meaning because first-generation college students are often motivated to get a college degree to have a better life than their parents did. And they might define that as just a more stable job or more stable income or being able to work in an area where you’re not, for example, doing manual labor. So, what’s interesting for me, then, about continuing-generation college students is how often they start out with the family support that’s able to give them specific information and resources about applying for college, about going to college, maybe even about things like selecting their coursework. And what we see is that through time, students who have been in college longer report that the role that their families play changes during the course of the time that they’re in college. They’ve come to rely more and more heavily on their peers and actually, both groups of students talk about that… that the support that they get from their peers, the information and resources that they get from their peers is really important. And these family roles change from a parent who might be helping the student with everything, with filling out the financial aid application, with filling out the application,with selecting the courses in the early years, to the friends becoming the people who the student really relies on, and the families then providing the emotional support to persist and to finish.

John: It seems like helping to develop a strong network on campus is helpful. Could we do that perhaps by encouraging more group work and more peer interaction and peer instruction, especially in introductory courses, but perhaps all the way through?

Julie: Yes, absolutely. And even when it’s not something that happens officially in the class, it’s really important to help students form these networks outside of class as well. So, one of the things that I think is so interesting about studying social capital is that it’s studying the student experience in college, not just from the perspective of what’s happening in the classroom. That’s a really important part and we can apply the social capital ideas to what’s happening inside the classroom. But as soon as the students leave your classroom, after 50 minutes or 75 minutes, then what happens then? …and that’s really when the majority of the college experience takes place. And the majority of the learning and the majority of the things that can affect students persistent, so that part’s really important too. So anything that we can do that helps students connect with their peers, and their near peers, students that may be a few years ahead of them or graduate students in class, but also keep those connections out of class is really important, and that’s one reason I mentioned supporting and promoting student organizations. So that’s one thing that most faculty may feel like is not really part of their job description, is to encourage students to become involved in student organizations. But even doing something as simple as making announcements about when student organizations are going to meet in class can lend that weight from a faculty member to encourage students to do things like that outside of class as well.

Rebecca: So we focused a lot of the discussion on the difference in terms of first-generation and continuing. Can you talk a little bit about some things that might specifically impact underrepresented groups?

Julie: When we start thinking about social capital, the theory of social capital talks about the fact that typically people who are not in the majority position can have different kinds of access to social capital than people who are in the majority position. And in my work, we focused on the generational status in college because that’s where we have seen the difference. I’m absolutely not trying to say that being a woman in engineering where women are at best about 20% of the population or being from an underrepresented ethnic or racial group is not important. All of those identities are important for students and they intersect and have different effects based on whether you, for example, might be a woman who is from a minoritized ethnic or racial group. So I’m not trying to say that those things aren’t important, they absolutely are. What we are focusing on is generational status in college, because that’s where we see the biggest qualitative difference in the way that students talk about their experiences, selecting engineering as a major and then persisting in the discipline.

John: One of the issues that often come up is that, in engineering and STEM fields in general, we see a lot of people dropping out along the way; that many people start the discipline, and then they either drop out or change their majors into other areas. And the rate of return to students investing in education in these fields is pretty much the highest that we can get in any field. And yet we see a lot of people dropping out. Is that more common for first-generation students? And, if so, why might that be occurring?

Julie: I think that there’s multiple reasons that students leave the major. And there’s been a lot of work done, over the last at least 40 years, to study that. I think that the benefit of looking at it from the social capital perspective is that we’re able to think about how the things that happen in the classroom and the things that happen outside the classroom can help students be successful. And so I wouldn’t say that it’s more common or less common for first-generation college students. But when we think about it from this perspective, we can think about what are these ways in which we can help students tap into the information and the resources and the emotional support and all of the assets that they have in their social networks, in their relationships and then help them make informed decisions about what they want to do. Some students leave engineering because it wasn’t the best choice for them to start with. And honestly, I’m fine with that. I’m really interested in helping students make the most informed choices about what they want to do with their college major and their career.

Rebecca: So, for those who might not have families who are doing the rah-rah-rah-like support of education, there’s a lot of students who don’t necessarily have that particular support network, are the ways that we can help foster that on campus for students?

Julie: I think we can foster it on campus for students regardless of what kind of support they have at home. One of the things that we’ve seen in my research when we’re looking at first-generation college students in particular, is that there can be adults in the lives of K 12 students who are really important and even though they’re not their actual relatives, we call them fictive kin because they are really influential in their lives. So, this may be somebody who works at a STEM summer camp that the student attended, or at an after-school program. And those are people that are providing information and resources for the students about what they might want to major in college, and giving them information and resources to help them make informed decisions about what they want to major in in college.

Rebecca: I certainly felt that as a student… I had people outside my family… I was a first-generation college student. And so I certainly had people who were in that network of people. I had a faculty member in my high school who wasn’t even a person that I took classes with, but who just kind of took me under her wing and made sure I knew how to navigate certain systems because my family didn’t really know how to navigate those systems and supported me in the idea that I could do things that maybe didn’t occur to me.

Julie: And I think the really important lesson from that is that everybody can have a role. If you’re a scout leader, or you’re a summer camp teacher or you’re someone in the community, everybody can have a role in supporting students.

Rebecca: I guess the trick then becomes, how do we help everyone realize that?

Julie: Yes, that is the trick. And that’s one reason why I worked really hard in my research to try to provide a lot of implications for practice. So, you know, taking the research back to “What does that really mean for somebody who’s a faculty member? What does that mean for somebody who’s a scout leader? What does it mean for somebody who is an academic advisor?” And so really helping people understand that everybody has a role and maybe giving them some examples of the types of things that they can do, even if those are not things that you’re able to do in your own particular role. Hopefully, it can inspire you.

John: What are some specific things that faculty might be able to do to provide a more supportive classroom climate. We’ve talked about some, but are there any additional methods?

Julie: I think one of the things that faculty can do, and many of us don’t necessarily do very often, is talking about the kinds of things that are available for students outside of the class. And not just academic resources. So most faculty will say “well if you need tutoring, you go to this place and these times” but the kinds of things that can really help student persistence and really help them develop social capital with people all across the campus might be things that faculty normally aren’t really involved in. So those might be the student organizations on campus that I mentioned, or encouraging students to form study groups, so that they’re working with their peers, and developing those really important relationships that become critical. And those kinds of things are just as important as the kinds of things that happen inside of the classroom.

Rebecca: Sometimes I’ve had discussions with students who are struggling with time management or these other kinds of things that connecting them to the fact that there’s a gym on campus to relieve some stress or to build that into their schedule. And just pointing out that there are yoga classes or that there’s this other kind of group that has nothing to do with academics at all, might be a great place to find some relaxation and support in a really different kind of way. And I think they’ve always been surprised at me saying, “Well, did you schedule in something like that?”

Julie: Yeah, you know, what I love about that is that’s thinking holistically about the student as a person. That’s thinking about all the things that they need to be happy and fulfilled and ready to come to class and to learn and then to go be involved in other campus activities. And so I think that that approach of thinking about students holistically and not just thinking about what’s happening with them, in that brief time that we have with them in class, it can be really critical for student success for everybody.

Rebecca: I’m really curious about how someone who’s coming out of engineering comes across the idea of social capital as a way to study this.

Julie: That is an interesting question. So my degrees are in material science and engineering. And I actually, as an undergrad, did a minor in the humanities. And my reason at the time was very simple. I wanted to be able to have at least one class a semester that I didn’t have to bring a calculator to. [LAUGHTER]……But I have always enjoyed reading and writing and thinking about things that aren’t related to engineering. And it wasn’t until after I got my degree and started actually working in academia, teaching engineering, that I started to realize how I could sort of marry those two interests. My very first teaching job was at Virginia Tech, and I was there during the time that they were forming one of the first departments of engineering education. So even though at the time I was really focused on just teaching in the first Engineering program. It was really interesting because I was hearing all these things about this new area of research interest. And so I started to begin to get some training in that area and eventually, by a few years later, had moved my entire focus over to engineering education.

John: The reason I approached you about doing this topic, is I saw on Facebook that you had received an award recently for your work in this area.

Julie: I think the award you’re referring to was the Betty Vetter Award for Research from the WEPAN Organization (Women in Engineering Proactive Network). And that’s an organization that I’ve been really involved in over the past number of years, that is supporting culture change in the culture and climate in engineering education.

John: We always end with a question. What are you doing next?

Julie: I have just started my position at The Ohio State University. And I’ve just started my position as the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering. So those two things are going to keep me quite busy for the near future.

Rebecca: Well, sounds exciting, a nice new adventure.

Julie: Absolutely.

John: And you’re doing some really important work, and I hope you continue to be successful with this.

Julie: Thank you.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us. This has been a great discussion.

Julie: Thanks. It’s been a lot of fun.

[MUSIC]

John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

103. Commitment Devices

Students, and faculty, generally have good intentions when planning to work toward long-run objectives. It’s always easier, though, to start those projects tomorrow instead of today. In this episode, Dr. Dean Karlan joins us to discuss how commitment devices may be used to align our short-term incentives with our long-run goals.

Dean is a Professor of Economics and Finance at Northwestern University, Co-Director of the Global Poverty Research Lab at the Kellogg School of Management, President and Founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, co-founder of Stickk.com and Impact Matters, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dean is the author of many scholarly articles and several books related to economics, including my favorite introductory economics textbook.

Show Notes

  • Dean Karlan
  • Innovations for Poverty Action
  • Stickk.com
  • Impact Matters
  • Global Policy Research Lab – at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern
  • University
  • Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab
  • Karlan, Dean and Jonathan Morduch (2018). Economics. McGraw-Hill.
  • Giné, X., Karlan, D., & Zinman, J. (2010). Put your money where your butt is: a commitment contract for smoking cessation. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2(4), 213-35.
  • McGuire, S. Y. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Momentum – the app for targeted giving that Dean mentioned
  • The following study, referenced in the podcast, examines the problem of suboptimal fertilizer use of fertilizer in Kenya. Both were just cited in the Nobel statement on the 2019 award to Abhijit Bannerjee, Esther Dulfo, and Michael Kremer. Bannerjee, Duflo, and Kremer were Dean’s professors at MIT. Bannerjee and Duflo were on this thesis committee. (The Nobel announcement came after the podcast was recorded but two days before its release.)
    • Duflo, E., Kremer, M., & Robinson, J. (2011). Nudging farmers to use fertilizer: Theory and experimental evidence from Kenya. American Economic Review, 101(6), 2350-90.
  • Artz, Benjamin and Johnson, Marianne and Robson, Denise and Taengnoi, Sarinda, Note-Taking in the Digital Age: Evidence from Classroom Random Control Trials (September 13, 2017) – the study about note-taking that John mentioned.

Transcript

John: Students, and faculty, generally have good intentions when planning to work
toward long-run objectives. It’s always easier, though, to start those projects tomorrow instead of today. In
this episode, we examine how commitment devices may be used to align our short-term incentives with our long-run
goals.

[MUSIC]

John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of
innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the
State University of New York at Oswego.

[MUSIC]

John: Today’s guest is Dr. Dean Karlan. Dean is a Professor of Economics and Finance
at Northwestern University, Co-Director of the Global Poverty Research Lab at the Kellogg School of Management,
President and Founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, co-founder of Stickk.com and Impact Matters, and a
member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dean is the author of many scholarly articles and several books related
to economics, including my favorite introductory economics textbook. Welcome, Dean.

Dean: Thank you. Thanks for having me here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Dean: A vanilla expresso. I’ve said it as “expresso” for the sake of our mutual
friend Matthew. [LAUGHTER] So we can show this to him and he will be very upset. [LAUGHTER]

John: …and I am drinking Bing Cherry black tea.

Rebecca: …and I have the Sally Lunn… Disclaimer: I’m not sure if that’s how you
say it… house blend tea from the UK. [LAUGHTER]

John: We invited here primarily to talk about some of the work you’ve done related
to behavioral economics. We know that students learn more when they engage in spaced practice, yet students tend
to procrastinate, as do most faculty. So we want to talk to you a little bit about why people tend to focus on
immediate gratification at the expense of long-run goals.

Dean: So, you know, the heart of it is human nature to some extent. And I think the
thing to realize, though, is that it’s not a universal truth, right? There’s many situations, and many people
who are more patient than others… that are patient in one domain, not in another. There’s a general sense, of
course, that we value things more today than we do tomorrow. This is kind of at the heart of economics, but a
lot of the issues that we’re doing research on, and some of the active policies that we’re working on, aren’t so
much about whether people are patient or not. It’s about whether they succumb to temptation, and there is a
difference. And the difference is this. When we talk about succumbing to temptation, what we’re saying is, if
you ask me what I want to do in a month, I tell you, I want to eat healthfully. I want to exercise. I want to
train for a marathon. And then when a month comes, and now a month from now is now today, and you say, what are
you doing today? And I go, “Oh, yeah, that chocolate cake looks really good. [LAUGHTER] And I ran out of time,
I’m not going to go to the gym today.” And I go, “I’m too tired. I prefer to go to the movies. And that
marathon? Yeah, kind of cold. I guess I kind of knew that a month ago. But I was out of mind. And so I’ll train
for that later.” And so the point is, my preferences change. And that’s something that economists historically
did not handle very well, this idea of preferences changing. And yet that is what behavioral economics has
done… is basically trying to build better models that take into account that reality of preferences
changing… and whether we call it preference and changing or not, is kind of a technical jargon thing. But the
basic idea that you can say you want A over B in a month, and then when a month comes, you say actually I prefer
B over A. And that’s a fundamental change in a lot of the ways that economists were thinking about things and
this applies in many domains. And the reality is, I might be really well disciplined when it comes to spending
money on one thing, for instance, like clothing, I have like almost zero temptations on clothing. But yet for
peanut M&Ms, I have a real big problem. [LAUGHTER] And I know there’s lots of people that are exactly the other
way around, right? And so it’s not something that we can attribute to someone as an individual characteristic
and saying, “You succumb to temptations, and you don’t.” Everybody has their different areas where they’re
strong, and they’re weak.

Rebecca: So when we want to accomplish something in our academic field, or we want
our students to accomplish something in what they’re studying, how do we get them to not succumb to that
temptation of doing the thing that seems immediately desirable.

Dean: So I think the absolute single most important thing is to help someone become
self aware. Once you do that, then there’s a few different paths that might work. And people are different. So
that path might be different. But the first step, that in most situations, is important for that kind of
weakness is to help people become self aware. And by self aware, I mean aware of the fact that if they don’t
change something about their environment, that they’re on a certain path, and they’re likely to engage in that
temptation behavior, and even though they say now they don’t want to do it, if they don’t change something or do
something different, they’re more likely to do it. And so what is that path that they could go down? Well, one
example, which is what you mentioned earlier, Stickk.com, which is a website that I started, that allows people
to write commitment contracts. So if I want to, let’s put it in the school work or the work context, suppose I
have a partnership with a co-author, and I am being derelict in my duty to write the introduction, we agreed I’m
supposed to take first stab at, and every week there’s something else comes up and I don’t get to it. So I go on
Stickk and I write a contract to my friend, my co-author, and I say if I don’t deliver it to you by next Friday,
I owe you $500. It’s still not a perfect contract, right? I mean, I could hand them a piece of crap that’s not a
very well written document, and he could say, “This isn’t good.” So there’s lots of wiggle room there, but there
has to be some level of trust with my collaborator… it’s a contract that the collaborator can call me out on
and say, “Look, we both know this is not what you said you would do,” so you still need some element of trust in
that agreement to make that work. But that’s the kind of thing you can do. And by making that concrete plan and
actually making it even more costly, beyond just continued shame, and scathing emails from your friends, it
makes you more likely to engage in the behavior you say you want to engage in. The punch line we use is it
increases the price of vice. Whatever your vice is, it’s a way of increasing that price.

John: So the goal is basically to align the short-term incentives with the long-run
goals.

Dean: That’s exactly right, to make it so that the prices you’re facing now are
aligned, are going to drive you to the behavior that you say in the long run you want to engage in.

John: So you’re changing the costs or benefits of the activity immediately through
some mechanisms such as Stickk.com.

Dean: Exactly. And of course, you know, I could write a contract with you just on
the side… just by emails and say, “Hey, if I don’t do X, I owe you Y. So, Stickk is a vehicle for making it
easy for people to do this. One of the popular options on Stickk is actually where I don’t give money to you,
but I give money to a charity that I hate. This might work really well if we disagreed on some political issue,
which I doubt we do. But I suspect over the years, we’ve talked about things we would have identified some
disagreement if we had one [LAUGHTER] that was stark enough on the extremes. But if we did, it would work out
really well. Because I could say, “Hey, I’ll send money to the charity on the other side of the political
spectrum, which you like, and I hate, and then you’re happy to enforce that. [LAUGHTER]

John: So anti-charities seem to be really effective.

Dean: Yes.

John: For example, I think you recommend for liberals, I haven’t checked recently,
but for liberals, you recommend the NRA or a Republican super PAC. And for Republicans. I think you recommended
the ACLU or a Democrat super PAC.

Dean: That’s exactly right. And we also have gun control, abortion, gay rights, and
super PACs on the two sides… and for the religious people in England, we offer up different football teams
[LAUGHTER] so you can support Arsenal or Chelsea or Fulham, and the money goes off to the team that you hate in
England.

John: What types of commitments do people make on Stickk.com.?

Dean: The single most common, it shouldn’t be a surprise, which is weight loss. I
mean, that is the biggest issue where this is highly relevant where everybody can think of someone who says they
want to lose weight, and somehow doesn’t do it. And every day, it’s like “Tomorrow I’ll do it.” Smoking
cessation is another very common one. And we have seen several randomized trials done not via the Stickk
website, but outside, but with the same exact contract structure that show that it became very effective for
helping people stop smoking if they agree to sign up for this contract. So smoking cessation is common…
exercise is common. There’s also a very large set of interesting contracts that people come up with on their
own, that are everything from dating… to marital relations… to work… to getting work done… So, flossing
your teeth…. Speaking more slowly to foreigners in New York City was one of my favorites. Another one of
my favorites just said “I will not date any more losers.” And the punch line that I really liked in particular
was that this person named a friend as the referee. The website allows you to name a friend who gets to
adjudicate whether you succeed or fail. So this person said that I will not date anymore losers, and Susie gets
to decide if any of my dates are losers or not. That was awesome. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Have you seen good success with people using Stickk.com?

Dean: Yes. But as a social scientist, I want to caution my “Yes.” So it’s very
pleasing to get emails… and I do get them fairly periodically from people telling me some story about
Stickk or I meet someone and they told me about how they used it to achieve a goal and wasn’t this great. And
that makes me very happy. In the back of my mind, as a social scientist, I’m always like, “Well, that’s great.
But did we cause that to happen? Or were you just the kind of person who was going to achieve that goal anyhow
and you used Stickk as your vehicle, but had Stickk not existed, you would have found some other way? Because
you were just a really driven person dedicated to overcoming your temptation problem. Now, that’s the whole
reason why we do run randomized trials, because we want to know, did we cause that to happen or are we just the
stepping stone along the path that was going to be taken anyhow. And there have been randomized trials done on
commitment contracts. And we do find very strong consistent evidence that for those who signed up, it is a very
strong tool that does lead to behavior change that would not otherwise happen. Having said that, take an example
of a study I did in the Philippines on smoking cessation doing a contract that was almost exactly like Stickk.
The difference was the money, if they failed, went to a local orphanage. It didn’t go to a charity they hate.
And there, we had a very large effect on likelihood of stopping smoking… about a 30 percentage point shift in
the likelihood they stopped. That’s a big, big treatment effect. But only one out of nine people said “Yes” to
opening the contract. Eight out of nine said, “Huh? Yeah, I know I told you I want to stop smoking. But I guess
I don’t really want to stop that badly… or I don’t think I can and so I’m not going to sign this contract
because I think that’ll just end up costing me money. And I’ll still spend money on cigarettes. And so I won’t
sign the contract.” So, eight of nine did not… but one out of nine did. And the idea was that they were taking
money they were spending on their cigarettes, and instead they’re putting in an account. So even if they kind of
stopped smoking some and went back, we don’t think of that as a bad thing even if they lose the money, because
they did smoke fewer cigarettes in the meanwhile… failed to stop… So it didn’t work. But they did smoke less
and the charity got some money. So one of the things that this makes me realize that goes back to the question
you asked earlier, which is helping people be self aware. How do you move the needle on that one out of nine?
Why is it only one out of nine? Is it that people don’t realize that if they don’t do something like this,
they’re going to probably just continue smoking, and they need to engage in some sort of change in their
environment? Change in the prices they face? Change in some peer influence? Change in something to help them
stop smoking… That it’s not going to just happen because they wake up one day and decide to do it.

John: You mentioned randomized controlled experiments. And I know that’s one of the
things you’ve done extensively with IPA (Innovations for Poverty Action). One of the things I’ve noticed in much
of the research in teaching and learning is often people do an intervention and they look at how it works for
the students who actually use that intervention, but they don’t get evidence on the counterfactual. So, you
don’t know how it would have worked in the absence of that intervention. So how might, perhaps, we think about
doing more randomized controlled experiments in educational research.

Dean: So I think there’s a lot of settings in which one can do them in education.
They do need large classrooms, or multiple classrooms or collaboration across universities in order to have a
sufficient sample size, but there’s lots of ways that one could do it. I’ll give you an example. We have a
Principles of Economics textbook that you mentioned earlier. And our theme very much in this book is kind of two
prong: one is it’s a very much a theme about economics is a good thing… that if you use it can help you
actually improve your own life and also help improve public policies. We’re trying to get away from this bad
image of being a dismal science and instead point out that economics really can be a path towards better lives.
But the other part is trying to be very grounded in empirical analysis and examples that are real, that provide
data and a crisp understanding of how these economic theories actually play out in real life. And one of the
things that we wanted to do in this is trying to understand, “Well, does reading the book help learning?” Kind
of a dangerous question for us to ask… a little scared… We haven’t done this yet, but we started a pilot of
it, where we wanted to get professors at different universities who are using the book to basically offer
students a little bit of like a raffle, where there’s a quiz that’s online that we can organize at the end of
the chapter. That’s where students have a bit of an incentive to read those chapters. And we can randomize which
students in which week get that incentive and they’re told, read chapter four, and go online, and there’s going
to be 10 questions on this website that the authors of the book set up and you just answer those 10 questions.
And if you answer them correctly, or eight out of 10 or something like this, then you get entered into a raffle
for an Amazon gift card. And what this allows us to do, because of all the electronic homework and problem sets
and things of this nature, is actually run a test of whether, assuming that that prize leads to an increase in
reading of the actual textbook, we can actually see the impact of reading the textbook on test outcomes. And so
this is an example of the kind of research that one can do. Why might we do this? Because imagine instead within
the alternative, which is just to take a final exam, and ask people ahead of the final exam, “Hey, by the way,
we just want to know who really read the book and who didn’t.” Suppose we got a list.. …we got, you know,
two-thirds of the class read it, one-third did not… and then we looked at the grades, and we said “Ah,
the two thirds of the class that read the book did better on the final exams and one-third did not…” That
would be a really bad analysis, that would be a really horrible thing to conclude and say, “Aha, that’s our
book, causing that change to happen, and improve test scores…” because anybody who was reasonable would look
at us and say, “Well, wait a second, the two-thirds that read the book, they sound like better students. They’re
more diligent, they’re more disciplined, they do their assignments, and so they probably just studied harder in
general and invested more time in the course. They maybe even went to the lectures when the other third didn’t
even bother going to lectures, all sorts of things are different.” And so you cannot just look at the difference
in test scores and say that’s caused by reading the book. And so that’s why we set up randomized trials in that
way, is to try to get at the causality question, not the correlation question.

Rebecca: So do you have any research or advice about motivating the students who
wouldn’t be those one of nine to sign a contract in the first place… to actually get them to commit to doing
better? Have you done any research in that area to think about that?

Dean: For it’s worth, we’re actually in the middle of setting up studies on this and
part of the idea is a little bit of a two stage process: let it play out a little bit without and see whether
they succeed or fail, ask people to make predictions upfront: “Will you succeed or fail?” Ask them upfront
say, “You know what? If you don’t succeed, how about in the future writing and commitment contract?” Because a
lot of people might say, “I don’t need to do a commitment contract, I’ll do it.” And then you say, “Okay, but
just in case, though… just in case. How about in a month, if you haven’t done it, then do a contract?”
They’ll go “Yeah, fine…. that’s fine, because I’ll do it. So it’s okay.” And then a month comes, and they
haven’t done it ad then you go: “You remember that thing you said… a month ago… you said you’d do it. You
didn’t. But you said If you didn’t do it, you’d write a contract. So here we are. [LAUGHTER] You want to do the
contract?” So we’re actually testing that out in a couple different domains to see if that’s a good way of
helping people become self aware. And it might be actually a really nice way of doing it. Because some people
will actually succeed in that first month. That’s good, that’s great. We want that. But we want to be there to
kind of clean up afterwards and pick up and help the people that are not able to achieve that goal.

John: One of the things we’re doing on our campus this semester is we have a reading
group of Saundra McGuire’s Teach Students How to Learn. And one of the things she suggests is that very sort of
intervention, that the best time to encourage students to commit to trying new strategies is after they’ve tried
their existing strategies, and they’ve been unsuccessful. So they’re primed to at least consider it.

Dean: That sounds great. I agree.

John: You talked a little bit about stick calm. Are there other types of commitment
devices that students might use to encourage behavior consistent with their long-run objectives.

Dean: So I think there are some in the social side. As an example, there’s studying
is the obvious… that we talked about, but there’s a lot of things that are the kinds of things that we all say
we want to do. But when the time comes, maybe is time consuming, or costly, like donating money to charity.
Right? There might be some cause… call it climate change… call it poverty in developing
countries… call it poverty in America, whatever the case is, and it’s something that is troubling to us.
Something that we feel like even if we contribute a little bit… it’s important, we can contribute a
little bit. That little bit can make a difference. And we want to be a part of that. But yet, when it comes time
at the end of the month, or worse yet, at the end of the year, when a lot of people do think about writing
checks and providing support to charities, they’re left with whatever is in their bank account. And why is less
in than their bank account than they expected? Well, let’s go back to the earlier conversation. Because they
were in a mall, and that shirt looked interesting, and they went out to one more dinner than they had planned to
in their budget, or they were at dinner and they had one more Margarita than they had planned to. These things
slip through, and they’re never thought about when you’re thinking about your overall budget and the end of the
month comes and you don’t have the money… or the end of the year comes and the money’s not there… And the
idea is, again, thinking about well, “What proportion of income do you want to be spending on charitable goods
and supporting other people and helping align those things you say you care about with your actual behavior of
what you’re actually doing with your money after paying for the things you really, really need, like rent and
electricity. So there are various tools for trying to do that… locking in automatic payments every month,
for instance, so that it just happens automatically. There’s a new app that I’m helping to do research with them
to help figure out how to promote called Momentum, which tags giving towards behaviors in your life or behaviors
in other people’s lives. So you can say everything I go to Starbucks, I want to donate 10% of my spending at
Starbucks to clean water in developing countries. Or you can say every time I buy clothing, I want to send money
to a homeless shelter in America. Or you can tack things to other people’s behavior. Every time Trump tweets, I
want to send money to the ACLU… [LAUGHTER]

John: That could get really expensive.

Dean: Well, you control how much. [LAUGHTER] …and It can do things on both sides
of the political spectrum. That’s just one example.

John: That discussion reminds me of a study I think you were involved… a
study on fertilizer and Sub-Saharan Africa?

Dean: Yes, this is research that was conducted under the umbrella of Innovations for
Poverty Action, but it’s not my personal research. And it was a striking example of how these issues of
temptation in financial management and planning for the future versus dealing with things today. This is germane
to people, whether they’re rich or poor. And in the case of using fertilizer, this is one of those cases where
if you go to most for farmers low income farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, most farmers do know that using more
fertilizer is better for them in the long run in terms of them earning more money. But if you go at planting
season when they need the fertilizer and you say, “Well, why aren’t using fertilizer?” The most common answer is
not that I don’t know to do it, but just that “Well, I ran out of money, cuz I just had three or four months of
the hungry season where I used up all my money.” And so what the researchers did is went to them at harvest when
they’re flush with cash and said, “Would you like to buy a voucher now, that is good for some fertilizer, and
you just come back in three months, and you use the voucher to get you fertilizer? And by the way, if you change
your mind, you feel free, you can cash this voucher back in for cash.” So it’s not actually a very strong
commitment. And farmers said, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” …and sol they did that. And then
fertilizer use went way up.

John: So the notion is pre-committing to things and locking that in somehow becomes
the new status quo, and then it forces that change in behavior, it makes it more likely that you’ll persist with
that change in behavior.

Dean: Exactly right. And one of the other lessons we learned is that soft
commitments are usually probably better at than hard ones. If it’s too binding, it goes back to we talked about
earlier… if it’s too hard of a commitment, then people might be reluctant to agree to the commitment in the
first place. So you need for to be a little bit of wiggle room and some trust with whoever’s on the other side
of that commitment to say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you. The circumstances are a bit tough. That’s okay. Don’t
worry about it.” Depending on who you’re doing this contract with and what the context is, you do need that kind
of wiggle room usually, for reasonable exceptions to apply.

John: And you mentioned the social aspect of it. One thing I was thinking when you
mentioned that was that I know some people who made commitments to go to a gym regularly. And then if one of
them didn’t show up, say Rebecca, the others would post a picture on Facebook saying “We’re all here. Where are
you?”

Dean: That’s awesome.

John: Can students perhaps sometimes leverage peer pressure to encourage behavior
consistent with their long-run goals?

Rebecca: Let’s note that when they backed off on that, I stopped going to the gym.
[LAUGHTER]

Dean: That is absolutely a hundred percent consistent and actually, thank you for
bringing this up. Because I should have said this earlier. When I say “increase the price of vice,” that doesn’t
necessarily mean cash price. That’s a good example of increasing the social price, the social cost of failing to
go to the gym. It’s a different form of payment, so to speak, is reputation and peer influence. But it’s very
much exactly in the heart of what we mean. And a lot of people in the Stickk website actually do not put money
at stake. They do put their reputation, they name a referee, and supporters who get informed whether they
succeed or fail. And that’s it, there’s no money. And we still get thank you emails from people about how it
helped them. You’ve got to know your type, and maybe that’s going to drive you more than 100 bucks. And so do
that instead of 100 bucks… .or both.

Rebecca: Just going back to the fertilizer example and I’m wondering if you could
set up something very similar in a classroom where students commit to something early on that has a little bit
of wiggle room to it, but might actually get them to follow through by the end of the semester.

Dean: There have been studies on things of this nature, getting students to give
them flexibility for when to do assignments versus getting them to commit to when their assignments are… and
when students are committed to when the assignments are rather than giving them flexibility,. performance tends
to be better.

John: And it doesn’t matter whether the commitments are imposed by the instructor or
whether they were self imposed. As long as there are deadlines with a penalty, students tend to do things. And I
think that’s true for us too… that if we have an abstract that needs to be submitted for a conference, I
suspect there’s a lot of them submitted right before that midnight deadline. So deadlines can be helpful, I
think, too.

Rebecca: I know I don’t do anything unless it has a deadline. [LAUGHTER]

John: I have deadlines every day.

Dean: I remember being told by a few different admissions panels in a few different
instances that you can definitely see, if you look at the likelihood of acceptance…. you see a strong
correlation between submitting the application early and last minute. These are two kind of difficult to get
into schools. And if you look at people who submitted a week to a month early, before the deadline… that’s not
a factor that’s used in decision making… but they do end up with a higher likelihood of getting admitted…
that these are students that have their act together… have everything in order and are stronger students
overall than students who submit at the last minute. So it’s not saying submit early and you increase your odds
of getting it. Just to be clear, this is not a causal mechanism, this is a correlation. [LAUGHTER]

John: That reminds me of another study we referred to. I don’t remember the exact
citation, but there had been all these studies (and we’ve talked about this in an earlier podcast)… there had
been a lot of studies suggesting that students who took notes by hand did better than students who took notes on
a computer or mobile device. And there was a randomized controlled experiment done maybe a year and a half or so
ago, where half the class used computers for half of the class. the other half took notes by hand, and they
found there was no significant difference depending on how any individual student took the notes. The difference
was, those students who chose to take notes by hand generally tended to be more successful, no matter what way
in which they took their notes. So it’s that self-selection issue that we see in a lot of these studies that can
be problematic in interpreting the results.

We always end our podcast by asking what’s next?

Dean: What’s next for us is coming October/November, we’re going to be releasing
over 1000 ratings of charities in America at Impact Matters, which is the other charity which I started, which
you mentioned briefly. Impact Matters is providing guidance to donors to help them choose good charities,
because there’s sadly no real good venue for doing this en masse right now. There’s way too many groups that are
focused strictly on accounting data and accounting data can be very, very misleading. But we are focused on what
matters: impact. Hence, our name: Impact Matters. And we’re going to be releasing 1000 ratings October/November.
I don’t know when the podcast comes out, but it comes up before then, great. Help us get this out there. We also
want to form student groups that help communicate and learn from what we’re doing so they can understand what do
we mean by impact. So it’s something that we want to form student groups on campuses about. So please do reach
out if you have any interest in getting involved or getting students involved

John: We’ll include a link to that in the show notes as well as contact information.

Dean: Awesome.

John: Thank you, Dean. It’s always a pleasure.

Rebecca: Thanks so much.

Dean: Thank you both. It’s great to talk to you.

[MUSIC]

John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes
or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on
teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

102. Team-Based Learning

A large body of research finds that active learning approaches result in larger learning gains than traditional lecture approaches. In this episode, Dr. Kristin Croyle joins us to discuss how she transitioned from  explore using interactive lecture to collaborative learning, and then to team-based learning. Kristin is a Psychologist and our new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at SUNY Oswego.

Show Notes

  • Johnson, R. T., & Johnson, D. W. (2008). Active learning: Cooperation in the classroom. The annual report of educational psychology in Japan, 47, 29-30.
  • A discussion by Dan Ariely explaining why asking for shorter lists of positive features in a relationship can engender positive feelings appears in this March 24, 2014 video clip.
  • Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., & Fink, L. D. (2004). Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups in college teaching.
  • Team-Based Learning Cooperative
  • Epstein Educational Enterprises, What is the IF-AT?
  • Sweet, M., & Michaelsen, L. K. (2012). Team-based learning in the social sciences and humanities: Group work that works to generate critical thinking and engagement. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Croyle, K. L., & Alfaro, E. (2012). Applying team-based learning with Mexican American students in the social science classroom. Team-based learning in the social sciences and humanities: Group work that works to generate critical thinking and engagement, 203-220.
  • Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257.
  • 74. Uncoverage – David Voelker – Tea for Teaching podcast episode discussing the uncoverage movement in history, March 27, 2019

Transcript

John: A large body of research finds that active learning approaches result in larger learning gains than traditional lecture approaches. In this episode, we explore one faculty member’s transition from using interactive lecture to collaborative learning, and then to team-based learning.

[MUSIC]

John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Today our guest is Dr. Kristin Croyle. Kristin is a Psychologist and our new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at SUNY Oswego. Welcome, Kristin.

Kristin: Thank you.

John: Our teas today are:

Kristin: Earl Grey

Rebecca: I am having Mama’s work tea, because Ada made it this morning and she calls it work tea, which means she pulls the tea bag tag out and puts it in the big cup. Also, it’s just my normal English Afternoon. But, that was a better story.

John: And I’m drinking Spring Cherry green tea.

Rebecca: We invited you here today to talk about collaborative and team-based learning in your classes. But before you do that, you’ve noted that you had a strong preparation in teaching before you got started. Can you talk a little bit about that. We’ve talked a little bit about that on the show before and how a lot of faculty aren’t prepared…

Kristin: Um hmm.

Rebecca: So, could you talk about how your preparation may be informed what you’ve done.

Kristin: My graduate program, I went to the doctoral program in clinical psychology at the University of Montana in beautiful Missoula. And that program takes the preparation of their grad students very seriously, but across several areas not just in clinical work and research, but also knowing that some of them are going to end up in positions in which there will be teaching. So, while I was there, that very first semester I was brought in, they had a structure for teaching their introductory psychology classes where graduate students were assigned our own classes where we were the instructor in the classroom, but we had a supportive network around us. So, the syllabus was already there, the textbook was already there. We collaborated in writing tests. We had a structure of TAs that supported us and they would have recitation sections in which the TAs also received development. And we joined in that so we could see how more hands-on kind of things could be done with students in smaller groups. We even assigned our final grades together. And some of those pieces are pieces that are areas of skill that people don’t often think about developing. So, that first semester, all I had to do was think about working within the structure: How am I going to handle the day-to-day teaching and learning in the classroom? I didn’t have to worry about course design because the course was already designed in front of me. And I also didn’t have to, at the end, think: “When you assign grades, is that rigid? Do you really have to follow the exact, you know, 90/80 that it is in the syllabus? Or what if there are natural breaks around 88 or 89? Is it okay to flex that? What kind of power does an instructor have that is fair to students and evaluation?” I got to do all of that in a collaborative setting with a very experienced faculty member as a guide. There was also a credit-bearing course for teaching psychology that we were encouraged to take… which I really enjoyed. And then I was given opportunities to function more independently. When they needed a stats teacher over the summer, and they knew I was living there over the summer, I got to teach on an adjunct basis, but still with the support of faculty around me. So kind of putting students in the deep end, but with a high level of support around them, I felt very prepared when I was done with the graduate program to enter into an assistant professor position. And I still appreciate the preparation that they gave me.

Rebecca: I think with the preparation like that you’re probably far more willing to experiment and do new things as a faculty member too and to maybe even break away from what faculty around you are doing. Do you find that to be the case? Or were there other faculty doing some of this collaborative work in the department that you were in?

Kristin: Yes, and no. One of the experiences I had at my previous institution, which was the University of Texas – Pan American that then transitioned through a merger to be the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. I was talking with a colleague in another department about the kinds of things we were doing in the classroom. And I still remember him saying “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that in the classroom and that was like teaching.” He had a very restricted idea of what teaching was, and what would be acceptable to colleagues, which he had never had the opportunity to test with other people around him. And that was something that I arrived from day one… that you talked about your teaching… that you can do many different things in the classroom. And it’s all teaching, as long as you are trying to work with students to create a learning environment and they are learning, then it counts as teaching. So I did come in with a much more flexible idea, then certainly some of my colleagues who hadn’t had an opportunity to ever have those discussions. And of course, some people are hired into departments in which those discussions don’t ever happen, so they may persist with those misconceptions for many years.

John: Or throughout their entire careers at times. [LAUGHTER] The scaffolding that was provided is really nice, because we’ve talked to a few people who’ve been in teaching training program or had some training in graduate programs. But usually, it’s not quite as structured as that and that’s a nice feature.

Rebecca: Yeah, I came from a program like that, but it was like very front loaded. It wasn’t that ongoing…. So I felt a lot more prepared, because I did have a lot of those experiences, but I didn’t have that same kind of supportive network throughout. Which is incredibly valuable.

Rebecca: So, you want to take us through what some of your collaborative experiences have been in the classroom and the ways that you set up some of the team-based learning exercises, maybe starting with what are those?

Kristin: Sure. So kind of the way that I journey through my teaching, particularly when I was an assistant professor, I felt comfortable in the classroom, but I didn’t feel expert. I felt like I was still trying to figure out what was going on, which is a perfectly fine way to be and a good state for learning to occur. So I felt like I was a talented lecturer, like I can engage students. I teach in psychology, I also think psychology is naturally very engaging, but part of that is because I really love the field. So, I felt like I could engage students and that they would listen and that they would be interested. But I started to become dissatisfied that there was always a core of engaged students and I had no idea what was happening with the other students in the class. And then sometimes I would be disappointed when we have tests or homework. Everyone said they had no questions. Clearly that was wrong. I was wondering how do you engage the majority or all of the students in their learning so that they aren’t coasting through class believing that they understand until they really don’t. And then I also felt like I was kind of fooling myself into thinking that students were with me when they were not with me. So I had an opportunity at that time to do some intensive cooperative learning training along the model of Johnson and Johnson collaborative learning. And that model from the University of Minnesota, it focuses on the importance of cooperation in the classroom, and that in cooperative settings, students learn more, develop a stronger sense of self efficacy around their learning; that they together are able to achieve more than they would individually. And it also has impacts on retention… that if students are feeling like they are individually known and valued in the classroom by their peers, they’re more likely to continue showing up to class and to develop relationships outside of the classroom that supports them along the way. So through that training, it was intensive, it was like eight hours a week, one day set for several weeks. The very first day, I could see what a difference I was going to make in my classroom. So, for example, I was using group assignments in class and they had all the same disadvantages that group assignments and most classes have, because I had no idea how to structure the group work so that it would be successful. I was doing group work to save me grading time, honestly.

Rebecca: That’s why a lot of people go to group work.

Kristin: Yes! Without understanding that all I had to do was some structural changes, and then it would actually be effective for learning as well, instead of just saving me grading time. In that cooperative learning training, I learned how to structure intensive group work that could be the length of an entire semester, or it could be the length of a single class day. I learned how to structure less intensive moments of team time. So how do you do a think-pair-share that works versus how do you do a think-pair-share that doesn’t work very well. So, that within the course of that training… actually just within a few days… I suddenly had, instead of 10% of the students in the class engaged on a daily basis, I had 100% of the students engaged on a daily basis. So, that was a huge breakthrough and I continued that way for several years.

John: What were some of the structural changes that you made that did lead to increased engagement?

Kristin: So, the cooperative learning approach of Johnson and Johnson, is kind of theoretically heavy, in the sense that they outline the pieces that are necessary for strong collaboration to occur. And then they turn it over to you as the instructor to say, “How do I build those pieces in?” So, for example, they emphasize positive interdependence as one of the essential components of cooperative learning… that when you create a group and a group activity for them to do, the activity has to be structured in such a way that each person is necessary to contribute. You can’t structure it in such a way that you can have three people talking when one person is only needed, and there are specific recommendations on how do you structure it so that everyone is needed. At the same time you have to build an individual accountability as another required component, so that, even if each person is needed, people can still slack off, say, “Yes, you all can’t do as well without me because you need me, but I don’t really care about what is happening here.” There has to be a level of individual accountability that’s also built in. Along with that, some of the skills that I thought were most important, they build an emphasis on group processing and social skills, so that if you have people consistently working together in class, they may not have developed the social skills to do that effectively, especially over time. You can work with someone for two minutes on a think-pair-share and really be bad at social skills. But, if you have to work with them over an extended period of time on a project and things are going south in terms of group conflict, it’s the instructor’s responsibility to help them to develop the social skills to work together. For example, on the first day of class, when I first start having students talk to each other so that they know that’s going to be a pattern in the class, I give them something quick to talk about. And I say introduce yourself to the person next to you… spend two minutes talking about this. And then I’m going to ask you about what you talked about. And then I run around the class real quick… pair up people who aren’t participating, introduce them to each other so that they understand this is a part of the class. So, then I follow back. So, what pieces are important there? …that I explicitly instruct them, you turn with your body… you actually make eye contact. And I will point out as people first start doing this, look at these two people, they are looking at each other, because many times students won’t do that, and it’s very hard to have a cooperative interaction if you don’t make eye contact… and I will say, “Who was the person you talked to? Tell me their name.” So they understand that I was serious when I said, introduce yourself, tell me something about them and that there’s individual accountability through just random calling on… that they need to participate in the cooperative portion. And then there’s also the self-reinforcing aspect of it that five minutes later, when I say to talk about something else, they realize they already know somebody in class, they have a connection. The next day, when I come in, they’re not quiet, they’re already talking to each other, they’ve created those connections.

John: A nice thing about that, too, is for people who are uncomfortable talking about themselves in class, having one person tell you something about the other person, it’s a little bit less pressure, it’s a little less revelation to the whole group. There’s some evidence that that type of thing is more effective in providing a more comfortable environment.

Rebecca: Kristin, can you also talk a little bit about a specific example of a cooperative activity where all of the members are held accountable, and all have a role? …just to provide an example for people who have less experience.

Kristin: So cooperative learning can be divided into informal and formal cooperative learning. Informal cooperative learning tends to be much shorter activities that can be done kind of on the fly if you already have an idea in your mind of how you might want to do that. Formal cooperative learning tends to be more intensively structured… longer-term activities. So that could be a single class session. If you’re going to do an activity that takes an hour, that would be more formal… or if you’re going to do something that takes an entire semester. The pair-and-share that I just talked about is an example of informal cooperative learning. Something like a jigsaw classroom activity can be structured as a formal cooperative learning activity. And it already shares almost all of the components: there’s individual accountability, because each student is given a specific role. There’s also positive interdependence, because the success of everyone depends on each person doing their role. So there are ones that are already structured with a built in component. The pieces that aren’t built into something like a jigsaw classroom activity, would be the group skills and group processing, and the ways that you can build that in. You can, for example, ask groups to reflect on what went well. I typically emphasize that more than asking them to reflect on things that went poorly, because asking to reflect on what went well tends to maintain a positive atmosphere, but also helps them to cover both bases at the same time anyway.

Rebecca: …or realize that my list for what went well is not very long… [LAUGHTER]

Kristin: Right. So, a common group processing thing I would have students do after their first more lengthy or more formal cooperative learning activity would be: list three things that your team did well together and one thing that you could improve on. And another thing I might ask them to do is to provide positive feedback to each member of the group at the end of the activity. And the kind of feedback that they provide is usually pretty specific, and helps to shape their behavior throughout the rest of the semester. So when they say things like, “I like it when you disagreed, and you said that this other thing would be a better way to go” that provides important feedback, and it helps to encourage better processing going forward. But I will go around and give individual social skill feedback too. But it’s usually things like, “Oh, I see you’re sitting so far away from your group, I’m not sure they can hear you, let’s scoot your chair in so that they can hear you.” Or I might ask, “Oh, do you know this person’s name next to you? What’s her name?” …and we’ll make sure that people maintain the social and cooperative connections that enable to do that kind of good group.

John: Just as an aside, it’s useful if you’re asking about things that went well, to keep the list fairly short. I’m reminded of a study that Dan Ariely talked about where they did a controlled experiment where in one case, they asked people to reflect on three things they liked about their partner and another case to list 10 things I liked about the partner, and then they surveyed them on the quality of the relationship. And those who were asked about three things generally rated their relationship with a partner fairly high. But when they were asked to come up with 10 things, they struggled with that and they rated that relationship lower. So keeping the list short…

Kristin: Right.

John: …is really good so you don’t…

Kristin: There’s kind of analogous thought about keeping things like gratitude lists. If you list too much stuff, it can have a negative effect, because you start to identify things that you really don’t think are that important, and it makes you think the whole thing is less important.

John: And if you want to get the opposite effect, ask people to list 10 things that were bad, and then they’ll struggle beyond the first few. You talked about having continuous relationships or persistent relationships with collaborative learning. Did you try to keep the group relationships consistent for the same groups throughout the term? Or did you vary that?

Kristin: I varied it. There are some good data to suggest that in collaborative learning… they refer to them as base teams… that base teams have a persistent positive effect, particularly on things like student engagement and retention throughout the semester and throughout the year…. that you have a team that is expecting you every day. But when I was doing cooperative learning, I didn’t restructure my courses. I restructured the day. Does that make sense?

Rebecca: Um hmm.

Kristin: So I didn’t have a reason for base groups. And I felt strange imposing them on the students without a reason. Besides, they would maybe be socially a good idea. I had to completely rebuild my courses from the ground up before I started using base teams. And that’s when I transitioned to team-based learning.

John: …and in team-based learning, persistent teams are recommended as part of the process.

Kristin: Absolutely.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about this transition to team-based learning. What prompted you to introduce that? …and how it worked?

Kristin: So I was happy with how courses were going. People were interested and engaged. I had students telling me, “I know every single person in this classroom.” and when you’re teaching a class of 30, or 40, or 50, that’s unusual. “I know everyone in here, I feel really supported.” I feel like things were going well. But I was unsatisfied with what I was teaching. I wasn’t clear, in my own mind, about what persistent learning outcomes I wanted for my students. I had not sat down and really thought through if I were to follow up with a student in a year or five years, what would I want them to recall from this class? What would I want them to be putting into use in their lives or in their careers? I had never thought that through. And I was fortunate enough to run into team-based learning at that time, right as I was primed to start thinking about this questions. Team-based learning originated by Larry Michaelsen. He was coming from the perspective of enrollment increases. He had been assigning some pretty challenging work. He was a faculty member in business. And as his course enrollments increased, he started to wonder how can you maintain the same kind of interesting, really challenging in class… by case work, for example… with a large enrollment. So he developed team-based learning to address that piece, but it also requires you to completely rethink the design of the course. And to start from the course outcomes: “What do you want the persistent outcomes to be?” …and then structure the course forward in that way. So in team-based learning, after you make a decision about your course outcomes, and what you really want students to be able to do, then you structure the course in a modular fashion. And each module has certain steps. So the beginning is student preparation, then when they come into class, you test. You say, “okay” …and it’s called the readiness assurance process. So you want to know what students are ready to do after they’ve individually prepared, and what they’re not ready to do. So they prepare, they test. And then, since it’s a team focus, they also test as a team. After that you have a good idea as an instructor, what are they ready to do? What are still the fuzzy areas? What do they really not get at all? What are their competencies as a team already, even if every individual student doesn’t have it, and then you can do some corrective lecturing, basically, so many lectures that fill in some of the gaps. And that’s all part of the readiness process, because you’re getting them ready to do some interesting application work in class. And the rationale for that is… and actually what I had been doing prior to that, was giving interesting application material to work on at home individually, while doing lecture and cooperative learning in class. But the interesting application material was actually the heart of the course, and the much more challenging piece. So it was better to bring the hard piece where they needed support into the classroom. And the piece they were ready to do, which was to do their own self study back into their own lives. So you do this readiness assurance process to make sure they are ready for interesting application, and then the majority at the time for the module you spent on application. Doing that after I had already worked with cooperative learning was really helpful, because all of that application work is done in a team setting. So when you already have some experience with how to build teams, how to maintain and develop their social skills, that’s really, really, really helpful. That’s a short version.

John: One of my colleagues, Bill Goffe, who was on one of our very early podcasts, noted that when he gave the group test, the performance always went up significantly, so that they could see the benefits of the peer discussion that was part of that. And he was really impressed with it. And he noted that, oftentimes, if a student didn’t show up for class one day, they get a hard time from their classmates from the group because they let the group down. And he said his attendance had never been better than when he was using a team-based learning approach.

Kristin: Absolutely. And a lot of people who do team-based learning, use the same methodology for doing the team testing, which is honestly really cute. It’s a scratch-off form. And the scratch-off form is used so that the team gets immediate feedback on each option. So on any particular item in a multiple choice test, if they want to select “B” they scratch off “B.” If it’s not there, then they continue to scratch until they get the right answer. For one thing, they love it. But also they are getting immediate team feedback. If this person is not speaking up, if they say I think it’s “B” and then they stop advocating and then it turns out to be “B” later than the team immediately knows, by the time they get to the next question. “Okay, we need to incorporate more feedback from all of our team members, wait a minute, this person who’s not speaking up actually has a lot to say.” In the course of just a few multiple choice questions, it brings their team development forward leaps and bounds. And they kind of have fun with a scratch off, which is also a bonus.

John: And it also gives them incentives to come prepared and to listen to other people in ways that they might not otherwise.

Kristin: Yeah, and their team will give them grief, if they say “Oh, I don’t know, because I didn’t read,” their team members will be like, “But we are depending on you, you need to read, we all read.”

John: And it also gives them a little bit, perhaps, of improvement in metacognition because they’re getting that immediate feedback, and it’s being coupled with the reactions of the peers. So if someone was insistent on a wrong answer, and they dominated that discussion, they might be a little more careful in the future and more willing to listen to the other people and reflect.

Kristin: Exactly, and it doesn’t have to wait till next week, it can happen right away. Right on the next question. The team application activities are also structured in a particular way. In team-based learning, they talk about the four S’s for the application activity, the first one is that you have to select a significant problem. So what they’re working on is something that will be important to them, something that they will identify with, or that they recognize is worth their time in thinking about and trying to think through. The second one is that they need to be working on this same problem. You can’t say teams one and two are working on this, three and four are working on this, five and six are working on this. Third one is that they structure in so that they make a specific choice as the outcome. Because it’s easier to solicit team feedback if everyone is making a specific choice rather than having kind of an open-ended narrative response. And it helps to stimulate whole group discussion as you’re moving. Now it can sound like it’s limiting to say that you have to make a specific choice, but you can do in a very broad way. And the fourth one is simultaneous reporting. So all the teams are asked to report at the same time on what the choice was that they made, so that they can’t piggyback off another team who’s putting in effort. So, as an example, one of the courses that I taught in the psychology major in Texas was the tests and measurements course in psychology, and test and measurements starts with a stats review. They’ve all had statistics, it usually comes prior to tests and measurement. But it’s the first time that they have an opportunity to work with statistics in kind of a decision-making way. So you start with a stats review. So one of the activities that I would do, I gave them two hypothetical first-grade teachers with how many questions 10 of there students got right on a spelling test. And the two distributions had the same mean, but one was fairly normal, and one was highly skewed. So they had to do their quick statistics review… Do the mean, median, mode and standard deviation describe the shape of the distribution. But the question I was asking them was, “If you were the principal, which teacher would you offer an after-school tutoring program to for extra pay? And which teacher would you potentially nominate for a teaching award?” They found that question to be a really interesting question. For one thing, students think a lot about what good teaching is, and what constitutes a good teacher. So they already come in with very strong opinions. And they also understand the complexity of, you know, if everybody’s passing but people aren’t excelling, is that good teaching? Whereas if most people are failing, but a few people are getting an “A” is that good teaching? …and how the data contributes to good decision making, but can also be kind of manipulated to contribute to decision making in not such a good way. So instead of just saying, “Let’s review the stats, here they are,” it was a question with a specific choice that they simultaneously reported on. And then we could discuss together. And of course, their answers are different. There’s different rationales in both ways. So then we could discuss together what their rationale was, if they want to debate they can debate a little. It generates a lot of student enthusiasm, and everybody’s doing it instead of just 10% of the class.

John: And once they’ve committed to an answer, they have a stake in and they really want to know, that’s something we’ve seen a lot of things we’ve talked about in the past, too.

Kristin: Absolutely.

Rebecca: When you were doing the team-based learning, were you sticking specifically to problems that were on a class-by-class basis still, like you were discussing in the co-operative setting, or were you doing some longer term activities that went across multiple class periods?

Kristin: I had the… what I consider gift… to often be teaching in a three-hour time slot, which is my very favorite time slot. So I would have activities that would extend two or three hours, but typically not between classes, I found that to be more of a sweet spot, at least for me. At my previous institution we had a very high commuter population. And I promised, in both models, that I would never ask them to do something out of class with their teams, that was one of my rules… that it was just simply too burdensome for students who have multiple outside of school commitments… family and work, or living potentially 150 miles apart, which was not unheard of. I promised them no out of class stuff. I structured that intentionally so that the individual preparation that they were doing, they could do anywhere on their own time schedule, but they were expected to be there. And their team expected them to be there to be able to engage in class. And it was also one of the ways that you talk people into it, when they say “I worked with other groups who were all slackers and we would always set times and they wouldn’t show up.” And I said “That’s not going to happen in here. We already have a time we’re all going to show up together.”

John: And the philosophy that’s very similar to the flipped classroom approach where you let students do the easy stuff outside and then give them assistance with or have them work in a framework where they’re getting more assistance with the more challenging issues.

Kristin: Absolutely. I think TBL [team-based learning] is definitely a flipped classroom approach.

Rebecca: I think the other thing that helps too with that model… of making sure you’re not working outside of class… really helps students with really different backgrounds start working together, because you might have students who are more traditional who are on campus. And so for them to meet outside of class is often not such a big deal. But then if you have students who are working or have families, and there’s a disconnect in the class, even, between those two populations, that helps make that more obvious and work a little bit better,

Kristin: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. And I didn’t want to set up anything where people were made to feel like unvalued team members, because they couldn’t do what was asked of them because of other commitments. Since that was in my control, I wanted to make sure that people felt welcome.

Rebecca: I’ve tried to even do that with long-term projects. In the field that I’m in, we tend to do things that go across class periods, but there’s always the “Are we going to do this outside of class or are we going to do this inside of class, and I try to have them do anything that needs to be collaborative, and decision making, in class, and then things that can be done on their own, even if that means doing some creative work, or whatever, outside of class. But those are independent things that can be done for the same reasons. And I find that students will try to manipulate that system, so that they’re gonna: “Oh, we’ll just do it outside of class, because we don’t want her to know whether or not we’re on top of something,” or whatever. But I call them out on it, because it’s really devaluing some of that exact thing. People have other commitments and things.

John: You mentioned, you started to use a backwards design approach where you started with the things you want them to remember five years later. Did you have to cut back on the breadth of the coverage in the class, to some extent, by doing that?

Kristin: Yes, I did. When I was going with the straight up cooperative learning approach, I did not have to cut back on the content at all. Without the full redesign, I found I could cover the same amount of material in straight lecture versus in a cooperative setting. But it was all coverage. It was just a different kind of coverage. When I approached it from a backward design perspective, and I really was able to focus on the objectives that I thought were important, I did have to reduce the amount of things that we were covering. I have no regrets about that, of course, because I completely recognize that covering material isn’t just covering it. What are students going to do with something I covered in class? They didn’t cover it, I was the one who was learning it and talking about it. So I’m much happier with an approach in which I am consistently hitting on the objectives that I really want them to recall, and that they are working hard to apply those throughout the semester.

John: If they’re not going to remember it passed the final exam, covering more material isn’t terribly useful.

Kristin: No.

John: We talked about that in a previous podcast with David Voelker, who talking about the coverage approach in History…

Kristin: Right.

John: …which is the same logic.

Kristin: Exactly. And I actually now consider that to be a complete waste of time. So why am I spending class time on something that I actually don’t really care if they remember, it’s not the most important thing to me, and they really don’t care if they remember.

Rebecca: You have some compelling arguments for why team-based learning and collaborative learning are good options. If one wanted to start moving in that direction, what would you suggest their first steps be?

Kristin: For team-based learning, there are a couple of great books that are very easy to approach. There are several great resources for team-based learning. Larry Michaelsen published a book in 2008, for example, that covers that from front to back. It gives examples of applications in different disciplines. There’s also a book published a few years later on team-based learning in the social sciences and humanities. That also covers the basics, but has applications that are more specific to social sciences and humanities. Team-based learning has really caught on in medical education and in business education. So in the original book, there are more application examples that are in MD preparation or in business schools. So if you’re looking for other examples, the second book might be a good choice as well. And that one is edited by Michael Sweet and Larry Michaelsen.

John: And in fact, I read your article, or

Kristin: Oh, did you?

John: …your chapter in there as background.

Kristin: I’m glad someone read it.

John: Now I have to read all the others. But, I, at least, did read that. It was very good. So for faculty who are moving to this, what are some pitfalls that they might run into? Or what sort of problems might they encounter?

Kristin: Team-based learning as being a much more structured approach… Michaelsen does a really nice job of laying out the pieces that he thinks are critical. And I agree they are critical. So, for example, he talks about explaining, and testing the model with students on the first class day, and you cannot skip it. So the very first class day, I give students an example individual application test, like they would get for their readiness assurance. It includes basic psychology knowledge that may or may not be present in the culture. So they have some chance of getting some of them right and some not. And then I have them do it as a team. And the team scores, of course, are always dramatically higher than the individual scores. And the team testing process is so much better. [LAIGHTER] It’s more pleasant and interesting and collaborative than they expect it to be. That simply going through that, it allays many of their fears about what a team is going to be like to work with. Plus, when they see that the team has tripled their individual score, they’re like, “Hey, maybe I could depend on other people to help me learn, and maybe this will pay off for me.” So going through an explanation of what the rationale is, having them experience it a little is really, really critical in helping them stay open minded while they experience it. And then regularly throughout the semester, I will keep reinforcing them with those messages. I’ll say, look at this amazing thing you guys did. You used all the intellectual resources around you, and you analyzed this difficult problem and came up with some great solutions. I’ll remind them how much they’re learning and what kinds of challenging tasks they’re able to do as a team when they have the preparation to do it, which helps as they’re starting to think “Well, wouldn’t it just be easier if I could do this by myself?” It helps them to kind of remember, ”Well, yes, but you wouldn’t be doing this, you would be doing something not as challenging, not as integrative.”

John: and probably not learning quite as much either&hellp;

Kristin: Yes. He also emphasizes an aspect that is also emphasized in cooperative learning… of helping the teams develop and giving them feedback, helping them give each other feedback. That’s also really critical, especially very early in the semester, as they’re starting to develop group norms and bond together to make sure that you don’t short the time in class for them to have some group processing time and to build their team skills. So, for example, when I taught last spring, I had a student who came to me after I think it was the second week. So it’s very early in the semester, and she said, “I really need to reassigned teams. My team hates me, they won’t make eye contact with me.” She was really upset. And I’m reluctant to reassign people teams, because often what they’re experiencing, they take with them. It’s not always a function of that team process. So we talked some, and I tried to get a handle on what she was experiencing. I knew where she sat, I had an idea of the team composition. And I asked her to try one more day, just one more day. And then we would talk about reassigning her teams. And that day, I was sure to build in plenty of time for group processing, where they talked about what they were doing well as a team and something to improve. Their team turned around immediately. She was a relatively assertive person, which I already knew. I knew that she could handle this. So she went back to the team. She was able to talk with her team about not feeling heard. They immediately turned around in the way that they were with her. And by the very next class day, they were a relatively high functioning team. They did well all semester. They brought doughnuts for each other. I mean, it was a really nice supportive group. What they needed was the time in class to do some processing. And if I, as the instructor, had been moving too fast, and not giving them time to do that, and not giving them a prompt to do that, it would have been a really negative experience for her. So, also building in time for the team to develop and prompts for them to do that.

Rebecca: So you mentioned liking to have a three-hour teaching slot.

Kristin: That’s my favorite. It’s not required.

Rebecca: So, in that amount of time, how much time would you designate towards this group processing, for example, to give people an idea of what that proportion or the amount of time to dedicate so that you don’t shortcut it and you don’t rush through it?

Kristin: If I were to do an activity that might take an hour, I might spend 10 minutes for group process, it doesn’t have to be very long, or even five. And you don’t have to do it every time, you could do 10 minutes after the first one or two more intensive activities, and then not do it for another few times… and another five minutes just every so often to help them resolve their underlying dissatisfactions and to recognize that what they’re doing is not just application activity, it’s also group interaction. So please take time to do both. Another really important required component that I didn’t mention is peer evaluation, I always incorporate peer evaluation as part of the grade.

John: How did you form the teams in these classes?

Kristin: They’re heterogeneous, first, with a very open process so students can see it happening and know there are no shenanigans… that this is all very open… talking about the rationale that people of different backgrounds bring different strengths. So you want a group that has people of different backgrounds, so you can have a larger kind of learning base between you. So usually, I’ll pick a few characteristics that might be important in that kind of background. And I will line them up around the room based on those characteristics. And if it’s 200 people, it’s a really long line. And then we count off. So when I teach introductory psychology, students who have had a high school psychology class usually are starting a big leg up on the other students. So I’ll include that as a characteristic. Sometimes I’ll include the distance that people are coming from, because then they have different experiences, depending on what class I might also include if their student athletes, just because if you put too many together in a team, then they’re all gone on the same day. They have interesting backgrounds, but they also have patterns of attendance and of absence that need to be adjusted around. And we’ll count off all the way around so people can see how the teams are made. But heterogeneous teams are really, really critical. Having students with pre-existing relationships will throw off the team process in a way that automatically excludes people that don’t have pre-existing relationships… plus they tend to be lower performing teams. And I don’t want to set that up on purpose.

John: One of my colleagues once did this in a class of, I think it was about 350 students, but he just sorted them alphabetically. So he had them organize himself that way, and it was a fairly long process. But, it was kind of amusing for those of us wandering by and just seeing…

Kristin: …this huge line… Yeah.

John: He didn’t do it that way In the future, he used other criteria.

Kristin: I’ve had colleagues that I’ve talked with that think that this is a long process. It’s not. You can sort 200 people in 10 minutes, and then you’re done for the whole semester,

John: Doing it alphabetically…

Kristin: takes a lot longer.

John: …can be more challenging, because they were self forming that… it didn’t convert rapidly.

Kristin: The other thing I never do is I don’t put the students who didn’t come the first day into a team, because there are characteristics about why they didn’t come the first day. If you put them all together in one team, they share some of those characteristics… It tends not to be a very high performing team. So I make sure they’re sorted out among the other teams. But that was one of the things that I learned in cooperative learning. That, before I did cooperative learning training, and I was assigning group work, I would assign people based on if you didn’t come the day we did the assignments, you were in another group. And that group typically did not do very well. And as an instructor, it’s my responsibility to create a learning environment in which students can excel, it’s on them whether they do their part. But if I’m setting up a team in ignorance, with predictable characteristics, so that they’re going to have a failure experience, that’s on me to correct. And it’s not on them. So afterwards, I felt guilty when I had come to a new realization. But, yeah, it’s my responsibility to set up an environment in which those students can be successful in their teams.

John: In your chapter in that book, you mentioned that when you switched over, it did affect your course evaluations a little bit. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Kristin: Just a little bit. But yes, it did. So when I was doing straight lecture, I was shooting for engaged lecture. And in psychology, you can build in little experiences, especially in introductory psychology, where the topics are changing frequently, you can always build things in that are kind of interesting. You can do a little optical illusion here and a little bit of memory trick there. And there’s these ways to build it in, but it is still basically straight lecture. And I got high evaluations for that. I was careful about trying to build those in every day, you know, every few minutes. And when I went to cooperative learning, where it was essentially the same approach, but in in a much more engaged and cooperative fashion, those evaluations stayed very high. Students knew each other, they were happy in class. When I went to team-based learning and I was actually asking every student to participate all the time, and be prepared in class in a way that their contributions were much more obvious than mine. My evaluations did drop just a little bit, not a lot, but a little. And I am grateful that I was teaching in a context where I knew that my department wouldn’t care. They were more interested that I was doing good teaching. And they understood the many factors that influence student evaluations. But I also recognize that it’s incumbent on me to help students understand how they are learning, what kinds of things encourage learning and retention, and then you kind of let the student evaluations fall where they may.

John: When I read that, it reminded me of that study that came out a few weeks ago from Harvard in their physics program, where they found that students in active learning classes did demonstrably better on tests, but they perceived their learning as being lower. So there was a pretty strong inverse relationship between their perception of learning and actual learning. That seems to be fairly common, there have been a number of other studies where what students think to be most effective, is often not what most enhances their learning.

Kristin: Right.

John: Do you have any other advice for our listeners, who might think about using either collaborative or team-based learning in their classes,

Kristin: The one thing I would say is that teaching a cooperative learning or a team-based learning structure class is a lot more fun. You have to be willing to give up control, because when you’re lecturing, you have absolute control… meaning even that students can’t ask you weird things, because you haven’t opened the door for that to happen. But when you structure the learning experience, and then you give up the control to the students, it is an exciting environment to be in. I wasn’t as tired when I was coming out of class. I was energized, you could feel the difference in the room just walking into class… they were excited and talking with each other. When I would circulate around before class started, they’re talking about the class instead of talking about other stuff. It completely changes the environment in the classroom in a way that I think really matches what I expect out of a university education for students, it creates a environment of intellectual enthusiasm around the topic that you’re teaching.

Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking what’s next?

Kristin: That’s a great question. So right now I’m 100% administrative. And since I’m in a new position, in a new institution, I’m gonna spend some time figuring out all the newness pieces. But I’d like to go back to the classroom, at least for a course here and there when I can. There’s nothing different about students than there is about people. So I also think often about how what we do in the classroom, what we understand works and what we understand doesn’t work, how that applies in administrative settings as well. We know for example, that people tend to try and find the shortest path. So if they’re trying to learn something, they want to put in the least effort to learn it. If you ask a faculty member to do a task for the department, they are obviously going to choose the easiest path to do that… not necessarily the best path. So how do I take the experiences of learning and teaching, that in some ways are better understood to an environment of administration that in some ways is not as well understood? What kinds of lessons can I apply there as well?

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much. It’s been a really interesting conversation. I’m sure it gives a lot of people things to think about as they move forward in this semester and future semesters.

Kristin: Thank you.

[MUSIC]

John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

101. Change in the Academy

Change in higher ed often occurs slowly. In this episode, Dr. Blase Scarnati joins us to discuss how community organizing strategies can be used to formulate changes that can be supported, or at least not resisted, by all stakeholders.

Blase is a Professor of Musicology and Director of Global Learning and the Center for International Education at Northern Arizona University.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Change in higher ed often occurs slowly. In this episode, we examine how community organizing strategies can be used to formulate changes that can be supported, or at least not resisted, by all stakeholders.

[MUSIC]

John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Today our guest is Dr. Blase Scarnati. Blase is a Professor of Musicology and Director of Global Learning and the Center for International Education at Northern Arizona University. Welcome Blase.

John:Welcome.

Blase: Yeah, thanks so much, John and Rebecca. I’m so very happy to be here with you.

John: Very pleased to have you. Our teas today are:

Blase: I’m drinking my daily Chinese green tea Dragonwell Long Jing

Rebecca: Yum, Jasmine green tea,

John: I have Tea Forte black currant tea, again.

Rebecca: So we wanted to talk a little bit with you today about using organizing strategies to make institutional change. Change in colleges and universities, as we all know, can be a very slow process. [LAUGHTER] And you’ve worked on some ways to overcome this. Can you talk a little bit about your approach?

Blase: Yeah, we found that using community organizing theory and practice can be really a very powerful way to build a collaborative consensus for change. And especially around working to bring together folks around curricular change across campus, and especially across diverse units and disciplines. We adapt the work of political theorist Harry Boyte, who’s in Minnesota and I’m lucky to work with Harry quite a bit. He’s one of the founders of the field of civic studies, and his concept of Public Work, which is really a route that the citizens are co-creators of the polity. So that’s a very, very powerful idea. So everything that we have done here to bring about change is grounded in flat democratic practices, so that everyone is an equal collaborator, and co-creator in any sort of initiative. And again, at no surprise to anyone, that often runs counter to the hierarchical organizations of the Academy. So it can create a little dissonance, but it keeps the blood flowing. So we’ve used key community organizing theories and practices, such as power mapping, to understand the formal and informal power centers in your institution. And these are the people and committees and units that you’re going to need to work with to bring about change. So, one-on-one meetings, to build public relationships and coalitions and alliances towards common goals, especially with people that you don’t know, and cultivating practices of mutual accountability, learning to strategize action, and especially working with the well known cycle of organizing which mirrors our academic practice of research: where you do research, planning, action, and critical evaluation. And they ceaselessly follow and inform one another. A really good primer for all this kind of work, if you’re interested is Ed Chambers, the longtime head of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a really powerful community organization that’s been around since the 40s, and the work of Saul Alinsky. His books, especially Roots for radicals: Organizing for power, action, and justice a continuum of books from 2004 and their multiple editions, is really particularly good.

Rebecca: I have a question. How does a faculty member of musicology come to this work?

Blase: I’ve wandered quite far afield and while I still publish and present in musicology, especially critical improvisation studies, jazz and reggae, and even country music… became involved in our liberal education program…. and in our faculty senate, been faculty senate president… was hired to be our founding director of our first-year seminar program, which I established, and started collaborating with newly hired, endowed chair, Rom Cole’s who came over from Duke University, he’d been there for 20 years. And we started collaborating around this community engagement methodology. And we kind of situated it in with working with our first-year students and community members and ultimately it proved to be quite successful.

John: Many systems have a whole lot of bureaucracies that are designed to thwart any type of change. Could you give us an example of perhaps how you work through that first- year program? What was the issue that you wanted to address? And how were you able to build that coalition and work towards that goal?

Blase: We’ve used community organizing strategies actually here on campus, I’ve worked with a number of folks around a couple of different initiatives: one’s the first-year seminar program, another with my colleague, Michelle Miller, who you’ve had on as a guest a number of times, and in our first-year Learning Initiative. And that’s more focused around kind of key gateway large-enrollment classes and changing the pedagogy to create much more interactivity. And the first-year seminar program as well, they were both really founded to help us really increase student retention. And also, I’ve done a lot of work around global learning. And we have our Global Learning Initiative, which I helped to co-create in 2010. And that’s an across-the-curriculum initiative where we established three themed student learning outcomes for all undergraduate programming in our liberal education program around diversity, sustainability, and global engagement. And they’re grounded in long standing campus values. And that also proved to be pretty successful. Just back to your question, though, around the first-year of seminar program, we were able to pull together some initial seed funding to establish a series of action research teams, which is kind of a framework we pulled up from K-12. But they were flat sort of umbrella organizations where we had students from multiple course sections coming together, and with graduate student mentor who had some background in training that we provided to them. So, work with community partners. So, we were trying to shift the boundaries of where the university was to embrace those deep centers of learning and knowledge in the community. And to create these sort of flat reciprocal learning spaces where faculty can learn from community members and students can teach. And everyone works around issues that fundamentally the community itself has identified. So back to Harry Boyte, who I mentioned, there’s kind of a spectrum of civic engagement. And a lot of what happens in the university and in the academy is labeled service, where they’re good projects that individuals, especially in the university identify and they go out in the community, and they do good, well enough, but this is kind of the other end of the spectrum, that public work corner of things where the work is at root, political… in the sense that has real impact on real people’s lives. And the only way that you can kind of move into that collaborative space is to have the community itself really determine what those issues are, that really are of concern. And so we were dealing with immigration… we’re here in Arizona… weatherization… water issues… food issues… a range of very powerful, impactful issues, and also working with elementary schools in town too, where the students would identify issues in their communities. Sunnyside neighborhood, for example, has a large undocumented population… there’s diabetes as a big issue… and also a large off-res native population as well. So it’s very, very invigorating work, it takes a lot of time, but the results can be quite, quite powerful. And it actually starts to attract and generate a lot of interest with colleagues and others.

Rebecca: You mentioned the gateway courses as well, at this first-year level and I heard something about changing the way faculty are going to teach? Sometimes that can be a challenge to get faculty to change. Can you talk a little bit about how you got the community on board… like the faculty…

Blase: Sure.

Rebecca: …to buy into the idea of changing their practices to be more effective, and how that was able to go through a systematic change throughout the institution?

Blase: Yeah, there was a lot of kind of the root method that we used in the first-year Learning Initiative with my colleague, Michelle Miller was that we had a target list of key gateway classes, I think, as I mentioned before,like Bio 101… traditionally, very, very large enrollment… they’re just the foundation courses that you need to get through… they have huge impact on a range of different majors. And traditionally, they’re taught in large lecture halls… you know, PowerPoint slides, and so forth. And the DFW rates were really quite, quite high. And also then, consequently having a really negative impact on progression to graduation and retention of students. So we started to work very, very collaboratively with those faculties. We talked to departments, we had a lot of one-on-one meetings with important colleagues, we kind of did some power mapping… and again, tried to figure out who are the people that we really need to be talking to, to ensure that when they start speaking about this issue, then their colleagues will pay attention to… or those that actually make decisions, in perhaps the hierarchy itself. And we spent a lot of coffee-shop time, so we would get off campus intentionally… you know, meet in their office or your office, you just kind of break the whole sort of standard thing, and you move yourself into a different space. And a lot of times working with these faculty, they’re kind of straitjacketed… I mean, they just have to get from point A to point B, the end of the semester… punch the ticket, and they have active research agendas. So how to really re-engage them deeply… and one of the most powerful ways that we found were to kind of work with groups of faculty around a single course, and especially with the idea of really kind of developing a syllabus of practice. So there’s kind of a common broader agreement about what this course might mean… what Bio 101 might mean over 11-16 sections, with maybe eight to 12 different faculty members. One of the key questions that we always ask when we meet people individually, or even in small groups, is “What have you always wanted to do?” There are a 1000 reasons never to do that, right. There are financial reasons, time reasons, resources, and manpower to help you do grading and so forth, and we were able to come in with some funding for peer teaching assistance, and just help to open that space up. They may be stuck in a large lecture hall. But yes, you can have students turn to the folks to the right and to the left and start to engage in a conversation. There are just thousands of different sort of pedagogies that can be really quite impactful, to kind of break down that “Just let me talk to you continually.” And the literature is really just filled with them. But I think from my perspective it all kind of grew from “What have you always wanted to do?” So you can really break through all the reasons not to, to touch the passion that is in most of us in the academy, and to really help folks connect to that and have that passion, drive that change. So they own it. It’s not my passion, it’s not my program, it’s not my funding… to try to achieve something that people will dutifully participate in. But now they own that process. And kind of another subtext to all of this… in Arizona, for example, in our institution, in about eight years, we lost 60% of state funding. So there were some radical realignments of what we are as an institution. We have 38,000 students, so we’re not a small institution, we’re one program short of Research 1, so it’s a very active community and campus. But at the same time, people felt the walls closing in. And they really felt a strong loss of agency. And they really couldn’t affect events. So one of the things again, in my vantage and perspectives gained working in the Faculty Senate helped them inform this as well. But we really decided that we’re going to focus on curriculum from the faculty side of things, there was great alignment with administration at the time, which was great. So from a faculty perspective, we own curriculum, that is our province, and our institution as part of our faculty constitution. So curriculum can be that space to really re-empower, reinvigorate and get people excited again, because fundamentally, they own it. And often, we’ve kind of deeded and passed things over either to administrators, or just let inertia take hold and carry things forward. Again, there was a confluence of interest in sort of a Venn diagram, if you will, between administrative interest around retention, the DFW rates, and a couple of these different initiatives that I was positioned in and the desire to reinvigorate faculty agency. So that also became a very powerful driver on campus.

John: If someone wanted to do this type of approach to make some type of change on their campus, how would you go about starting to develop that power mapping?

Blase: That’s really key and fundamental, because you have to really understand who and what you’re going to be confronted with, once you start to talk to colleagues about things that are of mutual interest. And there are a lot of different ways to power map and the Industrial Areas Foundation way, that I mentioned in Chambers’ book earlier, it’s really particularly useful. So, power mapping can help you determine where are the centers of power on campus and within that where is our support for any particular issue? And where’s the the opposition? And who do we need to engage in critical conversations, to move an agenda forward? So within all that, who are the key decision makers? And the formal decision makers, they’re easy to find… they’re on the org chart… they are in the committee structure. But the informal decision makers are much more difficult to determine. And that takes a lot more time and it’s actually a bit more nuanced. And a lot of conversations, especially outside of your usual circles are going to have to be pursued to help get a sense of who are those folks that when we’ve mentioned before, when they say something, or when they offer an opinion or offer their support will bring others along? How will the decision to adopt a particular issue be made? And again, the formal and informal decision making processes… and to build a coalition you need to determine who are potential allies? What motivates our allies and friends? And what risks are they willing to take? So, where are the lines? So that you can really always be positioned in the most powerful way to help move the agenda forward? Another part of that coalition is really who owns this issue on your campus? The Global Learning Initiative, like I mentioned, tapped into very long standing campus and are actually community and regional values around diversity and sustainability, and global engagement. Diversity on campus have Ethnic Studies Program, or Women and Gender Studies program, we have a set of commissions on campus that are very interested in promoting these… Commission on Ethnic Diversity, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Diversity, Access and Design and so forth. They’re all interest groups that have a strong say, and rightly so, have deep, deep expertise around these issues and want to be involved in any conversations. So, who do you need to talk to before you start? What kind of support do you need to bring this all about? Who will our action upset and at what costs? And then finally, the opposition… who will oppose us and why? And it’s really important to understand why because at some point, you need to try to get the opposition to a point where they’re not actively opposing you. They may they never be a supporter, they may never be leading the parade, but getting to a point where they’re just not going to just block and lock things up completely. So, what are their interests? What motivates them? What’s their relative strength? And who are their supporters? And once you have this map of supporters, potential members of the coalition, those an opposition in your institution, then you start reaching out, and building those public relationships. You go out and have coffee, you spend a lot of one-on-one time with folks, not to become their friend, but to establish those common interests that you have around these issues, even those in opposition. Where’s the common ground that you can build upon? Ultimately, at the end, end of the day, that’ll help lay out the pathway forward. But I want to talk about one-on-ones just briefly… Classic community organizing is that you just don’t meet with every possible person, especially with time being short, and you’re wanting to move an issue forward. The critical people are the ones in your power map, those that have actual decision-making powers and have influence. So, classical community organizing methodology is you’ll only usually meet with leaders of groups, because those leaders can bring the group along. Always keep that in mind. Sure, you meet with anybody that wants to meet with you. But, strategically, really make sure your time has maximum impact on things by always talking with people that can bring others along and can persuade, and ideally, they embrace… they own the set of issues. And they’ll be the champions. From my experience, that’s where a lot of the power comes from.

Rebecca: Blase, can you talk a little bit about how you identify those informal decision makers or those informal influencers?

Blase: Yeah, that can be rather difficult. At the same time, if you’re not already out, and a member of your broader faculty polity, if you will, where you’ve been able to come to know a lot of different people from across various colleges and units and programs, then you need to start talking with those people that have done that. So that can be part of your power mapping too. They can help say, “Well, you know, you really need to talk to this person, because when they speak people up and down the hallway will listen; when they get up in the faculty meeting, everybody will give them the benefit of the doubt.” Those are the kind of folks that you want to start talking with, and try to see Is there a resonance between your issue and the group that you’re working with and their priorities, and ideally, move that conversation as quickly as possible, up to 30,000 feet. Talk about common values that you have collectively, as faculty, as an institution, as community, because once you start getting into disciplinary ways of doing, then you can easily get mired in a turf battle. But if we talk about what’s common among all of us, it’s a lot easier to help pull and to submerge a lot of that trench warfare that we often discover miring us in the academy when we try to do anything.

John: At the start of our discussion, one of the things you mentioned was reaching out to students and to the broader community. That’s not something that always happens in curricular change.

Blase: Yeah.

John: How have you gone about doing that? And how has that added to the effectiveness of the change?

Blase: These days, I mostly work around global learning and with colleagues around those diversity, sustainable and global engagement values and issues, especially through the curricular frame. When this all started our Global Learning Initiative in 2010, it was based in programs and departments. So, it was a very formalized process where there were department teams that came together and worked on outcomes, and we used backward design and doing curricular maps to achieve the outcomes, and so forth, and assessment. But these days, as we continue to turn the wheel, we’ve begun to organize broad collaboratives around diversity, sustainability, and global engagement. Within them, we invite community members and invite graduate students, undergraduates, to come and begin to dialogue across departments, across disciplines. Just fundamentally, the strongest way to have something change in a hurry is have students and moms and dads begin to push that issue. That’s what ultimately will really move things and, to a lesser degree, the broader community. But just from my perspective, community members and students bring all sorts of pools in knowledge and abilities. For many of us, it’s a difficult issue. faculty were often caught in our frame of being credential. So we need to allow and basically cede control to this larger flat, democratic space where consensus can be built and really wonderful ideas can bubble up, it seems for administrators that can even be more of a challenge, to let go and trust your colleagues, that they’ll really do the right thing, without trying to put your hand in the back of the mannequin, and help to steer where things are going without being seen to do so. So from my perspective, the broader the group coming together to dialogue around curriculum, I mean, community members will really be talking about real world impacts and real lives, students will be talking about their aspirations: what do they need to really, from their vantage to be successful in life. And then faculty, we have our strong and deep disciplinary ways of knowing and doing, that we can help to shape and bring that together into a curriculum that can begin to capture really all of that.

Rebecca: So you talked a lot about bringing people together to form a coalition around some common ideas and values. Once you have that group of folks together, what do you do next, actually make the change happen. So you got people on board…

John: …to move it down from that 30,000 foot level to the nuts and bolts of actually moving forward.

Rebecca: Yeah… and be practical.

Blase: From my perspective, it isn’t you establish a group, then you go about working. It’s actually a continuum of work and practice. So you’re always recruiting new people, you’re always bringing more folks into the coalition. And that’s the big open set of doors, right? That’s the value. That’s the excitement. That’s the energy for change… the new thinking… and then concurrently, you keep working through how are we going to bring this to pass? At a certain point, you can tip everything, and you’ve recruited the key decision makers in the formal power structure, you’ve co-opted the curricular system, if you will, in a positive way. Because it’s our curricula system. But you build enough consensus that things begin to happen easily. So in my experience, it’s a dynamic continuum. Oftentimes, in the academy, many faculty like to put together maybe one course, or we do one initiative, and we work on it, and we do it really well. In my experience, what’s really succeeded, working with colleagues, is establishing almost a vortex of initiatives. A colleague of mine, who I’ve done a lot of collaborating with, Romand Coles, who came from Duke, he’s now most recently from the Social Justice Institute at Australian Catholic University in Sydney, we’ve written a lot about how to do a lot of this sort of stuff. And that’s all based on kind of civic engagement and agency programming for first-year students and others. And if anyone’s interested, they go on my academia.edu site. And you can find all of those articles. But he’s really fascinated by, coming out of biological sciences, the concept of eco tones were two sort of different biological systems, where they cross and where they meet. And that’s a very fructiferous and rich zone full of potentiality. And it’s a very exciting place to be… much like in the academy, oftentimes, the cracks between disciplines… exciting work and happen there. We tried to always sit and find that kind of eco tonal spaces, if you will, and really push and, instead of doing one project, for example, in our first-year seminar Action Team project, we set up 16 different umbrella organizations. Within each, they had multiple different working groups. Some of them lasted multiple years. Students took ownership, they developed their own leadership structure, working with community around very powerful issues I was discussing earlier: immigration, water issues, the undocumented and so forth, and others would last the semester. From my perspective, you want to saturate the airspace with activity. So back to what we’re talking about, as you’re organizing around an issue, you want to generate as much activity as you can… you kind of get a swirl of activity going, it becomes a locus… a center of gravity, that starts to pull others in, because “Hey, something’s happening, this is exciting.” What’s going on? There’s change, my gosh.” In the academy change is the rare animal, right? We don’t engage in it very much, and especially change that can touch people’s passion, beyond just disciplinary work and practice. So that can be a special pocket to try to position yourself in.

John: You talked a little bit about the first-year seminar program. Could you talk about one of the other things you’ve mentioned in terms of local issues, such as immigration, or the undocumented? What types of programs were put in, and how have they been working?

Blase: Yeah, I’m not working with our first-year seminar program any longer. It’s deeply political work. And as we changed presidents and wind s shifted, and the legislature became much more activist, sadly, our funding was cut. I mean, at the high point, we had 600 students working with more than 40 community partners each year, and we were showcased at the Obama White House in 2012. So it can be very strong, very, very powerful. There are a lot of really powerful pedagogies that you can help students… usually you never do this with first-year students, this is usually a senior project. Because first-year students are thought to be undirected, not to have that many skills, but they really can develop these skills quickly and develop voice, which is often what we were trying for. So developing agency… sets of tools to how to bring people together, and a voice in a sense of where as their particular passion, just key pedagogies or just democratic decision making in the classroom. While you may come in and have a framework around a set of issues, you might have the relationships with community members, and you might have a sense of the types of activities you want to do. There’s enormous latitude for having the class make decisions in common and the literature is replete with all sorts of ways to go about this. But just establishing that kind of democratic decision making on day one is really, really critical. We also use public narrative, which is created by Marshall Ganz at Kennedy Center in Harvard. And it really helps students begin to find their voice and agency through a couple of different steps where they start out with their individual story of themselves. They connect with others and what motivates us together as a group, the “us” collectively in the class and the community and provides an opportunity to strategize common action and going forward in the now. So there are a lot of different ways to go about this. But there’s some really good frameworks that help you do this. We’ve talked a lot about that collective way of bringing faculty and others together. But again, it’s the same set of democratic flat principles at work, even in the classroom. But you’re talking about specifics, and maybe just to kind of do a little quick validation. So the Global Learning Initiative that we mentioned, in three years, we were able to get 80% of undergraduate programs out of 91 programs in total at that time completed in our process of developing outcomes assessments and curricular map of learning experiences in study abroad because one of the parts of the Global Learning Initiative was to provide an optional semester that students could study abroad and not have them fall behind. So they would work with our Center for International Education and the center would develop reciprocal exchange relationships, and especially placing students in courses that our faculty had confidence of the experience, and data from Angelina Palumbo, or Director of Education Abroad here at NAU, we saw 136% increase in the number of students going abroad in over eight years from the beginning of that initiative until almost a decade later. Basically, those students that were involved in study abroad had an 87% graduation rate, which was 30 points higher, I think, than our average. The first-year Learning Initiative, my colleague, Michelle Miller, and I have written about FILI and how to do it and some of the impacts and you can find an article that she and I published on my academia.edu site.

John: Could you give us an example or two of how one of these programs was structured in practice?

Blase: Well, for example, in our first-year seminar program, we established an arts through all mediums action research team. Again, I’m Professor of musicology, so this was all very performative. We have a number of different courses, talking about public art, political art, visual sound art, poetry, then so the early days of slam poetry. so we had students organizing slam poetry events, and had hundreds of students attending it. We had the curriculum created for the first-year seminars, they were all topics courses, so we could easily populate a range of different topics. We were able to pull in allied faculty to teach them. The faculty often had community partners they are working with, or we had others who were working with and have established relationships with community… and others were able to kind of join in and piggyback on them. And key to all of this was embedding assignments that deeply foregrounded working with community as part of a class. That this kind of work, doing research with public and through publics was equal to any lab type research activity, or archival research activity that are done more traditionally. So, at least there’s a parallel sort of relationship. So faculty, were doing research with students. Students were doing research with community members and knowledge holders, creating multi generational experiences. So everything from K-6th graders all the way up through Navajo elders, and so forth. So it was a very, very rich learning environment within any one of our particular arts. And it was designed that way. So, that it was a very broad range of people, activities, positions, and knowledges, focused around trying to bring about change on a particular set of issues. One of our weatherization and sustainability groups was able to work with the community and basically with Arizona’s Electrical Corporation, to fund a $1.5 million dollar revolving loan grant program where people in our poorest parts of the city could apply to do weatherization upgrades, because we’re actually, even though we’re in Arizona, we’re at 7000 feet. So we have a full four seasons, and it gets quite cold and a lot of snow in the winter and quite warm in the summers. And not as much as down in the valley, but still helping the people put in more insulation to help tighten up windows and replace things and working on the same sort of weatherization projects on community centers and buildings. It was really quite exciting. So a number of our students then kind of spun off and some that were focused more on businesses. There was a Composting Action Team, where using bicycles to go around and collect compost from businesses and places on campus. And ultimately, the movers and shakers, the students behind that as they graduated, they started their own business, which was quite successful in town. So one of the important things that we were able to do with all this, because we’re in Arizona, and we’re talking about immigration issues, right? There’s no more lightning set of issues in our state than that perhaps. And the way that we have been successful is trying to build a very large table so that you can get very progressive, very left, folks sitting down with very right leaning. They’re Mormon farmers talking about water issues, having strong alliances with progressive urban gardeners in the city, and just finding those common spaces. So when we’re talking about immigration, we’re really trying to get away from people cartooning one another’s positions, and get to the point. So, what are the impacts of immigration, there’s huge impacts on policing and crime. And if undocumented residents don’t feel safe to talk to the police, then you lose all of the community members that can help break crime cycles, and help bring those that are creating havoc in our community at bay. So it proved quite successful. We adapted and pulled the methodology and the underlying sets of issues and a broad range of directions over about 15 years here to fairly good effect. There’s just a couple of things too that I do want to say that developed writing with my colleague Rom Coles. If you want to pursue some of this business, with your colleagues, with students, with community members, you need to be really pretty capacious with respect to human differences, to be able to work really with any and all who come. Some folks you may disagree with violently. Yet, if you can create common cause around an issue that’s greater than all of us, that’s the place to be. So we’re not just talking with people who think and act like we do. And sadly, that’s becoming increasingly the norm as we’re caught in our own bubbles. You need to exhibit radical receptivity. That’s my colleague’s phrase where we stretch ourselves to listen, attentively, really to open up and be altered in the relationship you develop with others who are different from us. And we also need to develop a musicality, really emphasizing the improvisational and the experimental. So that specifically we sought to really decentralize initiative and decision making in any of these projects, as much as possible. Make the space for those engaged in pursuing distinctive projects, processes and partnerships. Give them space, just to empower people to try to fail to succeed, to spin off on other topics and projects… to proliferate. Again, if we’re in that eco tonal space, it’s always so fructiferous and just overflowing with possibilities. So the proliferation, acceleration, increasing momentum that I talked about a little bit earlier, that does create this momentum that actually maintains itself through activity that’s constantly bringing others in, constantly feeding and generating additional interest to bring others along… Patience, accountability, commitment, those sorts of things, standard community organizing values, and a strong strategic sense that you’re able to look at a situation and realize you can’t generally go from here to there, you often will have to go through multiple steps to achieve those ends. And part of that is also something that collectively we’re losing… a sense of compromise, that just inherent and community organizing is you often will need to settle for half a loaf. And in a sense that can be viewed as a failure because you didn’t achieve what you wanted, but you achieved half of what you wanted, which is fine, because then tomorrow, you start in on the other half. So nothing is static, nothing is fixed. But you do have to be able to build and achieve to keep people together and to help move things forward. It could be evolutionary, and the leaps can be quite dramatic and fast and cover a lot of ground or perhaps not. Every community’s culture is different. And the issues will be resolved variously.

John: In the academy, one of the things we started with is that change often moves slowly. And partly, that’s because individuals have this bias toward doing things the same way.

Blase: Right.

John: It reduces a cognitive load and so forth. But one of the things that seems to be common with a lot of the things you’re talking about, is the sense of purpose that people gain from this. A few episodes back, we talked to Sarah Rose Cavanagh, who talked about how we can increase students’ motivation, using control value theory… that when there’s something that they value, and when they have a sense of control, they become much more engaged in their learning, and they tend to be much more effective. And their performance improves in classes. It seems like all these projects have that in common. Both when you have students working together, or working with the community, they have a sense of purpose, and they see the value of what they’re doing. And the faculty working in these initiatives see that they do have some autonomy in a way that they may not always feel that way in other environments or in other programs. I think there’s a lot of value in what you’ve been discussing.

Blase: Yeah, I agree 100%. And oftentimes, just how do you get people out of that inertia? And we kind of opened the conversation, that question that I found powerful was “What have you always wanted to do?” and allied to that is, if you are talking about those values that people care about… whether they’re faculty, community, members, students… that just pulls you right out of your day-to-day circumstance. I’m a musicologist, an historical musicologist by training, but I care deeply about sustainability issues and the planet. And that has little formal role in my research, as a musicologist. But that’s something that I care about as a person, as someone who is part of this country in the world. And so again, that just pulls me out of where I am. If I’m taking one step and then the next step, that’s the inertia. So how do you move people beyond that, to start thinking and imagining those new spaces… uniting the head, the hand, and the heart? How do you start to move people into different places, different experiences, and assembling things in different ways so that, that energy and excitement peeks through and informs everything you do, and others can catch that excitement. And hopefully, they can feed off of that, too.

Rebecca: We often talked about student motivation, and how faculty can motivate students. But we don’t always think about how we can motivate each other, and how we can work together. Those same strategies that work on students work on your colleagues too. [LAUGHTER]

Blase: Yeah, it’s so simple. You’re talking about community organizing, and a university, by definition, is a big community… there are sub-communities… you can use power mapping, in your department all the way up through working with folks across your state. It’s just they’re very supple, and as long as you are sound and what you’re trying to achieve, then you have a lot of tools to start to build a coalition to bring them about.

Rebecca: I like what you just said, because I think some folks might have thought initially, like, “Wow, you’re at a big school, does this scale, does this scope to a smaller institution or a smaller scale problem?” But I think you just defined exactly how to do that. You can try something really small, that’s more concrete, maybe in your department, and then move up to something much bigger.

Blase: Sure. I mean, you can start at wherever you are. And especially Honestly, I think the institution that I’m in now a big state research institution, that’s a harder nut than if you’re in a smaller space, or a smaller institution where you actually physically may know more people and have a better sense of the currency and where people, orientations, and motivations are. So yeah, I think it’s scales just variously. And you’re right, it can be applied in whatever frame that you decide to begin to tackle.

Rebecca: So Blase, we usually wrap up by talking about what’s next, even though you’ve already indicated, like a million things that you’re working on. [LAUGHTER]

Blase: Yeah, well, I’m really increasingly working with colleagues from other institutions to help them kind of acquire these skills and to understand community organizing theory and methods and how they might apply them on their campus in their situation to work with faculty, students, community… and especially around global education, but I’ve done a lot of work around civic engagement and agency, and in the past, first-year programs. And that lights me up… working with people that work with people, because that can be just helping to energize and get things going. I also have a couple of articles underway, one with JY Zhou of Stockton University, a colleague of mine that we’re writing about the community organizing theory and another framework that has a lot of resonance with that. And so hopefully, that’ll be coming out… and continuing our collaboratives here on campus faculty, student, community, collaboratives, and disciplinary articles. I’ve got a book chapter coming on Willie Nelson, and lots of presentations at conferences… the standard fare. But fundamentally this kind of work. It’s just so, so exciting. Thank you for the chance to talk about it with you.

Rebecca: Thank you so much, Blase

[MUSIC]

John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.