191. Moving Forward

After a year of experimentation during the pandemic we can reflect on practices worth keeping. In this episode, Martha Bless joins us to examine what we’ve learned from this experience about building and maintaining a productive class community in multiple modalities. Martha is an Academic Director at the Association of College and University educators (ACUE). She has been working with us at SUNY Oswego to support our faculty in the ACUE program for the past two years. She’s a member of the Education Department at Albertus Magnus College and Southern Connecticut State University.

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Transcript

John: After a year of experimentation during the pandemic we can reflect on practices worth keeping. In this episode, we examine what we’ve learned from this experience about building and maintaining a productive class community in multiple modalities.

We should note that this episode was recorded in late April when there was still a great deal more uncertainty about the success of the vaccination program. Today, we’re a bit more optimistic about the fall semester than we were at the time of this recording.

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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 is Martha Bless. Martha is an Academic Director at the Association of College and University educators (ACUE). She has been working with us at SUNY Oswego to support our faculty in the ACUE program for the past two years. She’s a member of the Education Department at Albertus Magnus College and Southern Connecticut State University. Welcome, Martha.

Martha: Thanks, Rebecca. I’m so glad to be here. It’s like being with my friends again. I love it.

John: It’s good to talk to you.

Martha: Yeah, yeah.

Rebecca: It’s been a while.

Martha: I know. I know.

John: Our teas today are…

Rebecca: Martha. Are you drinking tea?

Martha: Yes. Special for this occasion, I poured myself some iced green tea because we’re experiencing beautiful weather here in Connecticut where I live.

Rebecca: Wonderful. I have Scottish afternoon tea. I’m back on a streak again.

John: And I have Lady Grey tea.

Rebecca: That’s an unusual choice for you, John. It’s caffeine in the afternoon.

Martha: Is that like Earl Grey? Only Lady Grey?

John: Yeah, they use something different. I actually like it better than Earl Grey.

Martha: Earl Grey is strong. Yeah, it’s got that strong herby flavor to it.

Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to follow up on an OpenStax blog post you wrote in January titled Revisiting Pandemic Teaching Advice. Now that we’ve survived the spring semester, and maybe are planning for the fall… maybe we’re in denial about the fall. But for many faculty, that might be back to in-person classes that are socially distanced and masked after multiple semesters of online teaching. So what are some things that are on your mind as you look back over the past year and into the fall?

Martha: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I’m already getting questions from faculty about this idea of a HyFlex classroom. you’ve heard this term before, where they might be in a face-to-face classroom, but it’s going to be socially distanced, they’’ll be wearing masks, they might have students who are also Zooming in at the same time that their students are face to face. So, that’s gonna pose them real challenges. My husband teaches in a K-12 world, and they’ve been dealing with that all year. So he has kids Zooming in, he has kids who are in the classroom. So it’s a real juggle, and I will say the first couple of weeks of that kind of a classroom can be super stressful. But a way to help with that is to try to have your students who are in class bring devices, whether it’s a tablet, or a laptop, so that, if you want to do small group instruction, for example, you could have the students who are Zooming in sit with the students in the classroom at a desk on the laptop, so that it feels like they’re there. And then I would just say it’s all the same strategies and practices that I’ve been talking with faculty about for the entire year, which is focusing on building that relationship, focusing on getting the stress out of the room first, so that people can focus on the teaching. And that includes you as the teacher. It’s okay in those kinds of situations to come in and say, “Okay, my tech isn’t working today. So let’s talk it through,” or whatever’s on your mind. But I think for HyFlex, again, if you were teaching online this past year, and now you’re going back to campus. In that situation, again, there’s going to be a big learning curve there.

John: What are the best ways of building community in a classroom, because as you noted in your blog post, that’s one of the most important lessons taken away, the importance of maintaining community.

Martha: One of the things that struck me when, in March of 2020, when we were all sort of thrust into this, like, learning curve, where we didn’t have a choice anymore, we had to learn how to teach online. I know I experienced, both as a faculty development professional and as a teacher myself, as a faculty, I get this barrage of emails from multiple companies, from my IT department, from my department chair, all my colleagues, etc. And every day, there would be some new, like, “Try this, here’s this training. Come to this session.” And for a lot of us, it was overwhelming. So what I found was, I tried to sort of filter through all of that barrage of what, in many cases, was very helpful information. Sometimes it was a lifeline, like, “How do I use Blackboard? I need help with that.” But when it came down to it, I think when the dust settled, it occurred to me that there were really two big takeaways with that abrupt shift, one of which was: one of the most important things about online teaching, whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous, is building community. That’s one of the challenges because obviously, you’re not right there with them. You don’t have facial expression, you don’t have gesture, you don’t have tone of voice. So that became really important for me to focus on as a teacher. And then the other thing that bubbled up for me and a lot of us was the workload, the sheer workload that, if you’re new to online teaching, it can be a real time suck. And I always say this about online teaching and learning, The thing about online learning is it’s a great way to learn because you can do it in your PJs, you can do it whenever you want to. It’s always there. You can go to it when you have the time and when you schedule it, but that also is the thing that makes it, from a learning perspective, really easy to forget about, which is why we have often high dropout rates, high failure rates in online learning. From the teaching perspective, I think it’s that same thing. The great part about it is you can do it anytime, you can get to it when you have the time. But the flip side for teaching in an online class is the time management piece, because we often feel like we always need to be online, we always have to be there to answer the email right away. And that can be a huge pressure. Because again, it’s always there. You never know when to turn off, turn on. When am I teaching, when am I not teaching when I teach an online class? So for me, one of the biggest things was… well, a couple things really… at the beginning of the semester, in your syllabus, in your conversations with your students, to make sure that you clearly identify the parameters of communication in your online class. How soon should they expect an answer to an email? When are you available for meetings? When are you not available? About how long is it going to take you to give them their feedback, and so on. So I think, for students, if they know from the get go, here are the parameters, here’s what you can expect from me in terms of communication, then I know I can set that schedule and stick to it. Because it’s like a contract between me and my students. When I say to them,“No, I’m not going to email you back at three in the morning, I’m not going to email you at five in the morning, I’m going to email you between these hours and get back to you within 24 hours.” So I think that that’s a big thing for me in terms of time management that worked really well.

Rebecca: Circling back to the idea of building community, maybe we can take each modality one at a time, what are some strategies in asynchronous environments to get back community going?

Martha: In asynchronous environments, I think that’s one of the hardest because there’s no set time to be together. So I think a couple of things are really important. The first is to get in there and communicate with an announcement, before your students actually arrive, have it populated in your course so that when they open the course they see either an announcement or a video welcoming them to the class, something warm and inviting, not “Hi, here’s what to expect,” but “Hi, here’s who I am. Here’s what we’re going to be doing in this class. Here’s how it’s going to impact your life.” And, particularly in an online asynchronous class, I think video becomes really important. And I know that people are hesitant about being on camera, it can be a little tricky, it can be like, “Oh, that’s really me? That’s what I look like?” But I think we need to get over that and just sort of embrace the camera and make short videos that reveal your personality. And if you’re familiar with Michael Wesch, I know he’s wonderful. He has a great YouTube channel. And he has a wonderful little short video about how to make short videos, which is hilarious. And his point, and also others, James Lang, for example, who wrote Small Teaching, and Flower Darby, who wrote Small Teaching Online, they all refer to the use of video and not to be afraid of it. Because, in fact, research tells us that students actually prefer videos from their teachers that are not slick and highly produced. They prefer them that are more homey, that give them a sense of who you are as a person, maybe a little window into where you live and what your family was like or who your pets are. Those are often more well received than something that you might work on for hours and hours that’s really slick and prepared. So don’t be afraid to create these small little videos and post them frequently. Typically, what I do in an asynchronous class is I post at least two announcements a week and at least one video announcement a week. In the beginning of the semester, I typically do it at the beginning of the week. And then as the semester rolls on, they’ve submitted their first or second assignment, I usually do a short little video that says, “Hey, great assignment. Here’s what I noticed.” And I do a little recap about common themes and threads that I saw in the assignments. So video is a really important thing in an asynchronous class. In a synchronous class, when you’re meeting with students, I think encouraging them to go on camera… I know it’s been a real challenge for faculty. I’ve spoken to a lot of faculty who say, “My students just won’t go on camera, how can I get them to go on camera?” …and certainly we can’t make them. We can do as much as we can to encourage them, including having them use things like background screens, etc. If they’re a little bit shy about coming on and showing where they’re living or whatever it is, but encouraging them through incentives and through modeling it yourself and being on camera, I think, is really important in a synchronous class. And also using active learning techniques where you’re putting students in groups. I do a thing called a chatterfall often at the beginning of class where I have all of my students do a check in and I say, “Okay, type of word into the chat, how are you feeling today? Don’t submit it until I say ‘go.’” And then you say “go” and the chat explodes with all of these words from your students. So doing fun, active, things like that, I think is a way to build community in a synchronous class. Face to face…. obviously, in a HyFlex classroom, of course you’ll have your students in front of you and your students Zooming in. One of the simplest things that has the biggest impact, believe it or not, is learning and using students’ names. You would be amazed how much of an impact that has on students in a face-to-face classroom, in a synchronous classroom, and as am async when you’re replying to discussion forums, for example. “Hey, Rebecca, great job in this discussion, I love that you enjoyed the story.” Just using someone’s name communicates to them that you see them as a human being, that they’re included in this learning community and that you value them. So simple things like that, and be a good way to build community as well.

Rebecca: I know one of the things that faculty might be particularly stressed about, and obviously we have some faculty who have a little experience of this over the past couple semesters, is teaching in person when everybody’s masked. So you might be used to seeing facial expressions, even if you were teaching synchronously online, you might still have gotten to have that, right?

Martha: That’s true, yeah.

Rebecca: So what are some ways or things to be thinking about or planning for in person when people might be masked, but still generate community?

Martha: That’s a really great question. I wonder if doing things like “Hey, bring in a picture of you doing something and share it with the class, when you weren’t masked? What are some things you’d like to do” and share that. And I’ll share that on the screen: “Here’s me at the beach without my mask, here’s me with my family without my mask,” so that at least people can get a sense of the whole person. That’s really one of the only things I can think of.

John: One thing that I’ve done, it was primarily in asynchronous classes, but I’ve thought about doing this in synchronous classes too, is to have students create short flipgrid videos or voice thread and have them do short introductory videos, and then just share them. Now that may not scale very well in a large classroom, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that in a class of 400 students this fall. But that is a way of at least asking students to share something of themselves where at least they can see each other. One concern I have with incentives for turning on the camera is that many of our students are in crowded living quarters with multiple people in the room, there’s often a lot of noise and distraction, and sometimes they’re on limited bandwidth. And so the students who would find it easier to turn on the cameras are those who are living in nice living quarters with their own private space where they can work, where there’s no other people around. And so it’s essentially rewarding the students that are in a better environment, and it would disadvantage your students who are not able to do any of those things.

Martha: I agree. And when I say incentives, I mean things like not points or grades necessarily, but a nudge, or like, “let’s do some gamification, because everybody’s on camera today,” that kind of thing, more interactive conversation. Yeah, I wouldn’t use it as a carrot for a grade or extra credit points or anything like that. But certainly doing more fun activities, and saying, “Hey, if everybody’s on camera today, guess what? We’re gonna stop five minutes early, and I’m going to show you this really cute, award winning short graphic novel,” something that’s more the social oriented incentive, rather than a grade incentive, because, certainly, that wouldn’t be fair at all. I have students who come in on their iPhones. In one of my asynchronous classes, I have students literally all over the world. I have a student in China and one in St. Vincent. This was the best excuse email I ever got, by the way, as a teacher, I don’t know if you know, but St. Vincent in the Caribbean is just experiencing a volcanic eruption. He emailed me and said, “Dr. Bless, I’m so sorry. I’m not going to be able to hand in my paper. I’m being evacuated because of the volcano.” And I was like, “please just stay safe. It’s okay.” [LAUGHTER] But yeah, that was the best late excuse I think I’ve ever gotten as a teacher.

Rebecca: I’ve had two synchronous online classes this semester, and camera use is way down. But I’ve discovered that during certain activities, students will use their microphones quite a bit, and the chat a ton. And we’ve been using interactive whiteboards, like Miro, and students are super active in those environments. So although I can’t see a single face, I actually feel like I’ve gotten to know many of these students. Sometimes they’ll turn the camera on if we’re having a one-on-one conversation or something for a small amount of time. I even had a student turn on her camera the other day, she’s like, “I don’t want anyone else to see this, but I’ll let you see my crazy hair.” [LAUGHTER]

Martha: I love that.

Rebecca: But it’s been nice. I’ve had students presenting work, just speaking a little bit about what they’re doing. And then students are asking all kinds of great questions in the chat, providing good feedback, and it feels really engaged, maybe even more so than in person sometimes.

Martha: Yeah, it’s so funny that you say that, because, thinking about my synchronous class, and a lot of them don’t go on camera. But it’s amazing how much is conveyed just through your voice. Like, I know who they are when they speak, like, “Oh, yeah, so and so? Yep, absolutely. Thanks for you know…” And you’re right about the chat, they are more likely to use the chat than they are sometimes to speak. And I’m okay with that. That’s participation in my mind, as long as they’re sharing their thoughts via chat or voice. And it’s one of the things that I wrote about in the blog piece is to save time in terms of the grading load of any course, and that’s always a challenge for teachers. It’s always like, “I really want to give feedback. But oh, it takes so long to give so much feedback on papers.” So I found a tool when I was working on my dissertation. My doctoral work was about feedback in classrooms, and how to make that process more streamlined and better from both perspectives, for both the student and the teacher. And I came upon this tool, it’s called Kaizena, and it’s actually an add-on for Google Docs. Like a lot of these tools, there’s a free version and a paid version. But it’s not very expensive if you’re a teacher, and the students, of course, don’t have to pay. And what I’ve found is I use that tool, that allows me to drop an audio file or a mini lesson right into the student assignment. Then when they open it up, they hear me giving them comments. And I’ve been using this now for about a year and a half. And in every semester, about mid semester, I survey my students and I solicit feedback from them about various things, my teaching and Kaizena, specifically, and I ask them, “What are your thoughts on the audio feedback,” and far and away, most of them say, “Oh, I really like it, it’s more personal, I can hear the explanation that you give, that makes more sense.” And from my perspective, I can give them a lot more about what they can tweak in their assignment and how to do it than I ever could writing it on Word or in a margin on a real piece of paper. And the other thing that’s kind of funny about it. And sometimes when I give a video summary of “Let’s talk about this assignment and trends that I saw,” one of the last ones I created, I said to them, and it’s you know, towards the end of the semester, so I’ve given them a lot of notes already. And I said “In this paper on Kaizena, some of you may have heard my voice change a little bit and get a little irritated.” [LAUGHTER] And they laugh, and they’re like, “Oh, I know, I know, you’ve given me that note before, Dr. Glass. And I promise next time in the next paper, I won’t do it again,” or whatever, or “I’ll make it better.” But they always tell me in that mid-semester feedback that they really appreciate the voice component of it. And for me, it’s also a time saver. This is one of the other things that I found about the workload in online classes and how to derive that and it makes it more enjoyable. It takes some getting used to like I’m just talking to my computer, but my students really enjoy it. So for me, that’s become a really valuable tool.

John: And the tone of voice in terms of showing when you’re getting frustrated can also show when you’re not being quite as serious, when you’re being a little bit more flippant, which won’t show up in the same way when students are reading the comments, because we know that people in general are more likely to interpret things in a negative way.

Martha: It’s really true. And what I found is that, of course, on the flip side, I also give positive comments like, “Wow, that’s an amazing story. What a great sentence you’ve written here, terrific thesis.” And I can also give little personal anecdotes. One of their assignments is a little short memoir. And I can say, “Oh, yeah, I did that too,” or like relate to them in that way. So it’s a multi-purpose tool for me in both building community and in time saving, because they can hear that connection to me, to what they’ve written, which I think they really value.

Rebecca: I think that also happens too, when you’re trying to give encouraging feedback about improvement, but they just hear “Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” When it might be like, “Oh, you did this thing here. You could do it better by doing X,” which is really different.

Martha: Yeah. And the little mini lessons that I’m talking about… So, in Kaizena, what you do is, you set up your account, and I can create mini-lessons by pulling in content from the web. So like, “Here’s a little video on how to not use passive voice.” “Here’s a little video on APA format,” whatever it is, and I drop it right into the paper so that they can click on it and hear a little one-, two-minute tutorial. They’re very honest in their feedback, and some of them say, “Okay, I didn’t watch all the videos, but thank you for giving them to me.” But the ones who say “Yeah, those were really helpful.” I think it’s a valuable thing for them to hear not just “bad, bad, bad,” but “Okay, this is an edit, and here’s how to edit it. No big deal.”

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about accessibility related to audio feedback.

Martha: Yeah, great question. I always put in my syllabus and also talk about or put a video on the first day that I use this tool. However, if that’s not going to work for you, for whatever reason, email me. And Kaizena also lets me put in text comments. So I have that as an option as well. And because it’s a Google Doc add-on, I have all the Google Doc tools as well for editing and reviewing. So this, give them that right from the beginning and say, “I’m using this tool, if that’s going to be an issue for you just email me privately, you don’t even need to tell me what the issue is just say ‘No, I’d prefer text.’ So I give them that option.”

Rebecca: It seems like it might be helpful to do one more check in after the first time of leaving feedback as well. Like now that you’ve had some of that voice feedback, does it still work for you?

Martha: Exactly. Yeah. And I do, if it’s a synchronous class, I’ll, after the first paper comes in, I’ll walk them through it and ask “Does anyone have any questions or comments?” And if it’s an async, I usually post an announcement and then hold the virtual office hour for anybody who wants to drop in and chat with me about what they heard or any concerns they have.

Rebecca: Time saving tips are really popular amongst faculty, do you have any others?

Martha: Yeah, Kaizena has saved me a lot of time in grading. Sticking to that schedule, I think, is really important. It’s something as simple as putting things in your calendar. So if it’s an asynchronous class, and you don’t have a scheduled time, I find it really important to give myself that schedule, and try to stick to it. Because if I put it in my calendar, and I give myself a reminder, I know I’m going to be disciplined and sit down and get my work done in that hour and a half that I’ve put in my calendar, and then on to something else. So, really simple time management strategies, I think, work the best. I think thinking about creating videos ahead of time, so much of online teaching is done ahead of time, so anything that you can do before the semester starts during break week. So if you know what your schedule is going to be, you know, you can record your little intro videos for all the sections or courses that you’re teaching so that you can just quickly upload those. Making your videos not so specific to a course so that you can recycle them as well is another time saver. So rather than saying welcome to English 130, or whatever the course is, just say, “Hey, welcome to the course, this is who I am.” And then you can use that video in whatever course you’re teaching. Sometimes you can do that with videos, sometimes not, because I obviously like to make it personal for the students and the feedback that they need. But sometimes you can recycle them and that saves a bit of time as well.

Rebecca: I think i n your article, you also mentioned using rubrics.

Martha: Yes, one of the things that’s really interesting to me is that before the pandemic, most of us who are teaching face-to-face all received a course shell in our LMS, whether it’s Blackboard or Canvas or whatever it is, but the data, the statistics on use of those shells was just terrible. Like I think it was maybe hovering around 30% of face-to-face instructors actually used their course shell. Now, I think one of the positives to come out of all of this is that we didn’t have a choice anymore, we kind of had to use our course shell. And one of the things that I learned very quickly was the rubric tool in the learning management system. And again, it’s one of those things that, it’s time upfront, but you get that investment of time back multiple fold. By using the rubric tool to either convert existing rubrics that you have for your assignments or create rubrics. I created a discussion rubric for my synchronous and asynchronous classes. I had existing rubrics for some of my assignments. So I took some of that and just created it in the LMS tool itself. So that now I can go in there and just click, click, click, quickly grade it. And I’ve given them the feedback in Kaizena. So all I need to do in my LMS gradebook is grade the rubric and it’s done. And the other thing about rubrics, particularly for discussions, is I tried to get not too complicated. Don’t overthink it. I think Flower Darby talks about this too, in her book, particularly with discussions. And I’ve gone to a kind of three-pronged rubric, which is “Yeah, you got it, almost… mmh, almost there, not quite… and that’s a do over… like 1-2-3. And if they get a that’s to do over, I actually allow them to do it over because often it happens early on in the semester where they don’t quite have the hang of it. I give them an opportunity to redo because my goal as an instructor is to actually get the students to do the assignment and do it well. Rather than just feel bad about getting a bad grade.

John: Another nice thing with rubrics is that if you share them with students in advance, you’re making transparent what the expectations are. And that makes it easier for students to meet those expectations, because students often, in the beginning of a course, are trying to judge what you expect from them. And we’re not always as clear with that as we should be. And the use of rubrics can make that very explicit and create more transparency in the assessment process, which makes it easier for students to meet those expectations.

Martha: Exactly. I think there’s a level of respect with that, that “Here, I’m telling you, I don’t want you to guess what the teacher wants. I want to spell it out clearly for you.” And I also want to spell it out, not in teacher lingo. I want to make sure that my rubrics are clear to students about even making assumptions, like “analyzes source material…” Well, do I really know that my students understand what analysis entails? And so I think it’s important, when we share the rubrics with the students to parse that language a little bit and say, “Okay, who knows what that really means? What does it mean to analyze a source?” and if they don’t know what it means, then provide that definition for them. But I try not to make it too, too jargony in my rubrics as well,

Rebecca: One of the things I quickly learned… well, maybe not so quickly, I should have learned it more quickly… is that students don’t necessarily know where the rubrics are in the LMS. And you got to kind of explicitly point that out. I think it was halfway through last semester. And I’m like, you need to look at the rubric. If you looked at the rubric, you could get full credit on this assignment. And the students are like “There’s a rubric.”” Like, “Yes, there’s been a rubric on every assignment all semester, and some of them are in the syllabus as well.” But I had to show them and they’re like, Oooooh,” but as someone who hadn’t taught online before, it wasn’t obvious to me that I needed to show them where that was.

Martha: Yeah, it’s another great idea for a short video, the first week of the semester, let’s do a walkthrough of our course, here’s where you find the rubrics and do it as a screencast. And I made that same mistake in the fall about three weeks in, I emailed this person, and they hadn’t turned something in and they were like, “Oh, where do you hand in the assignment again?” …that kind of thing. And I was like, “Oh, gosh, I assumed that people knew Blackboard.” But I really shouldn’t make that assumption. So making a short little, “here’s how to navigate our course” video, I think, is a good thing to do as well.

Rebecca: Yeah, with all those little details, I did the submission piece, like I didn’t forget that part…

Martha: Right.

Rebecca: …but, where the rubrics are, no, didn’t manage that

Martha: …not so much…

Rebecca: Like, here’s a checklist of all the [LAUGHTER] pieces of the class to go over.

Martha: Yeah, an important thing, when you make that video, if you make a short little, “here’s how to do Blackboard” video for your students make sure you’re in student view, because I’ve made that mistake, I’ve started out my video on like,” Oh, wait, I’m not in student view.” So I need to do it again.” [LAUGHTER] …a little thing to remember. And actually one of the new versions of Blackboard, I don’t use it, but my understanding is that they also have a voice comment capability in Blackboard, and so that’s also a great tool to use if you have it. I don’t have it in my version, but I know it’s out there.

Rebecca: One other quick thing to remind students about too, in one of those video walkthroughs, is that the app version is different than the website version, and not all the content that is available in the app version, including some of the accessibility features. So sometimes they’re like, “I can’t find this.” And then you find out it’s because they’re accessing it from their phone and so they default to an app. And they may need to be doing stuff on their phone, because that might be a primary portal to the internet for them. But the web version does work on their phones as well. And pointing out that they might need to switch to that view to get some of the content is maybe helpful.

Martha: Yeah, definitely. As I said, I have a couple of students who access the course on their phone.

John: We always end with the question. What’s next? …which is something we’re all concerned about right now.

Martha: Yeah, that’s a great question. So my “what’s next” is, and I’ve mentioned that I think there are some positives to come out of this, and that is that it really catapulted us even kicking and screaming some of us into the world of online teaching and learning. And now that we’ve sort of gotten comfortable with some of those practices, and with using an LMS, my “what’s next” is what’s gonna stick? Like, are the statistics for using our course shells in a face-to-face course going to go up? Are we going to utilize those grade books more often? Are we going to bring in some of our video and those kinds of communication skills moreso into our face-to-face classes? That’s what I wonder about, like, “how much of our new learning is gonna stick?”

Rebecca: And it seems particularly important if we might be masked and stuff in the fall that we do have that strong digital presence moving forward, at least as we transition back to what will become our new norma.

Martha: Absolutely. Yeah,

John: And I know on our campus, they’re talking about cutting back student print quotas to encourage more continued use of digital materials.

Martha: Wow, that’s really interesting. Yeah.

John: So the goal there is to encourage both faculty and students to take advantage of those features because it’s in everyone’s interest to do so.

Martha: That’s really interesting because, of course, when computers and printers and digital documents first arrived, everyone was like, “Oh, nobody’s gonna use paper anymore.” 20 years later, and we’re still using lots of paper. So that’ll be interesting to see if it has an impact on that. I hope it does.

Rebecca: Well, it’s always wonderful to talk to you, Martha, thanks for joining us.

Martha: This has been so fun. Thank you so much, Rebecca and John. It’s good seeing you.

John: Thank you. And we will include a link to Kaizena in the show notes.

Martha:Awesome. That’s great.

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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.

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190. Academic Integrity

The global pandemic resulted in a dramatic increase in online instruction. This was accompanied by an expansion of the use of online services that, in return for a fee, provide students with solutions to assignments and exams . In this episode, James M. Pitarresi joins us to discuss strategies that faculty can use to preserve academic integrity in their online courses.

James is a Vice Provost for Online and Innovative Education and the Executive Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is also a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Binghamton.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: The global pandemic resulted in a dramatic increase in online instruction. This was accompanied by an expansion of the use
of online services that, in return for a fee, provide students with solutions to assignments and exams. In this episode, we examine strategies that faculty can use to preserve academic integrity in their online courses.

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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.

[MUSIC]

John: Our guest today is James M. Pitarresi. James is a Vice Provost for Online and Innovative Education and the Executive Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is also a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Binghamton. Welcome, James.

James: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for bringing me on board.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are… James, are you drinking tea?

James: I had my cup of tea. I drink Barry’s Irish tea with a little bit of sugar and milk, and I’ve already had it today.

John: And I am drinking Spring Cherry Green tea.

Rebecca: And I’ve got a near neighbor with my Scottish afternoon breakfast.

James: Oh, nice.

Rebecca: …to James, not to John. [LAUGHTER]

John: Yeah, I’m not sure where this one comes from. It’s a Republic of Tea tea.

James: Well, I have to try the Scottish Breakfast. I’ve had the English Breakfast tea.

Rebecca: This one’s a Scottish afternoon, and there’s a morning as well, but I actually prefer the afternoon. It’s a little smoother or something.

James: Ok, Yeah, I’ll look for it.

John: And for many episodes, English afternoon was the preferred which is a little bit harder to find. Well, it’s probably comparable to the Scottish afternoon in terms of ease of locating,

Rebecca: You got to know where to look, John, you got to know where to look.

John: Well, we actually have six packs of twenty in the office where they’ve been sitting since last February when they came in.

Rebecca: We have to hurry up and drink those up.

John: So the global pandemic, which began last March, caused many faculty to shift from face-to-face instruction to online instruction, many for the first time. And we’ve seen a tremendous shift of students from face-to-face to online instruction. And that seems to have been accompanied by a fairly dramatic expansion in the use of online services that facilitate academic dishonesty. And a few years ago, at least on our campus, much of that seemed to be taking place using Course Hero. In the last couple years, much of the expansion seems to have been from Chegg. I saw a statistic recently that between April and August of 2020, the number of student uploads or questions to Chegg approximately doubled, and I think that expansion has continued since then. Why are the sites so popular?

James: Yeah, John, great summary of the challenges we face right now. I’ve done a lot of interviewing with students. And actually I stumbled into this in, I think it was June of 2019, at the American Society of Engineering Education annual conference, I think it was in Tampa. And I was doing one of the keynote breakfast things that are sponsored, McGraw Hill was sponsoring it. And we were talking about the future of educational materials. And the session was well attended by both faculty and students. We had a great panel and I was emceeing it. And the conversation came up about Chegg. Now this is pre-pandemic, and the question came up about Chegg. Many of the faculty hadn’t heard of it. All the students had heard of it. And it was an incredible conversation and eye opener. And what came out of that hour and a half meeting was, for me anyways, “Well, why were students using these type of websites?” …and there are many out there, I think Chegg is probably the leading one right now. And it was fascinating, having the conversation with the students. Of course, fast forward to the pandemic, and this all exploded. But what I’ve discovered, in having both focus groups and individual conversations with students from across the country, is that there seems to be a sense that students don’t want to leave points on the table. So if homework is worth 20%, or 25%, or 50%, they’re going to get all of those points if they can, and most students work hard to try to figure it out. But if they’re stuck, they’re not going to leave those points on the table, they’re going to go someplace to get help. And in the past, that might have been the person living in the dorm down the hall, or maybe you went to tutoring or some other source to get help. But these online sites are a couple mouse clicks away. And so the barrier to entry is so low, that if you’re struggling with a demanding curriculum and other things going on, the temptation is so great. And so what I found, in talking to students using these websites, is one of two general flavors. One was the student that was, “I’m not going to leave points on the table,” and frankly, blurring the line between academic dishonesty and trying to actually learn, and that’s sad. And we’ll probably get into that in a little bit in this conversation. The other group of students were students that were really trying to use these sites to learn, they were stuck on something, they couldn’t get past it. They’d submit, they’d take a look or search around. And to a large extent, they really want to learn. The pandemic came, everybody shifted online, and they took a look around and said, “Well, wait a minute here, this person’s cheating. That person’s cheating. I’m the one not cheating, I’m going to get the low grade because I’m really trying to do well, I’m not a cheat.” I heard this over and over again, “I’m not a cheat, but I know everyone in the class is cheating, and I’m not going to be the one getting a B, when they’re getting an A.” And so it became this crazy dynamic of a mix of “I’m not going to leave points on the table,” and “I’ll be darned everyone else is cheating.” And the barrier to entry is so incredibly low that the students who would never cheat, it’s a mouse click away. Oh, there’s the answer. Yeah, I knew that, hand it in, Sorry, long answer, John, but that sort of summarizes my exposure to it.

John: I actually had a conversation with a student just a few weeks ago that mirrors that exact discussion. Her response when we talked about this is she should have had more faith in her own ability, but she was using it as a crutch because she wasn’t that confident, so she was using this in every one of her courses. And I was just the person who happened to catch her doing it.

Rebecca: Academic dishonesty has been an issue for a very long time. But the pandemic has definitely put a spotlight on, especially this kind of digital version of academic dishonesty, even though that same mouse click was there a year or two ago, and these platforms definitely had traffic, they seem to have increased during the pandemic. Can you talk a little bit about the role of the pandemic in this particular issue?

James: Rebecca, you’re absolutely right. Unfortunately, cheating has been going on for a long time. And, usually, the way most professors adjust to that is, let’s say the homework or something might only be worth 10,15, 20%. It’s not particularly high stakes. It’s designed to be formative anyways. It’s the exams. And so in the past, they were face to face. And while young people tend to be very innovative and brilliant in solutions to circumventing academic honesty, in general, it was very hard to do. The pandemic rolls in. And now, exams are online. So we’re in a situation where the barrier to entry to cheating on an exam when it was face to face was pretty gosh darn high. Now, it’s extremely low, because you’re at home, you’re sitting in your bedroom or whatever, at the kitchen table, you’re taking an online test. Many faculty, many universities don’t use a proctoring service, we can talk a little bit about those, they’re typically a cost added, usually to the student, if they become very expensive to do institutionally. And quite frankly, I have a lot of experience that those systems don’t work, they don’t deter cheating, it’s pretty easy to cheat while these systems are being used. And I’ve unfortunately been involved with faculty that I’ve talked to, from my institution and other institutions where cheating has occurred during the exam while it was being video monitored. So in the arms race of trying to prevent cheating in the online world, we as instructors have a tendency to be a step behind. But you’re right, Rebecca, the pandemic shifted us online, including the big assessments, the big summative assessments, the exams, and we struggled with how to do it. Frankly, it was a little bit of lack of imagination on our part, and maybe an unwillingness or not recognizing that this change was afoot. The faculty that I’ve talked to that have modified their exam processes, have had some success. And interestingly enough faculty who have had upfront discussions with their students about academic honesty, and integrity, and setting standards, and a North star for yourself in terms of what your behavior is, they’ve had success in deterring cheating and academic dishonesty. But yeah, the pandemic brought it on, and it was the shift to online, plain and simple.

John: One of the things I think many teaching centers have been advocating for years is to use more online quizzing that’s automated to take some of the pressure off professors, and also to give students lots of formative assessment, as you’ve suggested, much of which is often done as a low-stakes summative assessment too, where students have multiple attempts. And so many faculty have been routinely creating these large test banks and updating them, but they pretty much all appear online pretty quickly. And the benefits of that, in many classes, have effectively disappeared. What can faculty do, without creating thousands of questions every semester, to get around this issue, to give students the benefits of that low-stakes or no-stakes formative assessment, while still making sure that students are actually learning from and ar not just looking things up on one of the services?

Rebecca: John, are you just looking for personal advice?

James: Chances are, it’s out there, John, I’m sorry to say, but hopefully…

John: I actually have been checking and I have done a few things that make it more difficult. But I’ve also been writing hundreds of new questions every week this semester.

James: Yeah, John, that’s part of the challenge is not only is it a shift in thinking for instructors, but it’s a shift in workload. So one approach is you did the work upfront, you’re writing hundreds of new questions with subtle changes, perhaps. And so it makes it very difficult to keep up with all those. The backside is to have more open-ended problems, but then your grading, so your extra work is on the backend. Part of this is having the conversation with the students, an honest conversation about their learning, connecting what you’re doing in the class, what you’re doing with the subject material to the issues that they’re going to face, perhaps in other courses, perhaps in their life and their career choice… so just an adult conversation, this is why it’s important for you to learn that, and I’ve come up with these low-stakes tests, so you can see where you’re at. And yeah, you can cheat on it. If that’s going to be your approach, then I don’t agree with that, and I think it’s eventually going to get you in trouble. So one approach, John is, yeah, you just do it, you have that conversation, and you say, “Look, it’s like taking your temperature to see if you have a fever. Just go and check. You want to know, if you have a fever, you want to know if you really have this material. I think you got to combine that when you get away from the frequent formative testing… the mantra, frequent formative assessment… when you get away from that, and you’re kind of saying, “Okay, here’s the next level test. This is a summative assessment, I need to know where you’re at with it.” That’s where the challenge is at right now, because the test banks have all been widely distributed. And unless you’re a glutton for punishment, and can write hundreds of questions, it’s going to be a real challenge. We’ve had some luck with using Gradescope. John, Rebecca, have you guys used Gradescope?

John: I have not. I know some colleagues who have, although not on our campus that I’m aware of.

James: We’ve had some, I would say modest success with it. It’s a tool that I think works best in a face-to-face type of exam, but you can do it in an online format. It helps speed up the grading process, it leverages artificial intelligence. There are some technical issues and glitches and so forth. But folks in chemistry and math have been experimenting with it with very good results. And one of the things it does is it can reduce the grading time. And that’s been the big pushback from my colleagues is “I’ll make open-ended problems, but then their grading is so hard.” One thing I did, and again, mechanical engineering, so I’ve got an advantage in that I can ask design-type questions. And what I have done in the past… this is pre-pandemic… is I would assign each student in the class slightly different parameters for a design problem. And then I was able, using some software (I think I used Mathematica or MATLAB, I don’t remember), I was able to run all the different variables and come up with approximately what their solution should look like. And so I split the difference, there was a little bit of upfront work in setting it up and a little bit of extra grading. But here’s the thing, the students loved it. And not because it was a design problem… I would say they like design problems. Here’s the insight. They loved it because they could work together, but they all had their own set of parameters that they had to do on their own. So they were like, “Oh, this is great. We got together, four or five of us got together and talked through it and explained it to each other.” But then everyone had to sit down, and kind of run the numbers for themselves. And they all diverged to slightly different solutions. That was a big insight for me. It would be interesting. I mean, I don’t know how you’d expand that to other disciplines. It would be interesting to go back and try that some more and see if that sort of assessment would get around all this. Now that said, could someone post their specific parameters on Chegg and get the answer? Yeah, unfortunately, the answer might be yes, John.

John: And in fact, I did that with my first econometrics exam when we moved online. I created seven variants of each of seven questions for a class of about 30 students, and nearly all the questions ended up online within about an hour of the test. And the first appearance was within 15 minutes of the test opening. So yeah, they can and they get a custom solution that can then be used by others. And for most of them five or six of the variants ended up appearing online very quickly.

James: Yeah, I wish we had a solution. Because if the three of us had the solution to it, we’d be going up for the initial public offering and starting up our company. But yeah, part of it is student behavior, and helping them understand what’s at stake about their learning. Part of it is changing our behavior as instructors. And while I understand sites like Chegg have introduced, I think it;s called honor shields, and so forth, the colleagues that I’ve talked to said it’s not very effective, they haven’t been happy with it. So yeah, this is a very vexing problem. And one that I don’t see a clear solution to in the future, I will say there was a math professor with a small seminar type class, and he just had oral Zoom exams with each student. He just set up a time and asked them. And the same professor, in his larger class, told students, “I might randomly contact you to explain how you solve a problem on a test.” And I think the fear of that alone probably drove students to study. [LAUGHTER] But yeah, you hate to resort to techniques like that. But there it is.

Rebecca: Especially when the platform’s themselves, like Chegg, they’re well designed for the behavior they want to occur. They’re designed in a way that rewards people uploading content, and so it’s designed in a way to be kind of effective at getting students to upload content because they want content.

James: Yep, exactly.

John: That’s actually the Course Hero model where you get free subscriptions if you upload a certain amount of graded material. And then you get access to materials that other students post. With Chegg, there’s a monthly fee, which I know, because I have to pay it just to keep track of all the cheating that’s taking place in my classes, which is really troubling. But it does have a nice interface, which is fairly similar to the interface that Netflix and similar services use. “If you like this problem, you will also like this problem.” And, in general, you can trace your way through and find many other questions from any given assessment that you posted

Rebecca: …referrals and recommendations. It’s amazing.

James: This is the Amazon model. John, one of the things that I found was interesting in talking to students who use Chegg is it recommends another problem. A number of students said that they enjoyed that, because while they saw the solution and everything, they felt that they were getting more experience with different types of problems, and they like that. But what was really interesting is when I would interview students and talk about their use of Chegg, one of the things that kept coming up, over and over again, is they liked the way, with certain types of problems in Chegg, that there could be hints. There are a whole spectrum of solutions available there. But the ones that are sort of curated, they thought were done very well, every step was explained, there was no “Oh, and it can be shown” and “then completing the algebra you get”… they showed all the steps. And some problems have hints, and you can choose to uncover the hints. And many of the students said they loved that. It was in plain language, and it showed all the steps. And maybe we should take a lesson from that when we put together course materials and study guides for our students, maybe that would be more beneficial for the students, would help them work their way through it. But I thought that was an interesting insight, that those were key aspects. Here’s another aspect, there’s not a lot of video content on Chegg. Now part of it is because “I just need to copy the answer and hand this homework in,” [LAUGHTER] but the students said, “Yeah, they didn’t really care about the video content, they were happy to read through the sort of solution walkthroughs.” And that’s interesting, because that’s sort of the opposite of YouTube, where it’s all video. And so the different learning methods and styles and approaches I thought was interesting. I just wish they didn’t cheat. [LAUGHTER]]

Rebecca: I think taking a lesson from some of those design aspects is important too. A lot of the things that students complain about is the learning management system and what that looks like and feels like or, for example, the problem sets that you’re talking about and wanting it to be in plain language rather than in language that maybe seems too difficult, or it’s not the right level of challenge. All of those things are things that could help the student maybe not want to leave your course and go somewhere else if it was built in. But it all requires a lot of time and resources and materials. And many of us don’t have that available to us with workloads expanding and especially during the pandemic having to turn around things quickly to shift gears,

James: Rebecca, you’re right, the massive shift from face to face to online, the anxiety, especially in the early days over this pandemic, and I don’t think the anxiety has gone down at all. But all that and the extra workload of learning to transition online, and figuring all this out. That’s been a consistent challenge during this whole period, that crazy shift in workload. And it’s been a challenge for all of us. It’s been a challenge for the students, certainly the types of students we’re talking about, in general, are students who went to college, they went to a residential experience. And all of a sudden we told them, [LAUGHTER] “Well, no, you’re actually attending an online institution at this point.” And Rebecca and John, I did want to point out, there was another interesting insight. I was interviewing some students on our campus, and then when I interviewed students from other universities, I was able to find similar things. And here’s what a student said to me, and I won’t use names, but they said, “Oh, in Professor X’s class, we never use Chegg.” Well, why not? “We didn’t have to. Her lectures were great. She explained everything. The homework was tied in, it made sense. And she gave us all her old exams. And she said, ‘Oh, you’re gonna know this for the exam.’” We had her old exams, and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, she’s right. We need to know this for the exam.“ And there was good support and tutorial services. There was great support. This is a quote, one student said “Chegg, Chegg who?” …obviously being a joker about it. But I thought that was fascinating, that when the course is well designed, when the material is presented in a clear way that’s student centered, when the students clearly understand how they’re going to be assessed, they know there isn’t going to be the trick problem to separate the stratospheric A from everybody else, they were like, “Yeah, we don’t need Chegg. We have everything we need from the professor and the student support services.” And when I asked students from other universities, I said, “Well, tell me about a course that you didn’t use Chegg.” And pretty much, I’d say well over half of them had “Oh, yeah, in organic chemistry, in thermodynamics, yeah, I had a great professor.” So there’s something in there that we need to learn as instructors. But that said, another quote from the same students who did use Chegg in another class, when I said “It’s academic dishonesty, you can be expelled.” And he said, “80% of the class is using it, they gonna expel all of us?” That’s an interesting perspective from a student. So yeah, but talking to students and getting their views on this has been tremendously fascinating. And it’s really helped inform a lot of the advice I give my colleagues about how to make the best of this situation. But it’s a challenge.

John: And I suspect the number of classes where it’s not being used has probably declined quite a bit, because once they’re paying that monthly fee, and now Chegg has a really nice mobile app, where you just take a picture of a problem on the screen, it uploads it, and the response comes back generally in 15 to 20 minutes, the marginal cost of engaging it in additional classes has become a lot lower for those students who might have considered it but didn’t think it was worthwhile before.

James: Yeah, the barrier to entry is now at ground level, other than the fee of $15, or whatever it is. It would be nice to engage with Chegg and other platforms. We need the students to learn this material. This is important. Let’s work together. I mean, the honor shield, okay, if it’s not working, why isn’t it working? Let’s figure out why it isn’t working on our end, working with students on academic honesty, and having a North star and having their own internal what’s right and what’s wrong, and helping young people build that set of skills and beliefs about themselves. You mentioned earlier that the young woman, she didn’t have the confidence in herself to be able to just do it. And part of it might be down the road, do departments and schools and universities and so forth, make a big fuss out of this? Is there legal action in the future? This is interesting. Where is this gonna go? I think the article in Forbes, which was very enlightening, they talked about the valuation of the company in the billions. And so if you take a very crass look at this, you got a multi billion dollar company based on cheating. That’s a hard swipe, and so forth. But let’s have a conversation.

John: And it’s basically all copyright infringement of textbook publishers’ content and faculty members’ content. So basically, they’re making millions, essentially from encouraging academic dishonesty and from infringing on everybody’s copyright. So it wouldn’t really be all that difficult, I would think, although copyright law with digital materials is a little bit tricky, because we do have the DMCA out there. And I know Chegg in particular, and I think Course Hero as well, is pretty good at responding to DMCA takedown requests, because I’ve sent dozens of them there just in the past semester, and quite a few over the last couple of years. And Chegg is actually also very good in providing faculty with information on the login ID that students use. Up until last year, in my experience at least, students were mostly using their actual college email address. Now they’ve tended to switch it a bit where they’ve created fake Gmail accounts, but they’re still logging in from the same IP address that they’re using when they submit their exams, which makes it really easy to do a look up between the exam and the person contributing the material. So there are ways of enforcing this. And if more faculty crack down on it, perhaps, it might deter a bit more of this activity. But there’s millions being made, as you said, and it might be nice if some of the publishers would work together to try to take back their ownership of the material they’ve paid to create.

James: I don’t know copyright law. But some of the problems I’ve looked at, where they were explained in more detail, whoever wrote that up, sort of wrote it up independent, they did not photocopy the instructors manual, the solution manual, they worked it out themselves. And truly I do not know what the copyright law is there.

John: The solutions, I think, would not be violations to copyright. But the photocopies of the problems and the test questions and so forth would be a violation of copyright.

James: That’s right, when we make up exams and so forth. But I mean, I’ve talked to faculty who had the exam, and had on the exam, “do not upload to Chegg,” [LAUGHTER] and it appeared, as you said, John, within 15, 20 minutes, and in those cases, it’s pretty easy to prosecute. Chegg will, as long as you go through the official academic honesty policy on campus, they’ll provide information, and that gets ugly really fast for the student. And here’s the other issue, John and Rebecca, I’ve pursued academic dishonesty cases, not involving Chegg, and it is work, it’s effort, it’s stress, and then you get the emails from the student: “You’re ruining my life” and all this kind of stuff. And It can be like, “Oh, boy, wouldn’t have been so much better if we had this conversation and you said, ‘Hey, Professor, I’m really struggling, can you give me some extra help or help me find a tutor.’” Here at Binghamton University, and I assume at many universities, students pay various comprehensive fees. tutoring is free, just go and sign up for tutoring, you’ve already paid a comprehensive fee that covers it. And I make that pitch to the first-year students all the time and say,” You’ve already paid for this, go and use it.” But yeah, I mean, think of the effort it takes for you to then go through all this work and crosswalk an IP address to this and that, I mean, that’s part of the equation we talked about, the time shift, you have to spend time on front creating assessments, on the back end grading it, and all through the process, pursuing it legally, a real challenge.

Rebecca: I think sometimes the argument, too, for students about being honest works a little better when it’s in their major, because there’s a slightly better sell of like a direct impact of “this skill set is really going to get you when you start that job and you can’t do the thing.” But we have to work on our arguments for the courses that might be in general education and things and help students recognize how those are valuable as well out in the workforce. Because I think sometimes that argument can be really compelling for students, but we have to be ready to help make it and help them want to be authentic in what they’re doing so that they can have success.

James: Absolutely. And you’re right. When I talked to students, certainly, for the courses outside of their major, they were much more willing to just survive the course, they really didn’t care. And, again, what lesson can we learn from that? Why are students feeling that way? Why are they saying that? Are those courses not connected? Or did we just not make the connection? We didn’t show them, “Oh, yes, that’s important, that gen ed is really much more important.” I’d argue, certainly in the STEM fields, as so many STEM degrees are being offered worldwide, as technology allows for so many of the things that used to require a person, now can be done by AI, that it’s our ability to work in teams, our ability to communicate, its ethics, and how do you tackle big challenging problems? I might be a mechanical engineer, I bring that background, other people bring other backgrounds and experiences. And that, what a great way to tie in general education courses to the bigger picture. Are we making that argument? Are we helping students make those connections? So, something to think about. I don’t have any answers, guys, so I’ll have to stay tuned to your podcast as you bring smarter people in to say, “Oh, well, when James said that, I have the solution.” [LAUGHTER]

John: Are there some other approaches that faculty could use in place of more traditional exams to eliminate some of the incentives and the possibility for this type of academic integrity concern?

James: Sure, there are, and they’re are more time consuming. So I’m going to be honest with myself, it’s a little easier to have 10 multiple choice questions in mechanical engineering on an exam, a little bit of a testbank, a little bit of taken from the homework, taken from my notes, super easy to grade. If you got 100 plus students, you can grade that pretty quick or you bubble source it. And I justify it, because the licensing exam is multiple choice. Well, it’s okay. It’s okay. I think we got to go back and say, “Well, maybe a judicious blend of some multiple choice questions.” Hey, you know what? The licensing exam is multiple choice. And sometimes you just got to get the right answer. With longer answer prompts that ask them to evaluate something, that’s the approach I use, and it weighs heavily on the back end. The grading is now something that you spend the weekend with a stack of papers,going through them. And you know, you guys know how that is, you can’t start grading a problem and stop halfway because you lose it in your head, right? You got the rubric in front of you. But still, you get a certain “Ok, I took a point off for that, yeah.” And so you got to sit and do that whole problem. And that’s for a lot of folks, I’ll just say, for me, that’s a shift in doing things as we shift to online. I hope that when we go back to face to face, and let’s hope it’s this fall, that we don’t forget some of these lessons, that we really should be designing better assessments that really challenge what the students know. My argument is, if you can google on it, and it’s three mouse clicks away, it’s probably not worthy of testing them on it. And the students are telling you that by saying I’m just gonna copy it. So I don’t have great solutions. I know some of the learning management systems, you can put problems in there, they’ll mix up the order, they’re timed, you can’t go back. But, the only problem I have with that is what is it we’re really testing? The time thing just puts a lot of anxiety and pressure on people and I’m not a good one under those conditions. And you know, John, I’m a “Oh shoot on problem two, wait a minute. Yeah, I did. Oh, I did that. I want to go back to problem two. I just remembered, cause in problem six, there was something similar.” You can’t do it. So yeah, there are things we do out there. But they’re not getting at the heart of what we want. And that is students to learn this material and for us to assess it in a fair and reasonable way, and help the students connect all this for whatever goals they have in their lives. What are you trying to do? Why are you in college? What’s your goal? Let’s connect what we’re doing to that goal. So Chegg’s not in front of that, that’s a deeply philosophical question for another podcast. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think combined with that, James, depending on your class size, open pedagogy or authentic assessments are also options, but it has to be the right kind of course, with the right kind of content, and the right kind of class size…

James: Yeah.

Rebecca: …for those things to all work in the mix.

James: Yeah, Rebecca, right now I’m teaching an innovation class with 10 students. [LAUGHTER] It is an absolute joy. It’s 10 motivated students, we’re using a platform called mural, which is an online collaborative platform. And so when the homework is due, I can actually go into Mural and see them doing the homework and they see each other’s homework. It’s like, yeah, we’re all going to collaborate on this. And so they can actually look and see what other people are putting in. And I mix it up, I randomize some stuff. So they have to do the reading and then they have to do parts. But, the students love it. And believe me, it’s almost like a bespoke education. This is like hand crafted somewhere between there and I used to teach some of the big sophomore engineering classes with 175 students, and I know some of your listeners who are teaching even bigger classes. That becomes almost industrial in scale. And the ability to give authentic assessments becomes very, very difficult. And until we get those AI engines up… and I’ll tell you what, when they get to the level of being able to do that. we’re all out of a job…. [LAUGHTER] or we better redefine what it is we do as educators.

Rebecca: I think what you’re pointing out, though, James, in some ways is that it tends to be those lower level classes that are bigger, those introductory classes. And so although they might get away with it, in those lower classes, they may not be thinking about the long-term game there.[LAUGHTER]

James: Yeah.

Rebecca: …because those are skills and things that they need in those upper-level classes, especially in their major, it’ll come back to get them in a way that if they don’t take an upper- level class in something else, they might not experience the same kind of consequences. But even reminding students of that, particular long-term consequences of their choices, could be useful.

James: That’s excellent. Rebecca. And as we talked earlier on, I mentioned some of the strategies that seems to work was faculty instructors talking about this, just having a very frank conversation. “Yeah, I know, all these platforms exist. Let’s talk about it. Here’s what I’m trying to do in this class.” Rebecca, I don’t think, in general, we do a great job at connecting the courses across the curriculum. And so I’m teaching my course and I do my thing. And then I hand the students off over the fence. “There you go, go take the next course,” unless we’re doing kind of self studies within our disciplines. “Hey, you know what, I teach this basic thing here at the sophomore level, and you don’t use it till last semester senior year, when does the student practice that thing?” And now we’re expecting them to pull that out of their hat and be experts at it? Why don’t we change things so that they’re constantly using it? And these are great conversations to have… a good hard look, a deep dive into how we build curriculum, helping students connect it, helping connect it to the progress they’re trying to make in their lives. Why are you studying mechanical engineering? What do you want to do with that? Let’s connect those dots through the program, so you can see where things are connected. But as long as the barrier to entry to online cheating is low, [LAUGHTER] but we got an uphill fight.

John: I have tried using some open pedagogy projects, including student-created podcasts and videos created by students, but it’s so much more work evaluating that, that it just doesn’t scale very well. I have been using them in my classes of up to 50 in my online class, but I have not yet committed to doing that in a class of 400, which I normally teach in person… last fall I taught synchronously online.

James: Wow. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And what are the recurrent themes here? Part of it is: let’s have conversations with students, let’s rethink formative and summative assessments, are there solutions at different scales that make sense? The real challenge, Rebecca, you’re absolutely right, is the big introductory sort of classes where we’ve become used to having sometimes hundreds, if not more, students in the class, these pools of multiple choice questions that make it, and I’m using the phrase industrial and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense at all, but it’s this ability to be able to expose students to a chemistry curriculum or mechanical engineering curriculum at scale in a very efficient way. [LAUGHTER] I mean, It’s kind of what STEM people do: how do we make this more efficient? And then a big change comes, a huge disruption, and we have to scramble. And so, I don’t see a way around the fact that this is going to be a lot of extra work. And if this were a long term shift, then absolutely, I think we’d be talking about how we restructure higher education in general and different departments and disciplines. I think because it’s short term, the concern I have is, we are going to forget all this, we’re going to wipe our hands of it and go back to face to face and go back to the old way, and not address some of the structural challenges that we’ve uncovered here: helping students understand why it’s important, and “oh, by the way, if the courses are disjointed, that’s on us, go fix that, put some effort into that, and have those conversations with the students.” That’s one of the things I always think about is what is it going to look like a year from now. And I’m concerned that we’re going to miss learning the lessons, we’re going to forget to apply these lessons, when we get back to our old ways, because we’re used to them. “I’ve got my research, my scholarship, my teaching, I’ve got it all balanced just right. I’ve been doing this for a long time, don’t make me change.” But we might have to in order to really help the students be successful. And one thing I always remember is this generation of students is going to be taking care of me when I’m old, so I want them to be good decision makers, [LAUGHTER] and have a good strong set of ethics and a moral compass. So they’re like, “oh, yeah, we have to look at society in a bigger sense.”

Rebecca: That keeps it in perspective, I think, James. [LAUGHTER]

James: Yeah, that’s right. It’s like, “Make sure I’m nice, because when I’m retired, these will be the wage earners. So I want to make sure that they keep the wheels of the economy turning and keep healthcare going and all the things we rely on, that we became painfully aware of during this pandemic, and how thin some of those threads were, how tenuous some of those systems were and are.” So really, it’s amazing how this pandemic has impacted absolutely every aspect of our lives. And we’re talking about some very specific things here. But there’s deep stuff going on here. And this is an opportunity for us to rethink how we move forward.

Rebecca: Especially because it’s easy to go back to what we had or to desire that, especially when we feel potentially burnt out with the workload and things of shifting, or just even having to have the difficult conversations with colleagues about really needing to do significant change when it’s really hard work that needs to be done.

James: Yeah.

Rebecca: So it’s easy to want to avoid it. [LAUGHTER]

James: Yeah, and I’m assuming this is a true statement. But, as a mechanical engineering professor, my training was watching my mechanical engineering professors, right? And their training was watching their professors. And so we teach the way we were taught unless we pause and take a look at the science and research and scholarship in teaching and learning, and then try to apply that. And yeah, Rebecca, you’re right, it’s work. And when you upset that balance, what’s going to happen here? And what does this mean for the future of how we do things? It would be great to not have these massive classes where you could interact with students more directly. I don’t know that that would solve the cheating problem. My students aren’t cheating in my class, there’s only 10 of them, I know them extremely well, they’re very motivated and interested, and they see where it’s connected. So how do you do that at scale and how do you do that across the curriculum?

John: On a more positive note, many faculty who had not been very involved in professional development, who had not reflected on their teaching, because they were just doing it the same way they always had, were suddenly forced to confront some new realities, and they’ve learned a lot during the past year. And I’m hoping that much of what people have learned will not be forgotten as we move past the pandemic.

James: Yeah, I agree. And I’ve been, as I’m sure you’ve seen, I’ve been just blown away by my colleagues, the huge shift, the willingness to just jump on board, to try new technology, to experiment with things and get feedback. Hey, I tried this and it really works great. And then we’ve been able to get that in the hands of other people. It was incredible to see and you’re absolutely right. So let’s pull these good pieces and bring them back. I can see myself now, even when we go face to face, just being more than happy if a student wants to Zoom with me for 15 minutes, and it’s in the evening, I could set up two evenings a week, set up an hour to do that. Like, before, I would have been: “When I get home, I’m toast. I just want to maybe catch up on my reading, catch up on my emails,” I could see that changing. And John and Rebecca, one of the things I have done, is for my entire staff, I have a weekly Zoom town hall where they can ask any questions, I give them updates. It’s fantastic. Folks really like it. And then I run a scholarship program and I just have… every two weeks, I set up a time chunk of time, vast majority of them show up, and we just chat, like, “How are things going?” And I didn’t do that. I mean, I certainly didn’t do it on Zoom before. And I might see individuals now and then, but it made me much more accessible. But in a way that was acceptable. It’s like, “Oh, I’m used to Zoom now, yeah, I don’t mind sitting in my attic studio at home and setting up a 45-minute Zoom and meeting with some students or some colleagues. So what a cool thing to be that accessible and be comfortable with it, within, obviously, within limits, and so forth. That’s a cool thing that I want to continue. A lesson we learned is that when we shifted to online, one thing became apparent right away, is there were a lot of students in socio-economic situations, they didn’t have a laptop, they didn’t have a camera, they didn’t have headphones, they didn’t have internet. And this pandemic has widened the gap to a very uncomfortable level. And so paying attention to that. And what we did at Binghamton is SUNYgave us laptops, we went out and bought a bunch of laptops, we bought mobile MiFi hotspots, 250 of them. You don’t even want to know what my monthly bill is for those… unlimited data. But we just did it. We just did it and sent it out. The other thing is we did a phone campaign just to reach out to students. And we recruited faculty and staff. And it was incredible, just to have a conversation with students. They were like, “Hey,” the overwhelming comment back was “Wow, like, thanks for contacting me.” “Yeah, I’m doing okay,” or “No, I’m not doing okay, I’ve got to take care of my younger brother and sister, my mom is working as a nurse, and it’s absolute chaos here.” So those are two things we learned in the pandemic that I hope we pay attention to, because there are students for with having all this fancy technology, that doesn’t exist. They’re in school, because there’s a computer lab and they don’t own this stuff, they don’t have it. And then the other is just reaching out to students, being a human, you know, “Hey, how’s it going?: …incredible, how powerful that is.

John: This has all become much more visible for faculty as a result of the pandemic. Those inequities were always there, but they were hidden. And now that faculty see that, it may also provide a richer appreciation of the inequities that students face as they were reaching the college level. And that’s something, as we move into the fall, that I think we’re going to see magnified because most students completed most of the last academic year remote, and some students were in well-funded school district with many resources, and all of the students and the faculty had good equipment. And in other schools, they did not have that sort of environment and much less learning occurred. So, we’re going to be faced with a student body that’s going to be experiencing greater inequities as they arrive on our campus in the fall. And I think that’s something that we all have to be prepared for.

James: John, you’re absolutely right, and well said. I think it’s always been there, and now there’s much more awareness. And I think that is something we cannot forget. And the second part of that is the students coming in… we’ve had some conversations with school districts, principals, high school principals, so forth, superintendents, and what we’re hearing is exactly what you said. It’s all over the map in terms of what that academic experience is. We know that the incoming first-year students had a pretty crazy year and a half, a lot of school districts had a “do no harm” policy. So John, if my average in your class was an 87, it didn’t matter. I couldn’t get worse than an 87. So am I motivated to work harder? Or am I going: “and thank you, I just got to take it easy.” And so I may not have learned all that material. So we have that. We have principals telling us that people have moved because of the pandemic, they had to move in with relatives. So the student isn’t showing up, they go to the house, they don’t even live there anymore. Like, where are they? So that’s a challenge. So if you think about the social aspects at home, you think about the emotional growth aspects, you think about the academic aspects, and then you add in standard test optional. The cohort of students coming in is potentially very different in a lot of ways. And we’re going to have to look at how we support them. It’s not a deficit model on their part. It’s a deficit model on our part, too, as instructors. So what are our deficits? And how do we change and modify to meet the students at a place where they can be successful? And I think that’s very important. But John, here’s the thing that was most sobering. One principal told us that it’s not just the seniors, it’s the juniors. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, so not only did the first-year’s propagate through the system, right behind them is the juniors who had a wacky…” and here’s what one principal said: “The biggest failure rate they’re seeing is in the high school sophomores.” This is a problem that isn’t going away. This is going to wash up onto the shores of higher education and if we’re not ready for it, we’re going to be in for a heck of a shock. And quite frankly, those students are going to be in for a shock. So we’ve got to figure out, what do we need to do as institutions of higher learning? And how can we best support students to be successful? No one goes to college to flunk out. They’re going because they’re trying to make progress. They’re trying to make progress in their life. Okay. How do we help them? Oh, yeah, deep and profound stuff, John and Rebecca, the effects of this are going to be with us for years to come.

Rebecca: …at least 13 years, I think, K-12. [LAUGHTER]

James: Oh yeah, right?

John: The preschoolers might have gotten past it by the time they arrive, but…

Rebecca: Yeah. A lot of preschools, I think, still maintained in person, but…

James: Yeah, so big challenges out there. I think we’re up for it. What I love about being in higher education is that we constantly question, we’re curious by nature, stubborn sometimes and have to see data in order to change our minds. But, these are all things we’re good at, and as long as we pay attention, don’t forget the lessons we’ve learned and recognize that the world has changed, and if we’re willing to figure out how we change, then I think this has a good ending. So I’m optimistic. But it’s going to be a lot of work. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Definitely, and some values, of changes of things like flexibility are things that we see as value, perhaps, in students now that we didn’t see before as important skill sets and things, and adaptability.

James: Yeah, and helping students persist, and all the qualities that helped drive us to moving forward in higher education, and so forth. How do we instill some of that curiosity and work ethic? All of us, each one of us, has a unique story of why we went to school and how we want to move forward with our lives. So how do we tap into that and help students be successful? That’s what gets me up in the morning and makes me excited about my job.

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

James: Good question. So I can tell you what’s next on my horizon. I’m in the STEM field, I’m doing some research and doing some digging. I’m concerned about traditionally underrepresented groups of students in STEM fields and their success and persistence. I am very fortunate to have an NSF grant that’s sponsoring some work in this area. And when I interview and talk to students, their perspective is very interesting. For example, I was talking with a young Hispanic woman, very smart, already has a job lined up, great, great student. And she said, “Yeah, they bring guest speakers in the class, and no one looks like me, all the guest speakers look like the professor,” …which is like me, an old white guy. So where are the young people? Where are people that, I know it sounds silly, but that look different, but more importantly, have different backgrounds and different experiences and different paths to success. And that’s such an easy thing to fix at all our institutions. We have alumni of diversity who are out there. So I’m concerned about our ability to attract and retain traditionally underrepresented students in STEM fields, because that’s the pipeline for faculty in STEM. So you want to attack the faculty problem in STEM, let’s fix this problem. And you can argue let’s fix K through 12, but I can impact where I’m at right now. And down the road that’s going to impact senior-level administration. So the more people who choose an academic career, the more diverse points of view we have, the more likely that they’ll persist in the career and move into leadership. So, that’s a big problem I’m working on. That’s what’s next for me is some research and scholarship in that area. Because I want the best and brightest students no matter what their background is, because they got to take care of me when I’m old. And I’m already getting pretty old.

Rebecca: I think that’s a perfect note to end on. [LAUGHTER] Thanks so much for that conversation. Really important things to be thinking about.

James: Yeah, good stuff. And thank you so much for inviting me. I really appreciate it. Best wishes to you all. And let’s reconnect in the fall and see what lessons have we hung on to and how crazy is the fall. So, let’s circle back if you don’t mind, I’d love to catch up with you again.

John: That would be great. It’s always great talking to you. Thank you.

James: Great. Awesome. All right. Bye bye.

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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.

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189. Teaching with Zoom

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an explosion in the use of remote synchronous instruction, a modality that was rarely used until March 2020. In this episode, Dan Levy joins us to discuss the affordances and the challenges associated with this relatively new modality. Dan is an economist and a senior lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University where he teaches courses in quantitative methods, policy analysis, and program evaluation. He is the author of Teaching Effectively with Zoom, A Practical Guide to Engage Your Students and Help Them Learn, which is now in its second edition.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an explosion in the use of remote synchronous instruction, a modality that was rarely used until March 2020. In this episode, we discuss the affordances and the challenges associated with this relatively new modality.

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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 is Dan Levy. Dan is an economist and a senior lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University where he teaches courses in quantitative methods, policy analysis, and program evaluation. He is the author of Teaching Effectively with Zoom, A Practical Guide to Engage Your Students and Help Them Learn, which is now in its second edition. Welcome, Dan.

Dan: Thank you very much, Rebecca and John.

John: We’re looking forward to talking to you.

Dan: Thank you.

John: Our teas today are… are you drinking tea?

Dan: I love Moroccan tea. My family’s originally from Morocco. And that’s the tea that I normally drink when I drink tea.

Rebecca: Today, I have Scottish afternoon, John… we’re coming back, coming back with the good stuff.

John: And I have two teas here, actually. I have ginger peach green tea and a Moroccan mint tea.

Dan: Oh, wow.

John: That worked nicely.

Dan: Yeah.

Rebecca: I don’t know if I’d drink them quite at the same time, but… [LAUGHTER]

John: Well, they’re sequential.

Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss Teaching Effectively with Zoom. Could you talk a little bit about how you started this book project?

Dan: Sure. So in March of last year, when we all had to go quickly to remote teaching, I had spent the better part of 10 years trying things surrounding online learning at the Harvard Kennedy School. But I had never spent much time with synchronous online teaching. And so when we had to move to remote teaching, my first instinct was to go and observe as many instructors as possible to see what they were doing. And what I discovered then was an incredible wealth of people who were just doing incredible things, they’re being very resourceful in the way that they were trying to use the platform to accomplish our pedagogical goals. I didn’t set out to write a book at that time, but I was just learning a lot. And at the same time, I was observing my daughters, in high school, receiving online learning instruction. Around mid-May, I sort of had the feeling that in the fall, we would be teaching online still. And I felt that there was a lot being written online, in Twitter and blogs and all of that. But I felt, gosh, this is overwhelming. And so I felt the need to have in one single place, what I thought would be useful gui e for instructors who were saying, “I need to do this, I want to do it well.” And I thought that I had gotten a lot of ideas from the colleagues that I observed teach… which by the way, observing colleagues teach is one of the silver linings of the pandemic, because it’s now easier than ever, and it’s an incredibly powerful way of learning. So in any case, at that point, I said, “I want to write this book, I’ve never done anything like that. And I want the book to be ready by July 1, because that’s how it’s gonna be helpful to people in the world, given the academic calendars.” And on July 1, a book was ready. And then on July 2, we put it out there to the world. And then because so much happened in the fall, I released the second edition based on everything that I had learned since then, from my own teaching and that of colleagues. And it was very rewarding to see people from all over the world who had engaged with the book, also contribute with some of their examples.

Rebecca: I think I need to get one of those magic wands you must have to turn around stuff that quickly.

Dan: Well, no. Thank you. I think there’s nothing like a deadline… [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: True

Dan: …and a deadline that I really felt it was important to meet. And I have a good friend who I sent the book, he is not in the education world. And I said, “Here it is.” And then he told me, “Then you lied to me. You told me that you wrote the book in a month and a half. But I know from previous conversations with you that you have been writing this book in your mind for the last 10 years.” And I thought that was an interesting way of putting it because I’ve been thinking about a lot of these issues, but I never sat down to write any of them.

John: It was extremely timely, and I know many people adopted the book last summer or picked up the second edition in January when that came out. There weren’t a lot of resources other than lots of Twitter posts and lots of blog posts on specific aspects. But the book blends together a nice discussion of the technical details of how you do things with effective pedagogy, which is a resource that was very much needed and is still very much needed for many people as we move forward. Because this is an area that people had not really done very much with until this sudden transition.

Dan: Yes, thank you so much John.

John: What are some of the most effective ways that you’ve seen faculty using Zoom in their classes or that you’ve used Zoom in your classes yourself?

Dan: One observation that I had throughout this year… and the book is a little bit organized in this way, but it didn’t crystallize to me until later in the last year… which is that if you conceptualize the way students can engage in your course and think about the different channels… in the book, I describe five main channels, they can speak, they can vote, they can write, they can work in groups, and they can show their work. One of the things that becomes very obvious, at least to me, is that for default, in in-person teaching, tends to be verbal, we speak to each other. And what I realize in live online learning is that of those five channels, the one that most degrades when you go from in person to online is precisely the verbal one. And I think, my sense is that of recognition that that’s the case for many, many reasons, is what I think has made some instructors particularly successful at doing this because they are not wedded to verbal as the main or default channel of communication. So that’s kind of like an overall message that if you think about in which ways can your students engage in your class, and in which of these ways do I want for this particular pedagogic purpose my students to engage with, my sense is that that tends to be a winning combination.

Rebecca: When I was looking at that organization of your book, Dan, it really struck me and was really helpful way of thinking about it. And, in your description right now, made it really clear to me why it was actually very easy for me to switch to synchronous online learning [LAUGHTER] because I don’t really prefer the verbal. [LAUGHTER] So it was nice to engage in these other spaces as an introvert, like I could use chat in other places that I’m actually much more comfortable. [LAUGHTER]

Dan: It’s interesting you say this, Rebecca, because the same thing that you said, is true for students. So introverted students now have different ways of engaging with us that we might not have even heard from them before. And I think if we leverage those ways, we’re going to end up being in a better place. And most importantly, they’re going to end up being in a better place.

John: One of the nice things about written communication and chat is you’ve got that delete key, which, when people are feeling a little more introverted, perhaps, they’re less confident about saying something where they can’t take something back, rephrase it on the fly. And having that delete option, lets them be a little more thoughtful in their participation, and can lead to a much more inclusive environment in many ways.

Dan: Absolutely. The other thing that it does is that you can take your time to compose a message that you write, whereas, when you’re called to speak, you might have perhaps practiced this message in your mind, but you feel like on the spot, you have to now deliver it at that point. And then the introverts tend to have more difficulty with that. And I say that as an introvert. I don’t want to be too binary in the definition. But I say that as an introvert.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about why the verbal channel degrades a bit in a Zoom situation? Because I think that might actually be really helpful for people to think about.

Dan: Sure. So one way in which it does, and I wish the podcast was a video podcast, but one way in which it does is right now we are with this software, and the three of us can see each other. But right now, I’m looking at you, Rebecca, and you think I’m looking down somewhere and not at you. Like you have no idea that I’m looking at you. And you’re like, “Why is this person looking down? I’m speaking with him.” And John right now also thinks I’m looking down. So he doesn’t even know that I’m looking at you and not at him. And if I wanted to give you, Rebecca, the impression that I’m looking at you, I would have to point my eyes to a camera, and I no longer have any nonverbal feedback from you, I have no idea of what’s going on with you. And not only that, now John thinks I’m also looking at him, and I’m not looking at either of you. [LAUGHTER] So, that’s kind of one simple level and I’m optimistic that maybe we’ll have technology that solves this. The other day, I saw a Kickstarter campaign that a friend of mine forwarded to me for this idea that I kind of have been having for a while but it seems like someone actually created a product for a video camera that is in the middle of your screen, rather than at the top or at the bottom. So, in any case, that’s one aspect of it, but another, I think, important aspect… and people have written about it… is that the communication is just not as effective. You cannot signal in the same way non-verbally as you can signal in a classroom. In a classroom, you have your whole body to express, you can use physical distance with the students, to approach, you can move, there are so many other things at your disposal. And the one to me that still becomes the most important one is that you cannot hear the classroom. People have to unmute… if you have a big enough classroom they have to unmute, and that is just much less natural. There’s no “click this” reaction item to sort of say how you’re feeling. No, you just see it automatically. So in any case, those are some of the ones that I have felt myself, I’m sure that you as educators have also other ones. But of all the channels it’s the clearest one in which in-person seems to me better than online.

John: Are there any other ways in which remote synchronous instruction offers some advantages that we don’t have in the classroom?

Dan: Yeah, for example, writing… we were talking about writing. We can use writing in the classroom. I think many of us have shied away, we’re nervous about having our students with their laptops in the classroom and so on. But writing feels to me such a powerful tool, not only for doing the kinds of things that Rebecca was saying before, that you can bring introverts, or the things that you were saying more generally, John, that you can have more inclusive teaching, but you can do what some people might describe parallel processing instead of serial processing. So if you ask students in the classroom, can you give me an example of X, please write it in the chat, within 30 seconds you have 20 examples if you have 20 students, whereas if you had to do it verbally, you would take one at a time. And that, I think, is much less efficient in that sense. So I think there are many, many reasons why chat, even though it’s controversial, can be powerful. And I know one of the favorite ones that I’m sure you’ve all used is this one-minute paper, where you tend to distribute this piece of paper where they write it and they give it to you. And I’ve always had the intention of using this in my physical classrooms. But many times, it seems like the last minute of class there’s something more urgent that I need to do and then there are logistics there. But with online live teaching, it’s very easy. You can do something as simple as “One minute left in class, please everyone write down what was your main key takeaway from today.” And within a minute, you have a lot of information of what happened in that class.

Rebecca: So a lot of faculty also seem to be under the impression that by being physically in the same space, somehow community is automatically formed. Can you talk a little bit about how community does build in an online synchronous space?

Dan: To me, this was one of the biggest positive surprises I thought of all the aspects of online teaching, this would be the one where it would perform the worst. And I do think that there’s something special that happens when human beings are together in the same space. There’s no question for me about it. But I observed many instructors doing things that I think helped create community in the classroom in ways that I was very surprised. And if I had one general guidance to give is that you just have to be a lot more deliberate about creating community than you are when you are in the same physical space together. And people do it in all sorts of ways. But I think just being deliberate and being intentional about it goes a long way. And just to name three very practical things. One is, if you can open your classroom before class starts, in some way that simulates what you would do in a regular class anyway. Second, if you can stay in your online class for a few minutes after to speak with students. It’s another way of doing it. And then there are of course, things you can do that in a physical and in an online classroom that I think are good for creating communities. If you can learn about your students, so that they know that you know them, that you’ve taken a personal interest in them and that you can bring that to the classroom, that I think is just as true or nine as it is in person. Then there are many other things, there like music lists, and many, many things that people have been very creative about. But those are three that come to mind as fairly easy to do.

John: One of the things I really like about your book is you start by emphasizing the use of a backwards design approach in classes. And you suggest that that be done at the level of individual class sessions or individual activities. Could you give us an example of how you might apply that in a synchronous online session in Zoom?

Dan: Many, many people that listen to your show, I’m sure have heard of backward design and subscribe to it in their own teaching. I think in some way, it’s not that different online in the sense that you think about what are two or three things that I want to make sure that students are able to do at the end of this learning experience. And when you plan your class, you organize it around those things. And one of my biggest challenges as an instructor is time management, it’s like, “Oh my god, can I manage time to do this?”… but what has been very helpful to me is I might have a class plan that says part 1 – 15 minutes part 2 – 23 minutes, and so on. And as I look at the clock, I know where I am in the class plan relative to the time, and knowing what are those two or three things that you want to make sure that everyone gets at the end, allows you to make choices in the class that I think become more likely to succeed. So for example, if you feel like you’re running behind, and there is a particular topic that you think is useful, but not crucial to those two or three things, you might decide to skip it, or you might decide to go a little bit faster, or you might decide not to pause for the discussion that you were planning to have. So, having a concrete set of what you are trying to achieve. I know it sounds obvious, but it wasn’t to me when I first started teaching. I conceived of teaching like, “Well, we need to cover this, and this is what we’re gonna do.” And I still remember attending a one-hour session when I was a PhD student at Northwestern University, from the Director of Teaching and Learning Center at the time, Ken Bain. And I remember him introducing this idea. And that was totally revolutionary to me. Again, I know for many of us, it’s not anymore. But that was more than 20 years ago, and has guided my teaching ever since.

Rebecca: You know, Dan, I certainly subscribe to backwards design, both as a designer and also as a teacher.

Dan: Yeah.

Rebecca: … but I did find myself doing synchronous online being really specific about time chunks, because it’s like, “We need to mix this up, otherwise, we’re just staring at a screen.” And being even more intentional about that. I’d have an agenda and the students can see me going in there like, “No, we’re changing this agenda. [LAUGHTER] on the fly is like “No, this conversation’s good, we need to do this instead.” [LAUGHTER]

Dan: Yes, I guess they’re seeing your design as you are executing it.John, you were asking about some of the advantages of online. I hate to mention this as an advantage. But the reality is, we now have screens, and we can put to the side of the screen things that we want to remember in a way that’s harder to do in a class. So this is like a super tactical tip, but you’re interested in teaching inclusively in the classroom, and you’re worried about voices that haven’t participated that much, you can do something as low tech as: before your class, you write the name of say, three to five students that you want to call on in a piece of paper. And you tape that piece of paper to the right of your screen, right where the participant, the Zoom participant list normally is, or Zoom or whichever other software. And when you see the participant list and you see a few hands up, you look at your paper list and sort of see is one of the hands up belonging to one of the students that I want to call on. And that seems like a simple thing. But it is helpful. I don’t know if you know, but I co-created this application called Teachly, which allows you to track participation and help people teach more inclusively and effectively. And this makes the use of this app even easier, because once you have that participant list, you just put it next to the participant list in Zoom, either electronically or physically. And you have that as a way to do it.

John: And if I remember correctly, on your companion website, you have a picture of a list of names taped to the side of the screen.

Dan: Yes.

John: And we should also mention that there is a really great list of resources associated with the book. We’ll include a link to that in the show notes.

Dan: Thank you. Yeah, the website. Victoria Barnum, I work with her, she put it together. And it was again, a very quick way to try to put resources out there that would be helpful for people. And there’s one page for each chapter of the book.

John: You mentioned rearranging things to make sure you get to the end result. And that’s something I’ve noticed I have to do a lot more with synchronous remote sessions than I did in the classroom. I think partly because I was so used to doing it in a classroom, I had routines where I could get the things more or less quickly with a whole set of activities. But maybe I’ve been over-preparing, but I have a big list of things I want to do. I do polling in the classroom, I have some group work where they’re working in breakout rooms, and I never can get all them done. So I’m constantly, as I’m going through each day’s session trying, “Well, which of these is most important to getting them to that goal,” which is a way I never really had to think about quite as extensively as I do now.

Dan: Yes, though I will say that I was having those same struggles before online teaching, but I also share your experience that they have become more prevalent, and to the extent that it has forced that conversation on all of us. And “Okay, what is the essence of what I want to make sure that students are able to learn in this class?” I think that’s a positive development. One of the things that I discovered very early on in the process of writing a book is that many instructors, and maybe John, this applies to your experience, were saying that compared to their in-person class, when they try to execute that plan, they generally were only able to do about 80% of what they were doing before. Now I don’t know how much of that is still true today. Maybe as we get better with teaching online, we can get that number closer to the 100%. And I don’t know the extent to which it has to do with Rebecca’s questions about verbal communication degrading and making it harder to communicate. But to the extent that that number is even in the ballpark of being true, it does explain why most of us are feeling that need to interrogate more our class trends.

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Rebecca: Maybe it’ll also make us a little more empathetic to students who have time management issues, we’re sure. Zoom has really evolved quite a bit since March, there’s new features and new capabilities and things. Can you talk a little bit about how your own teaching using zoom has evolved over the past year,

Dan: I think as all of us practice has allowed me to become better at it, I remember the first few times, I couldn’t even imagine being able to check the chat at the same time, then I was teaching, I was like, there’s just too much going on here. Now, I won’t say that I can handle any number of comments in the chat. But now I can do it in a way that I couldn’t do it before. And so in some way, teaching online live sessions is an exercise in multitasking, you have to pay attention to a lot of things that are happening in your students in your screen, and so on. And frankly, with as much practice you get better. And I think that’s one thing that’s useful in terms of zoom specific things. I think one feature that has come out relatively recently, which to me opens a whole set of possibilities is the fact that now in breakout rooms, you can set it up so that children’s can choose the breakout rooms. And I think that opens up many interesting possibilities in that perhaps students can choose according to a particular interest that they have, perhaps they can choose relative to position that they might have in a debate relative to a vote they have had in a poll. And that I think, in some way, is incredibly powerful. So that’s one way in which I’ve just began to explore. And I hope by the way, there are other ways of setting up the rooms in the future, that might be good. The second thing, which we haven’t talked too much about the breakout rooms. But I think breakout rooms combined with collaborative documents, such as Google Slides, or jam board or mural, whatever other tools we have, can be incredibly powerful for group work. And that has been an area of constant experimentation for me and many of my colleagues. And that is one area where I think we can make even more progress. And my sense is that we’re going to bring some of that into our physical classrooms, when hopefully someday we come back to our physical classrooms.

Rebecca: I’ve experimented a lot with those new breakout rooms more recently, as well. And even with some mastery learning activities, where we’re doing exercises, and as they complete one, they can move to the next one and moving to different breakout rooms depending on what they’re working on. So they can help each other out and collaborate. And that’s been working really well. And I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from students about how that’s actually really helpful to like community of people who are actually at the same moment of their learning. So there’s a lot of possibilities there.

Dan: Many, many you can have different themes. There’s one thing we experimented recently, I don’t know if any of you co teach a class, but we were doing this in a program in executive education, we to try to create a more intimate environment, we divided the class into two groups, and each of the group was with one faculty member. And we had asked each of these faculty members to be available for an hour. So for the first half hour, Group A with with the first instructor group, he was with the second instructor, and then at the half hour marked, we swapped them and we thought about Okay, how can we do this easily without people getting lost? And all we did was to swap the instructors from one room to another and all of a sudden you basically had students who are staying with one hour in a breakout room, were able to have a more intimate experience with two instructors. With that, I think would have been hard to do in the physical world.

Rebecca: Nice that we’re getting to the point where we’re appreciating some of the digital rather than scrambling all the time.

Dan: Yes, I think there’s some things that actually worked better.

John: And certainly that ability to mix up groups easily and quickly in different ways. Either having persistent rooms where you have persistent groups working in the same room regularly or mixing it up for different topics or again, doing the self selection gives you a lot more variety and how you mix and match activities.

Dan: It does. My colleague Terry serranos was experimenting with this and I thought that was an interesting use. If you have a teaching assistant and you have your students work on an activity during class, they three or four minutes in silence work on this you can open a couple of breakout rooms and one of them has a teaching assistant and if you would like help from the teaching assistant go to breakout room one if you would like to work alone in a virtual room go to this other room. So I think we’re experimenting in ways that I think are conducive to good learning experiences.

John:
One of the other in recent addition, cism is the ability to let co hosts set up and establish the breakout room. So if you do have a teaching assistant or multiple instructors, if you’re presenting on something, or if you’re working with a group, you don’t have to do the back end arrangement while you’re also trying to do other things. So if that makes it a whole lot easier,

Dan: I totally agree. And sometimes you can multitask. But if you can have one less task to do, that’s probably helpful.

John: You also talk quite a bit about the use of Paul, and could you talk about some of the ways in which people might do Pauling and how polling might be used effectively in instruction,

Dan: I want to first say that I started using polling many, many years ago in my physical classrooms inspired by one of my mentors, Eric, Missouri in the physics department, at our end, I do you have a bias towards using them. But I would say a first approximation, polling allows you to learn what your students are thinking in a very efficient manner. And I’m struck by the number of times where what I think my students are thinking is not what my students are thinking. And so for me, it has been very, very useful tool to center me in the reality of what actually is happening in the classroom. There’s this wonderful book by Derek Braff, he wrote it years ago before the pandemic head, but I still think it’s very applicable. In that book, he describes many, many uses of it. But just in the interest of time here, one way in which I use it is to check for understanding Another way is when I, particularly when there are questions in which I think students might not be so willing to express verbally how they think about something, I want to be able to allow them an opportunity to do that. And then the nice thing about polling is that it can be combined with other things like think pair share peer instruction, or other things that depending on where the poll results, you can take in one direction or the other. So I’m a super, super big fan of it. And if you have listeners who haven’t tried, no matter what your field, I actually highly recommend that you try it. And the best way to do it, it’s just try one or two polls in one of your next classes and see what you learn from it.

John: And it not only helps you understand what students understand or where students are, it also helps students understand what they know, and they don’t know. And it gives them that immediate feedback that would take longer to do in pretty much any other way.

Dan: Absolutely. It also allows them to commit to an answer. So that allows them to more actively participate. The other thing that I find is that I think it emboldened some students to participate. If they my response has 30% of people who voted for the same response, then there’s something here that I’m not going to be the only one defending this use. So I’m going to go out and defend it. So I’m a big fan of it.

John: And once they commit to that, and you tell them they’re wrong, they want to know why. And that’s not something we always say that committing to that answer is really effective. It is it is Dan Ariely. And one of his books talks about a similar experience where he said he presented these results that he did not find very intuitive. And he gave a talk at some firm. And people would say, Well, yeah, that’s exactly what we’d expect would happen. And then he started pulling them, because then you actually got to see what happened rather than them saying, Oh, yeah, that makes sense. That’s what I would have said anyway. But once you got them to commit to it, all of a sudden, they were objecting they were discussing, and they were engaging with material. And I know Eric Mazhar gave a talk at our campus. I mentioned this on past podcast, but he basically asked people to make a commitment deciding what happens to the hall and a plate of metal when you heat it up. And he went through that whole process where students voted, then they discussed it. And then they voted again, he started to go on to the next topic. And people were angry because they wanted to know the answer at he’s used this example at many places. But one of the things he said is, if I was to give a lecture on what happens, the whole and a plate of metal when I heat it up, it would be about the most boring lecture that you could imagine. But now you all want to know the answer. And so motivating curiosity through these types of things and having that engagement and discussion is a really powerful technique.

Dan: There are several components there, right one is questioning for teaching. The other one is, as you said, the commitment that comes from the poll in the other one is the wanting to know aspect that the whole experience created. The other thing about using poll through technology and about paper that we published some time ago with a student Josh Yardley, and one of my mentors at the Kennedy School Richard Zack Houser, where we compare voting outcomes when students voted by raising their hand versus with at the time, we use this clicker devices, and we discovered big differences in the raise of hands versus the polling devices. So I think another advantage of polling electronically is that they tend to reveal more truthful and it sounds like your story from Dan Ariely reveals that more truthfully how tos actually think

Rebecca: it’s probably that anonymity behind the technology, you have to raise your hand. Now everybody knows whether or not you’re right or wrong. Exactly.

Dan: And also, you are seeing other hands being risen. So you might want to side with the majority in a way that you wouldn’t have if you had to do it electronically. I think

John: this is one of the areas where it seems to take me longer when I’m using zoom. Here, we have a campus adoption by clicker, but this works with any type of boring software, students vote on it, then I send them to breakout rooms. And it takes just a bit longer to do that, just because of the time it takes them to go in and out, then it would in the classroom. So I’m not able to get quite as many clicker questions. And so I have to choose them perhaps a little more carefully than I do. And I’m not using the think pair share quite as actively as I would in a classroom, because it’s really easy to say find someone nearby who has a different answer and debate it for a few minutes. And you can pretty easily see when it’s done in breakout rooms, it’s a little harder to do that. So I generally will, depending on the type of question, I’ll pick the time, which should be enough for everybody, but just the time it takes to get them there and back just adds a little more overhead. But on the other hand, I think it’s still working really well. And maybe by being more judicious in which questions I’m asking that might compensate for the additional overhead costs? And

Dan: I’m not sure yes, and it’s interesting you say this, John, because I have had the same experience. And I wonder if one of the drivers of this is that in a physical classroom, the students tend to know the students who are nearby. So by the third or fourth time you do this, they don’t have this awkward bore you. And my sense is that while the default, and probably a good default that we use in zoom to assign students is random. My sense is that part of what’s driving students taking more time is that they’re often put in this breakout room with someone they’ve never met. And the degree to which they can collaborate quickly on your question about the minimum wage, or whatever you’re asking them to collaborate on probably is not as good as if they had already interacted a lot with each other. So wonder, it does have some disadvantages. But I wonder if you might gain some advantages for those quick questions to always assign students to maybe not the same other person, because then if they all have the same answer, we won’t work but maybe a group of three, this is something that I’ve been surprised by as well. In writing the book, one of the things that became clear is that students tended to like break out rooms by enlarge. But the two main problems they saw with them, his instructions, were not always very clear. And that I think is on us as instructors. And then the second one is, we didn’t give them enough time. And I think you’re right that in a classroom, you can sort of see when the sound is dwindling down. But in the virtual world is a little bit more difficult. I think if you use a collaborative tool, like a Google slide, or something like that, you would be able to sort of see where each group is. But that’s for longer breakout rooms,

Rebecca: That’s definitely my feature request is being able to have more information about what’s going on in a breakout room, even working on little activities or projects, I teach longer extended classes. So they might be working on a project for a period of time. It’s like if I was walking around the classroom, I would just know what they’re doing. Sometimes I can see their files and depends what they’re doing. But sometimes we’re doing code projects or things where it’s not quite as easy to do that.

Dan: I think if you had a Google slide that you can see, but sometimes the word doesn’t lend itself to Google Slides. But you’re right, I think it would be great if they could signal that we’re about 80% down. Here’s prejudice. But I don’t know maybe there’s a future version which we can pull students when they’re in breakout rooms. That might be one way of see Yeah, even

Rebecca: being able to chat with the breakout room would do that. In my class, we ended up setting up slack. So we had that kind of better chat experience while they were in breakouts.

John: That’s certainly been an issue. I know my students are getting much more adept when they’re working in breakout rooms for a longer period and summoning me for help. But it’s really common to get called to one of the breakout rooms I’m talking to them. And then they got another call from another group. And it looks like I’m not being responsive, but I’m really just trying to finish a topic in one group. And it can be a bit of a challenge hopping from group to group because the communication ability to break out rooms, as you both said is limited at this stage.

Rebecca: I’ve had people jumping back into the main window for help. And that works better because then if another group or something jumps back into the main window, they can see that there’s a queue.

John: At least then it’s visible. One of the concerns that many faculty have expressed is that they’re interacting with students who they will see typing in chat and they will hear their voices but they never actually seen the students because most of the time, they have to keep their cameras off because there’s other family members around them. Or they’re connecting to Wi Fi in a parking lot next to a fast food restaurant, or they’re working on a mobile device with limited data plans. So that’s perhaps more of a challenge for faculty than it is for the students themselves. But a lot of faculty suffered Warzone fatigue, when they don’t actually get to see their students. Do you have any suggestions on how people can perhaps get past that?

Dan: So when I wrote the book, initially, I was well aware that I was trying to be helpful to as wide of an array of instructors as I could, but I was well aware that different international contexts might make some of the recommendations harder than others. I think, for the reasons that you suggested, it is hard, in some context, to be able to sort of say to students, please use your camera. So even in my environment, I tried to note them to using their camera, but there are legitimate reasons why they might not use the camera. But what I have discovered, I think you might have discovered in your own faculty meetings, and so on, is that sometimes the issue is not the kind of issue that you pointed out for bandwidth connection or anything like that, is that sometimes you just want to be listening without your video showing off. And what I understand that I think that what we do in our teaching at the end of the day can be profoundly human. And I find it to be very hard to create a human learning experience. If most cameras are off my standpoint, it feels like no one is there. But it’s not only from our standpoint, right? It’s even from the standpoint of the other students in the class. I’m the first one who understands about zoom fatigue. And so I’m not above sometimes having a camera of so I can take a break. But I do feel like to the extent that we can motivate that, and perhaps try if we can to reduce the stigma, use a virtual background, do whatever you can, I think it’s better. But again, I’m not at a place to say everyone should do it, I just be like, the experience can be more human and more effective. If we had most of our students on video,

Rebecca: there seems to be a peer pressure component to that classes have personalities. And if there’s a lot of people who tend to have their cameras on all the sudden there’s more cameras on and if it’s a class that just shuts down, everybody’s in shutdown mode, and breakout rooms, where they’re talking to each other tend to make more cameras appear on from my experience.

Dan: Yeah, I suppose there’s a tipping point, I once gave a I think it was kind of like a webinar where it was on zoom. And you know how on zoom, you have 49 little squares, and then you can go to the other 49 and go on in the videos tend to go on the first. So I think they were like 400 people. And they were like 12 with a video on. And to me that just was very, very challenging. And then I’m not expecting people to put their video on because it’s challenging for me, but I’m expecting that it’d be better experience for everyone. If we can look at each other.

John: I agree, it provides more of a sense of humanity, when you can actually see people, it’s not just that array of black boxes. I know in my own classes, and I think many people on campus have suggested that there’s been that sort of peer pressure to have fewer and fewer cameras all the time. And I think that’s made it a little more challenging for everyone perhaps to have that same sense of engagement, encouraging it is certainly valuable. I think,

Dan: I wonder if this is just speculation on my part. But I wonder if in those contexts to the extent that one of the reasons driving it is I just need a little bit of time off the screen. I wonder if maybe there will be periods in the class where you don’t think that video being on is this critical, and you designate them as camera off period. And the default is camera on. I’m not sure whether that would work. But that’s one idea that just occurring to me.

Rebecca: I’ve experimented with things like that a little bit, Dan, in my longer classes, because he wants to be on camera for three hours. I certainly don’t. That’s right. So like between a mix of breakout rooms, and then little activities that they might do on their own. We do have periods where it’s Hey, we’re gonna have a conversation now it’d be really great to like see, you win an invitation to turn them back on but then also for doing something that’s an independent activity, like we’ve established what behavior of the default this camera off so that people aren’t staring at you while you’re writing something down or whatever. And I also turn my camera off and signal that now’s a good time to turn your camera off and then turn it back on.

Dan: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Sometimes we will just need a break in some days, not even a video break. Last semester. I remember there was a class where I can I mean, I cannot feel it in the same way that I feel it in a physical classroom, but I could feel that the students were tired. And so one of our teaching assistants I knew that she thought yoga. And I was like, Alright, I know that this is not going to be the end all. But we’re going to do one minute yoga poses for just one minute to just reset. And even that can bring a little bit of energy to the class. And so my short answer to your question, john, is that I don’t know how we solve that problem. But I do think that it is a better experience if we can to have more students most of the time by video, and I like Rebecca’s gentle now it’s a good time to have the video on as a way of signaling when it’s important.

John: Earlier, you mentioned teacherly as a tool to help track engagement. Could you talk a little bit about teaching?

Dan: Sure. So digital is an application, we created that Harvard University group of us to help faculty teach more effectively and inclusively. When you’re in a class you call on different students. And what you see happening very quickly during the semester is that some voices start dominating the classroom and you don’t even realize it. And then you don’t even realize which voices you’re not hearing from. So the way that teacherly works is very simple. You basically have someone record every time that a student participates. And then the students, all they need to do is to fill in a student profile that information about themselves. And as an instructor, then you get access to the student profiles, which allows you to know more about your students, which allows you to search their profiles to see if there are things that you want to incorporate into your next class. And the other thing that it does is it gives you dashboards, about your participation patterns. And so you can see which students have tended to participate the most which students haven’t participated. And most importantly, you can take action to redress any participation patterns that you want to redress. It’s a tool that’s freely available to anyone who wants to use it, the website, it’s teacherly.me. And you adopt the version, there are two versions, the main version is the one that allows you to have student profiles and so on. And it’s been used at Harvard for the last four years, we have over 100 faculty members using it. And last year, we launched an open version so that anyone anywhere in the world can use it. And we’re very happy to see people from other universities started adopting even people from high schools have people at UC Irvine, we have people ideal, we have people in Chi in Costa Rica, and we have people at different places using it. So if you’re interested, go ahead and try it out. I hope it can be helpful in your efforts. I always cite as an example, the fact that before I started using it, I had 46% of students in my classroom one year identify themselves or female students, and only 36% of the comments in the class were coming from female students. And that was a total shock for me, because I didn’t think that that pattern had emerged in my classroom, but it had and this allowed me to take corrective action, where easy to see where you need to take action. And now I’m proud to say I’m not the only digital user who would say that, but I have at least a gender equitable classroom, I no longer have that pattern that I didn’t even know I have, until I started using it.

Rebecca: We’ll make sure that that link to teach Lee’s in the show notes. And that’s a really powerful way to remind us how much data can actually help us that technology can help us in a lot of different ways,

Dan: knowledge and data can help us my colleague studies, we’re owners and Victoria Barnum are also behind this effort. And many of us will be happy to hear from anyone who’s using it,

Rebecca: That leads nicely into what are some of the things that we can take away from this year of technology exploration, as we hopefully start moving back into physical classrooms?

Dan: So this is a question I’ve tried to give a lot of thought, because there’s an aspect that I think is very natural for most of us, we just want to go back to our classrooms, and all of this stuff of assigning race and all of that, but we just want to be with our students in the space. I think for many of us, there’s so much lost that we felt when that environment was in some way taken away. And there’s so much longing for that environment. Again, having said that, I would say that there is so much that we learned about eating during this time that it would be a pity, if we just go back and only adopt nominal change to what we’re doing. My sense is that most of us will now explore using Office Hours through zoom or a similar technology. My sense is that a lot of us created videos for students to engage before class and we might reuse those videos. And I think that’s all great, and maybe the biggest change is that I think Because of this crisis, a lot of instructors were questioning what they were doing in the classroom much more than they did before. I’m sure you see that in your teaching and learning center. And perhaps that questioning and that rethinking about what they did, will translate back into the classroom. But old habits are hard to die. So I think there’s one risk. My sense is that the risk is that we want leverage enough of what we learn in the online environment. And so here are just a couple of things that I’m thinking would be great to think about. One is that I would love for us to try to reimagine or physical classroom in light of what we learn, what is it that frankly, you’re now saying, Wow, this was better in zoom than in person? And how can you go back to your physical classroom and see if there’s a way to leverage that in your physical room? For me, the things that I’ve discovered in breakout rooms have been incredibly powerful. And I don’t mean, just as zoom breakout room, I mean, how can we make the work of groups visible? And how can I be able to see that and leverage that in the discussion? So there’s no reason why when we’re in a physical classroom, we couldn’t use some of the things that we did with Google Slides or jam board or whatever technology we use collaboratively, and try to leverage them in the same way that we did before. That is one concrete example where it’d be a pity to think oh, no, I did that in zoom because of X or Y. No, I think we can do some of that. I know it’s probably for most institutions is too early to think about it. But I do wonder if there are changes we should do in the infrastructure, both technology and otherwise, of our classrooms that might help us teach more effectively. I don’t know about you, but the fact that in so more teams, so whichever technology use, you had the name of each student in front of you in such a clear manner was super helpful to learn their names. And at the Kennedy School, we use name tents. But those name tents are physical. And I wonder if in the classroom of the future, we could imagine digital ones that had more information than just a student name. By the way, I think a lot of changes should also happen in the online technology. Like why is it that the only thing we see is the student name? Why can we hover and see something about their background or their whatever, it should be overlaying so much information that we currently don’t have very case, those are just some ideas, I’m sure that you have many, many more, and that your listeners have many, many more. But if I could leave with one note of encouragement to all of us is to think about what we learned and what lessons were helpful in the online experience and bring it to the in person classroom, perhaps in the different manifestations, but I still think could be helpful.

John: Those sound like excellent ideas. And it does remind me a while back, one of our first podcast was with someone who is developing an augmented reality app to do facial identification for students in her class. So that way, she would be able to get that sort of information popping up in a physical classroom, certainly, I will miss having all the names visible for each student, particularly when I’m dealing with a class of three to 400. Students, it’s so nice to see the name when they participate right on the box, where you see them speaking in a classroom, it would be a lot harder to remember all those names.

Dan: We’ve been discussing everything about what will we do when we go back to the physical classroom, but certainly one thing that I hope we’re going to do is embrace online learning as part of four ways of being able to teach. And I’ve always been a big believer in the power of blended learning of using each medium to its comparative advantage. And I hope that this puts us in a better position to do better blended learning than we were a year and a half ago, when most of us had not done much of this.

Rebecca: Yeah, many faculty up until this point really hadn’t experienced online learning as a student or a teacher. And so now there’s just a lot more exposure. So those conversations can be more concrete. So we always wrap up by asking, despite the fact that we already kind of asked you this question in a different way. We always wind up by asking what’s next?

Dan: Before I respond to this question, and I should have done this at the beginning. But I just want to thank both of you, john and Rebecca for what you do. I discovered your podcast not too long ago, and I’ve gotten tremendous value out of it just to name a few episodes not to name favorite children or any of that. The episode on using Google Apps was incredibly eye opening and helpful to Even though I have been using Google Apps in my teaching, I still learned it on the episode on statistical simulations was super helpful to me it statistics. And that was a wealth of great ideas. And the episode where you took on the workload issue and how students were perceiving that the workload was greater. I had heard other things on this topic. And this was the best of everything that I’ve heard. So I just want to first just say thank you for what you do, and for the service you provide to the people like me, who are trying to teach more effectively everyday. Thanks, Dan. Thank you, in terms of what’s next, I don’t know. At a more personal level, I want to say that writing this book was a totally unexpected thing. For me, I’d never thought about writing a book about teaching. And this in some way has opened my eyes to sort of another world out there that I wasn’t that much in touch with, and has allowed me to feel a great deal of satisfaction when I hear from someone who said, Oh, I use this in the book. And it was very helpful in my learning. So even though I’m super passionate, and educator, and every time that I see a light in the eye of my student, that’s like the most rewarding thing that I can drive for. I think writing the book gave me a different venue with which to see some, I think positive effect of some of what I was doing. And that was interesting surprise. It’s not like I have three books that are in my queue or anything like that. But I discovered that as an interesting thing. And I’m right now writing another book. Again, I haven’t written anyone before, then this one is not about teaching. And that process has been very, very helpful to me, in terms of teaching what’s next, I would really like to see how we can leverage what we learned during the pandemic to do the best we can to help our students learn. That’s my hope. We’re all of us.

Rebecca: Thanks, Dan. This has been a fun conversation. I feel like we need to follow up in a year and see what happened.

John: I would love to do that thing. And also how many new books come out.

Rebecca: Your turnaround time is really, really good. So between the magic wand and the crystal ball, you have I think your setup well.

Dan: I think that deadline helps quite a bit I have to say but thank you.

John: Well, thank you. We really enjoyed talking to you and we’re looking forward to hearing more

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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.

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188. Student-Ready Courses

College faculty sometimes complain that many of the first-year students who enter their courses are not “college ready.” In this episode, Natalie Hurley joins us to examine strategies that can be used to ease this transition and help ensure that our courses are “student ready.” Natalie is a New York State Master Teacher and a 2018 NNSTOY STEM Fellow who teaches high school mathematics in the Indian River Central School District in Watertown, NY.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: College faculty sometimes complain that many of the first-year students who enter their courses are not “college ready.” In this episode, we examine strategies that can be used to ease this transition and help ensure that our courses are “student ready.”

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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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John: Our guest today is Natalie Hurley. Natalie is a New York State Master Teacher and a 2018 NNSTOY STEM Fellow who teaches high school mathematics in the Indian River Central School District in Watertown, NY. Natalie was also one of our students here at SUNY Oswego. Welcome, Natalie,

Natalie: T hank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are… Natalie, are you drinking any tea?

Natalie: I am, I’m drinking a peach tea because it’s warming up outside and I want to feel that warmth.

Rebecca: That sounds right up John’s alley,

John: …and I am drinking a ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: I knew there’d be peach. It’s almost like you guys coordinated. I have Irish breakfast today.

John: No Scottish?

Rebecca: I am almost out of the Irish breakfast. And then we will move on to a different container.

John: Move down the Empire [LAUGHTER] and head back to your English breakfast and afternoon.

Rebecca: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]

John: Okay, we’ve invited you here to talk about the transition between high school and college. Could you first tell us a little bit about the courses that you teach?

Natalie: I teach high school math. And I have a pretty nice spectrum. I teach algebra I, calculus, and precalculus. I’m in my fifth year of teaching precalculus and calculus, and I have taught algebra I, eight years.

John: Excellent. What were your majors in college?

Natalie: So, I was a math major from the get go. And then I had this fantastic professor who helped me find my love of economics. His name is Professor John Kane, and he’s here with us too. [LAUGHTER] And then, once I started to find my love of economics, I picked up a minor in it. Unfortunately, it was too late in the game to pick up a double major, but the minor was great too.

John: And we did talk a little bit about you going on to grad school in economics. And I was a little disappointed that you didn’t, but then I thought you could do a lot of good in the school system. So, one of the things we want to talk to you about is the differences between your experiences in college and the way you teach your classes now. Could you talk a little bit about some of the differences between what you observed as an undergraduate student and the way in which you teach now in secondary school?

Natalie: Yes. So there are definitely a lot of differences. Although I tried to definitely keep that idea of college and career readiness, being wholesome in my classroom. I remember in college it was a lot of lecture style, a combination between very, very large classes of hundreds. And my math classes were usually pretty small, less than 20, generally. In my classroom, in a non pandemic year, I have somewhere between 15 and 20 students usually. Of course, now we’re doing cohorts. So I have a class as small as two and another class as large as 13… is my largest class… on Thursdays and Fridays. So I just remember, in college, a lot of lecture style: the teacher talks, you write notes, you can ask questions, but it’s very much like you raise your hand, if a teacher calls on you, you can ask a question. In my classroom, it’s more a conversation about math, whereas I’m leading them to discover the math, hopefully on their own, with a little bit of questioning from me to lead them there. There’s a lot of… in a non-pandemic year, think-pair-shares, or working in groups, or talking it out with their partner, or somebody that they sit near… things like that, that’s a little bit harder to do these days, especially when I only have a class of two in there sitting six feet away from each other or more.

Rebecca: Everything’s a think-pair-share. [LAUGHTER]

Natalie: Right. So yeah, and as I grow, and I become more seasoned, it becomes more student centered and less about me than it had been before. So I want to put the students in the center, whereas when I was there, it was very much the teachers up there telling you how to do it. And then this is how you do the calculus. And then this is how you do calc 2, this is how you do calc 3, and they just show you and you find your study groups, and then you work with each other after class as opposed to in class. So that seems to be some of the differences. I remember in college is a lot of rote memorization: know these words, be able to regurgitate this proof, things like that, where just now, in my classroom, and really the focus of high school math, and really all math through the Common Core standards, is that deep understanding, getting to the core and understanding vertically, what number sense and number theory is throughout all the grade levels.

Rebecca: It sounds like you’ve incorporated a lot of evidence-based practices into your own practice, which we encourage all of our faculty, even at the college level, to do as well. We hear a lot of faculty complaining about students not being “college ready.” And maybe that’s because there’s still a lot of lecture and memorization, and we want to keep changing that. What are some ways that we can become more “student ready” and bring students in?

Natalie: I think it’s very important that colleges understand what it’s like in the high school, how teachers are teaching, what they’re teaching. I’m in my ninth year, and the next year, we’ll start to move into the next gen math standards. And then that’s going to be the third set of standards. And I think it’s really important for college professors at all levels to be able to understand what did these standards look like for these kids? And how do I need to change what I’m teaching to adapt to that? I recently had a very informal discussion with the master teacher program and SUNY professors at SUNY Delhi about their math and science curriculum. And there was just a lot of surprises on both ends about what’s being taught, what isn’t being taught any more… emphasis on the calculator… standards now are being written so that there’s a lot of calculator use and students are losing a lot of their number sense, because you don’t need to know how to add and subtract, multiply and divide fractions when you get into high school, because you have a calculator that’s going to do it all, which turns into a lot of button pushing. But that’s definitely going to have a trickle down effect into… or trickle up effect, I guess… in college, when these students get there and they’re so used to being fully dependent on calculator and technology use… which is great if you’re a college that also promotes that. But some colleges may also still say, “Hey, we want to limit technology.”

John: Since you were in college, I think much of our teaching has changed. I know in my own department, most of us were doing a lot of lecturing when you were a student. And there’s been a pretty steady transition away from that. And that’s been true in many departments, including our math department.

Natalie: That’s great to hear.

John: But we still see a lot of lecture. And one of the things we’re hoping is that perhaps the experience of the transition to remote instruction has encouraged more people to try some new approaches to teaching and learning.

Natalie: We have definitely seen that in the high school, a lot of teachers who were behind the ball, as far as utilizing technology in their classrooms, it’s been forced to become great at it… literally overnight. So I guess if there’s a silver lining to all of this, that is definitely key right there. I think something that’s extremely important in high school is making connections to real world, making everything very real life, how am I ever going to use this in real life and making sure that that is evident in the student learning. And I don’t teach in a college, I haven’t been in a college in 10-15 years. But I think that if you wanted to be more student ready is also connecting all of your curricula to career readiness. Students want to know why am I taking this class if I’m going to be a librarian, or if I’m going to be a social worker. So just being able to bring those connections to them, could also help colleges be more student ready.

Rebecca: Just that relevance alone is more motivating to get students excited about topics. So finding ways to connect to students, no matter the level, high school or college, is a really great way to bring them in and bring them along.

John: One of the challenges I know in economics we face, is with students saying, “I’m just not very good at math,” or “I have trouble with graphs.” And I suspect maybe you might have seen a little bit of that, too. How do you address that issue of a fixed mindset concerning student’s ability to engage in mathematics?

Natalie: In my calculus and precalculus classes, and you’ll be even surprised to hear it that I do hear that there. But it’s extremely prevalent in algebra I, that idea of “My mom wasn’t good at math, so I’m not going to be good at math.” “I’ve always had math support, AIS,” or “I’ve been able to get through because I’ve always stayed after with the teacher.” I definitely still hear that, but the idea is to kind of break that mold by saying, “Hey, listen, this is a new year. This is a new teacher, this is a new curriculum, maybe this is going to be the one for you.” I find a lot of students struggle through geometry. So as soon as I bring up geometry, it’s like, “Oh, no, I don’t want to.” And I say, “Listen, let’s connect it to algebra, then. Do you feel more comfortable making the connections to algebra?” …or I don’t even know. I don’t know how to tell them that you can be better. Maybe you had a bad teacher, maybe you had a teacher who didn’t make things relevant for you, or just some bad experiences, but every year’s a new year. I’ve seen all sorts of success stories of students who truly find their niche late in high school math. So in my class, I’ve definitely adopted the idea of a growth mindset. And I’ve been studying on best practices to help do this. And part of that has been through standards-based grading. I’m kind of a beginner, a novice, of standards-based grading… more of a cafeteria, I’m choosing which aspects of it that I’d like to implement versus which ones don’t work for me, yet, as I learn and grow, which is definitely not the high school or college that I went to, to implement things like re-quizzes and retests. And it was hard for me to even start with this idea. Nobody else in my department was doing anything like this. And to be honest, as I was starting my career, I started my career right as common core was being implemented. So there was a ton of work in developing all the new curricula. I started in an eighth grade and moved all the way up and I’m like, “Wait, you want me to make two tests? four tests? two quizzes? three quizzes? four? And you want me to give them to these kids and grade them and change their grades and all of the clerical work. But now that I’m nine years in, I’m ready for it. And I find that the students have such a better… I guess they feel better about themselves when they go in to take a quiz when they know that there’s going to be redemption. One thing that I do is, if their test grade beats their quiz grade, I let the test grade replace the quiz grade in the gradebook. If you can show growth, by the time you get to the test… and that idea actually comes from college. If your grade on the final is better than your grade in the class, some professors will do something like that. Or if your grade is high enough, you don’t even need to take the final or I don’t know if anybody’s still doing things like that. But that kind of way, it takes the stress of testing and quizzing, and it takes it off of the grade and puts it more onto the learning. And, however, I do understand that that practice might not be making my students “college ready” if their college professors are not following that, which probably they are not. However, it’s something that I feel I need to do in order to focus on the learning that needs to happen.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that we’ve been working really hard to do at the college level is to incorporate some of those practices as well, to encourage learning, and that it’s about test taking and the testing effect as a way of remembering and learning and practicing rather than some moment in time that somehow reflects all learning that has ever occurred, which is not really relevant or accurate.

John: And you would be happy to know that many people in our math department are doing mastery quizzing and mastery learning approaches where they allow students multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery.

Rebecca: One of the things that I think is somewhat problematic for the transition of students from high school to college is that we don’t have these kinds of conversations very often. They’re not in place unless we go out of our way to talk to local high school teachers about what’s going on in local schools and vice versa, where high school teachers are asking us what’s going on at the college level. Can you talk a little bit about how your Delhi experience evolved in ways that you could encourage others to have those same kinds of conversations?

Natalie: I believe it was somebody from SUNY Delhi reached out to the Executive Director of the New York State Master Teacher program, if you haven’t heard about it, it’s a STEM initiative to retain teachers in math and science. And it’s a four-year fellowship that you have to apply and interview and be selected to join. But, it ends up creating a very strong network of teachers statewide that are actually affiliated with SUNY, every region has a SUNY campus that they are affiliated with, Up here in the North Country, mine is Plattsburgh. And since our program has moved more to an online format, we were able to all participate with SUNY Delhi through this conversation. And I think that just leads to more ideas for the future or to somebody who has an in with some SUNY people. I think we all do professional development. I do it as a high school teacher, and you guys do it as professors. But then, where can we find the middle ground that can maybe mesh some professional development and share some best practices between our two groups?

Rebecca: Sounds like an excellent idea.

John: That is a practice that I think we should do more of. One of the issues that we have is that in general, high schools provide a lot of support for students. And often some of that support comes from parents who help encourage students to be successful in school, and then all of a sudden, people go away to college. And sometimes that doesn’t work quite as well, and we lose a lot of people. Do you have any suggestions on what perhaps colleges could do better to help retain more students?

Natalie: That’s a great question. And I think as we grow through the years, you’re noticing a lot more of, shall I say, helicopter parents or parents who are very, very involved in their children’s lives, and so much to the fact that they actually can become bulldozer parents and literally take roadblocks out of their children’s way so that they never experienced any kind of struggle. And that, of course, is not anything that me as a high school teacher, or you guys as college faculty can do, other than just encouraging parents to step back. Students should be very autonomous. I think that, if anything, we’re going to see out of this pandemic. Another I guess silver lining is the students are becoming more autonomous. They have to when their parents are working and they’re only going to school two days a week and they’re responsible for their own learning the other three days a week. They’re also learning skills, like do I care for online learning? So when I get to college, should I steer towards classes that are online or steer away from classes that are online. So these are definitely going to be skills. So you guys might want to look out for when you’re screening students or as advisors, “Hey, how did you do when you were fully remote? Were you able to get all of your work done? Did your mom have to come home and sit down with you and work with you? Or were you able to get up in the morning, eat your breakfast, and then get right started on your schoolwork?” I make a joke to my seniors about this time of year that if they are still being woken up by their parents, they are not ready for college. You will be home by Christmas if your mother is still waking you up to get you in the shower and get to school on time. Students are going to have a lot of free time when they get to college. Their lives are managed for 40 hours a week, an hour bus ride in and back, somebody tells them when it’s time to eat lunch, then they go right to sports practice and come back. They’re so busy when they’re in high school. And then when they get to college, and they have class that are for 15 hours a week, that’s a lot of extra time for these kids to have to manage. And then when they start to find out, “Oh, nobody’s gonna call my mom, if I don’t go to school?” That’s the kind of mentality that these kids are going to. And I ask my students often, “What do you think is going to be one of your biggest struggles?” or “What do you think is going to be a biggest struggle of your peers? …and it is time management. The students are used to doing a lot of their work in school, either in the class or given class time to start assignments, to do assignments, or they have a study hall where somebody says, “Okay, get your books out, get to work.” And now they’re just going to go to class, they’re going to learn for an hour, hour and a half, and then go back to their dorm and have to start studying on their own. And even that, just the idea of needing to study, a lot of students can very easily get through high school without studying, without ever learning how to study. They just are good students, they know how to sit and behave, they learn well, they do their assignments, and that’s enough. I was a victim of that. I was always above average just by doing exactly what is expected of me. And then when you get to the bigger pond and you become the smaller fish, that can cause a lot of struggle for students, that idea of time that’s not managed, that they need to learn how to manage on their own.

Rebecca: I think you’re highlighting a lot of great themes here. And we certainly experience as college faculty, but your students are right: time management is the number one struggle of our college students. [LAUGHTER] They already know that it’s a problem. We know that it’s a problem. High school teachers know it’s a problem. But we don’t actively necessarily all collaborate on finding solutions to that problem. We just expect overnight students are somehow magically going to have autonomy and know what to do with it. [LAUGHTER]

John: And that’s especially true for first-gen students who haven’t had family members talk to them about those challenges and those issues, and who don’t have that sort of support. And suddenly, they have all this free time. And they don’t have any tests until weeks away or months away. And they just had these big assignments due so they don’t have anything they have to do right away. But one of the things that we know makes that worse is online instruction. Because there’s a lot of research. I did some about 17 or 18 years ago that found that freshmen and sophomores just did dramatically worse with online courses. And we had a guest on our podcast several months ago now, who found the same thing in a much larger study… that juniors and seniors and older individuals, if they’ve been successful in making it to that stage of college, they tend to be relatively successful at managing their time effectively. So online instruction is much more challenging for freshmen. And one of the things that I know many faculty are concerned about is the fact that all of our students coming in next year will have spent at least a year in some sort of remote or online instruction. And the quality of that varies quite a bit across school districts. And I think that is going to be a challenge we’re going to need to address. Do you have any thoughts on how we can help students be better at this?

Natalie: You are definitely correct, there are going to be a lot of gaps to fill, based on how students have received instruction, in how much instruction, we were given guidance that perhaps we’d only get through 80% of our material. And as you know, at the end of the 2020 school year, some of the learning immediately stopped in mid March with the “do no harm” idea of you can’t do harm to any of their grades, whatever their grade is when they left is what their grade needs to be. So we saw students who had very high averages that said, “You know what, it’s good enough. So I know you can’t give me anything less than a 98. So I’m not doing anything for the rest of the year.” And that was a very real situation that’s not going to be reflected in a transcript that you receive as a college advisor or as a college applicant when these kids are applying to school. I’m hopeful that students could self assess where they’re at, that if a college is going to have a lot of remote opportunities, and they are good at online learning, absolutely, go there, that’s for you. And if not, then that might not be for you.

John: I think we can also refer back to an earlier podcast we did with Viji Sathy and Kelly Hogan, who talked about the importance of structure in all of our classes, that providing students with clear directions, with giving them more expectations, and a couple of other podcasts that we had with Betsy Barre, she discusses the importance of sharing information about the time that’s required for various tasks. So giving students more detailed instructions and giving them more guidance on how much time they should be expected to work on things, perhaps, may help.

Natalie: I completely agree, I remember the rule of thumb was a three-credit level class would have about nine hours, the total amount of work, including class time for that class. And I try to drill this into my students heads as a pre-calc and calc teacher that you’re going to be doing a lot of work outside of this class, which is not what they’re used to. They’re used to, “I’m going to go home, I’m going to do 15 minutes worth of homework, and it’s going to be graded based on effort. So I get a free 100 in the gradebook if I did it, and nobody’s gonna care if I did it correctly, I could do the whole thing wrong, I could copy from my friend, and there we go, I get the credit.” And that’s just not college readiness, or career readiness, for hopefully most careers. But I would love to see some kind of, even in high schools and then have it trickle right up to college, some kind of bridging from each course… ninth grade, these are our expectations, 10th grade, you get a little bit more strict restrictions, and then all of that being an idea of we’re bridging the gap from 12th grade to college. And as well as college professors and faculty looking back and saying, “Okay, this is where they’re at when they’re coming to us. And so we can pick it up from here.”

Rebecca: Yeah, that ramping is so important. And just acknowledging where students are at, and meeting them where they’re at, and not having some false expectation of where we wish they were, which is very different. And I think what John was talking about, like providing some time allotments and things, but just even providing students with a sample of what their outside of class time should just generally be looking like, maybe you are spending three hours outside of class studying or six hours outside of class studying. But what are those six hours look like? What does studying look like for this class? What are the kinds of exercises that would be really helpful. And faculty have a vision of what that should be, we just often don’t communicate it.

John: And often when faculty do, though, they communicate what worked for them, which is what had worked for their professors before them, which is not always what would work for a typical student.

Rebecca: What do you mean? Highlighting, John?

John: …and repeated rereading, and focusing on learning styles, but there’s a lot of things out there that faculty may encourage students to do that is not really always consistent with evidence. And going back to your point earlier, Natalie, about providing the relevance of things, one of the problems I think that faculty have is we got into these things, because we’re just really interested in the questions of the discipline. And the things that interest us now are based on having studied the discipline for a long time. And it’s a little harder, often, to connect with the types of things that would interest a student who’s just coming out of high school or is in a sophomore or junior position in college, because they don’t have that same network of concepts to make the topics that we find interesting as interesting to them. That’s something I think we definitely need to work on.

Rebecca: I know one thing that I always struggle with in the design classes that I teach is I’m constantly trying to get students to think about audiences other than themselves. But then when you start to put things in perspective, you realize they don’t really know much beyond themselves. They know maybe what an audience younger than them might experience or have expectations of, but they have a really hard time envisioning what a professional world might be like, because you just don’t have any experience in it. So we often come to the table with so many assumptions that we think that they have, and they just don’t have the life experience to match it.

John: We’ve talked a little bit about how instruction was affected during the pandemic, how did your classes transition?

Natalie: I saw this, the pandemic, as a way to be able to spread my wings and try and implement some different teaching strategies that I had thought about, but I wasn’t totally sure if I wanted to dive right in in one given year. And one of those ideas was the idea of a flipped classroom. I had never felt confident to be able to create a flipped classroom that I felt students would be responsible for. That being, watching the videos at home and then us just working on problems together in class. And to be honest, that’s pretty much what has happened. I have students who will have to watch videos on the two days, three days that they’re not here, and they have to, and I’ve figured out now how to assess that they’ve watched the videos, and to make sure that they are responsible for that learning. It’s not totally flipped. But I do have to provide instruction to these students three days of the week that they’re not around. And I did that in a couple of different ways for each one of my preps, because I didn’t want to get so solid in just one way was “the way,” and I wanted to try some things out. So for calculus, I teach calculus fully synchronous. My students who are at home Google meet live with the students that I have in class in front of me. We’re able to talk about problems as a bigger class instead of just the five who are in front of me. And that’s worked out quite well for us. Granted, class is at 10 o’clock, so it’s not too super early for these students. So, precalculus, I do kind of more HyFlex. They have the opportunity to come to the live session if they want to, or I do make videos for them to watch on their own. One thing that we had to keep in mind this year was that some of these students are responsible for younger siblings while parents are at work. So we needed to be a little bit more flexible in how we set up our classes. And when I had the conversation with my calculus students, they said, “Nope, we could totally do synchronous.” And if they needed me to make a video, I can make them a video. And then algebraI, I do completely asynchronous, the videos are already set up. There’s no live session. When they come in the next day, or whatever day follows watching the videos, I check and make sure that they watch their videos, give them a little bit of credit, just for doing what they were supposed to do. And, to be honest, I have become very, very graceful compared to how I ever was in the first seven and a half, eight years of teaching. My department very rarely ever accepts late work. Math is a sequential subject, you need to do the work today so that you know what’s going on tomorrow in class. This year, I’m just happy it’s getting done and getting done with integrity. So I’ve become so extremely graceful with students who are getting work done after due dates, right before the quarter ends. It’s not great, but they are also learning a very important lesson in “it’s a lot easier if I just do a little bit every day instead of trying to cram it all in at the end of the semester, or at the end of the quarter.” So, hopefully, that idea can trickle up to college as well. It’s not very easy to dig yourself out of a hole, especially in college.

John: You mentioned with your recordings that you were verifying that they actually watched the videos. How do you do that?

Natalie: With my algebra I, the videos obviously match their note packet, they have guided notes that matches very nicely. So the next day I just come in, check, they’re going to show me a front and back with all of the notes filled in. For precalculus, I feel like I shouldn’t have to check their notes, that they should be responsible enough for that level to actually watch the videos, I did get a sense that they weren’t watching the videos, mostly because I was bringing things up when they came to class, and I had a lot of blank stares looking at me. So I started using a program called Edpuzzle. They have to sign into it with their Google account. Lots of teachers in my school use this. And I was able to see who was actually watching. And it was funny, I had a student come to me and he goes, “I’m going to make a guess that 1/3 of the kids are actually watching the videos.” And as soon as I started counting up the number of students who actually watched the videos, it was about 1/3. So that gave a very stern talking to about what my expectations were in that they’re not going to have the best understanding and knowledge if they’re just practicing the homework assignments, that it needs to be the full package, coming to class in whatever shape or form that looks like, be it coming to the live session or watching the videos. But all of it needs to be done in order to be successful in precalculus.

John: Do you embed questions in the videos?

Natalie: I am just getting my feet wet with it. I just started using it. So no, I haven’t gotten that far. But I did hear that you can and you can do a little checkup and it will not let you get through unless you do the question. So is that something you guys have used?

John: I haven’t used EdPuzzle. But I have been using PlayPosit this year. And I embed questions in it and it is required as part of the grade in my econometrics class and in my introductory microeconomics class, and I’m probably incorporating it in more classes as I go forward. But students actually have responded really positively. They discovered that when they watch the videos, it’s really helpful, because when there was no grading involved or no questions, the level of use of the videos was dramatically lower. So this provides just a small incentive, it’s a trivial part of their grade, but it’s enough to induce them to watch them, though. I’ve been really pleased with it. One advantage of Edpuzzle though, is that It’s free, as far as I understand, whilel, I do have to pay for PlayPosit.

Natalie: Yep, it’s free. And we’re a Google school. So they are able to sign right in. And it was easy for me to use, I could see all the students, I could see how much of it they watched. So that was pretty cool.

Rebecca: That’s great. As I’m hearing you talk about how your teaching has transitioned, it largely matches how faculty at the college level have also had to transition. So in some ways, we may have been brought together unexpectedly. [LAUGHTER] So there’s a lot more college faculty also using a flipped classroom model, and using more class time to solve problems and work on the more complicated things. Because often the video lectures or that kind of part of the material is foundational. Some of it might be memorization things, it might be terms and things like this, and then you put it into action in the class, and you can have guidance and coaching. So what’s really interesting is that the pandemic may have brought these two experiences together, and that bridge might be more present than it has ever been before.

Natalie: Exactly, I used to think that there was no way for my students to learn, if I wasn’t the one who was telling them and showing them. If I wasn’t up at the front of the board, doing it with them, doing it for them, then they weren’t going to learn… there was no way they can learn this on their own, and boy, was I ever wrong. Even though I could do 10 problems with them up at the board, whereas they could do three working together in a small group or in a pair, it’s so much more valuable to listen to them have those conversations, and to hear them explain these things, in their own words, or what’s very powerful too, is when I hear my words come out of their mouth, as they’re explaining it to another student. So that’s totally cool to hear that. And I think that’s the direction of education. The prep work is more important than what the teacher role is in the classroom. So the role of the teacher plays planning and prepping for a lesson is so much more powerful than what the teacher is doing in the classroom at that time as far as leading instruction.

Rebecca: That design of experience is so powerful, just generally. I think one of the things that I know I have always struggled with using a flipped classroom model, but I’m definitely getting better, the more and more I do it, is really scaling back on how much can actually be done in class, when students are working through problems and they’re not having quite as much coaching. You’re really letting them struggle and fail and try again. That takes time. It’s not like something that can happen automatically. So we might be used to going through more examples, but less examples, but more depth can be really powerful. And your right, students explaining to other students is an amazing thing to see. But it also helps them articulate or realize where they don’t understand, which is something that you don’t necessarily recognize when someone’s explaining something to you. Because when someone explains it to you, of course it seems obvious, until you have to do it yourself.

Natalie: Absolutely.

John: One of the things I was thinking about is I have to create a video on log transformations in econometrics tonight, and that reminded me of all that.

Natalie: Do you want one of mine? I can grab it right off Edpuzzle. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Can you imagine that, though, like sharing back and forth between high school and college and sharing resources? We should do more of this.

Natalie: Oh, absolutely. Why are we always reinventing the wheel for ourselves, when there’s so much already out there?

John: When you first create a flipped classroom model, it’s a lot of work, creating those videos, maybe embedding some questions in them. And doing that is a tremendous amount of work upfront. But it’s taking this stuff that’s relatively easy for students to learn and shifting it outside of the classroom. So that when students are in class, they’re able to focus on the things they have the most trouble with. Because, as Rebecca said, you can provide a really good lecture on how to do something, but if students haven’t wrestled with it, they’re not going to learn it as well. I know for many years, I was doing an awful lot of lecturing, and I’ve cut back to very, very little now other than when I’m recording lectures, and I’m seeing students struggle with materials, but then when they are assessed on it, there’s much more balance in their performance. Because before there were always some students who would pick up on everything you did… people like you, Natalie, and people like those who are faculty. We were able to learn the stuff by listening to people tell us how to do it and figure it out on our own. But that doesn’t work well for a lot of students. And when they’re there explaining it to each other, they learn it much more deeply than they ever would by trying to do the more difficult parts on their own. Because in the traditional model, we’d give them the basics and show them how to do things. But the only time when they really got to apply that was either when they were working alone, doing homework, trying to struggle to solve some problems. or on a high-stakes exam. And those are times when perhaps they need the most support and the flipped classroom model can really address that really nicely.

Natalie: Yep, I absolutely agree.

John: We always end with the question: “What’s next?” …which is a question I think everyone in education is wondering.

Natalie: I think what’s next is filling in the gaps. There is going to be a lot of gaps for a lot of years. And we keep saying I can’t wait till next year, I can’t wait till it’s back to normal. But pandemic aside, I don’t think it’s going to be normal for a long time, we’re going to have a lot of students who need a lot of support for a lot of years, and it’s going to affect me. And then it’s going to affect college faculty, as the students get up there, addressing where the gaps are, how can we fill them? How can we give these students the support that they need, even under just budgets that were being given that were cut in this past year or could be getting cut? We’re going to need a lot of support from each other, from our colleagues, from our administrators from the community… and I think a lot of understanding… these students are going to need understanding, we’re going to need understanding.

Rebecca: I really like the underscoring of this empathy towards one another, both between faculty and teachers, as well as between students and teachers. I think that’s a really nice note to end on. Thanks so much for sharing your insights, Natalie. I think many faculty will want to take the time and effort to reach out to some high school teachers and make some connections and start to figure out ways to bridge those gaps.

Natalie: Thank you so much for having me, this has been such a valuable experience. And I’m always grateful when anybody wants to listen to my opinion and share conversation with me.

John: Well, it’s great talking to you again, I very much enjoyed working with you when you were a student here, and it’s nice to see just how successful you’ve been. And I suppose I should mention that this came about because one of my current students had listened to the podcast, had shared it with people on Facebook, and then she said, “And you know, you really should invite one of my former teachers,” and so we invited you.

Natalie: That is so awesome. I feel very honored that that student thought that I had something great to share. And it’s been so great to be back in SUNY Oswego, among other Lakers, and of course, a professor who was a great mentor and led me down a path of success.

John: 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.

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187. Talking Tech

Student use of mobile technology can enrich student learning experiences, but can also interfere with the focused attention that is essential for learning. In this episode, Michelle Miller examine how we can talk to students about technology in ways that will help them become more efficient in their learning and professional lives.

Michelle is a Professor of Psychological Sciences and a President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Miller’s academic background is in cognitive psychology research. Her research interests include memory, attention and student success in the early college career.

Michelle is the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, and has written about evidence-based pedagogy in scholarly as well as general interest publications. She’s currently working on her newest book, Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology: What the Science of Memory Tells us about Teaching and Learning in a Wired World, scheduled as part of the West Virginia University series on teaching and learning.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: Student use of mobile technology can enrich student learning experiences, but can also interfere with the focused attention that is essential for learning. In this episode, we examine how we can talk to students about technology in ways that will help them become more efficient in their learning and professional lives.

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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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John: Our guest today is Michelle Miller. Michelle is a Professor of Psychological Sciences and a President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Miller’s academic background is in cognitive psychology research. Her research interests include memory, attention, and student success in the early college career. Michelle is the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, and has written about evidence-based pedagogy in scholarly as well as general interest publications. She’s currently working on her newest book, Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology: What the Science of Memory Tells us about Teaching and Learning in a Wired World, scheduled as part of the West Virginia University series on teaching and learning. Welcome back, Michelle.

Michelle: Hi, it’s great to be here.

Rebecca: So good to have you back. Today’s teas are…. Michelle, are you drinking any tea?

Michelle: Well, I’m still on coffee. We have a three hour time difference this time of the year. And so I figure I’m entitled.

Rebecca: How about you, John?

John: I am drinking ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: And I have golden monkey today.

John: …for a change.

Rebecca: It’s expensive. I only drink it on special occasions. I was like, we’re gonna get to talk to Michelle, today. I’m gonna make fancy tea.

Michelle: Well, coffee is the fanciest tea of all.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk a little bit about how to talk to students about technology and why perhaps you might consider talking to students about technology. You teach a course on mind, brain and technology, and you’ve also created the Attention Matters projects that we’ve discussed on an earlier podcast. Could you tell us a little bit about the mind, brain and technology class that you teach?

Michelle: Right. So this has been such an incredible privilege I’ve had, on and off. for several years. Now, back a long time ago, when I first applied for and was competing for the President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellowship honor and award here at Northern Arizona University, one of the things that we got to do as part of our application packet was to envision a dream course. And this was, gosh, around a decade ago that I did this. So the landscape of the research and technology itself was very different. But this is the course that I came up with to say if I could teach one thing, brand new, build it from the ground up, this is what I would do: something that would connect psychology, especially empirical research-oriented psychology, the role of emerging technologies in our lives and the incursions they’ve made into all of our lives, and blend that with some real practical advice and things that would be engaging to college students today at a variety of levels. And so it went in my packet. I was so fortunate to win the award and be chosen for it. And then I came knocking on the doors, and I said, but remember, there was this dream course, I actually was very literal minded. So I said, “Well, I get to teach this now, right?” And my department said “Well, oh, okay, yes, we can work that out.” And it originally was taught as a senior capstone, and it’s been taught in that form, again. Another time it had an incarnation as a freshman seminar, a first-year seminar, and right now I’m teaching it as a fairly large general elective upper division elective, primarily serving our psychology majors and our minors. And so this is a course that I’ve been able to dip in and out of throughout the years. And I actually quote one of the first cohort of students, I got some really choice quotes that I included in my last book, Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology. And this semester, I actually have students reading some early drafts of the book I’m writing right now. And so it’s really been interwoven throughout my professional evolution over the last 10 years.

Rebecca: It’s pretty cool that you got to ultimately teach the class and it’s been going on for so long.

Michelle: Indeed, it is, indeed it is.

John: What do your students think about the role of technology in social media, in their lives, as well as in educational environment?

Michelle: Well, right from the get go, when I got to first design this class, and actually be sitting with a cohort of students every week, and bringing up a new topic, we divided it up into: there’s technologies for learning; there’s the effects of technology on aspects of thinking, like cognition, and so on; there’s several weeks on social media, which we’re right in the middle of right now. So there’s lots of different kind of articulation points where different students can come in with opinions. And so it does really cover that really broad area. So right from the beginning, I was so struck by the thoughtful and sometimes unexpected things that students would say… unexpected meaning kind of counter to what are some real stereotypes about… first of all, that all college students are a traditional age in this kind of lifestyle where you live in a dorm and party on the weekends. And I think most of us know that today’s college students do not fit that mold, and they’re not all that age. But, even students who are in this younger age bracket, to have them really say… like one of the early exercises we do in the course, I asked them to sort themselves on a continuum. We did it on a whiteboard this time via video conference, but in a physical classroom, they’d actually stand on different ends of this… place yourself physically on this continuum: Do you love technology, you want it everywhere, can’t imagine life without it… you hate it, you want to go low tech. And students are really spread across that spectrum. And so many of them have thought… they’ve said, “You know, I noticed I feel a certain way after I’m on Instagram for a certain amount of time,” or “I’ve tried electronic textbooks and I personally prefer paper.” …that’s actually consistent with some of the surveys that have been done with college students as well. So they are varied, they’re rich, and they are very counter to the stereotype that younger people just want technology everywhere in their lives.

Rebecca: What is one of the biggest misconceptions about technology that your students bring up in class that you address?

Michelle: Well, there’s a complex of sort of some interrelated ones that dial into my specialty area, which is cognitive psychology. So naturally, I noticed those really prominently myself. And so those ideas that using technology is going to reduce attention span, it’s reducing even your ability to think. And then there’s a sort of a related set of issues around what has been in the past a very controversial and headline dominating issue, which is the issue of taking notes by hand versus on a laptop computer in class. And that research, in particular, not to go through all of it, but, while the original study that sparked that debate was well designed, the interpretation of it has been just stretched until it screams. That study doesn’t talk about the distraction issue, there’s a lot of things that aren’t addressed in it. But students have come away, they’ve heard this kind of very superficial version of that, by which laptops are bad, and they also have kind of picked up a folk belief that if you handwrite something, it sort of drives it into your memory automatically. And it does not work that way. In fact, if you read the original study, one of the things that they say is that in as much as laptop note taking can be less memorable, whatever you’re taking notes on, It’s because you’re less likely to paraphrase, synthesize, and compress down what you’re hearing. And yet we have other people, they’ve heard these people in the culture say, “Oh, well, if you want to remember something, sit down and copy it, get out that pen and paper,” and that’s not really an effective study strategy. So they’re a little surprised and they say, “Oh, wait a minute, there’s some nuance to that study, and maybe some others that didn’t replicate it.” That study wasn’t talking about distraction on a laptop, it was just strictly speaking about this one aspect of how memory encoding works. Attention span… I probably talked about it on an earlier podcast… This is not a concept that attention scientists usually use. And so right off the bat, that’s a little suspect. And there’s not really good solid evidence that fundamentally, attention is changing. So they’ve absorbed some of those things. And so they’re really delighted to really dig more into those. So I might assign them an editorial or something that ran in a popular magazine or a blog. And then we look at the original research they’re talking about, and we pick up on the discrepancies. It’s not that Mueller and Oppenheimer was badly designed, it’s just they were looking at some effects that don’t always hold up with replication. And that speaks to this idea that the effect size is maybe not that large. Not that, again, anything was wrong with their data, it’s just you have this now you see it, now you don’t quality with some of these effects. And that kind of tells you that maybe this isn’t the hugely overriding consideration. And subsequent studies too have talked about this storage function of notes. It’s neat to think that you remember as a function of note taking without having to go back and study. But in reality, that’s what we do with notes, we go back and we study them. And so here’s this big elephant in the room like, well, are they taking good notes? And if they’re not taking good notes that capture key points, that they are going to want to go back and study actively, then picking up a little bit here or there because it was more memorable during note taking is not as big an issue. So that’s a big like, “Okay, what have you heard? Let’s look at the original research.”

Rebecca: Having the opportunity to talk about these things with students is exciting. And I’m sure the students are really into it, because it connects to their direct lives. And diving into the research makes a lot of sense in the context in which you’re teaching your course within psychology. So it seems like a natural fit there. How might other academic fields adopt some of the ability to talk about these things in their own classes where maybe cognitive science is not or psychology is not, the fundamental underpinning of what they’re doing?

Michelle: That’s, I think, something that I think is really exciting and why I am so excited to be able to share with your Tea for Teaching audience is I’ve really come to believe that that maybe there is something that is more versatile here beyond just the psychology frame and just a senior capstone in psychology. And I think that this is where faculty creativity can come in. I think the fundamental things that I think are so promising… Well, first of all, this is just a topic that is really under discussed, and it’s under discussed in a serious way. It’s not like students have not ever heard anybody critique technology. They’ve heard that. They’ve heard, “Oh, it messes with their sleep that it messes with their social relationships.” They’ve heard a lot of this, but it’s kind of swept under the rug in a way or even treated as “what serious person would ever think about these sorts of things?” So, that said, this is something that, and it’s something that students are doing all the time, even pre-pandemic. Most students do use technology of one form or another and are on one or more social media platforms. And so this is in and out of their lives all day long. So I can only think that there are critical frames and key concepts within a variety of disciplines that could map onto this, even if a faculty member doesn’t have the opportunity, or the interest, to say develop a whole course. Well, perhaps this could be a vehicle for discussing, for example, experimental design. How do you set up a study to really get at things like “What are the impacts of heavy cellphone use?” You do have certain individuals who self select to use technology in a particular way. And that’s something that you see crop up again and again in the research literature. Or if we’re talking about our own personal relationships, classes that have a focus on health can perhaps use one of these sub areas as a springboard for discussion. And so this is just really what I found, is that students who might otherwise be very quiet or, when things are framed in a purely very divorced from reality academic way, they may hang back, but who doesn’t get hooked into a discussion of some of the impacts of technology on our life. So I think it can be a vehicle for those things. And I think that it might be a little bit of a stretch in, say, a physical sciences class where we’re really discussing empirical context. But even there, it can be folded into discussions of effective studying very well, as long as we don’t just have that, again, very superficial tech’s bad, just get rid of it all and do everything on note cards. There’s a lot more to it than that.

John: Students are going to be interacting with technology, not only in their classes, but in their future careers. So having them think about those issues can be a really useful thing to learn, no matter what discipline they’re studying,

Rebecca: It seems like a good hook. It’s something that everyone can relate to, in some context. I was doing an exercise in my own class not too long ago about storytelling, and how brands present stories around what they’re presenting to people. And I use Spotify and Pandora as the examples. I’ve never seen a class so excited, [LAUGHTER] because it was talking about this technology platform that they can connect to. So I can imagine, when you bring up social media or other things that they feel really connected to, it immediately is a hook to talk about anything more complex.

Michelle: Absolutely. And that’s precisely the kind of dynamic that I’ve seen. And if I could throw out a kind of a discipline-specific example, there’s a concept that I really started weaving in more of over the last few iterations of the class. And this is a concept from psychological sciences research and quantitative analysis that really can be very slippery. But it’s a big, big part of contemporary ways that we analyze data. And it’s a concept of mediators and moderators. And so it’s jargony… and essentially mediators, when you have a correlation between two things, and you want to know, does A cause B? Or is there something else in the middle does A cause B causes C, and we have these great techniques for untangling those relationships. And moderators, on the other hand, is the relationship or is the correlation stronger in the presence of a particular variable or for, say, a particular group of people than others? And so yeah, you read that in a textbook and you go, “oh….” and yet, it’s one of the things that we really… I mean, experimental design, and how we can interpret our data is just radically more sophisticated when we can just not say, “Well, these two things happen together, but for whom is this relationship stronger,” and so on? So there are a lot of studies on the effects of technology that have one or more of these involved. And yeah, it just clicks for students when they see it play out in this relatable domain. So, for example, we have a study that I incorporate really early in the course. It’s got a word in the title, “Technoference” in relationships. So it’s a study of your perception that your partner in an intimate relationship uses their phone…. and when you’re talking to them… [LAUGHTER I think, will have a little bit of recognition if we’re in a relationship. That’s part of contemporary relationships, right? And they look at overall well being and how that relates to being in a relationship where your partner’s on the phone all the time. Now, it’s not a perfect study. And that’s part of what we look at. It was only among women who were in opposite sex relationships, and there’s a lot of self report and all that stuff. But you can say that “Okay, now they have a mediator. It’s not that the phone itself is degrading your life’s wellbeing but here’s this chain of causality of when your partner’s using your phone all the time when you’re talking, then you’re not as happy in your relationship. There’s conflict and then your overall wellbeing in your life goes down.” And then, in that context, you go, “Oh, Okay, I get it. Here’s what a mediator is.” And then we can talk about moderators, we can say, “Well, what about individuals who are in same sex relationships? What about men? What about couples who have been together for 25 years versus those who just got together six months ago?” Oh, okay. Now we understand moderators. So yeah, similar to you, Rebecca, I’m just saying, once you bring in some of these things, is not just dropping in sort of pop culture, it’s really taking a substantive look at these things. But yeah, then you springboard into concepts that are otherwise just really abstract.

Rebecca: Do you have some examples of things about learning related to technology that we might be able to slip into any discipline’s classes? …some of the stuff about attention, or good study strategies, or anything that’s maybe mediated through technology, but would relate to anybody.

Michelle: Definitely, the relationship between attention and memory and learning. Now, like I always say, when I’m talking about these topics, memory is not the only important aspect of learning. Learning is not all about memorization. But we now know that when you remember more, we have a broader knowledge base in an area, you’re better able to think critically and think in some sophisticated ways in that area. So that’s all good stuff. So that’s one piece of it. And in order to acquire any new memories, pretty much, for practical purposes, you have to be paying attention. And this is what devices and technologies have been so well engineered at this point to take away from us. So yeah, when you talk about a life skill, you’re going to need this for the rest of your life, no matter what you do. We have to think about, alright, how do we kind of shepherd and be stewards of our own attention. And I think, from a teaching perspective, too, it’s not that we have to constantly entertain students to grab their attention back from whatever it’s wandering off on, or similar that we just have to stand up there and be like, “Well, you have to pay attention… unbroken for an hour and 15 minutes… and all violations will be punished.” There’s different paths between those, but just to share with students that “Yeah, using phones is probably not changing the way our attentional systems work.” They work the way they have for many, many millennia. However, there’s a lot more competition for that now. So having them think about what are their strategies going to be. For some students, they come up with very creative cold turkey types of situations or types of strategies. I had one student say that I put my phone in a dropbox outside at night when I’m studying, and if I want to use it I have to go out there, which may not seem like a big deal, but in Flagstaff, it could easily be three degrees Fahrenheit and ice falling out of the sky, it’s cold out here. So we have students who say, “Well, you know what, I’m gonna be a little bit more subtle. I’m going to use one browser for my classwork and one browser for fun and social media.” And it’s just a little subtle cue that kind of tells you, “okay, we’re in work mode, or we’re not in work mode.” It’s not as much prescribing the answers as getting students themselves involved in saying, “Well, here’s how I’m going to manage this.” So those are some of the things that we would share. And when it comes to learning strategies at work, I’m always going to be evangelizing retrieval practice in one form or another. Lots of ways that that can look… everything from a Kahoot! quiz to sitting and talking with your roommate to try to bat back and forth what you remembered. Lots of different things you can do but, it shows too, there’s a link between you have to put in some active effort for your brain to pick up on that information and store it away in memory if it’s going to. So yeah, there’s sort of a complex of interrelated principles and take homes, there.

Rebecca: The one thing that I was immediately thinking about when you said about phones being really good at taking away your attention. I immediately thought as a designer, what a great example of how to get someone’s attention? [LAUGHTER]

Michelle: Yeah.

Rebecca: …not only to think about how to manage attention and think about what you’re paying attention to, but how do designers actually manipulate that? [LAUGHTER]

Michelle: See… perfect. There’s a cross-disciplinary connection.

John: The importance of attention is a topic that I think all students recognize is a problem. But I don’t think they fully understand quite how much of a problem it can be. Or at least my perception is there’s still a lot of misperceptions about the ability of students to multitask effectively. And I know that’s something that you address a bit in your classes.

Michelle: I do. And a related project that we’ve discussed on some other podcasts is the Attention matters project and I’m happy to report that project is still just perking along like crazy. We still have lots of faculty who are involved with it. So to kind of give a little background on it. Attention Matters was a concept that came out of a great conversation I had with my very smart and dedicated colleague, John Doherty, who’s an instructional designer and a librarian here at Northern Arizona University. And I had been going around and trying to teach a little, almost guest lecture, roadshow for interested faculty to spread these ideas to students of how to study effectively and how to have a plan for not getting distracted in the middle of class and stuff like that. And we talked about it. And we put together an online module that can serve so many more students. This semester, I have several really smart research assistants, undergraduate research assistants, who are in this module, moderating it and helping it run. And for those who know what MOOCs are (massive open online courses), it’s a little bit like that, except it’s specific to our institution. And so, in this, it’s a way of reaching out to students, they oftentimes will earn a little bit of extra credit in their classes for faculty who really want to spread these ideas to their students. They work through these modules that do touch on some of these key ideas about… as far as multitasking, we tend to be very overconfident. You can’t learn by osmosis, you do need that directed attention. Instead of highlighting and passively hoping things soak in, get in there and do retrieval practice. There’s also a little piece of Attention Matters, by the way, that talks about driving safety, which was not really something we set out to do. But I feel like it’s, again, a relatable everyday example that people can say, “Oh, my gosh, I was in a bike accident by a distracted driver,” or “I’m very careful about this.” And students are very adamant, and have strong views that do funnel back to that idea of: if you let it, devices and distraction of all kind can really take over and create some serious consequences. So, that’s yet another way that we’ve been working to bring these ideas to students throughout the years. And yet another thing that’s given us a fascinating window into what students are already doing to cope with these things, and some of their unexpected attitudes and ideas about them.

Rebecca: The thing that a lot of folks are doing is they’re teaching remotely or trying to jazz things up in synchronous online classes is trying to play with the idea of gamification in their classes, which certainly comes from technology, and often from video games and then some experience around that. Can you talk a little bit about how faculty might use gamification in their classes? Or also how that works on students?

Michelle: Yeah, games and gamification has been such a topic for so long in how can we use technology for education? I know it’s funny, when I was doing research for Minds online, I actually went to a Musee Mecanique in San Francisco, as a sort of a background research. It’s this amazing Museum, that’s just whatever the technologies of the time were, and it goes back like 100 years, all these different games, physical games you can play there.

Rebecca: It’s a cool Museum,

Michelle: Oh, you’ve been there.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Michelle: Oh, my gosh.

John: I was too.

Michelle: People have used photography in games and gamification. They’ve used all these different ways of using tech to play. So this is not a modern concept. And so we’ve seen lots of attempts throughout the years to also harness it for learning… some more successful than others. It’s such a deep theme in those connections between mind-brain-learning technology. And so students, here too, they get pretty excited about it. And that’s a good thing for faculty who are looking to use games and gamification. Now it’s another where I think drilling a little bit below the surface is really beneficial. It’s pretty clear to me, from the research and literature so far, that what makes games effective, and what makes them so compelling, you know, elicits the time, effort and attention that you need for learning, it’s not the superficial stuff about the experiences, not the music, and it’s not just calling it a game. It’s not necessarily tacking points onto something, although points and scorekeeping is usually a part of most compelling games, for sure. But there’s deeper things about getting really rapid feedback, there’s the opportunity for friendly competition. And that’s something that I’ve really seen this year, because I’ve also been using quite a few quizzes and polls and things like that in my courses, too, that are remote, is that you don’t have to attach a grade to the game to get some students really into the idea of competition, while other students, there, it’s more anxiety provoking, or it’s just too much because they’re already in so many high-stakes competitive exams, where they can play for fun. And so those are some of the aspects that are important when people are thinking about selecting a game, setting up a game, bringing gamification in some way. It doesn’t have to all be cheesy, let’s make everything look like a video game. But really, that idea too, that mistakes are part of it. While we’re playing a Kahoot and you get an answer wrong, whatever, we’re doing something else in five seconds, and it’s not a big issue like a test question is. So there’s definitely that. And I would say, too, that students here as well, they can be a great source for insight. So talk to your students. Say “What aspects of this game are more appealing? less appealing?” and so on. And games and game culture too, this is something that I really get a sense that they’ve never had a serious, let alone academic, conversation about the role of gaming in their lives. Yet for many students, that’s an important part of their identity. It’s what they do to relax. It’s what they do to socialize now, quite frequently, especially with distancing happening. So, as weird as it might sound, let’s take games seriously. Let’s take games seriously as an important aspect of students’ lives. Let’s take it seriously as a road to learning. And let’s just keep exploring that because the more research that gets done, the more effective and beneficial features we find associated with games.

John: And the most popular games are those that students can work through. And no matter what their prior knowledge with that type of game, as you said, provides them feedback. And that feedback is targeted so that they can use that to improve and the level of the games are set so that it’s neither so challenging that they give up and get discouraged, but not so easy that they don’t have the sense of challenge. And that seems like a really good way of perhaps thinking about how we should design our classes in general, whether we include explicit gamification aspects or not, creating an environment that encourages students to actively want to engage with the material, and where they can see progress and see how they’re advancing. That is, in general, something that I think is a really important thing for us to contemplate at least in course design.

Michelle: Agree 100%, agree 100%. And that’s exactly what makes games compelling. What is about social media that makes people return to it again, and again, and again, hundreds of times in a day? And what features can we extract and adapt in the service of learning?

Rebecca: One of the things we talked about with Ken Bain last week was an example about the arts and how that might change someone’s thinking… an experience with a piece of artwork. So, I used that kind of example, to inspire a little activity with my students this morning. And I asked them, “Can you talk about a piece of artwork that has influenced your thinking?” And I gave them some categories. And I’m teaching an interaction motion design class, but I included visual art, but games were one of my categories. And some of the students put some really interesting examples about how certain games have gotten them to really contemplate interesting ethical questions, relationship questions, really interesting stuff. And they wrote really thoughtful responses. I had them basically write the name of the game and just a sentence about how it impacted their thinking. But there were some really thoughtful responses. And it was really almost surprising to me how deep some of those quick summaries of their experiences had been with games.

Michelle: Yeah, that’s perfect. And without the conversation, you wouldn’t have that window.

John: For many years, we’ve all heard lots of arguments from faculty about whether technology should be or should not be used in classes. The pandemic, to a large extent, has shut those down completely. And that’s been, for many of us, quite a bit of a relief not to have to deal with those arguments all the time. However, as we begin to move back into a more traditional onsite teaching environment where more instruction is taking place in regular classrooms again, what are some of the things that people may have learned about interacting with technology effectively during the pandemic, that may perhaps lead to improvements in how we teach our classes regularly?

Michelle: That is such a meaty question, and I think it’s one we’re going to see so much just rapid development of reactions. it ties into the whole question right now of what does instruction look like post-pandemic or whatever the next stage of the pandemic is? But yeah, what a good time to think about this. And you know, I can look at it too through the lens of faculty experience, I was kind of fortunate to have had my Zoom baptism completely by accident earlier in spring of 2020. Because I had set up this idea of having a lot of guest speakers in one class, and I got a huge response, which is wonderful, but I needed to bring them in. And I had always kind of said, “Well, if I’m going to Zoom, I’m going to kind of sidestep that. I’m going to let somebody else drive.” And I had to get over that really fast. And so I do think that it illustrates the value of some targeted, not totally strategically planned, practice with technology tools. And that’s just the kind of bedrock cognitive processes that, when you have something like being able to just run Zoom, or Collaborate or something like that, or have an online poll, your ability to do that while monitoring a classroom or answering questions, you got to have the practice in first, and our students are the same way. So we can think about, alright, whatever we’re going to have students interacting with or using or if it’s us that are using something, having that practice upfront and expecting that, once we’re on the other side of the learning curve, it looks very, very different. So that is one big part of it. On a much more conceptual or abstract level. I think that, this whole year, we’ve really needed to look at the students and their goals and why they’re there in the class in the first place, wnd why are they taking the course. That’s something I’ve written about in some of the shorter articles I’ve put out this year. I think the pandemic teaching was distinctive for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that you just can’t keep persisting with “Okay, I’m the learning cop here and I’m going to make sure everybody does things because I’m watching you.” At the end of the day. I found if my students… I hope they’re not, but yeah, they are in Zoom, they could be doing other things… they may be minimally attentive, and that is not good for their learning. And I do a lot of things to have a lot of different shifts in gears to bring in gamification. I’ve done a lot of things to do that. But ultimately, if the student wants to check out, they can check out to an extent. And I’m not saying I’m okay with that, but I think that we are going to be meeting students much more in the middle, instead of having a more adversarial relationship to their learning, I’m here to enforce what you have to know. I mean, we have to collaborate to have something like remote teaching the way we’re doing it, to have that work at all, there has to be more of a collaborative approach to it. So I know that that’s a very top-level conceptual type of answer. But I think that in a lot of things, we’re going to be saying, “Well, you know, what, if this is something that helps some students, and if I’ve talked to students about why they’re here, and they’re purpose driven, ‘I am here to actually learn and take something from this class because I need it for the next class.’” Well, that’s a great basis to springboard off of, instead of “how do I write the policy in my syllabus that will prevent any kind of behavior I see as undesirable.” And you know, so many people were already moving away from that, which I think is incredibly fortunate given what we’ve been through in the last year. But this may be, if not a tipping point, something else that pushes us more in that direction of saying, “Well, what are the policies there to do?” Yes, students have to pay attention to learn. And that is very, very clear during remote pandemic teaching, as well as everywhere else. But let’s maybe take some different approaches and have a different philosophy of how we get there.

Rebecca: One of the things that I also hear you hinting at Michelle is that during the pandemic, we’ve all had a lot to manage, we’ve had a lot of cognitive load. And so we have to prioritize, and we have to decide what’s going to win our attention. And so students have the same problem all the time, just like we have the same problem all the time, we’re just more aware of it now. They have multiple classes to balance, they might have family concerns, they might have jobs, and at some point, they’re making choices about what they’re going to attend to, and what they can’t attend to. And I think sometimes we always hope and wish that they’re attending to whatever we’re putting out in front of them. But that might not be the best choice for them at a given moment, based on the other things that are going on in our lives. And we just often don’t think of our students in that kind of holistic point of view.

Michelle: Oh, absolutely. That’s such an eloquent example of this way of thinking, and the things that we have learned and the shift in mindset that we may be on the cusp of. And that’s another thing that really underlies the approach to talking to students about technology that I’ve really come to adopt, which is the same-side instead of opposite-sides stance. Like you said, we do struggle with some common things. I’m caricaturing a little bit, but I think we’re playing off of an older mindset where it’s us, we’re were older, we’re in this position of authority, and here’s how we like to do things. And here’s this young generation, and they think, very alien to us, and they want to do something else, and we’re going to make them come over to our side… saying, look, we all get distracted. In class, I’m frequently saying, “Well, yeah, here’s something unpleasant that happened to me on social media,” even if I don’t tell them all the details. [LAUGHTER] The point is, yeah, I get misunderstandings and hurt feelings on social media, too. I end up in the social comparison that tends to be so toxic on places like Instagram. I get really, really distracted and sidetracked because I’m using the same computer for 20 different things all at once. And so let’s work together to see how we can address those challenges. And yeah, so I think that what you’re describing is, I think, a very healthy way forward.

John: Now that faculty have had a chance to get more insight into students lives, perhaps now faculty will be more understanding of those things in the future, because the classroom environment is somewhat separated from all that it was much easier to ignore those things and maybe faculty will be more likely to treat students as human beings, perhaps in the future.

Rebecca: Are you implying that the classroom is real life?

John: Well, maybe it may more closely resemble that as we move back into more traditional classroom settings.

Michelle: Yes, and I’m all for that.

John: We always end with the question, and it’s particularly relevant now, “What’s next?”

Michelle: As you mentioned at the top of our interview together, I am in the very final stages of completing the Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology book. So I’m really excited to having that book be coming out in the not too distant future. And I’m really throwing myself into a brand new professional role, which is as the Co-editor of the Teaching and Learning Series with West Virginia University Press. Now, this series has just drawn so many dynamic thinkers with so many practical and also evidence-based ideas that we can all use in teaching and learning and so it was a tremendous honor to be invited to take that role on and I’ll be working with the other editor of the series who founded the series and launched it all, Dr. James Lang, who has just been tremendously influential in the area of bringing evidence-based effective pedagogical strategies to so many people in higher education. He’s been this tremendous leader in that area. His writing is also amazing. So what an honor to get to work with him and with West Virginia University Press. Stepping into that role has taken up a lot and it’s been wonderful already. So that is, for the most part, what’s next for me.

John: And I think we could say the same about your writing based on your earlier book, as well as recent comments that Jim Lang made on Twitter about how much he enjoyed the clarity of your writing and your exposition in this new book and how much he’s looking forward to that being released.

Michelle: Oh, thank you, that’s so nice to say and being able to teach students and to talk to students for so many years about these issues was the inspiration that gave me ideas to work with. So, it all comes around.

Rebecca: Well, thanks, as always for joining us, Michelle, and sharing some of your insights and some of the work that you’ve been doing.

Michelle: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

John: Thank you, Michelle. And we’re looking forward to talking to you about this book as it gets closer to coming out.

Michelle: Absolutely.

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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.

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186. Super Courses

Students often see our classes as boxes that they need to check in order to graduate. By reframing our courses around fascinating big questions that students can connect with, we can help our students recognize the value of these learning experiences. In this episode, Ken Bain joins us to explore examples of courses that do this well.

Ken is an award winning teacher, the founder of the teaching centers at Northwestern, New York, and Vanderbilt Universities. He is the author of two very influential prior books, What the Best College Teachers Do and What the Best College Students Do. His newest, Super Courses, was released in March 2021

Shownotes

  • Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press.
  • Bain, K. (2012). What the Best College Students Do. Harvard University Press.
  • Bain, K. (2021). Super Courses: The Future of Teaching and Learning. Princeton University Press.
  • Andrew David Kaugman, Books Behind Bars
  • Deci, E. L. (1972). Intrinsic motivation, extrinsic reinforcement, and inequity. Journal of personality and social psychology, 22(1), 113.
  • Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (2001). Extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation in education: Reconsidered once again. Review of educational research, 71(1), 1-27.
  • Perusall
  • Hypothes.is

Transcript

John: Students often see our classes as boxes that they need to check in order to graduate. By reframing our courses around fascinating big questions that students can connect with, we can help our students recognize the value of these learning experiences. In this episode, we explore examples of courses that do this well.

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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 is Ken Bain. Ken is an award winning teacher, the founder of the teaching centers at Northwestern, New York, and Vanderbilt Universities. He is the author of two very influential prior books, What the Best College Teachers Do and What the Best College Students Do. His newest, Super Courses, was released in March 2021. Welcome, Ken.

Ken: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

John: We’re really glad to talk to you. You visited Oswego a few years back and people are still talking about your visit.

Ken: Oh, wonderful. I had a wonderful visit.

John: Our teas today are… Are you drinking tea?

Ken: No, my doctor won’t let me do that, and I haven’t had a good cup of tea in… oh my goodness… many, many years.

Rebecca: Oh, that would make me so sad.

Ken: Yes, indeed, it does. Me too. I can’t drink tea… anything that has caffeine in it.

Rebecca: Ah, total bummer.

Ken: Yes, it is. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I have about the strongest caffeinated Irish breakfast tea you can have. [LAUGHTER]

Ken: Oh, my goodness. Well, the last cup of coffee that I had was in 2002. I remember the date. That’s because it….

Rebecca: Oh, no…

Ken: …a traumatic experience, to go cold turkey.

John: Actually, that’s how I started drinking more tea. I had to cut out caffeine, so I started drinking herbal tea.

Ken: Well, I do drink herbal tea from time to time. I just don’t happen to have a cup right now.

John: I am drinking Tea Forte black currant tea today.

Ken: Oh, wonderful.

John: It’s really good.

Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss Super Courses. Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of this book project?

Ken: Well, my wife and longtime collaborator, Marsha Marshall Bain, suggested that we do a course around the Invitational syllabus, as we’ve come to call it, what we used to call the promising syllabus. And we began collecting those syllabi from around the world and began looking at them. And in the midst of that endeavor. Peter Dougherty, who is the longtime director of the Princeton University Press, contacted us one day and said, “Would you come down to Princeton, and I’ll buy you lunch?” So that sounded like a great invitation. And we went down. And he asked us what we were working on. And I told him and he said, “Oh, you’re looking for super courses.” And that triggered a whole avalanche Of reconsiderations of what we were doing, and we shifted the Invitational project over to the super course project, and began looking for courses that offered what we had been calling a natural critical learning environment. And we began that project back in, I guess, late 2007.

John: Maybe before we talk about your new book, you can talk just a little bit about the concept of an Invitational syllabus, since that was the origin of this project.

Ken: Oh, sure. It’s the idea of inviting your students into the class, rather than requiring them to come. And rather than focusing upon topics, it focuses upon big and enticing questions, so that the Invitational syllabus begins with an intriguing question, an important question, a beautiful question that students find so enticing, that they say, “I want to be a part of that.” And it becomes a self-motivating experience. So that’s part of what we meant by a natural critical learning environment, is the creation of that self-motivating experience where students would pursue things, not because someone was threatening them with a bad grade, or because they were just looking for credit, but because they became deeply interested in the question.

Rebecca: Can you expand a little bit upon the idea of the natural critical learning environment beyond just the Invitational syllabus?

Ken: Sure, we now have identified, oh, I guess, about 20 some odd elements of what we call a natural critical learning environment. And the first and most foundational of those elements is that it’s organized around those intriguing questions. And its intention is to foster what the literature calls deep learning, that is learning in which students think about implications and applications of what they’re learning and the possibilities of what they’re learning. It’s learning where students look behind the words on a page and think about all of those implications and applications and possibilities and how things are connected to each other. So that’s the foundational element and the chief goal of the natural critical learning environment is to create an atmosphere where students can, and will likely, pursue that deep approach to learning and they develop what we call deep intentions to learn. But, how do they do that? How do we get them to that point? So, what is the natural critical learning environment? Well, it’s an environment where they can try, they can come up short, and get feedback, and try again, without penalty, without any kind of situation where they are punished for coming up short. In other words, if you think about it, it’s the kind of learning environment that we expect, as scientists and as scholars. We try out things, and if they don’t work, if the data doesn’t confirm our hypothesis, we modify it and try again. And we’d be terribly insulted if our first effort out of the box was… and people would say, “That’s nonsense. That’s crazy. Go away.” We try things, get feedback, and try again, and so that’s what the natural critical learning environment does. It’s also an environment where students can work with each other. People learn in community arrangements, where they work with each other to grapple with the problems. And they learn… and this is another key element of the natural critical learning environment… they learn by doing. Sometimes that means learn by teaching. And by teaching, we don’t mean necessarily that they stand in front of a mirror and deliver lectures. In fact, the teaching that they develop often doesn’t even include lectures, it includes a way of fostering very deep learning on the part of other people by creating dialogues, creating exchanges around big questions that move students toward a deeper understanding and a deeper application.

John: Going back to that question of the big questions, because that’s an important part of the approach. I think you talk about that both at the level of the course as a whole in the Invitational syllabus, but also when you’re devising individual components of your course. Could you elaborate a little bit on what faculty should think about when trying to select those questions?

Ken: Yeah. And it’s more than selecting them. It’s framing them, and framing them in a way that will intrigue students. Now, some of the best super courses we came across were questions that sometimes began with questions that were much larger than the course and much larger than the discipline. But in the course of students pursuing those big questions, they discover that “Well, I need to learn chemistry to answer this question,” or “I need to learn history,” or maybe “I need to learn both,” because many of the super courses were multi-disciplinary, built around a big and complex and interesting fascinating question. And then the students would devise ways of trying to answer that question. And the professor would build an environment where they could progressively tackle those questions. They can run from the very simple to the very complex, one of my favorites, and one that I’ve talked about so much, and actually written about, going all the way back 10, 15 years ago, is one that we do mention, briefly, in this new book, but it’s joined by other really exciting examples. First, that old example, it comes from 2006. And there was a professor at Princeton at the time, he was a political historian and political scientist, and who wanted the students to examine the impact of that period we call reconstruction, in period from roughly 1865 to 1877, and to ask themselves, what kind of impact did that period have on subsequent political and social developments and political institutions? Now, as a historian, that’s a very intriguing question to me. [LAUGHTER] But I don’t think you will find many undergraduates who are just dying to pursue that question. So she didn’t ask that question initially. Instead, she built a course around a question that she knew was already on the minds of her students. Now you think about what was on the minds of students in the fall of 20006? …A big question. When I ask American teachers these days, they often can’t remember. [LAUGHTER] I recently did a workshop in China, and in far southwestern China, and they got it immediately. They remembered. But, the question was, basically, “What in the world happened with that disaster we call Katrina?” Now, there’s a lot of evidence that that question became the dominant question in American politics in 2006, 2008, and helped determine the outcome of the election in 2008. You look at Mr. Bush’s numbers of approval, they fell off the cliff after Katrina. So what caused that disaster? So she organized a course, she called “Disaster: Katrina and American Politics.” And students signed up immediately. It became an extraordinarily popular course. Well, how do you get from there to an examination of political history? Well, it happened on the first day. She went into the class, and the first question she asked her students was, “When did the disaster begin? Did it begin in August of 2005, when the storm surge hit New Orleans? Or did it begin in 1866 with the beginning of reconstruction in the Crescent City?” And with that question, she transformed their interest into her interest, and it became the driving push of the whole course. But let me give you another broader example of the book, A guy by the name of Andrew David Kaufman, who teaches at the University of Virginia, about a dozen years ago, organized a program he calls Books Behind Bars. His field is Russian literature, late 19th and early 20th century Russian literature. And that literature is quite famous for asking big questions, questions about: “What’s my purpose in life? What’s my destiny in life?” So what he does in this course, is the help students go into a maximum security correctional facility for young people, people the same age as the UVA students in the course. When they go into that prison, and they help those other young people confront those questions, by reading Tolstoy, by reading Turgenev, raising the questions, and then struggling with them in a class that they do for them once a week, ensure they learn Russian literature, by teaching Russian literature, and not by lecture, but by creating an environment, a natural critical learning environment, where their students, the residents in the correctional facility, will learn just as deeply as they will. And it’s a transformative experience, for both sides, and it changes lives, and it’s self motivating. That makes sense?

Rebecca: Yeah, these are really powerful examples. And I love that both of them have really strong ledes with the course title.

Ken: Yeah. And if you’ll notice also that both have appeal to a sense of altruism. And we discovered that many of these super courses do just that, even in fields like physics and engineering. They do things to help other people. One of our favorites is a course that some high school girls in a high school in northwest Los Angeles, developed for themselves. And the only help they had was they were invited into this program and invited to come up with a project. And they live in a relatively poor neighborhood. They said, “Well, the biggest problem in our neighborhood is homelessness. And we see the homeless out on the street and in the park and under interstate 5 that runs near the high school. And what we want to do is we want to create a portable tent that is solar powered, so they will have heat and the cooking facilities and light and so on and so forth in their tent.” Now to do that, they had to learn engineering. So they organized their own courses, they organized their own sequence of topics that they would pursue. Now they have some guidance. The teachers over there kind of giving them hints or answering questions: “Should we pursue this next?” But they learned everything from electrical engineering to programming, and lots of things in between. But they also learned just the basics of being an engineer. That’s transformative. They created it, and therefore they took ownership of it. Now, the super courses, and the super institutions that we studied, immerse a lot of what they do in the research on human motivation, research pioneered by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. And they argue, in their well documented research papers, that human beings have three basic needs and that if you meet those psychological needs three basic psychological needs… we have physical needs that go beyond these… the three basic psychological needs. And if you meet those psychological needs, people are just naturally motivated to try to learn. You don’t have to stimulate it, it just occurs naturally. And the problem is often that the way we set up schooling for people doesn’t meet those needs, it actually counters those needs. And so we get classes full of uninterested students, students who are signing off and not really becoming involved. And to address that situation, many of these courses deliberately use Deci and Ryan’s work to build an environment, where, what shall I say, where people are just naturally driven to do what they need to do. Those three needs, by the way, are: a need for autonomy, that is, we like to be in charge of our own lives. We don’t like teachers being in control of our learning. We want teachers to help us with it, that’s different, but not to control that. And beyond autonomy, there’s also a sense of competence. So people, if they feel like if they don’t know something, they can learn it. And they feel that what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset, that mindset that says, “I may not know this, yet, but I can learn it. I may not know calculus, yet, but I can learn it.” While the person with the fixed mindset says, “I’m not a writing person,” “I’m not a computer person,” “I’m not a whatever person,” and they give up. And they don’t try to learn and to push the envelope. And then finally, it’s the sense of relatedness, people like to be part of a broader effort, and an effort in the super courses that’s often larger than the classes itself, larger than the discipline… that they take on these large projects, because they believe that it can make a difference for themselves, and for other people whose lives they will affect.

John: One of the things that’s challenging, though, for a lot of faculty, is that we do have to assign grades for all of this. So we know ultimately, students are going to get these grades. And that tends to lead to more of a reliance on extrinsic motivation. What can faculty do to provide that sort of encouragement and to help create a growth mindset when students are going to struggle with some of the material at first?

Ken: Yeah, it’s to give them lots of opportunities to try, fail, receive feedback, and try again. Now, that seems really daunting to many faculty members. They say, “Now look, I have to two hundred students, I can’t do that, for all of the students.” But there are ways of doing that. And that’s one of the things that we explore in the book. It is difficult to describe, so I won’t attempt to do so in the conversations here. But, the courses develop ways for students to give feedback to each other. Sometimes they have students make an argument about their own learning, and then have each other to assess that argument and make an argument. And that second part that I mentioned, is really an important part of the natural critical learning environment, that it’s an environment where people deliberately learn to give themselves and each other feedback. So they set up the whole system of marks around that idea that students were going to give each other feedback on how well they’re doing. And they’re going to give themselves feedback. And that they learn to assess their own efforts and work through those. Often, in the course of the term, credit is often given for participating. That is, if you do the work, you get credit for. And only at the end, do you approach anything like a summative judgment that we usually call a final grade. One of the things that we do in the book is to explore the history of grading. And we do that to help people see that grading is, for one, a fairly recent invention in education. The idea of putting a number or a letter on someone else’s thinking, that didn’t emerge until fairly late and really didn’t become entrenched until the late 19th to the early 20th century, and that changed everything. So I want people to see this in that kind of context, that there’s nothing natural or automatic about having the traditional approach to grading. And so what people have done in the super courses, is find ways of saying “Okay, now you’ve joined a community, you’re going to be helping each other to learn and you have responsibilities toward that community and to help each other to assess each other, to give each other feedback… substantive feedback, not scores, substantive feedback to one another. And we’ll try to give you feedback as well, maybe as a group, maybe individually in smaller classes, but to give you that opportunity of trying, coming up short, and being able to try again, without that affecting your overall final grade. And then the final grade is based upon an accumulation of lots of things, and perhaps a final project, a final paper, a final presentation, or something of that sort, rather than just simply accumulating, you get 10% on this and 15% on this and 40% on this aspect of the grading.

John: How can we help students embrace the concept though, of productive failure, that process of trying something, making mistakes, and then learning from that experience. Because that’s something that many of our students don’t naturally come to, because many of them haven’t seen it before up to the point when we have them in class.

Ken: Yeah, exactly. And I think one of the keys is to provide them with very dramatic and enchanting learning environments, at the very beginning of their experience, so that the students say to themselves, “This is going to be different.” Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about… my favorite example of this category. It came from a program that was offered, again, in a secondary school. It is called city term. And it brought students from around the world together right outside of New York City, and they use New York City as their classroom. And the first Saturday in the program, they’re invited to go on a scavenger hunt. And they’re given a list of items that they might look for in New York City. One of them, for example, that they often use was: find the first wooden escalator. So students go off in groups, and there’s a teacher that goes with them, but the teacher doesn’t interfere, and just keep them safe. And beyond that the students go wherever they want to. It’s a wild and exciting adventure. And then at the end of the day, they end up in Central Park on a picnic, and they discuss with each other. “How did you find that escalator at Macy’s? What questions did you begin to ask yourself? Who did you talk to? How did you reason through the process?” And by sharing ideas with each other, what they’re actually doing is learning good research techniques. That’s a wild way of learning good research techniques, to say the least. But it’s something that the students will always remember. And they will latch on to that. And they will latch on to the course now, because that first experience was something that was quite dramatic to them. Now, we don’t all have the opportunity to use New York City as our laboratory or our classroom, and to take students on a scavenger hunt. But we can imagine creating a first assignment, and I’m reluctant to use that word “assignment,” because we found often that these courses don’t talk about assignments, they talk about opportunities, and invitations to students. It’s so exciting that it begins to break down all of their sort of stereotypes in their mind about what’s going to happen in a class. So in Andrew Kaufman’s Books Behind Bars course, they’re first asked to apply for the course. So they have to explain why they want to be in the course, and then helps to begin to break down barriers. And then the first day in the class, he begins to break down the barriers by first telling them about a three minute story about a young man who read a little short story by a guy by the name of Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy, and as we called him in the West, and about halfway through the story… in other words, about a minute and a half end of the story, the students began to realize that it’s a story about Gandhi. And it’s a story about an important transformation in Gandhi’s life as a result of reading a piece of literature. And so Professor Kaufman says to his student, “We want you to think about a point in your life, when a piece of art, maybe a piece of literature, maybe a painting, maybe a song, but some piece of art had a deep impact upon you and your thinking.” And the students began to discuss with each other. And they began to realize first, that this isn’t going to be a course where the teacher just talks to them and they take notes and then later take a test on whether or not they can recall the notes that they took. But it’s going to be a class that they will dominate, that they will do most of the talking and most of the thinking, and by creating a different kind of environment, you then can move to ultimately getting them to think about such questions as how are you going to assess yourself? How do you know whether or not you’re making progress, and whether or not you’re learning and you’re learning deeply. And the key point here is helping students to learn what it means to learn deeply, that learning deeply is not the traditional strategic learning… “oh, I learn this for the test. I’ll make an A on the test and I’ll make an A in the class.” No. it’s self-driven learning, where you begin to look behind the scenes, where you intend to look for ways in which this course can transform you and transform your thinking.

John: So essentially, I think what you’re saying is we need to help encourage students to develop more reflection on their work and on their learning process.

Ken: Yeah, I think so. I think that’s the key is getting students to think about their own learning, and help them with categories that will enable them to think deeply about their own learning… categories like deep learning, versus strategic learning, or surface learning. The strategic learner just wants to make straight As [LAUGHTER] and they’ll do whatever is necessary to make those straight As. The surface learner just wants to learn enough to pass the course, to be able to perform on an exam or write a paper or whatever it is that’s required of them. But neither one of those two leads to deep intentions, that I deeply want to understand how calculus works, and how it can help me in understanding the world in which I live, and how this applies to me, and my field and how it applies to my major, even though I’m not a mathematician, and how I can change the way in which I think. So developing those deep intentions. and fostering that deep development of intentions, becomes extremely important.

Rebecca: One of the things that you were just mentioning in terms of the strategic learners and the surface learners is how much many of our courses are probably structured with them in mind, rather than a deep learner in mind, and that we perpetuate these kinds of learners rather than deep learners based on our class structures.

Ken: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I think we began to break away from that, by the way in which we frame the questions we raise. You think about the example of Kaufman’s course. Or let’s take an example from physics. Eric Mazur, at Harvard, has pioneered a lot of the elements of the natural critical learning environment and super course. And the students in his course do not learn physics, by listening to lecture, boring or otherwise. They learn physics by doing physics. They do three big projects. And each semester of the course… it’s a two-semester course, some students take only one semester… but in either semester, they do three big projects and they’re massive projects. And they work with a team. Each student’s is in a team of about five or six students. And they work together to try to attack a problem. And each of the projects has a back story. For example, you’ve been contacted by a charity that was created in Venezuela, by a well known philanthropist and musician, who became quite convinced that music, and symphonic music in particular (being part of a symphony orchestra), is a transformative experience that can help very poor people rise out of their poverty, and to develop a different mindset that enables them to conquer some of the economic circumstances they face. It’s a program that now has about a million students worldwide who are engaged in it. But it has a problem, namely that some of the students are so poor, that they cannot afford to buy real instruments. Now, you’ve been studying waves and music is made up of waves. So, your team has been invited to create new kinds of instruments that can be made from things that you find in the junkyard. Now that new instrument has to be able to be tuned over to different octaves, has to stay in tune for a specific amount of time, but by creating these new kinds of instruments, you can help the young children. Now, that’s a compelling project. They learn physics and the physics of waves actually doing the project and demonstrating that they can do it. Another project is more fun than anything else. Do you remember the old Rube Goldberg cartoons?

John: I do. I don’t know if Rebecca does. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I know what they are. [LAUGHTER]

Ken: Ok. There was this guy. He was an engineer and he was also a cartoonist from San Francisco. He used to draw these cartoons, where you would attempt to do something very simple, like crack an egg, by a very elaborate piece of machinery, where balls would roll down ramps and would trigger gates that would open up other gates that would cause other balls to fall, and so on, and so forth. So it’s a very elaborate, unnecessary project. So on the Rube Goldberg project, so students are invited to create a Rube Goldberg type device to crack an egg… [LAUGHTER] something you can do very simply by knocking the egg against the edge of your kitchen counter, or your kitchen table. But no, you had to create this very elaborate project. Well, to do that, all of Rube Goldberg drawings and inventions were based on physics. That ball rolling down a ramp at this angle will acquire this speed, and it would open this door and would result in this hammer hitting this hammer that would cause this ball to roll down this ramp… and that would, etc, etc, etc. So you had to know the physics in order to create these absurd projects. But there’s a lot of fun in that. A lot of fun. And the first project they do, I think, is one was just strictly on fun. They build a racing car, and then race each other, like many of them did when they were back in the fifth grade. And they have great fun in doing that. Another one is one where they have to design a lock that other people can’t open. And they get points for 1. being able to keep other people out of their safe, and for being able to crack the lock of other peoples’ safes. So a lot of wild times. Now there’s a textbook that stands behind all of this. And the textbook is written by the professor. And it lays out everything that he might otherwise have said to them in lecture, and more. Now, how do you get students to read that textbook, 1. by creating these enticing projects, but another way you do it is by making reading of the textbook into a social experience. So Mazur and his colleagues created a program which is now available to everyone, called Perusall. And, using Perusall, students can read material together. So in the sense that, “Okay, we’ve got an assignment, we need to read to chapter two. We’re all reading it together, you’re reading it on your computer, I’m reading it on my computer. And as I read along, I may have questions. So I’ll highlight that text, I’ll raise the question.” It’s like writing in the margin, but everybody can see what you wrote. He organizes the groups into groups of 15 or 20 students apiece, and they can read each other’s comments and they can respond to each other’s comments. And to participate in the class, to be a participant in the class, what it means is that they will keep up with offering the comments to each other, and their comments on the text itself, making comments on what’s written there, to raise questions. to answer a question, so on and so forth. And what they found is that reading completion goes from 40 something percent at best, all the way up to 95 to 100% completion.

John: I’ve been using Hypothesis in my classes for the last three years, and nd it’s a very similar type too…

Ken: Yeah, there are several others out there.

John: And students really enjoy that, too. They enjoy seeing what other people are raising questions about. They enjoy answering questions for each other and posing questions to each other, and It seems to make the reading process much more engageing when it becomes this social activity.

Ken: Exactly. Well, that’s the whole idea. And then of course, behind that is this set of really intriguing, interesting, fascinating projects. And there’s a course at an engineering school in Massachussetts that offer a course, for a long time. They no longer offer the course unfortunately, but they offered it for over a decade, I think it’s called the “history of stuff.” [LAUGHTER] And the first day of class, the students go in and they see on the front table stuff. It’s the kind of stuff you might find by going down the aisles of Walmart [LAUGHTER] and picking things off the shelf, just a wild assortment of things. And they’re invited to come down and pick out one of those items. And then to begin to explore it, explore its history. Why was it created? What was it created out of? What materials? What kind of implications does its creation have for society? Does it just clutter up society and create a backlog of unrecyclable material that creates environmental problems of one type or another? Or exactly what is it? Students had a great deal of fun just exploring stuff. And the course ended up by looking at some of the history of technology through the lens of a well known American patriot, Paul Revere. But Paul Revere was also an expert in metals. And so they explore engineering of metals through the eyes of Paul Revere. And it becomes a way of mixing disciplines in a way that makes each discipline more intriguing and more interesting. Rather than “Oh, you study this, then you study that, you make no connection between the two.” Say, one more example?

John: Oh, sure.

Ken: There was a course we looked at in southwest China, and we went to the school, Southwest Jiaotong University, in Chengdu, and it was a course organized by a young woman who teaches physical education. And first day of class, the students are invited to think about what kinds of sports they enjoy doing. is in rock climbing. Is it soccer? Is it basketball? What is it? Now, can you imagine creating an exercise device that will make you a better soccer player, or rock climber, or whatever it is that you want to do… your favorite sport? And then the whole class goes to a sports equipment store, and they began to look at the equipment that’s already there. And then began to think about, “Okay, how can I create something better?” Now, as part of the team, it’s not just this PE teacher, but it’s also other people. Ah, you need someone from biology perhaps, to help them think about… “Well, what kind of exercising do the human muscles need? What kind of social environment do you need to create here?” So, you need other experts. And if you want to make this a product that can go on the market, maybe you need a marketing professor, who can help you devise a marketing plan of the new product that you’re creating. I told this story to my broker several years ago, and his response to me, was: “In Communist China?” And I said, “Yes, they have a market economy just like we do. And they’re interested in marketing and learning marketing. And they have marketing professors, just like we do.” And so they creates this environment where students learn by doing. And they learn by mixing disciplines, rather than keeping them apart. Much more interesting.

Rebecca: I love the move towards more interdisciplinary work….

Ken: Yeah.

Rebecca: …something that I feel really connected to, but it really gets people I think, more excited about different disciplines when they’re more intertwined, because we understand how they’re related to one another.

Ken: Yeah, exactly. So if you’re going to study the human brain, for example, how do you make it interdisciplinary? One of the professors, we studied taught in the medical school and taught medical students about the brain. But she was asked to create a course for undergraduates. This was at Vanderbilt. And so the course on the brain for undergraduates mixed every discipline you can imagine, together, because, as she argued, everything is connected to the brain. So you might be studying music, if that’s your interest, or whatever your interest might be. You might be studying ethics, if that’s your interest, and then you’re encouraged to think about what part of the brain handles ethical questions? What part of the brain helps you to appreciate and understand music? What part of the brain helps you to do this or to do that? So they’re studying all the aspects of the brain, but they’re also studying all these other disciplines, from Holocaust studies to a wide variety of other things, and raising deep ethical questions along the way. And she offered this course for 10 years, and it was a transformative experience for most of her students, the overwhelming majority of them, breaking down stereotypes and prejudices and helping them to also think more deeply about how their brain operates.

Rebecca: Sounds like there’s a lot of classes I should sign up for.

Ken: Exactly. I thought at one point, I was talking to some high school students about where they want to go to school. And I said, “Well, it’d be wonderful if you could go to a school that would mix all these super courses together. Because they’re strung out all over the world.” Maybe there’s a way of doing that virtually I don’t know.

John: Or maybe, as a result of your book, and other similar work, perhaps more faculty will start doing this type of thing and more of their courses.

Ken: Yeah, and perhaps, in designing a curriculum that includes professors from a wide variety of different disciplines, and students from each of those disciplines, working together in small groups, to tackle problems of physics, and then later tackle problems of the brain or tackle problems of history, or tackle problems of well, you name it… and have a opportunity to sort of tour super courses around the world. That would be a wild experience.

John: I still remember examples that you used here when you spoke at Oswego. And I remember examples when I first read your first book on what the best college teachers do, a while back, in large part because you weave in narratives, along with the theory and the reasoning behind these concepts. And I think the use of narrative helps makes the story much more interesting and helps raise curiosity and makes things much more memorable. Is that something faculty should strive to do in their own classes?

Ken: Yes, I think so. And the professor, I was just mentioning at Vanderbilt, I think, did that and created a course that was part history and part neuroanatomy and part philosophy and part literature and part music, but they’re all around narratives of one kind or another. Yeah, I think so. I think creating that narrative. Human beings love stories. And if we began to understand things, in terms of stories, then it becomes much more memorable to us. And we remember what we learn. And if you think about learning, it contains at least these three major aspects: we’ve got to encounter new ideas and procedures, and so forth, but we’ve got to encounter new material, there’s the encountering part. And the second is the making sense of it part where we relate it to other things that we’ve learned. And then the third aspect of it is retaining it long term. So we remember what we remembered, what we learned. And I think encountering all of this in stories, makes it much more memorable. But I think what the super courses do is they have students read stories to learn physics or history or other kinds of things. But they don’t tell them those stories orally, for the most part, they do not use lecture, to do that first aspect, that is of introducing the material. Usually, that’s all that happens in the classes, you’re introduced to the material and lecture, and you never get around, you never have time in class, for those second aspects of the “making sense”part of and the things that you might do to retain it. So super courses are built in a way that they spend their time working on those other aspects. Because the first one, the one of conveying the new information and ideas to the students, that can be done with reading, with films with other ways. But the part of struggling with meaning, with the teacher and with each other, that’s much more complex, and that requires a different kind of approach. And that’s what the super courses offer.

John: This project began with a collection of syllabi, and we should probably note that those syllabi do make it into the book as an appendix. So, not only do you have the stories of how these classes work, but it provides faculty with examples of how these things are implemented. In an Invitational syllabus.

Ken: We took excerpts from some of the syllabi, not all of them. But from a few, to give people illustrations of what we’re doing: one from math, one from the sciences, and one from the humanities.

Rebecca: We always end by asking, what’s next?

Ken: [LAUGHTER] Good question. Well, I have on my agenda, and I’ve been working on, a book aimed at parents. And the working title of the book sort of summarizes the whole idea of the book. Although the working title is 11 words long, andt hat is way too long. But we’ve got to find a way to achieve the same thing with a shorter title, but it’s: How to Help Your Kids Get the Best Out of School. Now we chose those words carefully, because the first task is defining what we mean by the best. And, in part, it means learning to learn deeply. So how do you help your kids to do that? And we chose one of many words we might have used for kids. We said “kids,” ‘cause it’ss short and to the point. We’re trying to shorten bold type as much as possible. And I’m working on that with a colleague, Mindy Maris, and we have a due date with Harvard press of 2022. So, that’s coming up rapidly. So we’ve got a lot of work to do over the next year and a half. But we’ve already done quite a bit of work in organizing that, and so forth. So that’s the next major project.

Rebecca: That sounds like an exciting addition to the collection that you’ve already have out, and rounds out the offerings.

Ken: And then somewhere in the far distant future I play out entirely, I would love to take all the we’ve learned and how to understand the best in any field. And that was a process in itself. How do you define the best and how do you collect evidence that something is better. I’d love to do a book that might be entitled: What do the Best Coaches Do? [LAUGHTER] and describe good coaches in a wide variety of different sports. But that would be my swan song, if I ever get around to it.

Rebecca: Thanks so much for joining us today and sharing some insight into your newest book. I know that a lot of our listeners will be looking forward to reading it soon.

Ken: Well, I look forward to hearing feedback from your listeners. And as we said, toward the end of the book, we hope that at some point, every reader will say “I wouldn’t do it that way. I’d do it this way.” But when they say that, we hope that they will base that judgment on strong evidence that that presents, whatever alternatives they come up, presents a better learning environment than the one we describe in the book. But, we hope this idea of a super course, is something that is organic, it continues to grow. And five years from now, somebody will summarize something about super courses today, meaning the super courses, 2027 or 2030. And may describe a much different book than the one that Marsha and I wrote. But it’s an organic process. And we’re looking forward to the conversation w e hope that the book stimulates.

John: Well, thank you. It was great talking to you again, and we’re looking forward to sharing this with our listeners.

Ken: Thank you.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Ken: Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure. Anytime.

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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.

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185. Model Online Teaching

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has identified 6 evidence-based criteria for model teaching. In this episode, Aaron Richmond, Regan Gurung, and Guy Boysen join us to discuss how those principles translate into effective practices in both physical and virtual environments.

Aaron is a Professor of Educational Psychology and Human Development at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Regan is the Interim Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Professor of Psychological Science at Oregon State University. Guy is a Professor of Psychology at McKendree University. They are the authors of A Pocket Guide to Online Teaching: Translating the Evidence-Based Model Teaching Criteria (2021) and An Evidence-Based Guide to College and University Teaching: Developing the Model Teacher (2016).

Show Notes

Transcript

John: The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has identified 6 evidence-based criteria for model teaching. In this episode we discuss how those principles translate into effective practices in both physical and virtual environments.

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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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John: Our guests today are Aaron Richmond, Regan Gurung and Guy Boysen. Aaron is a Professor of Educational Psychology and Human Development at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Regan is the Interim Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Professor of Psychological Science at Oregon State University. Guy is a Professor of Psychology at McKendree University. Welcome, Aaron and Guy, and welcome back, Regan.

Regan: Thank you, John.

Guy: Thank you.

Aaron: Thank you.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are… Guy, are you drinking tea?

Guy: I’m drinking coffee black tea. I guess that’s coffee. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: So I heard.

Aaron: My coffee is Dunkin Donuts coffee, kind of a guilty pleasure every morning. Currently on water. It’s a little bit late for me to be drinking caffeine.

Regan: Still pretty early here in the Pacific Northwest in Oregon. So, coffee it is.

John: And I’m drinking chocolate mint oolong tea

Rebecca: I was ready for you to say chocolate milk or something. I was like, “Alright, there’s no tea here.” [LAUGHTER] I have Irish breakfast today, heavily caffeinated.

Regan: Timely this week with St. Patrick’s Day and all that. So, yeah.

Rebecca: I try. It just happened to be the one open.

John: We’ve invited you here to discuss your new book together, A Pocket Guide to Online Teaching: Translating the Evidence-Based Model Teaching Criteria. A few years ago, you had written an Evidence-Based Guide to College and University Teaching to help faculty apply the model teaching characteristics that were developed by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In the new book, you shift your focus to online instruction. Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of this new book?

Regan: Aaron, you can do the whole origin story since really Aaron, being Chair of the task force that first kicked this off, can give us the whole etiology. So give us the origin story, Aaron.

Aaron: Well, of course, the origin story starts with Regan, [LAUGHTER] as almost every story starts with. And so Regan was coming on as the Society of Teaching of Psychology President which is a division of the American Psychological Association Division Two. And he had like 105 taskforce that he created for us to do. And I was in charge of somehow more than one, it wasn’t just the model teaching competencies. But in terms of this project, he really wanted us to create a committee or a task force to really kind of get at what is it that the model teachers are doing. They originally started in psychology, but then branched out into other disciplines for sure. But really, the call was, what are people doing? What’s the evidence behind what they’re doing that is going well and is doing great work, and all facets of education and Guy was instrumental in that it actually ended up spanning two presidencies, almost three, because it was such a colossal task and ask where that committee was a really good working group. We met twice a month, I think, there for a while. And then we were meeting once a month for two to three years, basically. And so after much, much research, much of it spearheaded by Guy, the task force came up with the model teacher competencies, and we published a couple of articles on it, a kind of a white paper for Division II STP. And then that was the catalyst for Guy, Regan, and I jumping into the first book, the model teaching competency book.

Rebecca: For those that aren’t familiar, can you just talk about what the model teaching competencies is?

Guy: I will say that my memory of how this came about is a little bit different. I kind of envisioned it as almost like a survivor Island type of deal where we were initially this huge task force, and then it turned into an article and a few people dropped off, and then it turned into a book and it was just the three of us. So it’s kind of like we were the people with the endurance to keep trying to push these model teaching competencies down people’s throats until they would sort of accept them. But we think we’ve got good stuff here. And that’s why we stuck with it as we really do believe in these competencies. Basically what we did on that task force is we tried to say, if you’re going to be a good teacher, what are the key things you need to be able to do and so we said, part of that is just being trained. You have to have a little bit of training behind and know some pedagogy. You have to have some basic instructional methods that you use. You have to be teaching content that’s relevant to what you’re doing. And you have to assess learning related to that content, put together a syllabus that’s reasonable. And then also just be asking students how you’re doing, so using teaching evaluations, both formative and summative. And those are the areas we agreed on. And then we defined it by breaking it down a bunch of different ways. And so, I think, to get back to the original question, I think we realized that these things work in the online format, but in our first book, we didn’t really talk about that context very much. I think if you pull out any sentence from our first book, it applies to online teaching, but we certainly didn’t talk about online teaching or LMSs or some of those specific things that would specifically speak to online teachers. So that’s part of the origin for the new book, I think.

Regan: To add to that, not only did it apply, but we didn’t make the connection. I think on the other side of the coin, there’s just so much that goes on in online teaching that is in addition to what normally goes on as well. So, there was a clear cut need for “What does this look like in an online context?” So even though we have six, there’s a nice number to wrap your heads around, there are six model teaching criteria. And you look at all six of those, and yes, they can apply to the online, but it’s a whole different thing when you say, “Okay, let’s actually start from online teaching.” And that final pragmatic piece as to how this came about is we were actually approached by the publishers to do a revision of model teaching, of the original. And this happened to just, if I remember correctly, when the pandemic was kicking off. And I think that’s important, too, because we were all thinking a lot about what does it mean to teach remotely? What does it mean to teach online? And we quickly convinced them or they convinced us and I think it’s more the latter, they quickly convinced us that, before a second edition, maybe if we could address online teaching explicitly, that would be better. And hence, the Pocket Guide. It’s not the full blown, it’s the “let’s explicitly look at online teaching and see what we can say.”

John: At the beginning of this book, you talk about how, at one point, each of you was somewhat skeptical of online instruction until you actually worked with it. I think that’s true of many people who went through the transition to remote or online instruction in the spring of 2020. Could you tell us a little bit about your own transition to online teaching, as well as how your courses were modified as we move to remote instruction in the spring of 2020.

Aaron: I had been teaching online for a very long time. And so I think the pivot for both Guy and Reagan was a little bit different than mine. I had other stressors associated with the pandemic, namely, having five people in my household full time, and kids learning on, and my wife learning online. But for me, I’ll let Reagan and Guy answer the question, mostly because I started teaching online in graduate school as a way to build my curriculum vitae and built my teaching experience. And so it wasn’t as big of a quote, quote, pivot for me, as it is for a lot of my colleagues.

Regan: Yeah, I think I will go in reverse order this way, because I think I’m sort of next up with somebody who had done some online teaching. I had taught online before the pandemic, but hadn’t taught it recently. And I think to fine tune your question, John, personally, it was just more of a question of not having done it as much. In fact, I think I’ll go on record as saying that if you asked me 15 years ago, what I thought about online teaching, before I actually looked into the literature, I had a very different take on it then after I looked into the literature, and then after I really did it. So, it was much more of a question of had done it, but hadn’t done it to the extent and hadn’t looked at the research on it to the extent that I’d wanted to, but that changed very quickly.

Guy: And that’s totally accurate to say that I was the least experienced, I’m fully capable of admitting that. And we have a fully online psychology program at McKendree, and I had designed courses, and I had been trained in the basics of online instruction, but I’d never done sort of a deep dive into the literature like I did when we were preparing to write this book. It was interesting, since in the last year, I’ve taught literally face to face, I’ve taught online, and I’ve taught various versions of hybrid. And then I taught whatever the heck last spring was, as well. So, I’ve gotten a taste of everything in this last year. And so I’ve learned a lot, both writing the book and having to teach in ways that I hadn’t taught before. So I had done the design component of it, and been trained a little bit, but had never actually pulled the trigger and taught a fully online course as an instructor before the pandemic,

Aaron: What I loved about the three of us, and I always love working with these two other folks. But we had this strata of experience with online education. And poor Guy even had the wonderful opportunity to learn a brand new learning management system like two weeks before the start of the fall semester. And when we talk about online education, chalk is chalk, right? But learning how to do certain grade things in an LMS, Guy was really kind of a little bit of a guinea pig, and it was nice to have those three levels of experience because I think we could get fresh perspectives for the book. I’m Quality Matters certified, which is one of the national certifications for online education, and then Reagan and then Guy with not as much experience, and so I think it was a really serendipitous opportunity for us because of that.

Regan: And just along those lines of serendipity, I think one of the things that the pandemic did was had many of us have more conversations with the experts on online teaching on our campuses. Here at Oregon State or e-campus program is one of the top five in the nation with our psych program being number two in online psych majors, which was great, which meant I could go in… actually, I was gonna say go in but during the pandemic, there was no going in anywhere but I I had all these conversations with wonderful people and shout out to Shannon Riggs and Kate Linder, wonderful people who’ve done a lot of work already on online teaching. And we have these conversations, great email exchanges back and forth that really informed, I think, what we then went and talked about.

Guy: I would be interested in hearing, we’ve never had this conversation, whattyou all think, Aaron and Regan, about whether people during the pandemic are actually doing the type of online teaching we’re talking about in our book, or if they’re doing something that’s more of like an emergency remote teaching, because I’ve noticed in my institution, there’s a lot of people who are basically teaching the same class, it’s just that it’s over a Zoom meeting.

Regan: [LAUGHTER] We could probably do a whole podcast on remote teaching versus online teaching. I’ll just say, in brief, Guy, you are absolutely right. What I have seen is the entire spectrum of instructors who are, somewhat alluding to what Aaron said, trying to make sure they can keep teaching. And I think everybody’s circumstances vary. And I think that resulted in a lot of variance in what those courses look like. Some of the courses would look like, I think, what we’d call online teaching, and what we talked about, and then there are others that are very, very quite clearly remote, emergency, doing the best “giving it all I’ve got, Captain” kind of stuff that are working towards it. And of course, now, literally one year later, I can actually see courses that have made that transition that were here spring term, that were here fall term, that were here the next winter term, and so on and so forth. But you’re absolutely right, Guy, it’s not. When you talk about online teaching, and in these conversations, I try very hard to keep remote teaching separate from online teaching.

Rebecca: The visual description of Regan’s hand was moving up, as he was saying here, here, and here. [LAUGHTER]

Aaron: Thank you. Guy’s trying to get us in trouble with our colleagues. I think that the short answer from my department, and we’re a large department, we have over 25 tenure track faculty, and then a whole army platoon of affiliates. Luckily, within our department, because we had a program that was Quality Matters (QM) certified, we had had a lot of core courses that were already certified. And then they were shells given to faculty members. And so in those scenarios, you had what we are talking about in this book, we had a really good pedagogy, a really good online teaching situation. But there was also other classes where, frankly, some of those instructors didn’t know what LMS stood for, had never used an LMS, a Learning Management System, didn’t even use PowerPoint, didn’t use a computer, like literally still wrote on the whiteboard. And so they had to rise to the occasion. And I think it’s more along with what Regan is saying, some of those folks were really just remote teaching, or doing some sort of synchronous teaching, and then some sort of asynchronous teaching that probably wasn’t the best practices. But that’s why we wrote the book.

Guy: Yeah, and don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily trying to criticize anyone in what they’re doing. But I do think it’s important to distinguish between what we ended up talking about in the book and what has emerged from some people who don’t have as much training in online teaching and what they’re doing, and are basically just trying to recreate their classroom in a synchronous video session.

Aaron: What we did in our department as well is we buddied up, in a sense, if there was somebody that had a lot of experience online, they would help build the course with the other instructor who had less experience or who needed more assistance, for sure.

Rebecca: I think one thing that you’re alluding to Guy that I wanted to ask about is the literature historically talks a lot about asynchronous online, and when we’re thinking about online education, that’s generally what we’re talking about, but there’s been a lot of experimentation over the last year with synchronous online, and it may or may not be trying to recreate the classroom, there’s a mix of people trying to actively use that environment to do active learning and these sorts of things, and then others that are perhaps resorting to lecturing at in a meeting kind of setting. Can you address that a little bit in terms of whether or not your book addresses the synchronous component, or if it really is focused more on this more traditional asynchronous aspect of online education?

Aaron: We do address that. Our book is organized by really three kind of different types of interactions: one is the student-to-student interaction, one is interaction with content, and then the other is interaction student to the instructor. And I was largely responsible for that section. And it’s a great debate. The whole synchronous versus asynchronous learning’s been debated for as long as we’ve had distance education. And so I think it really comes down to context and situation. For instance, students at Metropolitan State, typically 51% of them are first-generation college students. We’re a Hispanic serving institution, we have the largest military population in the state at our institution and over 60% work full time. And so we try to steer away from a lot of synchronous learning because they’re working full time… just restricting them to a schedule just doesn’t really work. But I think that really depends on the class, it depends on the institution, it depends on the department. And so it’s really contextually driven. And it’s really dependent on the situation. There’s pros and cons to both synchronous and asynchronous learning. There’s definitely engagement with synchronous learning. You could see this face to face, I just saw this meme, it was actually aTik Tok, and I’m not onTik Tok, but I saw a Tik Tok. [LAUGHTER] And it was basically the student walks into the college classroom, and they’re all wearing masks, and it’s like “Hey, professor.” And the professor kind of looks at him like, “Mmmm, I’m not making a connection.” And he’s like, “No, it’s John.” “…not making a connection.” And then he holds up a J in front of his face, [LAUGHTER] and he goes “Oh, John!” …and so there is this idea about synchronous learning and engagement that is really, really important, for sure. And having that one-to-one rapport and connection, but there are asynchronous things that you can do to also increase that rapport as well.

Regan: Well, I think that’s why this debate, not only is it a really interesting question, but like the three of us our motto is, “Well, what does the evidence say?” And I think we’re going to be taking a lot closer look at the evidence in the year ahead. Speaking of evidence, Fox and colleagues, there’s a 2021 report that just came out in January, that actually maps how the percentage of courses that were synchronous versus asynchronous, changed over last year from spring before and then to the next winter. And what you see is a lot of courses. And this is, of course, descriptive data, it’s not causal in any way, but what you see is a lot of courses that started off primarily synchronous, or exclusively synchronous, even remotely, started adding asynchronous components. So even though I think many institutions said, “Look, we were on campus, we’re going remote,we just do everything that we did remotely,” the context changes and you can’t just do everything that you did in a face-to-face class synchronously, remotely synchronously all the time. Now, how much of the time? Which classes? What can you do? Those are all the really cool questions that I think we are now taking a much closer look at.

John: Last March, a lot of people suddenly transitioned to either a remote or online format. But then many people, as we just heard, have been shifting to more and more asynchronous work. In your book, you talk a little bit about some of the challenges that people may face when they’re not experienced teaching online, could you talk a little bit about some of the adjustments people have to make to an asynchronous online environment, as well as perhaps some of the affordances, some of the advantages, that people have come to see, once they start teaching online?

Guy: Well, as the newest recruit to online, I guess I’ll start off here. And I would say my biggest challenge has been just the differences in immediacy between a face-to-face classroom and an online classroom. It’s just a completely different game to say something and make eye contact with students in different rows… front row, back row… and be able to tell whether they’re staring at you or ready to move on versus being online and you have to be reading a discussion board or looking at a quiz score. So it just doesn’t have that immediate feedback. And if you’re talking about the synchronous Zoom meeting type things, then really, it’s kind of soul crushing. I don’t lecture that much, but when I do lecture, and I’m lecturing to the empty space of blank Zoom tiles, it is truly crushing. It is just not an enjoyable experience. It’s just like talking to yourself. There’s some of that spark of immediacy that really energizes the classroom, I have found it difficult to recreate. But the engagement is just different, right? So the engagement might happen in a breakout room, rather than me talking at them in a full classroom. The engagement might happen on a discussion board or on a group project that they’re collaborating on using chats outside of things that I witness. So it’s different. But that’s the thing that was the most challenging for me, is the immediacy.

Aaron: I think I would add a couple things, too. I would definitely agree with what Guy said, I would think also, too, one of the difficulties in that transition is you have to be a little bit more cognizant about your time, and especially if you’re talking about asynchronous learning is like I grade a lot in the evening and at night, because that’s kind of my schedule, but my students, generally speaking, that’s when they’re doing most of their work, because they’re working during the day. So that’s one issue, I think. For a lot of new concepts, too, it’s really understanding time management. I think another thing is, and this is one of the things that Guy alluded to was, I have been teaching online for a very long time, and when I would have a student who had me as an online instructor first, and then took a face-to-face class with me, almost invariably, on the first day, they would come up to me after class and they’d be like, “Man, Dr. Richmond, you are not who I thought you were.” And I would say “What do you mean? They’re like, “Well, I kind of thought you were like this stick in the mud, but you’re kind of a short funny Hobbit.” And after that happened the first couple semesters, I became really aware of it. And really what Guy was kind of alluding to is how do we establish this rapport with our students? How do we establish immediacy which is actually nonverbal immediacy? That’s my hand gestulating, you know, all that kind of stuff, the visual things of teaching? How do we establish those things in an online environment. I think that’s one of the biggest adjustments that most teachers, when they pivot to online having never done it, struggle with, because they take all these face-to-face interactions for granted. They’re not cognitively thinking of how their body posture or the jokes they might use, or the eye contact as G uy was saying. And I still struggle with one of the most difficult things with online engagement rapport, and that learning alliance, as Rogers would call it.

Regan: Lets also add to that, in a face-to-face class, there’s that time before class starts, there’s that time after class ends, where you’re chatting, and you’re talking about stuff. But there are two very significant components to add, both in terms of teaching online, but also teaching remotely, it applies to both. I think the first thing is judging how much work is enough work or not enough work. And I think that’s a huge problem that we’ve seen, is the switch to teaching online or putting something into an online class. If you are not watching how much work you’re giving students, it’s very, very easy to have the tendency to say, “Hey, we’re not meeting for all this face-to-face time or synchronous time. Therefore, let’s have you do more assignments. Let’s have you do more of this and more of that.” And there are some really great time calculators out there right now that I think are important. Related to that, it comes back to there is such a great body of research and training done by instructional designers to help individuals with the management of how much to assign, but also, to get to what Aaron and Guy were saying, how to use all those different tools of a learning management system to try and do those things that you’re used to doing in a face-to-face online class. And there’s a wealth of tools out there in a learning management system. Yes, discussion boards, but even how you use discussion boards and all of that, and how you use chat, that you can do that. One additional thing, and this truly relates to synchronous versus asynchronous, not necessarily face-to-face versus online. But I think one of the things I personally discovered is how to leverage, you use the word affordances, how to leverage things such as the chat, and at first, I was extremely wary of the chat because I’m thinking, “Hey, I have 295 people in this class, is the chat gonna go wild and crazy?” And it went pretty wild, it didn’t actually get crazy. But on top of that, I can tell you what I relied on to look at and see in faces, I was now getting from comments typed into the chat. And I still want face to face. But I can tell you that having that chat open and monitored with rules of conduct, but students were responding in chat, the stuff I was talking about, that I normally wouldn’t see in a face-to-face class.

Guy: And just building off of that in terms of moving to strengths a little bit more. As someone who really loves assessment and appreciates data from students, my, there is a lot of stuff you can assess using the LMS. And I really appreciated being able to log in and see if my students had logged in and see what they had clicked on, and all of this granular information. I had a very small class, so I did not have to explore that too much. But in a larger class, being able to do that and set up agents to monitor them and email them if they’re not logging in, and all these different things you can do. It’s just a wonderful way to increase the engagement in a different way. So in some ways, it almost seems mysterious, now seeing a student every other day, in a face-to-face class, and not knowing whether they had to open their book or not. But if I was teaching a online course, [LAUGHTER] I would know exactly what they have done in between. And I could still have more LMS stuff in my face-to-face class, but it’s different than when it’s all based on the LMS.

Rebecca: So we talked earlier about the model teaching principles. Do they apply in online? Or how are they different in an online environment?

Guy: I said this earlier, but I would definitely say that you could pull out any one of our criteria, the individual ones from our original book, and not tell someone which format it’s in, and they would pretty much all apply. There’s gonna be a few things about teaching very specific teaching skills that might be kind of written in a face-to-face format. So I really do think, almost surprisingly to me, they really do generalize. Training is important in both. Intentional design is important in both. Intentional assessment of learning is important to both. Student feedback is important in both. And, if anything, one of the things I maybe found surprising was that actually what we were saying, however many years ago, eight years ago, nine years ago, when we first started this, is very similar to the stuff that the online quality matters and the instructional designers have always been saying about how courses should be designed before you jump into them. So I was actually a little bit surprised, I think, when I got into the online teaching literature, just how much overlap there was.

Regan: Absolutely. I mean a few words different. I look at a figure that I know normally use when I’m talking about model teaching criteria, and it says “classroom” in there, but apart from little words like that, everything holds. And actually one of the first things that three of us did was we took a look at our self-guided measure that we had created that was in the back of the first book. And we went through it and asked ourselves, which of these don’t apply? And most of them were in there.

Aaron: Yeah, principally, I think that it just holds water. And that’s the beauty of the model. I think you just tweak certain ways in which you accomplish those tasks or accomplish those competencies to the online space.

Rebecca: Aaron, can you give an example of one way that one of those needs to be adapted in an online space?

Aaron: I think the syllabus is a really good example. The online syllabus has changed dramatically in the last 18 months, it used to be a standard format, is you upload a PDF, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not speaking flippantly about syllabi, because that’s my bread and butter, I do a lot of research on it. But you might just load it up into the LMS. And “Hey, go check it out.” But now, I think we’re kind of deconstructing the syllabus a little bit. And really, a lot of people are doing it, where they’re really putting it to the “Start Here” module, and they’re deconstructing the syllabus to where it’s all these different components to it. You can still have a standard syllabus that somebody links on, and if they want to print something out, old school, and they can have, but you really are kind of reincorporating, that syllabus into a startup module, a “startup week one,” however, you want to organize your course. And you’re really kind of diving into it. So structurally, it’s the same, but functionally, how it’s delivered, changes. And I think that’s just one example of the principles there. It’s just how is it surfaced? How is it realized to the learner, it might take on a different form.

Guy: That’s really interesting, because even in I’m teaching in person this semester, and I found myself essentially designing courses, like online courses, where my syllabus is deconstructed to an extent. And I just put the pieces into various modules, so that students don’t have to necessarily go back and read the whole syllabus. So there is a sort of a weird transition, now, and this could be a positive of all this extra work that people are putting into transitioning remote and online is that people will take advantage of some of the things that are in LMSs is a little bit more. So if you wanted to make some money, you could probably start a company right now, or add something to Brightspace or Blackboard where you build the course in the LMS, and then it automatically builds the syllabus for you or something like that. That would be a great feature that I think teachers would love, you wouldn’t have to deconstruct one to make the other, essentially.

Regan: I wanted to go back to something that Guy said earlier that I think is really important in this context, and what Guy said was the overlap between what we all experienced when we read more of the other literature’s in online teaching. And I think far too often, many of us who only have taught in the classroom. And there are still many faculty out there who only teach face-to-face who haven’t taught online. They have missed out on a world of pedagogical practices that instructional designers have been really well aware of for a very, very long time. And so that overlap that Guy alluded to that we all saw, when we looked at that literature, I think, is just a great testament to the fact that there still needs to be some better coordination and communication between those people who talk about and train folks on what the better practices are. And right there when I say that, many individuals who teach online at most universities have to go through some kind of training, but few universities make people teaching face to face go through some sort of training. As somebody who works at a Center for Teaching and Learning, I wish there were more prescriptions to come in and take some guidance on pedagogical practices. So I think that’s a big deal there. Instructional designers have these things down that we could have used. And Guy, I had exactly the same experience about maybe 8, 8, 10 years ago, when I took a Quality Matters course and then immediately used all those practices for my face-to-face LMS. What a great world out there and we need to do some more cross fertilization.

Rebecca: Regan, I think one of the things that’s really interesting that you’re pointing out is we often think about the silos of higher ed as being disciplinary, but it’s also in terms of modality and between staff and faculty. So there might be research done by instructional designers, but somehow that lives in staff world, and it doesn’t live in faculty world. And there’s not a lot of integrations or conversations across those lines. And the pandemic has forced us all to talk to each other in these ways and troubleshoot more because we’re trying to solve some immediate problems. Being more aware of these treasures that are available in different silos that we don’t usually dip into can be helpful.

Regan: Absolutely.

John: And I know a lot of faculty at our campus have been attending workshops at rates they never had before, because they started learning about all these new techniques and tools, and many of them have said that when they go back to a purely face-to-face environment, they’re not going to teach their class in any way, like they were doing before, that they’re going to port this over. And I know I had the same experience several decades ago when I first started teaching online. All of the tools I picked up and some of the techniques have been used in my face-to-face classes as well. Going back, though, to that discussion of the syllabus, one of the things you note in your book is that it’s really important to provide people with more detailed instruction in an asynchronous environment than it would be if you’re meeting with students synchronously, because students are working on their own and they need more information. And I think that’s part of the issue that you’re referring to with a syllabus, perhaps, by building more information into it. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Aaron: Yeah, I think there are several strategies. We’re always going to compare face-to-face to an online or even a flipped or hybrid course, you have these side conversations in a face-to-face course, like you might have this little 30 second “Hey, don’t forget to do this” and “I want you to really pay attention,” “Work on your APA style,” whatever the case may be. You don’t have that at all in the online setting. So you have to create opportunities for that. And so one strategy that I’ve seen pretty successful is making mini short tutorial videos. Just like a six-line email, students are not going to watch a video that’s more than six minutes. I haven’t quite seen the research on this, but I can almost guarantee you, to a certain degree, there’s this Sesame Street effect, their attention spans not gonna be that strong. Because it’s in a video format. It’s asynchronous. So there’s not a lot of interaction. So I’ve seen a lot of people do assignment tutorials, just generally how to take a quiz, how to do an assignment, how to actually have a discussion, not “Well, I met the minimum rubric criteria and I responded to two people and I cited in reference my work, which is actually to have engaged into a asynchronous conversation. And so you see a lot of video tutorials. And here’s another thing about how principally it works within the model teaching competencies face to face, it just looks a little different in online format. The beauty about all those too is they can be the transcript, they can do a video and if you do it through YouTube or whatnot, you can get closed caption, you can get a written version of it. And so that’s one example I think of having to, what I call, make implicit procedural knowledge. So somehow, you’re supposed to know how to do it, but nobody tells you. And so making it explicit. And so those types of tutorials I’m pretty big on. I was slow to come onto that train a little bit, because there is a lot of upfront work. But once you get good at say Loom (that’s the program I use) or Camtasia, or whatever the program is, you can get pretty quick at doing a three-minute video, posting it, and you can also monitor if they’re watching it, and that kind of stuff.

Regan: And I just wanted to add something else that adds on to Rebecca, to the question you asked, that’s relating to this, which is, what are the things that are different and varied? And I think when we teach face to face, we take just the power of presence for granted. And I think we more implicitly think about what can we do for a student to student interactions. And I know that was something when we were writing this book and thinking about the online nature, if you’ve never taught online before… and really, that’s where we geared this book towards, it’s people who’ve taught a lot of face to face, perhaps, but kinda need to start thinking about what’s different in online. And I think that’s one of those big things that’s different with online, is thinking about, you don’t have people sitting in the same room physically, what do you need to do to explicitly build that student-to-student interaction, so that it’s not just student-to-content and student-to-instructor? But, what are those things we can do to make it an engaging student-to-student environment? And that’s a really big challenge

Rebecca: Regan, you’re making a really good point. And also maybe assuming that students feel that connection with students in a physical face-to-face class that they may not actually feel. But just because they’re in the same space, we make these assumptions. I think that being explicit, maybe we’re learning it for online, but it certainly applies to going back into the classroom as well. [LAUGHTER]

Guy: Yeah, and just to connect a couple different lines here, just with the explicitness of it, the engagements, you even have to be explicit in how you engage what the rules are, what the minimal standards are. It’s something that in a classroom that’s face to face, you say, “Okay, turn to your partner and talk and you can watch and see and they have whatever, two minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes, whatever it is, but online, you literally have to tell them, “Okay, your first comment is due by X, and then you respond by Y, whatever day it actually is.” And so there’s a little bit more of you have to be intentional about setting expectations and, I don’t want to use “moderating,” but really controlling… that’s not a better word is it?… [LAUGHTER]… facilitating the exact behaviors that you want. And I definitely learned that in the spring with the pandemic teaching and even a little bit with the online courses. If you allow students to post online when they want to it will be near the deadline and that’s not a great way to foster engagements. So, you have to design engagement. It’s really about intentional design. You can’t just walk into the classroom and wing it, like a lot of us who were experience teachers can do face to face.

Regan: And great use of the word design, Guy. And I think, really, that’s something that’s so important. Even when you’re teaching face to face, there is design. Teaching should not be an impromptu act, it needs thought, it needs forethought, it needs intentionality. Every once in a while I run into folks who go, “Hey, I really know my stuff well. What’s there to teaching? I step into the class and voila, there you have it.” No. Design, people. Intentionality.

Guy: Out of all the stuff that I picked up in the last year learning about online, the thing that has been most gratifying is this idea that your whole course is in the bag and ready to go before the first day. I’ve been doing that since day one of my teaching, and it’s so nice to hear reinforcement for that’s the way it should be done. And so I think that’s a message that, if we’re talking about learning from the experience of doing online in the last year, that’s definitely one that I hope gets generalized outside of the online environment, because it’s just so important for students and for the instructor.

Rebecca: As an interaction designer, I have to say, Yes, we should design experiences. [LAUGHTER]

Guy: Yeah.

Regan: I also want to be respectful of individuals who are in situations where, due to courseload, they cannot be as intentional as they would like, because of lack of training that they don’t know how to be intentional, I think it’s very easy to say that’s a good thing. But it’s really up to colleges and universities to help their faculty, to help their instructors be able to do those things.

Rebecca: It’s a heavy lift to be intentional.

Aaron: And I think I would add to that, as well is two things: one is that and maybe this is opening a different line of thought and questions, but the diversity, equity, and inclusion issue in online is real. And this is kind of related to it. I just read a couple different studies where they’re measuring, essentially in online learning, essentially what modality or what tools students are using, and it varies widely, but it’s somewhere between 40 and 80% of students are only using their phone to do an online course. I accept late work for partial credit and I do that because I don’t want to judge people’s excuses. That’s just not something I want to do. And I just got an email from one of my students that just said, “Hey, I’m going to be late, I understand the consequence, I’m sharing a computer with my roommate. I just got a positive COVID test, so I don’t think I should use this person’s computer…” which is like, of course, right? But I think we need to understand access, we need to understand bandwidth. When we pivoted in March of last year… our university uses Teams and to be honest, sorry, Microsoft, it sucked at the beginning, it was horrible. It took a massive amount of bandwidth. And if you didn’t have really high speed internet, you couldn’t engage in teams at all. So I purchased Zoom, ‘cause Zoom’s bandwidth was like I think a 10th of what Teams… and teams has cleared that up since then… but you have to think of things like those equity issues in what students have access to. And so I think that, in line with what we were talking about, in terms of intentional engagement, you have to realize that not all students can do those things. They just don’t have the opportunity or the access or the virtual bandwidth, the metaphoric bandwidth to do it.

Guy: I’m curious if anyone has read, if there is research on that, with online instruction, that students who maybe are coming in with some access issues if they’re as successful or less successful than students who don’t have those, because I think we’ve seen basically the same sort of stratification in terms of the health effects of COVID, the educational effects of COVID, I have friends who are therapists, and it’s the exact same thing for them, they have patients who are doing just fine, and they have patients who are doing really bad because of all kinds of other issues. But has anyone read research on that?

Aaron: I’ve seen a little bit on internet accessibility, but most of that stuff is in the K-12. My wife is a third grade teacher and teaches online remotely right now, and has the whole time during the pandemic. And she will literally spend hours with one student just getting them to upload a document. But I think that, going back to the original discussion about intentionality, you can build into your online courses, flexibility, and something that transfers from the MTC to the online setting, and whether that means “Okay, I have 12 quizzes, but I’m only going to take your best nine scores,” or “I have 10 discussions, I’m only going to take your best seven…” T here are ways in which you can build in DEI issues, if that’s related to it, where you’re flexible. You still have great standards and high standards, but there’s flexibility and autonomy within your course as well.

Regan: And I see a lot more sensitivity to the kinds of issues you brought, Guy, in online teaching that I see in face-to-face courses. Many online and e-campus programs do such a wonderful job of preparing students for the class. They acknowledge that the online course is different, and they do very different things. And I think, boy, just like faculty training, I think the more we can do to prepare students for face-to-face classes, the better. A long-term gripe has been: in college, we assume that those students know how to study. And one of my pet areas is study techniques and study skills, and all of the skills that we build. And I take a lot of time in my first few days of class to talk explicitly about how best to study for my course. And I think that a lot of folks who make the assumption that people know how to study, and I think together with the “how to study,” I think we need to be more aware of “Do you have access to the material?” Gosh, “Do you have access to food?” …is a big thing. Something that I think a theme that you’ve seen us mention many times that I want to underline is don’t take teaching for granted and don’t take online teaching for granted just because you’ve taught face to face.

John: We always end with the question, what’s next? And we’ve all been wondering that for at least a year now.

Rebecca: So please, please enlighten us. [LAUGHTER]

Regan: So I’ll tell you the writing that’s on the wall here, and I think what I can see in higher education. I think we’re looking at a new modality, remote teaching, and not just what can we take from remote teaching that can stay when we get back, but looking at that modality in and of itself, especially to get at issues that we’ve talked about, access and reaching people who may or may not be able to come in to some of our schools. I see the sweet spot in remote teaching that it unearthed new ways for us to connect to our students, new ways to share content, new ways to get engagement, that I think we need to capitalize on and fine tune and study so we can better use it. I think that’s what’s coming down the pike as far as I can tell.

Guy: Almost the same comment but maybe a little bit different terminology is, I posed the question is everything hyflex now? And so hyflex meaning that basically, you’re delivering all modalities at once to all students online, face to face, video, and the students can basically choose which of those modalities they interact with. And just to use an example is, for students who are in quarantine or what have you, this semester, we’ve been encouraged at my institution to zoom our classes. Well, that has expanded a bit in what students are expecting even in face-to-face classes to have accessibility to classroom videos. And so is that now happening for everything? Is that just something that students are going to expect from here on out? And is that necessarily a good thing? Because in small institutions, there’s not hundreds of students, it can be difficult to plan for a class, if you’ve got 15 students, and you don’t know how many are going to be there, and how many are not going to be there. And you maybe don’t have a classroom that’s set up to do both types of teaching. So it definitely is, I think, been useful for students who have to step away from the classroom for health reasons or for safety reasons. But I’m curious to see what happens if the student culture is going to change in terms of what they expect and if the teacher culture will change in what they’re willing to offer students who desire that type of flexibility.

Aaron: Yeah, one of the reasons that Guy and Regan and I work together a lot, it’s because we think very similarly. And we also have our unique perspectives on things. I think that higher education is gearing up for a paradigm shift. I think that there’s going to be massive differences in models in how we approach classroom instruction, brick and mortar versus a virtual environment. I think what the pandemic has done is, for some students, conditioned a new way of approaching their education. And I think you see this at the K-12 level, I think you see at this higher education level as well. And so I think that the schools and institutions that jump on this opportunity… we haven’t had a situation in which institutions can reinvent themselves in modern times, and I think this is definitely one of them. I think a lot of programs can reinvent themselves. And enrollment is up and down across the country. There are certain schools that are really getting hit. Community colleges are really taking a massive hit in the pandemic. And they’re having to reinvent themselves and figure out how can we do online instruction? How can we do this flex instruction? And so I think that, as a scientist, we are in a reinvigoration of scholarship of teaching and learning… how to do these different things. It’s going to be an exciting next five to ten years, I think, in higher education, from a teaching perspective, from the learner perspective, and from a scientist perspective about studying what’s going on. there’s going to be a lot of opportunities to basically treat the pandemic as a catalyst for change.

Regan: Absolutely.

Guy: In terms of opportunities, I think my response came off as pretty somber, but I would say there are some things I’m very excited about. So I’m the type of teacher who hates snow days. So I’m excited by the fact that we’re never going to have another snow day ever again. You never have to cancel a class ever again. Every single teacher knows what to do to replace a class that’s canceled for a snow day. And I’m really excited that more people who maybe would not have used an LMS in the past now are realizing the benefits of it. So, we’re going to have more people using those, which is, I think, only beneficial for students. And I’m hoping that more people are realizing that they can move a lot of the stuff that they used to just talk at students in the classroom, that they can move that online. So those are some of the things, as someone who’s still primarily a face-to-face teacher, that I’m excited about how online teaching will have a bigger influence as we move forward.

Regan: Guy said the word face-to-face teaching, and let me say something I’m excited by is that I don’t think there’s ever been as much scrutiny to teaching and learning as we’ve seen in the last year. And I love that. May that continue.

Aaron: I’ll second that.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us and sharing some insights from your book and getting us all excited about picking up a copy of your book and also really thinking forward to what is next for us as teachers.

Aaron: Thank you.

Guy: Thank you for inviting us.

Regan: Thank you, Rebecca and John.

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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.

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184. Engaging Students

As faculty we don’t always have the opportunity to talk to students about their overall learning experience and what has worked well for them as students. In this episode, Christine Harrington joins us to discuss what keeps students engaged, from their perspective, and how that ties to research on teaching and learning.

Christine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at New Jersey City University and the author of Keeping Us Engaged (and several other books related to teaching, learning, and student success). Christine has been the Executive Director of the Student Success Center at the NJ Council of County Colleges.

Show Notes

  • Harrington, C. (2021). Keeping Us Engaged: Student Perspectives (and Research-based Strategies) on What Works and Why. Stylus Publishing, LLC
  • Harrington, C., & Thomas, M. (2018). Designing a Motivational Syllabus: Creating a Learning Path for Student Engagement. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Harrington, C., & Zakrajsek, T. D. (2017). Dynamic Lecturing: Research-Based strategies to enhance lecture effectiveness. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Smith, Ashley A. (2018). The Persistence Project. Inside Higher Ed. March 13.
  • Pecha Kucha
  • Playlist of student videos student video presentations
  • Stylus webinar presentation on Keeping Us Engaged
  • Harrington, C. (2018). Student Success in College: Doing What Works! Cengage Learning.

Transcript

John: As faculty we don’t always have the opportunity to talk to students about their overall learning experience and what has worked well for them as students. In this episode, we discuss what keeps students engaged from their perspective and how that ties to research on teaching and learning.

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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 is Christine Harrington, an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at New Jersey City University and the author of Keeping Us Engaged and several other books related to teaching, learning, and student success. Christine has been the executive director of the Student Success Center at the New Jersey Council of County Colleges. Welcome back, Christine.

Christine: Thank you so much, Rebecca and John. It’s my pleasure to be here again

John: Today’s teas are:

Christine: I’m having water today, John, how about you?

John: I’m drinking vanilla almond black tea.

Rebecca: Hey, that sounds good. John, where’d you get that from?

John: I had it before on a podcast. It was a gift from my son at Christmas.

Rebecca: Oh, yeah, I think I do remember that. I love almond tea. I haven’t had any in a long time. I have Irish breakfast tea today.

Christine: Excellent.

John: So we’ve invited you back to talk about your newest book entitled Keeping Us Engaged: Student Perspective and Research-Based Strategies on What Works and Why, which you co-authored with a small group of 50 students. [LAUGHTER] Could you tell us a little bit about how this came about?

Christine: Sure, John, I would love to. In fact, I have to tell you, this is one of my favorite book projects that I’ve ever worked on. It certainly was not an easy task working with 50 different student contributors, but what a rewarding one. So here’s the story of how it came out. I think you know I served as the director of our teaching and learning center at Middlesex County College, which is located in central New Jersey for a number of years. And then I left and went to the state level, as Rebecca had shared. I was the executive director of the Center for Student Success. And then when I came back to Middlesex, I went back into my role as the Director of Teaching and Learning. And the last session that I hosted there, right before I took the new position that I have right now as Associate Professor and Co-coordinator in a new doctoral program on the Ed.D. in Community College leadership, was a student panel. And this student panel was so incredibly well received by faculty. After you do a professional development event, you always have a few faculty at the end coming up to whoever the presenter is and talking with them and engaging in deeper dialogue. Well, the line was [LAUGHTER], I think, out the door for how many faculty wanted to hear more from the students who were really sharing what worked for them in the classroom, and what faculty did that really made a difference for them. So inspiring, and so moving. So I was thinking that if this worked so well in a professional development setting, that we need to get this word out in a much broader way. We need to bring the student voice, which is the voice that is often missing. But it’s all professionals hanging out together, and excellent professionals and strong research. And I’ve always been kind of a research Queen in all of this, being very tied to only sharing research-based strategies with fellow colleagues. But the absence of the student voice was really something that just kind of was glaring, at that very moment. So I decided I wanted to try to embark on this process. And I’m so, so excited to share that this is out and the 50 students contributors who were just a joy to work with, an absolutely joy.

John: The mix of students is really diverse in terms of age, in terms of the modality in which they’re taking the classes, their geographical location, and in terms of ethnicity, gender, race, and so forth. You’ve got a lot of diversity in there in terms of students. How did you find that collection of students?

Christine: A lot of that was luck, actually. [LAUGHTER] So as it always is, right? I was really hoping to get a diverse group of students to contribute. But it’s really hard to make that happen. And I was really very lucky. I leaned on faculty colleagues, for the most part. So believe it or not, I went on listservs I went on the POD listserv, the first-year experience listserv to see if there’s anyone who was able to assist me and then I leaned on some of my professional networks. So I did reach out to people where maybe they invited me to present and they knew of my other teaching and learning work and I knew that they had direct access to students. So I kind of looked through my Rolodex… if you call it that anymore, right? [LAUGHTER] …of professionals, and I started to email people. And I would ask either teaching and learning center director type folks or faculty, “I’m embarking on this new project, do you have any students who might be interested?” …and I tried to emphasize to those faculty or directors that I was looking for a diverse group of students, but some of the students just answered the call. Some faculty just put it out there to their class. And then it all depends on who’s interested in doing this kind of work. And then, to be honest, I also, as a mom of college students, I had a little network myself, [LAUGHTER] in my personal world, so I leaned on my children and asked them if they would be willing to talk with some of their friends. I got to tell you, that didn’t lead to as many [LAUGHTER] leads as my professional role did, but I did get a bunch. And actually, when you lean on the moms a little bit, just kind of put it out there to some of my mom networks. “If any of your college students are interested in being a part of this….” So they put a little bit of pressure on their children to participate as well. So I got really lucky and I am really so grateful, to be honest with you, to all of my colleagues as well as the students because I wouldn’t have found all these students without the network that I developed. So I’m very, very grateful to everyone who helped me identify students as well as the students who were willing to engage in this process and become a contributor.

Rebecca: Thanks for sharing that process. One of the things that I know, in the land of design that we talk about a lot, is an inclusive design process. We talked a lot about an inclusive classroom, but we don’t talk about the design process being inclusive. And what you’ve just described is that inclusive design process where you recruit folks who are ultimately the audience of the education, to co-contribute or to co-write or to co-research and share their insights as part of the process. And so I really love that you’re modeling that in what you’re doing.

Christine: Thanks so much, I appreciate that feedback. And it is so important to have the student voice front and center. And I’m just honored to have been a part of creating this because I think it really is so critical.

John: Your book consists of five main chapters on the syllabus and the start of the class the first day, the power of relationship, teaching strategies, meaningful assignments, and feedback. Could you give us some examples of some of the research based-strategies that you discussed and some of the discussion that came from students about the impact of those strategies?

Christine: John, it’s interesting, I had a draft table of contents that I sent out to students. So I had some ideas about what kinds of stories I might get from students. But my initial Table of Contents had to get modified significantly in order to fit the stories that I received, because students would say, “Well, I don’t have a story for that, but I have a story for this.” So I’m like, “Okay, I shouldn’t really be dictating the path here.” So I started more with the research lens and trying to get the student voice to support it, and then kind of scratch that. And I had to instead lead with the student voice, and then I only wanted to really provide stories that were research based. So the good news is every single thing that came across my desk from students was grounded in research, it was not hard to look for that evidence, it was really just kind of a repackaging of it. But many of the things that we already know, such as transparency and being clear with expectations at the beginning. There were several students who talked about the syllabus, even if their story wasn’t about the syllabus, because many students said, “Well, on the first day of class, usually it’s a boring overview of the syllabus,” …there were several references of that nature, even though they weren’t talking about it. So people wanted to have more engagement on the first day of class, which we all know is really important, but to hear how powerful it was, from their perspective was critical. And then this one student really talked about how so many syllabi that he received were not clear in terms of what the expectations were, and then changed frequently. So it was like a moving target. So the lack of clarity, and the lack of transparency, really, in terms of what’s expected of students is something that I think we all know we need to be better at. But this student really just kind of put that wonderful perspective on the importance of that. So that would be one example. And you folks know, I wrote an entire book on a syllabus, so I could have gone on and on about the syllabus, but I didn’t want that to take over this book. But it was interesting to see how, without my solicitation, people are really talking about the power of those early actions. And not just the syllabus, John, but also the first day of class. So lots of students talked about the power of giving them opportunities to get to know each other, but not just in a true icebreaker format, but in a connected way to the class. So one student in particular talked about how on the first day of class, his faculty member gave them a survey and they had to answer all these random questions about their height. What did they think the average SAT score was of the class? How many siblings did they have, and was interesting because they give you a little window into their judgments of us. [LAUGHTER] And this particular student said, “Does he just need something to do for a few minutes like thi? He needs some time to get an administrative task and just try to entertain us for a couple of minutes?” But then he said, ”Oh, I quickly realized how powerful this was,” because it was a class that was based on statistical analysis. And they were able to use all of the class data really to teach the students about all the statistical concepts. So he saw the relevance immediately, because now it wasn’t these textbook cases with all these examples that aren’t meaningful and relevant to them. But it was actually their data. So their engagement was much higher. So that’s just another example of the research that speaks so highly and so importantly, about the first day of class actions and helping people feel comfortable. And there was one student he talked about this happening in a large class because I know a lot of times faculty will say, “This isn’t so hard to do if it’s a small class, but if it’s a large class, that’s not an easy task, and how are we supposed to make the students comfortable?” And this particular student talked about how they had a couple of different ways they could contribute and one that they could even do some dance moves, you know, just interjecting some fun into the first day of class and how memorable that was. It was really memorable and the emotion that they felt on that first day of just feeling okay made it easier for them to tackle the more challenging academic tasks that lie ahead and feel okay about that. Because now he felt like the faculty is approachable… they went so crazy to be dancing in front of us in front of the class to really show us that they care about us, like that really mattered. I know the other one that really came up several times, which is no big surprise, and I think you won’t be shocked by it at all. Just know me… you know… know my name, and how like blown away this one student was when their faculty member said, “I’m going to know all your names by next week” and not only knew their names, but knew something about them, and greeted them personally when they walked into class, blew them away, because they realized how big a task that is… simple on the surface, knowing someone’s name, but not when you have hundreds of students every semester. That’s not a small task as we all know. It’s easy to say and hard to do. So the effort that went into that was really, really powerful. And of course, I could go on and on talking about the meaningful assignments, That was another chapter that I thought I was going to turn that one into a whole book [LAUGHTER] Students have a lot to say about the nature of the assignments. And we don’t always think about assignments as an engagement tool, we think about them more so as a learning tool, we hope it engages them with the content. But, many of the assignments will beyond the content and engage them and so much more in their communities, if it was a service-based learning activity… making a difference. But you can see very clearly that many of the examples that they gave were about giving me something to do that had purpose. And that’s grounded in theory. We know that if you care about something, and you feel like there’s value in it, you’re gonna put forth more effort. So all of their strategies that they talked about had such good theoretical and research-based grounding.

Rebecca: With working with such a diverse group of students. I’m curious, in addition to changing how you were framing, how to get stories and how to frame your book, what else was really surprising about working with the students?

Christine: I don’t know if this is surprising, but the most rewarding part was how engaged they were in the process. And maybe that was a little surprising. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know how many students I was going to get. I didn’t aim to get 50, like I didn’t really have a goal in mind, I wanted to just get some students, and they just flooded in and they were so interested. And several students wrote more than one story. They’re like, “I have another story to tell,” I’m like, “well then tell it.” So I think the level of engagement they had and how excited they were about this opportunity, what that said to me was that students want to be able to write. Some of these contributors, they’re reaching out to me afterwards, they’re like, “If you have another project, I’ve loved working on this with you. I’d love to partner with you in the future. If you know about other ways I can get involved in writing, this was such a great experience for me.” So I think sometimes we forget how powerful it can be for students, I guess surprising was… maybe I’m surprised at myself for forgetting… that I was just so eager to help other faculty, I wasn’t realizing I was helping the students too. It wasn’t my initial intent, although I’m always about helping students. I was really kind of forward facing and helping their future students was my aim. But it seemed like I really ended up helping many of them too. So that was really terrific. And they were so open to the editing process, because that was a little challenging. Everyone’s stories came in in different forms and shapes. And I had to bring one voice to the overall structure, although I didn’t want them to lose their voice at all, in terms of their story. So I sent everything back to them to make sure they were comfortable with it. If you don’t like any of the edits I made, please let me know, I’m just trying to make it flow well here and everyone gave a little bit of “Who’s using this voice who’s using that voice.” And then sometimes I would also have to encourage them to give me more. So it was a little less personal, like a little more academic. They viewed it more like an academic task. And they were just telling you what the assignment was and why it mattered. I’m like, “Can you give me your voice a little more?” So I’d have to go back and ask them, “Tell me why that really mattered to you. You describe the ‘what they did,’ but I need to hear more your reaction. As a reader, and as faculty reading this, they’re gonna want to know what it was about that because that’s going to help faculty change.” And then as you probably saw, I asked everyone to end with a tip for our faculty: “If you were going to do this, what would you recommend?” So I gave them that structure. What was the strategy? Why did this matter to you? And then what advice do you have for faculty? And they really did find that structure, I think, to work well, because I didn’t have to do a tremendous amount of editing, just a little bit of pushing for some more. And once in a while, I had to cut a little bit of the story because it was too long, you know, [LAUGHTER] for page counts and all. So, I had to say, is it okay, if I have to reduce it, this part to me seemed less important. I want to make sure that’s the case, from your perspective, is too.

John: That seems to tie in pretty well with the chapter you have on meaningful assignments, because students saw that there was some intrinsic value in what they were doing. They saw that it had a purpose, that it might make an impact, and might make life better for people. Is that the type of thing that you and they address in the chapter on meaningful assignments?

Christine: So that was interesting. Some of the tasks that I got, I was not surprised by getting the authentic learning experiences, the service learning, experiential learning. To me, I really was expecting those. So that wasn’t shocking at all. But there was a student who talked about the importance of helping her develop her foundational knowledge. So when you see there are some tasks there that are really just helping them build some of the essential skills, which I know are important. I didn’t guess that students were going to write about those, they’re not always as interesting as the other kinds of tasks. So I was kind of a little bit surprised by that. Even the value of quizzes. And we talked a lot about that value, testing effect and how important that is, but students saw the value of that. And then the linking of formative to summative assessments was something that several students talked about. When their faculty built in these, what they call checkpoints, along the way, and gave them feedback on those assignments, so they could tell whether they were going in the right direction or not, they were incredibly grateful to that. And that kind of dips into the feedback chapter too. That was really great. Something I wasn’t expecting as much was the creativity, several students wanted assignments that gave them more room for creativity, and the value in that. Again, there was a student in particular, [LAUGHTER] who shared her inner thought process on day one. And again, it was a syllabus, the faculty member was going over the syllabus, and there was this whole big long series of assignments and activities that they needed to do. And I think she used some kind of terminology such as “is this professor trying to squeeze every little tiny bit that she can out of us in this short amount of time we have together?” …and oh my god, this sounds not so exciting. But then she said two things that really mattered to her: one was she was going to get choice in the nature of the final project. So she got to bring her own creativity to that. And the second was, everything was connected. So it wasn’t a series of unrelated assignments, they could see everything culminating in this final project that really did seem to make a difference, but also gave them the opportunity to shine in the way they wanted to shine. And you mentioned diversity at the beginning of our talk. I think one of the most powerful things we can do in terms of promoting equity is to provide students with more choice. Students often have very little choice in a course. They might have a choice about what major or curriculum, they might have choices, and sometimes not as many as they used to, about what to take within a curriculum. And then once you get to a course, your choices are often… not always but often… restricted to “What topic do you want this paper to be on? or presentation do you want this to be on, within obviously, the confines of the course matter?” But not always being flexible? Like why does it always have to be a paper? Is that the only skill set that we’re trying to develop is academic writing? What about writing for public scholarship or for organizations? This one student talked about this great example where she needed to write for her own work. And this resulted in the organization changing something that she was so hopeful would happen. But she said I would have never been empowered to have that conversation as a entry-level worker in the field with my boss had it not been based on this assignment. I was able to go in and feel empowered and say, “I have this assignment, we’re supposed to come in with a suggestion about something to improve the way that our world of work works. And I have a suggestion, and here it is.” And then they implemented it, and she was blown away. So when you think about that, it’s just amazing at how the assignments don’t only build skills, but they build confidence, they empower…. of course, they can also make a difference beyond the classroom when you allow it to.

Rebecca: Yeah, when students feel like, “Yeah, I can do this,” they just want more. You’re inviting them to the table, showing them that they can have a feast, and then they want more and more because it works out for them.

Christine: Absolutely. And quite honestly, you do that for organizations, they then value the work that we do more, and we can then create and establish stronger partnerships with those who we’re trying to serve. I mean, isn’t that kind of what we’re doing? We’re supposed to be partnering with industry more, and I don’t think we always do a great job at that. And then we’ll be better attuned to what kind of assignments we really need to have to meet industry needs. And again, I know that the entire degree is not just about workforce training and development and just career track focus. But we do need to be responsive to the needs of the workforce. If we’re not, someone else is going to step in and do it. So if we can be more creative and ensure that our assignments are aligned to what employers need, I think we’re also doing a great service to them too, and getting them excited about the partnership as well.

John: And students do sometimes appreciate being able to get a job when they graduate. [LAUGHTER]

Christine: Sometimes. [LAUGHTER] And their parents really do after paying all that tuition, right? [LAUGHTER]

John: When you were talking about the variety of assignments, and in the discussion in the book, it sounds really consistent with a UDL approach to teaching. Is that something that you would advocate based on what you’ve been hearing back from students?

Christine: Absolutely. I mean, I think this does go back to course design in general. So backward design, UDL,being aware of accessibility issues, trying to provide pathways for students to strengthen and shine at the same time. So I think that If you can do all of that on the front end… and students, they knew it when faculty were being careful and really carefully thinking about the curriculum, it was clear to them that this didn’t get pulled out of a hat. And here’s an idea for today to fill the space. But it was a thoughtful, clear process that was allowing students the freedom and flexibility of choice when possible. And I think, at the end of the day, isn’t that what backward design and UDL principles are all about? …is really ensuring that the learning outcomes are met in a way that all students can meet them. And it’s not a one size fits all, let’s be honest, it’s not the only way to do it. It doesn’t all have to be through this type of assignment, I think it can be many choices within those. Now, I don’t think that we want to just give a free for all, we do have learning outcomes that need to get accomplished. So I don’t want anyone to misinterpret my passion for choice to be that you shouldn’t be in charge of your curriculum. I’m actually not a giant fan of students co-creating the curriculum, because that’s a tough job. And it’s really exhausting. So I think faculty, as experts in the field, need to create their curriculum, but know where the choices can be made, to where students can engage in the decision making, I should say, But absolutely, I think backward design, UDL, all those principles, you can see them front and center.

Rebecca: We want our students to be thoughtful about the work they do, we need to be modeling that as well.

Christine: That we do… that we do. [LAUGHTER] I’ll tell you a quick funny story, Rebecca, I was just talking to one of my students the other day, and it was very sweet of her. It was a doctoral student, and she was saying, “I can’t believe how well this is all going. I love the way you structure your class. And I feel so engaged in an online class. And I forgot I’m even in an online class, because we’re always kind of connected.” And I said, “It’s not through chance that that happens.” [LAUGHTER] We work really hard. Me and my colleagues work really hard at creating this curriculum to ensure that that happens.” I said, “But I’ll tell you, ever since I started writing books on teaching and learning, I have to make sure I’m on my A game, man. Like, you can’t write a book on designing a motivational syllabus and then have a syllabus that’s pretty crappy. So I feel this immense pressure every time I’m designing a course, a syllabus, all these activities. You can’t write about engaging students, and then not engage them.” Like I got to practice what I’m preaching. So it is good for us to do that, but it’s challenging. It’s easy to say we should do it, and it’s really a lot of work as you all know. My husband always jokes with me, every time I’m getting ready to teach a class, he’s like, “Haven’t you taught that before? Like, why are you acting like you haven’t done this before.” And I always say, “But I knew I could do it better.” So it’s like, I spend like 80% of my time before the class starts prepping and planning and really structuring the semester and designing it in a way that, if it’s designed, well the rest should be kind of like I’m on autopilot. And then of course, you’re engaging and modifying and being flexible along the way. But the bulk of the work should be done before the semester starts if it’s planned well.

John: That’s what I always tell myself. And I’m always planning to do it that way. And what I generally will do is design the approach for the course and the first module. And then I get tied up with workshops and other things. And then I’m spending all my time during the course just trying to keep up with it. And it’s something I strongly discourage other people from doing. And I’ve tried to discourage myself from doing it, but I haven’t yet been successful.

Christine: The problem is, as faculty, we’re human too, right? [LAUGHTER] We are not perfect either. And it is hard to do that. And it takes intentionality. And when you’re in a position such as yours, you do a lot of professional development work, that’s front end of the semester, too. So everything’s at the same time. So I know when I was wearing that teaching and learning center director hat, it was even harder because I’m trying to help everyone else. And then they’d be all set. And I’m like, “Well, now what about my classes?” You know, I’ve got to take care of those do. But I’ve always tried to help others first and then you got to get there. But I’m telling you, when you do it that way, it is so much better. And I’m in a new program, so now every course I’m teaching, it’s like the first time I’m teaching it… for real, like it’s not just like it is. it is.[LAUGHTER]. And so, it’s exhausting. But I’m actually teaching a course now the second time and I’m like, “Oh, this is nice.” Course, I’ve revamped it. And it’s way different because I made a million mistakes the first time. It is important for us to do, but it’s so hard to do. If we could only practice that would be a much better position [LAUGHTER]… for the rest of the semester anyway,

John: Speaking of new circumstances, what type of teaching are you doing during this pandemic?

Christine: Well, I was teaching in an online program anyway, so I didn’t have to modify as much as others. However, I had to still significantly modify when the pandemic hit last year. We’re very lucky. We have a program that is asynchronous, but it has synchronous components. So we stepped up the synchronous components to serve as a source of support to students, which I think many others did too. All optional and recorded. So if they couldn’t be there, but they wanted to participate or wanted to learn or wanted to hear what others are saying, they could listen. A lot more one-on-one meetings I’m starting to do with students and small group meetings. Honestly, the small group for my own sanity, I was trying to do what was best for them at first, which was one on ones, and then at some point, I’m like, [LAUGHTER] “this is not going to be sustainable for me to do this as frequently as I want to, so I’m going to have to mix the one on ones with the small group meetings.” So for instance, right now, I’m doing 15-minute meetings with students, I started off hour, then I went to half hour, and I’m like, okay, 15 minutes, I think that’s the amount of time I could do and do regularly enough so that I can feel connected. [LAUGHTER] And I package that with these other small group and full class meetings. And I think that that seems to be a great balance for our students. My course I feel like was well designed from the get go. So I didn’t have to modify so much of the design. But because the pandemic, my students are community college practitioners and their world, like everyone else’s world in education, was turned upside down. And they probably would never have signed up to be in a doctoral program in the middle of this pandemic, [LAUGHTER] if they knew that was gonna happen. So even though our course is online, we still had to modify things significantly, in order to adjust for their life circumstance, we had to really take a good laser focus on what were the essential learning outcomes? and what could we let go and push them to another class down the road (because it’s a cohort-based model), and what did we absolutely have to get done that semester? So in terms of engaging students, I think, in the online environment, it’s usually a variety of synchronous and asynchronous, although you’ll see in my book, there are several students who really talked about the asynchronous online that worked well. But there are some more synchronous things that work well too. I’ll give you one example of a strategy that we used for orientation to the program and their icebreaker activity getting to know you, we had students do a Pecha Kucha, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Pecha Kucha, but for those who are listening who aren’t, it means chit chat. And it’s 20 slides, images only, 20 seconds each slide, we modified it as 15 slides so we can make it a clean five minutes each and we have them do a Pecha Kucha about themselves. So introduce yourself to the class for a Pecha Kucha, and my faculty colleague and I modeled it first prior to that day, so they could see what it looked like and then they had time to work on it. It was one of the best activities because we’ve learned so much about the students in five minutes, it was well worth the time that it took and it took a couple of class days to do that. But it was worth it. It was really, really valuable and students felt connected to each other immediately. So we were able to do that in an online format. We had done that previously in an in-person orientation, but it worked just fine online. And actually one student talked about the Pecha Kucha in the book too, so you can hear a student perspective on that as well.

John: In each of your chapters, you’ve got a nice mix of both discussion of effective strategies and student reactions to that and their perceptions of and how they’ve received those strategies. But you also include a section on faculty reflection questions. That’s not something I’ve seen in many books on teaching and learning. Could you tell us a little bit about why you chose it.

Christine: So, the more I’ve been reflecting on my own teaching practices and the previous role I held as Teaching and Learning Center Director, the more convinced I am about the importance of reflection. And even listening to the students’ stories that were coming in… service learning, for instance, as you know, that strong reflection component in that. So most of our learning really does require that reflection. And you just described earlier, John, how we can’t always even plan, nevermind reflect. [LAUGHTER] That’s a luxury item that doesn’t normally happen. And yet, if we don’t, we’re really missing out on something valuable. So I wanted to intentionally put those questions there for faculty to engage in self reflection. But I also anticipated that teaching and learning center directors might want to use them as good book discussion conversation starters, for faculty to really do a deeper dive and consider their own practices: In what ways do i do some of what the students suggested and what the research says works? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I read some of the things, the stories they gave, and I’m like, I used to do that and then I stopped doing that. I have no idea why. That was something I used to love doing and I just dropped it and I don’t know why. I guess something else filled it’s space. I had no good reason for it. So even reflecting on what we have done that really works and maybe revisiting and bringing some of that back, but then what we can do to really push ourselves a little bit more and thinking about it again, from an inclusive kind of lens as well… You’ll see throughout the book, I provide a decent amount, I think, of research and data that really looks at racial equity. And that’s a really important issue for us to look at. Let me just share one example with you, and this is actually comes from public scholarship. This is not a peer-reviewed scholarship research at all. I found this I think it was on Inside Higher Ed and I was so really impressed by it. A community college basically did 15 minute meetings with their students. So they encouraged faculty, it wasn’t mandatory, it was a voluntary, strongly encouraged kind of scenario. And they asked faculty would you do this 15-minute challenge and have one 15 minutet meeting with all of your students, and Joe in the book, all the specific data, but the main story is any student who had at least one faculty member do that had significantly higher retention and persistence rates. But when you did an equity breakdown,when you disaggregated the data, black students, the equity difference between those who had a faculty member do this and those who did it, it was even a more significant jump there in terms of having a benefit. So I think that those reflective questions help us reflect on our own practices, and trying to meet the needs of our diverse student population and gets you to think about who you can go and reach out to and what action steps do I need to take. So I felt like reflection was a great vehicle to process and hopefully push faculty into action, whether that’s through group discussion or individual reflection.

John: We always talk about the importance of students reflecting on their work and encouraging reflection on their part. It’s really nice to see you encouraging faculty to do it there. And that’s a really good suggestion about doing that with a reading group too, as a group discussion.

Rebecca: It seems like that modeling thing is trying to happen again, I don’t know.

Christine: You’ve got to practice what you’re preaching, right? [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I really love that the examples and stuff that students gave you were also really a reflection activity on their own learning experiences. So there’s a lot of layers of reflection built into how you have these chapters constructed.

Christine: Yes, absolutely. And really, I was not intentional from the get go, it kind of evolved throughout. I wish I could take credit for that completely and saying I structured in that way. But it just kind of happened, I guess, by the nature of the process. And I’m really glad that that did happen. And I’m glad to be able to practice what we’re preaching and trying to get faculty to engage in that process, too.

Rebecca: Christine, can you talk about any companion materials that you might have with this book, I know you’ve provided some great companion materials in the past.

Christine: Sure, Rebecca. So I was very fortunate to already have presented on this at a national conference. And as I was preparing to present on it, I said to myself, I can share their stories, but you know who would be better at sharing their stories would be the students themselves. So I reached out to my students, and I said, “Okay, the book is coming out, we’re really excited about it.” And many of them, I think, were frustrated to how long the process… we all always are, [LAUGHTER] you know, and then we had the pandemic that slowed us down even more. But anyway, they were so excited the book was finally coming out. And I said, “Look, I don’t want to ask too much of you, because I know you’re in the middle of still taking classes or you just graduated and have a new job. But I would love for you to share your story yourself so that your voice really shines through.” So I asked students, I didn’t get all 50 of them to do this, but I got maybe a dozen or so of the students who were willing to share a video. And what I did was I embedded those into the presentation. So when I gave this presentation at a national conference, there was a nice mix of me sharing some of the research and theory, me sharing some quotes from the stories and then also playing a minute or so video of students telling, in their own words, their story, which was really powerful. So I really love that that happened. So I do have a playlist that is available with the students, please. And I do have a recording of my webinar also with the student voices embedded into it. So I think that faculty will really appreciate that. And of course, I’m actually getting ready to do a conference, it may be my first real live in-person conference, again, post pandemic, this summer. I’m going out to a university and if I get out there in person, I’ll certainly be sharing those voices. So I’m so grateful to students who I can’t necessarily always take me in tow with to the conferences, but I can through the technology bring their voices to many different faculties. So I’m always happy to present if there’s any opportunities out there.

Rebecca: That’s really exciting.

John: Are those links public?

Christine: Yes, actually there on the Stylus website as well. But I can get them to you if you want to be able to link to them. That’s fine. I’m pretty much a public gal. So I share all my resources on my public website. And the videos are also public as well.

John: So we’ll share links to those in the show notes.

Rebecca: And then we always wrap up by asking what’s next? And it seems very loaded these days during the pandemic to ask that question. But what’s next?

Christine: Well, I just found out it’s time for the fourth edition of my student success textbook. So my textbook is Student Success in College: Doing What Works. And I’m really excited about this opportunity to revise that. Although I felt like the third edition was strong. I know I can make it stronger. And I’m really looking forward to that process. So that answered that question. I didn’t have to go looking for anything. Something came and knocked on my door and said it’s time. [LAUGHTER] And I’m working a lot with my doctoral students on public scholarship. So I really want to do more. You folks know I love doing presentations. Hopefully next is more in-person conferences and presentations because I miss that so much… getting together with faculty. I’ve been doing a ton of virtual events and I love doing that too. I don’t miss the plane part of it. Although right now I missed the plane part of it, but give me two or three trips and I won’t miss that part anymore. [LAUGHTER] But the physical getting together with folks is definitely something I do miss, I’m getting ready to present at the Midwest SoTL conference, actually next week. That one is on designing a motivational syllabus with equity in mind. So I have a lot of different presentations coming up. So my big book project will be the revision. And then I want to work on blogs and infographics, LinkedIn posts, things of that nature, on a variety of topics. You know, my passion is the community college, and really the diverse student population that we serve, to ensure that we’re doing the best we can to try to reduce equity gaps and increase student success.

Rebecca: Well, sounds like you’re gonna have a busy year… as always.

Christine: I know. Every time one project ends, another one comes. [LAUGHTER] And everyone tells me “You’ve got to learn to say ‘no.’” And I’m like, “I don’t really know how to do that, because you don’t say no to a fourth edition. You don’t say no to doing a keynote presentation.” These are things I love doing. And I’ve come to realize that this is going to be my hobby, too. I was feeling for a while that I’m a workaholic, and I need to have something else. And actually, my son said to me, “Mom, you get up at 4am and you start working, you wouldn’t do that if you didn’t love it.” He goes: “Why don’t you just pretend that really is your hobby.” And so I think it is. [LAUGHTER] I think it’s my work and my hobby all wrapped up and so on. And I do, I love what I do. So I enjoy it. I love it. So it’s all good. I’m just gonna stop beating myself up over the work-life balance and just forget about that. [LAUGHTER] So, it’s just what it is. [LAUGHTER]

John: I think that’s probably true for us as well, to some extent.

Rebecca: Definitely. Well, thanks again for joining us, Christine. We always enjoy talking to you.

Christine: Oh, same here. I really appreciate it. I’m so glad you folks continue to do this. It’s such good work. And I know that the faculty who listen are so appreciative. So thank you for your leadership.

Rebecca: Thank you.

John: It’s been a lot of fun. 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.

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183. Student Workload

College students throughout the country have reported substantial increases in their workload during the 2020-21 academic year.  Few faculty members, though, intentionally increased student workloads during this challenging year. In this episode,  Dr. Betsy Barre joins us to explore some reasons for student perceptions of increased workload.

Betsy is the Executive Director of the Center for Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University. In 2017 she won with Justin Esarey, the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education’s Innovation Award for their Course Workload Estimator.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: College students throughout the country have reported substantial increases in their workload during the 2020-21 academic year. Few faculty members, though, intentionally increased student workloads during this challenging year. In this episode, we explore some reasons for student perceptions of increased workload.

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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&hellip

John: &hellipand 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 is Dr. Betsy Barre. Betsy is the Executive Director of the Center for Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University. In 2017 she won with Justin Esarey, the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education’s Innovation Award for their Course Workload Estimator. Welcome back, Betsy.

Betsy: Thanks. It’s great to be back.

John: It’s great to talk to you again. Our teas today are:

Betsy: So, I’m not drinking tea. I’m having many cups of coffee today. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Well, it’s still warm&hellip

Betsy: Yes, that’s right.

Rebecca: &hellipstill warm, and still caffeinated. [LAUGHTER] I’m drinking Irish breakfast today.

John: And I have ginger peach green tea.

Betsy: Nice.

Rebecca: &hellipan old favorite. So we’ve invited here today to talk about your recent blog post that addresses the impact of pandemic instruction on student workload. Can you talk a little bit about how the pandemic has affected student perceptions of their workload?

Betsy: Yeah, sure. So this issue has cropped up for many of us. I’m sure anyone who’s listening to this podcast has&hellip maybe in the spring, but particularly in the fall… and I think that’s really interesting to that in fall it became an even bigger issue than it was last spring&hellip that we started to hear from students in our online courses, and in our blended courses&hellip not just online&hellip that workload was overwhelming, perhaps even double. And we heard it at Wake Forest. We started hearing it anecdotally. And then I would talk to my colleagues at other institutions who, of their own initiative would bring it up, that they had heard it anecdotally as well, we saw on Twitter folks talking about this. And then we at Wake Forest did an all student survey where we didn’t ask about workload&hellip we probably should have. But it was the number one thing that came up in their open ended comments when we coded those. And so it just reinforced this idea that clearly this is a universal challenge. And it was a challenge across our schools to, so it wasn’t just our undergraduate students, We were hearing in our Divinity School and our law school and our business school. And so something was going on. And it was really intriguing to me, because clearly students felt like the workload was overwhelming. But, and this is what we’ve all said. It’s not as if all of us just sat down and said, “We want to give students a lot more work this semester.” So I was fascinated by it, talked to a bunch of people about it, was thinking about it. I know you all have been thinking about it, and just decided to write some of my thoughts in a blog post. One of the great things in the response to that blog post is lots of folks have come up with other ideas that I think are just as plausible too.

Rebecca: Do you think faculty believe that they’re giving more work to their students?

Betsy: That’s actually a really interesting question, because that sort of premise of my blog post is that, and this was Jody Greene said “No one sat down to give more work to students.” But since I’ve written it and talked to some faculty, there are some faculty who are like, “Yeah, maybe I did, maybe I did give a little bit too much work.” And that’s worth noting. But there are just as many faculty, maybe more faculty who say “Actually I have given less work this semester, and I’ve tried to dial it back and lower the stakes than I have in the past.” And so the fact that there’s that large body of faculty that think they’re doing the opposite, and then the student perception is something different. It’s really interesting.

Rebecca: One thing that you just said, Betsy, about the lower stakes piece, raises an interesting question, because a lot of professional development about going online and using effective teaching practices talks a lot about low-stakes assignments and the ability to check in on things more often. But maybe they’re smaller assignments. Do you think that’s happening more?

Betsy: Well, I think it’s a good thing that it is. And my guess is, that’s part of what’s causing the problem or the challenge&hellip maybe it’s not a problem, but just is causing this sort of disconnect… is that our faculty, particularly many of our institutions, in the summer did a lot of professional development around good online teaching practices, and just good teaching practices in general. And also really emphasized&hellip at least at Wake Forest&hellip we really emphasize this is a pandemic, our students are struggling, let’s lower the stakes on things, let’s be understanding. And so one way to do that is by having smaller low-stakes assignments, so instead of a big midterm, you have multiple weekly check-ins. But of course, our students can interpret that as, “more work,” because if you’re just counting work by counting the number of assignments, then it is, by definition, more work. So, instead of one midterm, you now have five short assignments, that’s five times the amount of work. And so instead of counting in terms of how much time the assignments take, they could be counting and just the overwhelming number of assignments seems like more work. And I think that’s what’s going on, or at least part of what’s going on. And I’ve said to some people that this is actually a good sign that change did happen over the summer, because we didn’t hear as much about this in the spring. People kept their one midterm and their final&hellip at least I didn’t hear about it as much, maybe you two did, but I didn’t hear as much about it in the spring. But then they redesigned their courses in the fall. And the fact that we’re all hearing about this suggests that people actually did things differently. Now, again, it still could be better, but that’s kind of a good sign to me. Now, the question is, how do you dial that back? And how do we communicate with students about it&hellip all really complex, but I do think it’s that breaking big assignments into smaller assignments is part of a contributing factor here.

John: . And we know that students tend to do a lot of cramming, they tend to do mass practice, but we know that spaced practice is more helpful and that we know the benefits of retrieval practice. And that’s something I think that most faculty development centers emphasized with faculty. And I know at our campus, we had more faculty participate than we’ve ever seen. We had more people participate in professional development workshops than we generally see over a four- or five-year period. For the people who were resistant to professional development in the past, they were learning about the benefits of retrieval practice and space practiced, and learning about the benefits of using low- stakes exams, as you were just talking about, and I agree that that’s a good thing. But we know that the practices that students use to study tend to be mass practice, they tend to do repeated rereading, and now they’re being asked to retrieve information. And we know that students believe that that’s less effective, and it’s certainly more work for students.

Betsy: So your point about retrieval practice, and we know students believe it’s less effective to be engaging in this continual retrieval practice, I think is really interesting. And I think that’s what we’re seeing when our students say, “We have more busy work.” So it’s not just that there’s more work, but that’s actually more busy work. And part of what’s going on there is that they think that that practice that they’re engaged in is not valuable, if you are giving assignments that are about practice. And as students see it as busy work, that’s part of us communicating the value of this work, and helping our students understand how they actually learn, and how it will help them on the later exams, I think is really important. That’s not the only challenge. I think busy work isn’t the only kind of challenge. It’s also, I think, for those of us in the humanities, I think what we’re seeing is that the new tools we have available to us make it easier for us to hold our students accountable for doing all the reading, when typically, they wouldn’t do all the reading. And typically students wouldn’t say it’s busy work, but there’s more reading that they have to do than they ever had to do before. And so that’s one hypothesis as well. But I think another point about the busy work and the retrieval practice, moving one exam to 10 short assignments is, and I talk about this in the post as well, is that there is a sense in which that could be adding to your work, in that they have to keep track of it all. And I think our students are not used to having to keep track of so many assignments. So typically, as a faculty developer leading a teaching center, I may have a faculty member come to me that wants to redesign their course. And I make all these suggestions, and they do it and it’s fine. And the reason it’s fine is because, yes, it’s a little bit more work and a little bit more stressful for the students. But it’s only one course. But I think what we saw is that all of a sudden, our students were moving from five courses where there were three assignments to five courses where there are 15 to 20 assignments or more. And that was even more compounding the exponential growth that they felt. So I teach with lots of small assignments, I always have. Students would sometimes say this is more work than in a typical class, but they weren’t upset about it. They didn’t feel overwhelmed by it. That’s because again, it wasn’t five of their courses that were doing it. So it is a really interesting question of when we go back post-pandemic, do we want all of our courses to work this way? And how do we help our students readjust to this is the new workload? or this is going to be the new experience of the new workload? Or do we not want to do that? And I think that’s an interesting conversation for all of us to have moving forward.

Rebecca: I know one of the things that I’ve had in conversations with students, just anecdotally, but also in some of the formal research that I’ve been working on related to students with disabilities, is the time management piece and just trying to manage and organize all the moving parts that are on all these different platforms is complex, but also that moving with more materials online has resulted in more reading and writing&hellip

Betsy: interesting.

Rebecca: &helliprather than other modalities that we might typically use in a face-to-face class like face-to-face conversation, which to them seems really much more time consuming. And it may actually be more time consuming, especially if you have a particular kind of disability.

Betsy: Right. So there are a couple of things to say there. So I did say one of the things I noticed is when you read student concerns about this, they will often say things like “It took me this much time to do a discussion post.” And that’s, I think, really revealing for all of us to understand. We often think, “Okay, the discussion posts are going to take the place of the discussion in class.” But right now, I’m just talking to you two, and I’m not thinking very hard about what I’m saying. And in fact, if you created a transcript of this, which you guys probably will, I’ll be embarrassed to read it, because I don’t think it’s as coherent as I want it to be. And if I were writing a discussion post, I would think very carefully about how I formulate my thoughts and my arguments, and even proofread. And it’s gonna take a lot more time, if I’m actually writing it out. And I think that’s really important for us to acknowledge that discussion posts and a discussion are not a one-to-one replacement. Or if we want it to be a one-to-one replacement, then we need to tell our students, we expect you to treat it as if you’re not actually writing something that’s meant to be thoughtful, we just want to hear your opinions about this. So that’s one piece. But then in terms of your point about disabilities, I think it’s really interesting in that all the best practices for Universal Design for Learning, we can revisit, and I didn’t talk about this in my post, but I should have, so thank you, Rebecca, for sharing this wrrinkle. Because I think it’s an important part of it is that giving students options for how they can do this work will also empower them to do things that they think are most efficient for their time. So if they can do a VoiceThread or make a video, or one of the activities that some of our faculty have found very successful as an asynchronous replacement for discussion, is to just put students in groups and tell them, in your own time, you get together, have a Zoom discussion about the material, record it and send it to me ,that you’ve had that discussion. So they actually have a discussion. It’s just sort of asynchronously done. But in general, giving students options, it’s not going to solve every problem, but it does empower them to have choice, because there will be some students who prefer to write than to speak. But there may be something like “I’m tired of writing, I want to actually just speak.” And then in terms of the material, I think there was this recent meta analysis that just came out like last week about video versus text, which was really interesting. And as a humanist, I’m sad to see this, but it’s not surprising that sometimes video can be better for student learning than a text can be. Because I often think, “Oh, I’ll just give them something to read, and that will be the replacement for a lecture.” But maybe sometimes there’s a way in which they’d rather watch somebody talk about that material, rather than read about it.

Rebecca: Or by extension, just listen to the material, like in a podcast or something.

Betsy: Yeah, podcasts are a great opportunity. And we’ve heard students say, when I’m walking around campus, or when I’m working out, and it allows them again, to expand their schedule where they have more time to do things and no screen time, which is something they really appreciate because there’s so much Zoom fatigue, that being able to listen to something where they don’t read online and then have to watch online, they can just listen to it is a real relief for them. Absolutely. Unsurprising you all like podcasts.

Rebecca: Anything that gets us off the screen, actually, is something that I work a lot to do with my design students, because whether it’s a pandemic or not, we spent a lot of time on the screen.

Betsy: Yeah, fair enough. So you’re an expert at this. Yeah. You’ve thought about this. That’s great. Yeah, for sure and I think we need to think about that more.

John: But I know even for people who are teaching asynchronously before, some people have started using new tools. On our campus, for example, people who used to give students readings as a basis for discussions now are having students use hypothesis for the discussions, which means students actually have to open the reading [LAUGHTER] and actually respond to the text, which can take a lot more time than just skimming over the abstract and responding to it. And similarly, I’ve been posting videos for 20 some years in my classes, but now I’m doing it where there’s questions embedded in it, which means they actually have to watch them now for a small portion of their grade. So I think some of the tools that people are using may provide more learning, may provide more engagement, but also is going to take a lot more time than how people use them before. And you noted in your blog post that many students would be able to get by and coast to get the grade they want without doing a lot of the things faculty assume that they did. [LAUGHTER] But again, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. But it does require more time on average.

Betsy: Yeah, it’s a complicated question. It’s a self report, so it could be even lower than this, but just general self report on how much time students spend each week studying, it’s about 15 hours a week, on average, prior to pandemic, and that is for a full-time student. So imagining 15 credit hours they’re studying, it’s one to one, and many faculty assume or hope that it’s more than one to one. [LAUGHTER] But students are very strategic, they’re learning an important skill and figuring out what does need to get done and what doesn’t need to get done to be able to be successful in a course. And so certainly I appreciate that. But I think recognizing this disconnect is important because it helps us understand why faculty didn’t think they were giving more work, but students actually did have more work because faculty were mistakenly assuming that students were spending 30 hours a week studying when really they were only spending 15. And so being aware of that now helps us have a much more honest conversation about well, what do we expect the standards to be for students, and there are differences across different institutions and different programs. So our graduate professional programs are for folks who are working full time, have different sorts of informal expectations, I think, than others. And so it’s worth it for all of us to come together and to talk about that. But I will say I do think it’s just important to say&hellip I probably said this in the post… but we do know that the more time students spend on a task, the more they will learn. So it’s not just like we’re piling on the hours because we want to punish them or we think that’s just really what rigorous teaching is. It’s that actually we know you’ll learn more if you spend more time thinking about a text or practicing the problems, as you said, John, that this will help you learn more. So you obviously don’t want to expect so much that they can’t do other things they have to do in their life. So that’s the tension. I think my recommendation always be if you have to have a full-time job, you shouldn’t be a full time student, because that’s like too much work. So thinking about how do we calibrate the courses that students taketo how much time they’re actually able to put into it is really important. So yeah, I do think that that’s happening. It’s not the only thing. Again, I also think there are faculty who probably expect too much as well, because we’re not good at estimating how much time it takes for students to do things. I think Hypothesis is a great example. I use Hypothesis in my class, I love it. If you’re a humanist and you haven’t used, or if you have assigned readings and you haven’t used Hypothesis or Perusall go look it up and find it. It’s pretty amazing. But I think that remembering that, yes, it will make them read. So that’s extra time because they’re actually gonna have to read and they’re gonna have to read carefully enough to have good questions. [LAUGHTER] So they can’t skim it, as you said, John, but then all the time it takes to actually read everybody else’s comments, really remembering that and that’s where I as a newbie to online, that was like an aha moment for me when one of my colleagues who’s an expert in online teaching was like, “It’s not just the time it takes for them to write their own discussion posts, it’s also they have to read everybody else’s. There’s extra reading that’s involved.” It’s not just the text itself, but it’s also reading everybody else’s responses and so putting them in groups where they’re responding to fewer people or reading fewer people is a really useful tool. Again, I think probably all of these hypotheses are going on. And it’s worth us being honest about all of them, instead of saying, “Oh, it’s definitely the students,” or “it’s definitely the faculty,” it’s like we’re all in this together, and let’s figure out how we move forward.

John: A nice thing, perhaps, would be to give students information about how much time these tasks take. And it would be nice if there was a tool for that, [LAUGHTER] which I believe that you have created.

Betsy: So yes, we have a tool that actually we made pre-pandemic. But one thing I want to say, because a lot of people have used this tool, and I think sometimes people use it in ways that are asking you to do more than it was intended to do. And that it is very much an estimator. It is not meant to be a calculator, that is the exact amount of time that your students are going to spend on something. And it’s very broad. It was essentially just something that I was interested in creating as I was thinking about how much work I assign students in terms of reading and writing. And the original version of it is very much tilted towards reading and writing. So oftentimes, we hear from STEM folks like “What about problem sets?” And that’s and that’s just the Wild West in terms of how much time students spend on that, it’s much harder to get a handle on it, so it’s not there. But there are places in this estimator where you can add a new assignment that isn’t captured by reading and writing and just give your own estimates for how much time you think students will spend. And the main value of this estimator, I think, is that I found that many of my colleagues, myself included, are just not good at the head math required, we just keep adding these assignments, and we think we have a good sense, but literally sitting down and writing out like “Okay, they have to go to the library to get the source.” Well, it’s gonna take him some time to walk to the library and walk back&hellip like literally things like that, realizing how much time you’re asking your students, and then adding it up can be really valuable. And I would do it sometimes on the back of an envelope, but it was chaos. And so I thought, why can’t we just have a calculator that does that, So we have an old version of the calculator, we have a new version that my colleagues in online education at Wake Forest, Allen Brown, helped us work on to add in discussion posts and video lectures and other things so that it’s a little bit closer to what asynchronous online courses might involve. And it can be a tool for overall assessment, but also individual assignment assessment of like, how much time might it spend for them to do this type of reading or to do these types of videos. And if you disagree with what the estimator says, my favorite feature of the estimator is, you can manually adjust it. So you don’t have to get in arguments with us. Whatever your own assumptions are, you can go in there and put that in, and you’ll still be surprised with what the total amount is probably, at least I often am, that I’m giving more than I realized and I have to go back and make some hard choices. So hopefully, it’s a useful tool for everyone. But as John, you said, one of the best things about it is that allows us to better communicate with our students about what we’re expecting as well. And we’ve heard from so many students who have found it super helpful in the courses that have done this, both students who are struggling, but also students who are crazy overachievers, and who will spend 20 hours on a one-page paper. It’s a real relief to them. Even if they only spend four hours when they’re supposed to spend one, at least it’s four, and not 20. So it helps them manage their time as well.

Rebecca: One of the things that I’ve done, at least on longer term projects, that has worked really well for me and my students is having them keep a timesheet and asking them to divide out tasks. And I pose it to them so that we’re in the design field. So it’s to help them think about how they might price something in the future, so they know how long it takes them. So that’s how you get the buy in. But what it helps me do is see how long it takes them to do certain things. And realize it’s like, “Why did you spend this amount of time doing this thing that was really not important, as other thing was much more important?” And then you can coach the group on those sorts of things, which can be helpful. And along those same lines, one of the things that I run into, and this may fit more into the idea of problem sets or things like this is how much time students will try to problem solve a technical issue that they just aren’t problem solving in the right way at all. And so they could spend hours trying to do something that if they just asked a question… [LAUGHTER] &hellipit would have taken two minutes.

Betsy: Like ask for directions…. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah, so I’ve been reminding my students, especially since the fall, when we’ve been doing much more online,that, if you’re spending more than 15 minutes trying to solve this technical problem, A. take a break, you’re just going in circles, maybe come back and try again. But if you’re spending much more time than that, then that’s a good clue that you need to ask for help.

Betsy: That’s really smart. And really, I think, super helpful. And I think getting feedback from our students about how much time they’re spending is not just good at the individual level of coaching. It also is great formative feedback for adjusting our own expectations. Again, and it corrects the estimator, maybe you put it in the estimator, and has happened to me too. And I realized&hellip because one of the things about the estimator, it’s best about reading, usually, in terms of its reading estimates, but one of the central insights from the reading literature is that the difficulty of a text is just as much about students’ vocabulary as it is about the text itself. So I would guess “this is a pretty easy text for my second year students at Wake Forest.” And then if they’re all taking a lot longer, what I realized is that actually, I misjudged their familiarity with these concepts that would be in this book. That this book is actually harder than I thought it would be. So I need to up it in terms of the estimator to say “Actually, there are more new concepts than I realized that the students are engaging with and it’s going to take more time.” So asking the students is just as important as you communicating with them. It’s a two-way street for sure to get that formative feedback. I also think telling them about time management and struggling with time management. I’ve seen some really good strategies. I know our learning assistant center, who works with students, has some good counseling that they do with students about how do they create a master syllabus or kind of a calendar for when they’re going to do things. And I also saw somebody, I think, shared it on the POD listserv, but a strategy of creating a Google calendar with basically time slots for all of your activities in your course. And then students import it into their Google Calendar and move those around. So you would set it up like two hours for reading this text. And then they could move it in their calendar. And so that works for them. But they basically see the blocks of time that they need to set aside. And if they did that for every class, it would be even better, they could see “Oh, wow, this is 40 hours in a week, I need to set aside time to do this work.” And frankly, we should be doing that even before the pandemic. But we’re learning this lesson now of how to help our students manage time and due dates, and all of that, because it is a little bit more. And again, I also want to emphasize too, not just all the cognitive load of multiple assignments, but learning new tools also takes time. This is kind of your point about troubleshooting, Rebecca, like, if a student has never used the video function on Canvas, they may find themselves spending 45 minutes trying to get the video function to work, when that’s not in any of our calculations of their assignment. We’re assuming they’re just going to record the video and upload it. So being mindful of the time it takes them to learn a new tool in this scenario is also really important.

John: You mentioned the issue of reading tied to students prior knowledge and vocabulary. But that’s going to vary a lot across students. So I know a lot of people, when they include estimates from the calculator, will say this is an estimate of what this is, your mileage may vary and keep track of how long it takes you to do these things, and use that to adjust your future estimates of the time requirements for these tasks.

Betsy: That’s a nice idea too, to say you students adjust. So that’s really smart. I like that a lot. For sure, it varies across students. And especially, I mean, even thinking about students with disabilities is an even more interesting challenge. And there is an interesting question, I’ve had some good conversations about to what extent, if we’re putting that estimate… the average&hellip in the syllabus does that create problems for students who may be slower, they think that there’s a deficit. So you need to be thinking about how you frame it, I think is really important. And to be up front that saying it is expected and that is the normal course of things that we’ll all have different rates and this is a ballpark average. You can even put a range&hellip might be an idea too&hellip of ballparks there, but recognizing and saying it’s totally understandable that there’ll be jeans taking a different amount of time, because again, prior knowledge, not just ability, it’s all sorts of other things. How often have you read in the past? How often have you worked with technology in the past? Any of these things, they’re gonna make a difference.

Rebecca: One of the things that conversations about perceptions of workload lead me to is I wonder what the perceptions of learning are?

Betsy: Yeah, I think this is a great question. Because when we think about how students got “got by” in the past by doing less work, what they meant by “get by” was successfully complete the course and get the grade that they desired. If we actually ask them about how much they learn, I don’t know. I mean, that’s a really interesting question, would they say, “Oh, well, it takes more to get my A now&hellip” so that’s duplicating the workload&hellip “But, oh, by the way, I’m also learning more.” It’d be interesting to see. I mean, it depends on f the primary issue here is that students doing less work before and now they’re doing all the work we expected of them, then I think you would expect a lot more learning. But there could also be these issues of the pandemic, I’m in crisis, I can’t work as quickly. If those are the issues, or I’m overwhelmed by the multiple assignments, and I can’t keep track, then there may not be as much learning happening. So my guess is there’s probably equal levels of learning, it’s totally a guess. But in other words, that there are challenges to this moment that students learn less. But there are also things that we’re doing better than we have in the past that make up for that. But I hope that we get some good empirical data on some of this and think through it, because I do think that these strategies, while they are more work, are also probably likely to lead to deeper and lasting learning as well, if the students are able to do it. There’s also the challenge of students who just give up, and then get overwhelmed, and they’re just completely behind. And then they have no motivation to even do a little bit. And so we want to be mindful of that too. But if they’re able to keep up, I’m hopeful at least, that these things should, at least from the research, they should lead to more learning, but who knows.

John: In terms of student reaction, though, student perceptions of what’s most effective is often passive learning and repeated reading. Fluency illusion makes it seem that you’ve mastered the material without being confronted with some type of evidence that you really don’t know this stuff quite as well. And that all the techniques that we’re actively encouraging in teaching centers are giving students more feedback more regularly about what they know, and what they don’t know. And that doesn’t feel as good. And there was a study at Harvard about a year and a half or so ago, where they surveyed students on how they perceived their learning, relative to the actual learning gains they receive across both lecture-based classes and classes that relied on active learning. And there have been a lot of such studies where in general, the students believe that active learning is not as effective yet the learning gains tend to be significantly greater. So there is a bit of a disconnect between what students perceive as being effective and what actually is effective, which also can lead to that perception of busy work that you mentioned before?

Betsy: Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. I think, and this would be a whole other podcast you probably all have done all these podcasts thinking about this issue of student perceptions about learning. I think part of it is what they’re used to. There’s a lot of things that are going into helping all of us understand how we learn and what works and what doesn’t work. And so I think there is a hope for us to try to sort of bring them along with us, I guess I would say, I guess the valuable insight from the studies is that we shouldn’t take for granted that if students say they’re not learning, and if they aren’t learning, that we need to recognize that they may be. And so part of our job is to help them understand, with hopefully concrete evidence that we can show them, “Look, you’re actually learning here in significant ways” &hellipto help them understand why we are choosing these approaches. And it’s not just because we don’t want to teach or we’re lazy, or what are other stories people tell about active learning, moving forward. So I think part of the way we bring them along is to also acknowledge that sometimes there may be assignments that are not useful, and that there may be sometimes things that are overly burdensome in terms of time. And so instead of just always being “You’re wrong, students, you’re wrong here, let us tell you how it is,” to say, “Okay, let’s listen to our students” and say, “Actually, that assignment, it took more time than it was worth. And so we’re going to think creatively together about things that will work for you.” But also acknowledging that there’s a long literature on how people learn that should inform it, and not just perceptions that make a difference.

Rebecca: I think when I’ve even asked students about some of those things like “What do you wish you had more of?” &hellipthey do realize that when you have those little assignments to hold them accountable, and help them practice, I had students asking for more. In the fall, I had students saying “We had a few of those, those were helpful. We wish we had more of those.”

Betsy: Yeah, there’s no question. We saw that in our survey, too. And that’s the reality of anytime you do a study, it’s an average. On average, students think they’re learning less, but they’re always going to be students who, “Oh, I’m aware, I’ve seen this happening.” And they’ll be students who sort of totally missed the boat. But yeah, we saw that for sure. We saw students who appreciated the check-ins, but the number one thing that we saw from our students on various questions was that they wanted more opportunities to work with each other, which, normally, they don’t like that. And there’s literature, right? It’s like, “Oh, I want to be taught by a teacher and not my peer.” But in the pandemic moment when they don’t get to connect with their peers, like socially. So our students are back on campus at Wake Forest. But there’s lots of restrictions on what they’re allowed to do with each other socially. So especially for some of our first-year students who hadn’t made friends yet, this was their opportunity. Classroom collaboration was their opportunity to make friends. And so yes, it was tied to their learning. But they also really just appreciated it and said, “I want to be able to work more, they helped me understand the material more.” So they were calling out both the sort of friendship aspect, the social aspect, and saying, “Oh, it helped me feel more confident in the material, because I could ask questions.” So I certainly think it’s not a universal story, that students are upset about these kinds of active learning and small stakes things. But it’s more universal. I think that they feel like there’s a lot more work. And so that’s what’s so interesting. Rarely do you have a finding or experience where so many people are in an agreement about this. And so it’s just such an interesting thing that I have not met a person who said, “I felt like I had less work.” That’s kind of interesting. But there was one student in our survey, I think I quoted this in our blog post, that was really interesting, where she said, “The courses are easier, but they’re emotionally more difficult.” So the online courses are easier, but it’s emotionally more difficult and more difficult to try hard for. One of my hypotheses was that being in a pandemic makes our capacity to work lower. And so I think that’s part of what that person was getting at. Everything feels like more work, even if it’s the same amount of work. And I am guessing that it’s both that and also maybe a little bit more work too, that’s going on, I’m going to be curious to see what happens in the spring. We’re gonna do our survey again. And we did have some interventions where we talked about this, but there’s no mandates about what people are going to do. So we’re going to ask our faculty, again, what they’re doing. And then we’re going to ask our students and see if things got better. And hopefully, that’ll make us understand maybe which hypotheses are more or less likely to be true? Who knows?

Rebecca: If anything, at least, this is something faculty and students all have in common. We all feel like we have more work.

Betsy: Yeah, well, [LAUGHTER] and actually, we didn’t even mention this. And I didn’t mention in my blog post, because it was already too long, is some of this switch to low-stakes assignments also increases the workload for faculty. You don’t have to assess it all, but many of us are just used to that, so we look at everything and grade everything. And so certainly, we heard a lot on our faculty survey of “I cannot sustain this for another semester.” So, this semester, we may find that many of them have shifted back to fewer, larger assignments. So I’m not sure. We just heard some anecdotes, but I could see that happening too, for their own workload sake as well.

John: In addition to the trauma of the pandemic and all the issues associated with that, I believe you also mentioned the fact that many students signed up for face-to-face classes and just being in an online environment is going to make them less happy. And if you’re not as happy in that environment, it’s going to seem like more work.

Betsy: That’s right. Yeah. And this is where I had a throwback to my own time tracking that I did. Maybe five or six years ago, I did time tracking of my own time and I was fascinated because I wasn’t very good at predicting what I was spending my time on. If I didn’t like being in a meeting, I felt like it dragged on and on and on. If I was reading a book that was really exciting. I thought it was like this [finger snap]. But actually, if I went back, “Oh, I was actually spending a lot of time” or even just working on a design project, I would just lose hours staying up till however many hours in the night because it’s exciting to me, it doesn’t feel like work. And so my guess is that there’s some of that going on, too. And I will say in our survey, there was a group of students who were really unhappy with online learning in general, not specific teachers, not specific strategies&hellip that they did not want online. And so those students, obviously, if they had that much anger and sadness about being online, I can’t imagine that they would be excited and enjoying&hellip like, just another 15 minutes of online would be a slog for them, you know, and so I’m sure that things are slower, because they’re not enjoying it, because they didn’t choose it. And I think that’s a really important thing for all of us in higher ed to be thinking about is that, just because there are some students who are unhappy with online right now doesn’t mean that online itself is the problem. It’s partially giving our students autonomy and choice of how they experience their courses. And there are some of our students who just really want to be in person. And those students are probably also the people who really want to be socializing with their friends. And they aren’t getting any of that right now. And so they’re doubly upset, triply upset, like many of us, and that’s not a good position to be in to enjoy your work&hellip the work is really work. I’m sure that some of that’s going on.

John: I spent a decade working on our faculty assembly one semester. [LAUGHTER]

Betsy: I like that. Yeah, there you go. That’s true, right. Sometimes there’s something that just drags on. Time is tricky like that. Some of our students also commented on just sitting in their dorm rooms all day on their computer screen all day, and leaving to get takeout food and coming back. And they’re in singles, often&hellip a lot of them are in singles, because we de-densified our dorms, like it’s just not a great mode of existence. And so anything they can do to get away from the screen, as Rebecca, as you said, that I think is a really valuable strategy for all of us to try to incorporate into our courses.

Rebecca: I’ve noticed this semester, in my classes, I have really good engagement. They’re synchronous online, I can see people contributing. But there’s a lot less camera use this semester than there was even last semester with some of the same students. And maybe it’s the winter slog, “Oh, the winter won’t end.” But it’s just also just being on screen and feeling almost like you’re in performing mode. I think it’s some of that, too. I’d like to turn my screen off sometimes.

Betsy: I was just gonna say that for those of us that are in committee meetings all the time with our colleagues, like we’re still with screens on all day. And yeah, I absolutely think that there’s just an exhaustion and awareness that there’s another semester of this, we don’t know when it’s going to end. &hellipreally tough, certainly.

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

Betsy: Well, if I knew what was next for the fall, I’d be a millionaire right now. Who knows what’s next for the fall? I think that’s the biggest challenge for all of us, as we’re thinking about higher ed, in the near term, at least is what’s going to happen in the fall. But I do think with respect to the topic of this podcast, we often talk about when the pandemic ends. It’s going to be like a trickle, I think. There’s not going to be a sharp ending to it. But whenever we start talking about the future of higher ed in a serious way, I do think there’s going to be a very interesting question about how much do we expect of our students outside of class? And what is an appropriate workload? What is the nature of a credit hour? All of those kinds of questions should be on the table because I know for a fact that many of my faculty, even when they go back to in-person are going to want to keep using the strategies. They’ve read the research that we presented to them this summer, and they see that it’s valuable and that their students are learning and so it’s not as if the workload is going to decrease dramatically, I’m guessing, when we go back to in person, so we may need to have larger conversations about that in higher ed.

Rebecca: Thanks so much for joining us, Betsy. It’s always a pleasure.

Betsy: It was great to be back. I love this podcast. 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.

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182. Gender and Groups

When we sort students into cooperative learning groups, we often attempt to create balanced groups that reflect the diversity of the students in our classes. In this episode Olga Stoddard joins us to discuss her recent research that suggests that this approach can be harmful for female students in classes in which a majority of the students are male.

Olga is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Brigham Young University, a Research Fellow at IZA (the Institute of Labor Economics), and the Research Director at the Science of Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, and the Co-Director of the Gender and Civic Engagement lab at BYU.

Show Notes

  • Stoddard, Olga B.; Karpowitz, Christopher F.; Preece, Jessica (2020) Strength in Numbers: Field Experiment in Gender, Influence, and Group Dynamics, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 13741, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), Bonn
  • Zölitz, Ulf and Jan Feld (2018), “The effect of peer gender on major choice.” University of Zurich, Department of Economics, Working Paper.
  • Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead. Random House.

Transcript

John: When we sort students into cooperative learning groups, we often attempt to create balanced groups that reflect the diversity of the students in our classes. In this episode we discuss recent research that suggests that this approach can be harmful for female students in classes in which a majority of the students are male.

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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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John: Our guest today is Olga Stoddard. Olga is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Brigham Young University, a Research Fellow at IZA (the Institute of Labor Economics), and the Research Director at the Science of Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, and the Co-Director of the Gender and Civic Engagement lab at BYU. Welcome, Olga.

Olga: Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

John: …really pleased to have you.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Olga: I was going to be prepared and I have my mug, but unfortunately, it’s only filled with water because I ran out of time to heat it. [LAUGHTER] So, water for me today.

John: Tea is mostly water. We’re recording this in mid February when there’s a bit of a nationwide snow covering. And I’m drinking spring cherry green tea to set a better mood for the future.

Rebecca: I think that seems like a good plan. And for a change, I’m drinking Chai.

John: Wow. Okay, I don’t think I’ve seen you drink that on here before.

Rebecca: It’s not a common one for me. But it’s nice to mix it up occasionally. Of course my Chai doesn’t have dairy in it. So it’s just the tea part of the Chai

Olga: Is it flavored Rebecca?

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s nicely spiced.

Olga: Nice.

John: We do normally in our office have a variety of flavored Chai teas, but they’re safely locked up in our building. We haven’t visited in a long while. We’ve invited you here today to discuss your research with Chris Karpowitz and Jessica Preece concerning how the gender composition of teams affects women’s participation and role in team activities. Could you tell us a little bit about the study?

Olga: Yeah, absolutely. So this study was a collaboration with a top 10 accounting program in the US. We partnered with them to randomly assign different gender compositions of teams in this program. So, like many programs in the US, especially business programs, like MBA programs, this particular program relies on a pedagogical group-based approach in which students are assigned into teams, in this case, teams of five. And they work together quite intensively throughout the semester. So throughout the four months that’s their first semester in the program, they work on assignments together, they meet socially outside of the classroom, they even do some of the exams as a group. And so there’s a lot of interaction between those students within those seats. for that period of four months. Normally, because this program has a really small percentage of women, so about 25% of the students in the program are women, the way that these groups had been formed in the past is to assign one woman per group, so as to sort of dilute the women, to have men have experience in an academic and professional setting interacting with women. There is some prior research in the laboratory that has shown that this really is detrimental for women’s ability to be influential, for their willingness to participate, to be engaged. And so what we wanted to do is we wanted to test whether that laboratory evidence plays out in a similar way in the, so to speak, real world setting, more naturally occurring kind of environment. So we partnered with the program and randomly assigned some women to be in the condition where they were the only woman in the group. So the status quo, this is how things have been done. One woman and four men in a five person group, and then other women were randomly assigned to be in a condition where they were in the majority. So there were three women and two men in a five person group. We then tracked these students for the following two years. We had them complete monthly surveys and peer evaluations of their group members. We had them come into the laboratory twice a semester, where we had them work on a team-building exercise, and we watched who’s participating. These exercises were recorded, so we could see who’s speaking, who is interrupting, with speaking for how long. so that we could precisely measure women’s participation, but also measure their level of influence. Because on these tasks, the way that we designed them, women could exert more or less influence depending on certain decisions they make. So we had different ways to measure their level of influence, their participation, and whether others perceive them to be influential, and sort of more like leaders in the group. And so we did that for the following two years. We had two cohorts of students participate in the study. And what we found is that women who were randomly assigned to be the lone woman in the group were perceived to be significantly less influential, and were actually exerting a lot less influence in the group than the equally qualified women who had been assigned to be in the majority in their group. And so we saw really striking differences across those two conditions. Again, these are equally qualified, very well prepared academically women. This program is very competitive. They have prior leadership experience. And yet we find these huge differences across the two conditions in our case, depending on whether women were in the minority or the majority, they were seen significantly less influential by their peers.

Rebecca: Was the perception of the women in the groups different from the start of the study or the beginning of the group formation versus the end of the group formation? Or was it kind of consistent?

Olga: Yeah, that’s a good question. So one advantage of our study is that we can track these students over a relatively long period of time. Most laboratory studies up to date have relied on sort of these one-shot types of interactions, where strangers meet for a period of an hour or so and never interact again. One thing we wanted to know is do these patterns that had been observed in the lab to date, exacerbate over time, or do things get better as team members get to know each other, they get to experience women’s authority or their expertise. And what we found is that it’s mixed evidence on this. So in these surveys, these are monthly surveys that students have to fill out about each other… we call them peer evaluations… and in these peer evaluations, we ask them “Who is the most influential member of your group?” And they state who is the most but also who’s the least influential. What we found that over time, over the course of those four months that these students work together as a group, there is an improvement for the lone women, that their peers perceive them to be more influential over time. For the women in the majority, there seems to be no change. And so we do see the gap closing by the end of the semester, relative to the large gap in the beginning of the semester, but only in the survey data. Once we actually look at the data from the lab, where we observe students interacting in teams, where we can measure who is exerting influence on a task, we see no difference over time. So it seems that there is some improvement for the lone women in these sort of general assessments of influence in these monthly “Who was the most influential member of your group over the course of the month?” But when you actually get down to the specific tasks, we don’t see any improvement for women over time.

John: I know you were looking at this in a very broad context, in terms of teams and organizations and firms and so forth. But in terms of classroom groups of the sort that you were actually experimenting with, a growing number of classes in pretty much all disciplines now rely on group activities. What does the study suggest about how we form these groups in terms of the gender composition of groups, so that everyone can have an active role in the group?

Olga: Like you said, both in the workplace and in many academic settings, group work is crucial. And many faculty members rely on group- based activities. Understandably, they prefer collaborative thinking and develop the skills that students will need as they go on in workplaces where increasingly there’s reliance on group work. And so certainly the implications from our study are that assigning groups in which women are the lone woman or in the minority is going to have costs for women, costs in terms of participation, in terms of influence, in terms of whether they’re seen as authoritative, as leaders in the group. Those are the types of questions we ask and things that we can measure. And so certainly, if at all possible, groups that are gender balanced, or groups in which women are in the majority, are going to be significantly better for women in terms of these types of outcomes. Now, I would add a couple of caveats here. One is that in our study, we can track the grades. We can see what students actually get at the end of the semester. And we find no penalty for women, as far as grades can tell, when they’re in the minority. The women who are in the minority receive about the same grades as women who are in the majority. However, the grades in this program are largely group based. So it may not be surprising, because so much of the grade is based on the group work that we’re not finding those differences. Moreover, we don’t know how women get to those grades. It’s possible that because of these influence gaps, they’re having to work extra hard to get the same grade, or to be seen as sufficiently expert in that particular class. And so those are the two caveats that, even though we don’t observe differences in grades in our study, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t underlying differences in how hard students are having to work or how much effort they’re having to exert. I would also note that, regardless of the gender composition, there were no differences in man’s perception. So the man, whether they were in the minority, or in the majority, saw no deficit in influence, they were equally likely to be seen as a leader, they were seen equally influential. And so, if one thinks well, putting men In the minority is going to all of a sudden hurt the men in the group. That’s not what we’re finding. And there is in fact quite a bit of literature now confirming that. There are laboratory studies and studies in different settings, like nursing school, where men are in the minority, and in fact are not incurring any kind of deficit as far as influence or participation or authority that the women are incurring in these kinds of settings in which they’re a minority. I would also mention one study, it’s a working paper by a PhD student at University of Zurich, and it’s a really great working paper. She’s looking at a setting in which women are a minority… economics… a setting we’re familiar with. And in that setting, she’s using some data from, I believe it’s University of Zurich, it might be another university in Europe, but at that university, they also created different study groups, just like in our study, except these are larger study groups. These are sections of about 50 to 60 students, and they also randomly assigned gender compositions of these study groups. And what she shows is that, over time, the women that are assigned to be in a group in which they’re a minority, are much more likely to drop out of the study group altogether; that they not only incur these potential influence deficits, which we document in our study, but there are, in fact, very serious consequences to their ability to thrive in that class, or to thrive in that environment in which there are a minority. So that’s closely related, of course, to our study, and confirms really similar patterns.

John: We’ll share a link to both studies in the show notes. You mentioned that in disciplines like economics, and more generally, in STEM fields, women are often underrepresented as students, but they’re also underrepresented in faculty. It’s likely that these types of issues will carry over into group meetings and team meetings and department meetings and so forth on campuses. What can women and departments do to address this problem?

Olga: Yeah, that’s a very good question. Certainly, the setting in which we study these topics is student groups. But we are more than confident that these kinds of patterns replicate in a variety of settings, including professional settings, whether you’re a faculty or a student, being in the minority as a woman entails these costs to your level of influence, to your ability to exert influence, to your ability to be heard and taken seriously. And certainly there are other studies that have found very similar patterns in other kinds of settings. So I would not be surprised that if we ran this study in a professional setting or a workplace, we would find very similar patterns among women at all levels, including leadership. Certainly, some studies have confirmed similar patterns among the board of directors, female directors. The question of what can women do to sort of fix this is a really complicated one. And I say that because, what we find in our particular study, for example, is that women can’t just overcome that deficit by working extra hard. One thing that we observe is their levels of participation, how much time they put into coursework, and things like that. And we find that to be the same, regardless of the condition in which they’re in. They’re working extra hard already. Another thing that we observe is their talk time. In this laboratory setting, we can measure how long each person talks. And so you might say, well, maybe women, they’re just not leaning in, maybe they’re not participating enough in these group discussions, and so of course, they’re not seem as influential. Well, we find that’s not the case. These women are in fact leaning in. They’re speaking just as much regardless of the condition in which they’re in. The women and the minorities are going out of their way to try to get their opinions heard. They’re speaking just as much, as far as we can tell, based on the speaking turns and speaking time that we can observe. And so the failure to lean in can’t explain this gap in influence. So the common sort of Sheryl Sandberg “lean in” approach is that women just need to participate more and become equal participants in the process. That doesn’t seem to be supported by our research. Even when they try to do that, that doesn’t help them overcome this gap in influence. And so that’s kind of a depressing thing to discuss, that there isn’t much women actually can do to change those kinds of outcomes when they find themselves in these settings where they’re underrepresented. That it’s really men’s attitudes and men’s behavior that seems to be changing when women are in the minority versus women in the majority. So in our study, it’s men that are evaluating women as more influential when they are randomly assigned to be in a group with more women relative to when they’re in the group with just one woman. But of course, these underlying causes are really structural. So if you were to ask me, you know, what can organizations do to avoid those kinds of consequences for them, and I would say, “Well, number one is they need to hire more women.” Creating an environment in which women are no longer in the minority is certainly the direct implication of our research. However, that might be the more longer term goal. If organizations, say a tech firm, says over time, “We’re trying to hire more women, but we just don’t even have enough qualified women in the pipeline. What can we do now? How can we fix this given that women are still going to be in the minority for a while…” Then thinking about the structures of the teams and how they’re assigned, but also the norms within those teams? So for example, my co-author Chris Karpowitz has done some research in the past about the norms of deliberation and whether teams make decisions by majority rule, or whether teams make decision unanimously. That seems to be really important to women’s ability to contribute in environments in which they’re underrepresented. So maybe restructuring some of the team norms so that decisions have to be made unanimously, such that women’s voices are heard and they’re able to contribute even when they’re in the minority.

John: One thing I’ve been thinking when I read your paper and during our discussion is that there’s a similar cultural issue that affects teaching evaluations. And there’s at least some research that suggests that the negative bias that students may have in evaluating female professors can be overcome somewhat when students are made aware of the existence of this. And one nice thing about studies like yours is that it is making people more aware of this. But it would be interesting to see if students were given information about this at the start of their group formation, if that may affect the way in which group behavior is formed.

Olga: I am aware of those studies and I like them very much, because they show us one way, an easy nudge, which can change behavior, in this case, in the context of student evaluations of teaching. So in our study, of course, we try to keep the framing about students’ participation in this research, very neutral. We didn’t want them to be primed that this was a study about gender dynamics in groups and things like that. But I can envision future work thinking about the next step, which is what can be done to reduce this gender gap, what can be done to improve outcomes for women when they do find themselves in the minority, and one of those could be making students aware then making these patterns a lot more salient. Because honestly, if you probably ask a lot of the students whether they think that women in these groups are incurring any kind of penalty, they would probably say, “No.” The majority of the male students would probably not think that these things are happening. They’re happening in a subconscious basis, not through explicit discriminatory practices. It’s certainly possible that some male students are explicitly discriminating. But one measure that we have of that is how satisfied students are with their groups. And what we find is actually, regardless of the condition in which women are in, they report very high levels of satisfaction with their group. So even when they’re in the minority, and we can see that they’re incurring this really strong cost or deficit of influence, they still report being equally satisfied with their groups, and as happy with the group interactions as the women in the majority. So it seems that even the women themselves are not often recognizing that these deficits are occurring, let alone the male students in the group.

Rebecca: They’ve experienced it forever, it doesn’t seem different, right? [LAUGHTER]

Olga: That’s right, and this is not the first setting in which they’re experienced in this. There’s research showing that these kinds of patterns exist as early as school levels, where difference in competition is found as early as kindergarten, basically. And so the socialization that takes place even prior to college is probably conditioning women to feel that that is a normal kind of environment.

Rebecca: Your study reminds me a lot of conversations around all girls schools in K-12 and some of the benefits of that for women and also thinking about compositions of committees and things that might exist in professional environments where they’re trying to diversify, and they diversify by having token representation. And we often see that that can be problematic, but this is demonstrating other ways in which it can be problematic, which I think is a lot of interesting food for thought.

Olga: Yeah, absolutely. That was one of the biggest motivation… thinking about this is when you look at these policies, both private and public initiatives that are aiming to diversify these settings, like school boards or corporate boards, political assemblies, often, like you said, the solution is let’s just add one or two token women or minorities to the setting to help us be more diverse, and certainly we wanted to know what impact is that having on the women that are added, the women that become those token or lone members of the group and it’s not looking great. [LAUGHTER]

John: It’s a cultural issue and cultural changes tend to be slow. And as you said before, the only real solution is to have more balanced representation in all groups.

Olga: Absolutely. Yeah. And often, of course, what you hear, especially in the private sector is, “Well, it’s a meritocracy. Everybody can apply for these jobs, and we’re just not finding enough qualified women. And you know that certainly could be a valid concern in some stages of application process, but it is an important hurdle to overcome and think about how do we get more women into the funnel? How do we make sure that our women persist through the application process and actually make it into these jobs, because there are barriers at different levels, at different stages of that process that lead to these gender disparities in the share of women that go into these occupations, it’s not all choice. Choices are made, not in a vacuum, they’re made based on the constraints and information that people have. And so making these environments more appealing, more welcoming to women, should be an important objective of any organization that is struggling to increase diversity, gender diversity, in their rank and file.

Rebecca: As someone who teaches when an area of design that is also not balanced, [LAUGHTER] I teach in a more tech heavy side, it’s much more male dominated, because there’s more code and stuff involved and so historically, there’s less women, I’m thinking about all the group work that I do in my own classes, in the context of your research, and thinking about how productive and exciting it’s been to see some groups of all women, and what that looks like and what that feels like. But also having that little voice in the back of your mind saying maybe we need diverse teams that represent different kinds of people, because we’re designing for different kinds of people. And that, for the benefit of males in the class of interacting with women, maybe it benefits them, but they already have a benefit. And so that’s a really interesting consideration that I don’t think we often think about… not in a systematic way… or thinking about groups. I thought about majors and all kinds of things when I was formulating my groups, but I didn’t necessarily think about this.

Olga: Yeah, and I think that’s very common, especially in environments where there are serious binding constraints, you only have a few women. So I’m at BYU, and we have our share of women in the majors only about 20%. So any faculty trying to form group is going to be faced with these really serious constraints. One thing I would say is, in addition to this quantitative evidence that has been generated over the years showing how harmful it may be for women to be in the minority, there’s also, in our study, some qualitative evidence that we find. And since we’ve presented this study in different places, it’s been such an interesting experience, because you get these women just nodding their heads and saying, “I know exactly how this feels having been in the minority, and having compared my experience as a woman in the majority, just how much more heard and influential I feel in those kinds of settings.” So I think compiling qualitative evidence, pointing to the fact that it is significantly more difficult for women in the minority in these group settings to exert their influence and to get their voices heard.

John: Are you thinking of extending this research to other areas in terms of say race or other categories in which there may be similar effects?

Olga: Yeah, absolutely. So the original study certainly can only speak to gender, we have very few non-white students in the sample and can’t say very much since they weren’t randomly assigned across the group composition. But our goal long term is to look at whether these patterns extend beyond the gender domain. My guess is that we’re going to find very similar patterns for racial minorities, for example, who find themselves being underrepresented in many kinds of similar settings. They may even be exacerbated relative to the gaps that we find for women. And so we’re very interested, we’re in conversations with one firm and another institution trying to design a study that might work but this is a work in progress. And I hope it happens, because certainly we want to know whether other kinds of minorities find themselves in similar predicaments when they are underrepresented.

Rebecca: It also seems like it would be interesting to know whether or not, if you have multiple people from different underrepresented groups, if that somehow starts treating that more as a majority of underrepresented people, or if it’s just specific to a particular group at any given time.

Olga: Yeah, that’s a good point. One thing that we are doing is we do have a study in the field that is sort of following up from their original study, which includes the groups in which women are still in the minority, but they’re not the only woman. In our original setting there’s either one woman and four men, or three women and two men. So it’s not a symmetric kind of setting. And that’s by design, because there’s so few women in that program that if we created two women groups we wouldn’t have enough sample size to confidently say whether these results are statistically significant. But in the follow up study that we have been doing in the field, actually, for the last year and a half, we do have groups with two women and groups with two men. So we can compare sort of more symmetric, does it help to have another woman in a team? Or does it not make a difference, because you’re still in the minority. Some preliminary findings that we have, are that, unfortunately, it’s not tipping the scale… that unless women are in the majority, they’re still going to incur those deficits in terms of influence. And that’s supported by some of the prior laboratory research. But this is still ongoing… so, unfortunately, not the full findings yet. Another interesting extension of this work that we have started implementing, sort of by accident, or by necessity, rather, when COVID head and a lot of the group interactions have moved online… our entire lives have moved on to virtual settings… we wondered whether these same patterns would be exacerbated in virtual settings. There’s some anecdotal evidence that it’s even harder for him to get their voices heard in these kinds of settings. And so the study that we had been running in person has been turned into a study using Zoom as a platform. So we can now, at the end of this semester and next semester, say something about whether these patterns are different in online settings versus actual face-to-face settings, and what kinds of additional burdens may fall on the women when they’re having to influence outcomes or participate in the deliberative process in an online setting.

Rebecca: …sounds fascinating.

John: It’s a great natural experiment. …let me rephrase that… [LAUGHTER] we should probably not refer to the pandemic as a great experiment…

Olga: I know.

John: …but it does provide an interesting source of data on that issue, and virtual work is likely to become much more common in the future anyway.

Olga: Absolutely. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to go away. Even if the pandemic ended today, people are getting used to these kinds of interactions. There are advantages to them in terms of flexibility and the kinds of geographical constraints that no longer seem to apply. But they may also have these unintended hidden costs that I think are important to be able to quantify, particularly as it relates to these gender and racial disparities that already exist in a lot of these settings and workplaces.

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

Olga: So this study has really led us to think carefully about these gender disparities, and to try to understand what kinds of interventions can help improve the outcomes for women. So the next step is certainly for us to try to test and evaluate the effectiveness of some of these interventions. So for example, I mentioned we’re doing a study in the field using Zoom as a platform for team meetings, we’re playing around and designing different kinds of changes in group norms, which operates through Zoom on, for example, who gets to start the conversation, or timing each participant in the group, so they know how long they’ve been speaking for… things that have been possible through technology, and trying to see whether those kinds of interventions will help improve the outcomes for women when they’re in the minority. So that’s one direction in which we are continuing this research agenda. And then another one, of course, is looking at other kinds of minority status. So particularly looking at race, we’re very interested in collaborating either with firms or other institutions that have ethnic or racial minorities, and are interested to know what implications do these settings have on their minority employees or students?

Rebecca: Looks like a lot of great work coming down the pike. I’m excited to hear what you find.

Olga: Thanks, Rebecca, thank you so much.

John: You’re doing some wonderful work, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it in the future.

Olga: I really appreciate it. Thank you guys. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much.

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.

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