117. The Productive Online and Offline Professor

Faculty find it difficult to balance increasing demands on their time. In this episode, Bonni Stachowiak joins us to explore a variety of tools and strategies that can be used to productively manage our time and professional responsibilities. Bonni is the host of the superb Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, and is the Dean of Teaching and Learning at Vanguard University. She is also the author of The Productive Online and Offline Professor: a Practical Guide, which is scheduled for release in late January 2020.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Faculty find it difficult to balance increasing demands on their time. In this episode, we explore a variety of tools and strategies that can be used to productively manage our time and professional responsibilities.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our guest today is Bonni Stachowiak. Bonni is the host of the superb Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, and is the Dean of Teaching and Learning at Vanguard University. Welcome, Bonni.

Bonni: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to have our conversation today.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Bonni: Iced tea. Teva, I believe, is the brand.

John: And I am drinking Bing Cherry black tea.

Rebecca: And I am drinking some Oolong today.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about your forthcoming book, The Productive Online and Offline Professor: a Practical Guide. Could you tell us a little bit about that and what prompted your interest in productivity?

Bonni: I used to apologize almost for sharing a little bit that I didn’t start out in academia. And I just finished reading the book called Range. I don’t know if either of you has read that one yet.

John: I have not.

Rebecca: Not yet.

Bonni: Oh, it’s delightful. So, I would highly suggest putting that down on your read list. But, one of the many, many things that he talks about is how so many of us got started via non-linear paths. And so I didn’t start in academia, I started with corporate training in a franchise organization. And so we’d help people open up businesses all over the world… and talk about getting a serious degree without paying for it necessarily. I learned a lot, and part of that was this idea around productivity. So, I remember watching Stephen Covey, who has since passed away… but just a wonderful leadership author… and he used to do all these big seminars… and he’d get a big giant glass jar, and he’d fill it with sand and then talk about: “How do we take these big rocks and squish it in there? And of course, if you can envision this, you can’t squish rocks into a jar once there’s already sand in it. And he had this analogy of “What if you put the big rocks in?” Yes, there’s room for some gravel then, there’s room for some sand, and even some water… but, just really this idea of how precious our time is… and how this is a title of one of his books… if we put First Things First, we get those big rocks in there first. We’re really going to have a lot more of a sense of meaning and purpose in our life and get the things that are most important to us done. And then later on, many decades later, came the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. And one of the big takeaways for me, that just echoes almost on a daily basis, is this quote that he says, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” And if you think about what our brains are designed to do… Well, we have these amazing creative brains, but then we try to have them hold on to grocery lists and the things we’re supposed to take care of. And it really creates a lot of unnecessary clutter. I’m not using a very technical analogy here, but our mind could be freed up to pursue the ideas around our research, our disciplines, our teaching… not keeping the grocery list. So, those are really the things that influenced me. When I got into academia, one of the things that continued to influence me was the Prof Hacker blog. And that used to be a part of the Chronicle of Higher Education. And I haven’t seen any posts up there since 2018.

Rebecca: I know, it’s so sad.

John: Yeah. I miss that.

Bonni: I do too. I cite them a ton in the book. So, if anyone wants to reminisce, you could go read the book.

John: It often feels like we’re just putting out fires every day. We’re recording this at the end of the fall semester, and there are a lot of fires to put out. So, that notion of focusing on the big things and then filling the smaller things in around that makes a lot of sense.

Rebecca: I know that productivity, and the time squish in general, is a very popular topic amongst faculty here in just trying to find balance. I know that you’ll have a big readership for a productivity book related to higher ed because it’s desperately needed.

John: One of the things we do is we run workshops series here, and we asked faculty what they’ve liked to see workshops on and one of the things they always ask about is time management. And we have trouble finding people to do that. And maybe your book would help serve that purpose. Because, most of the people who are really good at time management just say, “No, I don’t have time to give a workshop.”

Bonni: Saying “no” is a big part of time management. I talked about the big rocks, what big rocks are we going to put in? But so much of it is what are we not going to put in? What are we going to say no to? And this is an incredibly hard thing. We can talk about issues around gender. A lot of times women have been socialized to be helpful and say “Yes,” and I’m sure you’ve probably seen that research about service loads, there’s a disproportionate amount of service that is going to women in academia. And then women of color is where it really becomes stark. And a lot of times those things are not rewarded in our promotion and tenure processes. So it’s something that I do think we have to get pretty real on. And we can just add to that the social norms that say you’re supposed to go to every children’s birthday party that you’re invited to. And I don’t always follow those social norms, I’m afraid to say.

John: Actually, the economist Gary Becker, in some of his later writings talked quite a bit about that, that one of the reasons why women were having trouble moving forward in their careers is they were spending so many more hours in total working than men were. So, it’s a general problem. What are some of the types of productivity approaches you recommend?

Bonni: When I think about productivity, I tend to think of four broad types. There’s one that even the editors weren’t sure… does this belong in a book about productivity and I was like, “Clearly this hasn’t happened to you before.” But I call this type, the “avoiding crashing and burning” type of productivity approach. So, if we’re not backing up our computers, for example, our hard drives… I had a colleague who had worked at my institution for 15 years…. gone, all of it gone, due to a theft and the computer that was stolen wasn’t backed up anywhere. So, those are some recommendations that I have that are essential to get right. But, once you have it right aren’t that hard to maintain. Then there’s the time-saving types, and this can be hard for some people because I don’t want productivity to seem like this is all some kind of a hack. I’m very sensitive to the plight of contingent faculty and we know there’s so much work to be done around making our workplaces equitable. And so I don’t want to seem like that we’re just playing a game. Yet, at the same time, when I am able to have these approaches that save me a little bit of time, but add up over the long haul, then I get to spend that much more time being fully present for my teaching and also being fully present for other people. So, this might be things like creating templates for letters of recommendation and a process for how to spend the time writing the rich feedback, but not spend the time looking up the address… and who should this be sent to and when is it due… that kind of thing. And then there’s also the kind of productivity is where we really need to get real with ourselves. And one of the things I studied in my dissertation was around something called locus of control. And locus of control is a construct that says, “How do we explain what happens to us?” People who have an external locus of control say “I was late because I got caught in traffic…” “I didn’t turn it in because I had this other conflict come up.” And people with a paradigm of an internal locus of control tend to describe what happens to them based on something that they did. So, getting real with ourselves to me says we all have the same amount of time, and so carving out the time to reflect on our goals… on our priorities. And like I stated earlier, what are we not going to do? Because we can’t do it all. So, being really conscious and intentional about where we’re going to spend our time. And those are really difficult decisions that can only happen through effective reflection. And then the last one goes back to that David Allen quote that I mentioned, “Our mind is for having ideas not holding them.” So, this last type of productivity approach is having a trusted system. So, when things getting ready, and you mentioned, we’re recording this at the end of the semester, and I also just recently took on a new role at my institution. Yes, things are overwhelming right now. But, I have a list. If anything’s going to fall through the cracks… and almost on a daily basis, I can’t get everything done that I want to… but I know what needs to be done. I know what I’ve committed to do. I have it all in a list and I can defer parts of those lists so it’s not in my face all the time. But, I have a trusted system, I’m not relying on my brain to be good at remembering those commitments, remembering those priorities. Instead, I have a trusted system that helps me do that well.

Rebecca: How do we get started with a trusted system?

Bonni: Well, getting started to me is having two basic tools. One would be having a calendar that you use for what calendars are meant for. So, calendars are meant for appointments that have a start time and an end time. I need to be somewhere, or at least I’m committed to that time. We can block out time on our calendars. I do this all the time, where I’m going to spend this amount of time grading on Tuesday, and then I’m going to follow it up on Friday with some more grading. But, what happens is people try to make a calendar act like a task list, and also make their email act like a task list and never actually have a list of projects and tasks. So, if I were going to say get started, use a calendar and use a task list and have that task list be what drives your time and attention in terms of those commitments around projects and such. Don’t try to do that via email. And don’t try to do it via the calendar. By the way, the specific reason why I say don’t use your calendar as a task list, once that day goes by, the task is on yesterday’s task and it’s hard to keep pushing these things through that we never ended up getting finished with. So, blocking time, I think is an effective method, as long as we have it on our task list as where it’s actually being tracked, whether it’s made it through to completion or not,

John: Is there any specific task list manager that you use or that you’d recommend?

Bonni: The one that I use is not the one I recommend. [LAUGHTER] And that’s because, first of all, it’s only on a Mac. So, if you sit around and you also use a Mac, and you’re like, “Wow, if I could just really enjoy tweaking things to getting this system to work exactly like it is, it’s great.” It’s one of the more advanced task managers; it’s called OmniFocus. So many of them have this where you’ve got OmniFocus on your Mac, you’ve got it on your iOS devices, and they are all syncing back and forth. It does have some automation. So,when I book a new podcast guest, for example, I have a template of a project that says: “What’s the episode number? When’s it being recorded?” When’s it published? …and all the due dates… everything flows out there. If this excites you, as I described it, you might be a good person for one of the more advanced task managers, but I would tell people that Todoist is probably a good starting point if you want a digital task list, and that’s one that works out of a browser, but also can show up on your mobile devices as well. Todoist is one that is recommended… it depends what day you catch him, but Robert Talbert is another big voice in the area of productivity, and he has used it. I laugh because I have to pause because he likes to tinker too. So, he’ll switch around to different tools, as well. But I think that’s a good place for people to get started on a task list.

Rebecca: Now, about avoiding the crashing and burning… what are some ways to get started in a system for that?

Bonni: Well, that to me is about a mindset that says I’m not going to spend the vast majority of my life in the chaos in reacting. I’m going to spend some of my time being proactive. So, we are going to need to think about what kinds of risks do we have in terms of crashing and burning. It shows up in health sometimes, so it’s not always just technology. Although you can tell I tend to enjoy talking about that. But recently, I’ve got an Apple Watch… speaking of technology… and so I’ve been really good about exercising. They have rings on an Apple Watch that track your exercise. And it makes a difference. Talk about stressful times of the semester, when you’re taking that time out, 30 minutes a day, to go for that walk or in my case, sit in the garage and do this elliptical machine that I’ve got going on. That helps me maintain the stress levels, and also to keep perspective. But other kinds of crashing and burning that I talk about in the book are primarily around technology like having your computers backed up. And then having a password manager that is going to enable you to have secure passwords and whenever possible, the… now I’m forgetting what it’s called… the second authentication. There’s a technical word for that…

John: Two-factor authentication.

Bonni: Yes, there we go. That two-factor… something besides just the password that’s going to verify that you say you are who you say you are. So yeah, those are some of the things I avoid in terms of that crashing and burning.

John: And you also use TextExpander, I believe, too, to help automate some of your work, right? I think you’ve mentioned that.

Bonni: Yes, in fact, they’ve been a sponsor on my podcast, but I only have sponsors that I actually use their stuff first. And then they’re like, “Hey, I noticed you wrote this blog about this, would you like to be a sponsor? That’s generally how these things work. But, they’re so essential to my work on a computer, in terms of… I have different roles that I play. So, I’m a podcaster, I’m a Dean, I’m a Professor, and so I have different signatures, and I can just type a few keystrokes and it automatically spits out whatever signature is appropriate for that time. I mentioned I do my show notes for the podcast using TextExpander. I do letters of recommendation. It’s just something essential. And it lets you type in a little snippet of text and then that text expands to something longer and you can even feed it in variables such as dates, or the name of the guest, or the name of the episode. It’s really a smart tool. I like it because it’s easy to get started with… just “Oh, what’s the shortcut? Okay, these are the characters I’m going to type in, and then this is what it’s going to expand to.” but then you can also get fancier with it as you work with the tool more.

John: And I know a lot of people also use it when grading. If there’s comments that they often provide over and over again, they can just expand the text and get richer feedback to students without taking as much time reproducing their work.

Bonni: Yes, I’m what I like about that is you can have the standard text that you would type but then an opportunity to type something in personal as well, which is the best of all worlds.

Rebecca: So speaking of grading, that’s a topic that comes up a lot with faculty about getting your time eaten away and wanting to spend more time or wanting to give richer feedback. Do you have some strategies about being a little more productive or being a little more efficient in grading or providing that feedback.

Bonni: Absolutely. This is a huge area. I want to start with just mentioning what all of my reading all of my research has said we should not do, and that is to correct every single mistake in a paper. I wish I could remember the researcher’s name who’s prominent in this area. But just, that’s not how you’re going to get students to learn to write with better grammar, etc. Like you’re really wasting your time, and in fact, could have a detrimental effect on the student you’re trying to help. Because it’s just too overwhelming. They don’t see every single little fix that you made, what they see is: “I’m a horrible writer, I’ll never be able to do this thing that you’re asking me to do.” So, what we don’t want to do is spend inordinate amount of time making lots of tiny, tiny, tiny corrections and thinking that’s how you help teach someone to do better the next time. To make it worse, by the way, what I see more than 90% of the time is we don’t have iterative assignments. So, the students are never even asked to go back and look at your feedback and then make those changes and have any hope of learning from them. So, that’s a big time waster. And then on the other extreme of things I wanted to mention there are people who have just given up grading completely. And there’s a whole movement, which you’ll see in various social media such as Twitter, under the hashtag #ungrading. And in their case, they’re like, “Forget the grades.” And one example of it might be a specifications kind of grading where you either made it or you didn’t. You met this set of criteria or you didn’t. And if you didn’t, I’m going to give you feedback and allow you to grow and improve the work until you meet the standards for the course. So, I think we can learn a lot about the detrimental parts of grading that aren’t a good use of time and also aren’t good teaching. Having said that, I still, in most of my classes, do what looks to most people like grading. [LAUGHTER] So I tend to try to emphasize really the feedback, but the kind of feedback that will be helpful feedback, rich feedback, for students to take action on. A few ideas for people would be, first, to think about screencasting your feedback. There is some literature that would suggest that when they can see your face, hear your voice, that they’re going to be able to take that feedback in, because they can hear the tone of voice that you’re really wanting to be helpful. You’re here to support them. And of course, there are things around what if they require captions. But at the beginning of the semester, you could ask, you know, what would be your preference? Would you like to have screencasted or audio feedback? Or would you prefer to have the typed out feedback, and then you can negate any of those potential downsides. The other thing would be around having focused feedback. I mentioned don’t go with that red pen approach where you fix every single error. It doesn’t work. It can be really discouraging to the students. And we know that how they feel about themselves as learners, their own sense of self-efficacy, really makes a difference in their academic achievement. And then lastly, I do think that, just like Stephen Covey and the big rocks, grading should be some of our big rocks that rather than going on social media to vent about how horrible our lives are, that we have to look at the work that supports the evidence of our students learning, we might try to find some joy in it. I don’t mean, necessarily, happiness, I get that we get busy, it’s really hard to do. But, thinking of it as a possible way to celebrate the learning that’s gone on. Part of why we can’t do that is because we’re so overwhelmed. So, blocking out time where we’re not doing it for too long, where we’re really not helpful because we’ve passed our point of really being able to provide effective feedback. So, blocking out a few times in a calendar each week, depending on how many courses you’re teaching, and having that as a priority. And those are the big rocks, and we’re going to prioritize that important time for giving that feedback.

Rebecca: You have a lot of things on your plate. You mentioned these different roles and ways of being in the world. And we all have those different roles that we play. What are your strategies for managing those different lives or different paths so that all the big rocks and all of those pathways get taken care of, even though they’re competing for your attention?

Rebecca: A practice that I really enjoy using at the start of every semester is put forth by a man named Michael Hyatt. He used to be in the publishing industry, and now is a leadership expert… that’s the best I could use to describe him. But, he suggests that we put together an ideal week and when I have my students do this, it’s an interesting conversation about what the word “ideal” means. Ideally, I would never have to like put laundry away [LAUGHTER] or ideally, like that’s not quite what he means by ideal. What he really means, Rebecca, is what you just shared of where we have these different roles. We have these different priorities in our life, how might we arrange them to best show up in our lives? he doesn’t use that expression. I’m sort of mixing Brene Brown with Michael Hyatt at the same time, but to think through those things in advance. Sometimes, what this helps us do is get to what we are going to need to say “No” to. Especially when we had younger children, what I didn’t prioritize in my life was going out a lot to movies with friends that weren’t kid movies. Like, I think movies are great. I think friends are great. But, the luxury of having time to spend away from my children, when both my husband and I are working professionals. It just wasn’t a luxury that made it up to my priority list. Now it might make it up to yours. But, at that season in our life, it just didn’t make sense to say “Yes” to invitations I would have said “Yes” to before kids. So, by starting out that semester by going, “Okay, well, here’s the fixed things. Every other week, we have this meeting that shows up so I got to block this time out for meetings in general. And then I gotta block this time out for teaching. And then I’m going to block out time for grading.” So, I’m going to be doing that the vast majority of the weeks. And so, being able to look at it and say, “Okay, well, where’s exercise going to go? Where is time with friends/our kids/ can we have a weekly date night in this ideal week?” …and being able to make those tough choices around those things before we’re in the thick of it. Because when we’re in the thick of it that we might be respond to stress to just whatever’s coming at us. Or, we might not have the confidence to say “No” to invitations that really don’t fit in with those big rocks. So, one way that I manage these different roles is by using that Michael Hyatt ideal week template. And if you just Google “Michael Hyatt ideal week template,” you’ll find it and it’s a wonderful resource.

John: And we can share a link to that in the show notes.

Rebecca: Can we circle back to the social pressures or the ways that women or particular groups of people tend to be asked to do more service, and in the ways of prioritizing that. And I think there’s often a balance of trying to figure out what’s going to help you with tenure and promotion. And sometimes it feels like that service might need to happen. But, then also these other things aren’t happening as a result.

Bonni: Oh, yeah. And I will say I did earn promotion and tenure. [LAUGHTER] And I have had a lot of service. Candidly, some of that comes into that “Do I keep a traditional five day workweek with really tight boundaries around that?” No, I don’t. Do I occasionally work on weekends? Yes, I do. My husband’s chuckling at the use of the “occasional.” But, what I treasure about the way that my life is, is that first of all, I have joy in the work that I do. But, also I have a lot of flexibility. So, next week, my daughter will be a reader for their holiday program at their school. That’s right in the middle of the day, and I’m going to be able to be there front and center. I’ll be as close to the front as I possibly can for that. So, I do think that we can’t always compare ourselves in terms of what a normal job looks like, because I don’t think most of us have normal jobs. [LAUGHTER] So, I think, in terms of service, one thing that I have found helpful is to just say it without apologizing, but also that “I’m not going to be able to participate on that committee because I’m participating this other one…” just as a gentle reminder that I am serving already. So I’m not just a “No” person, but I’m a “No, because I am providing this other service and I wouldn’t want to let them down.” And then also having a suggestion of who might be able to serve. Another good practice that I’ll say I’m terrible at, but I think would theoretically be helpful if I would remember to do it as much as I wish, is to ask people to give me a day or two to think about it. Because sometimes we will feel that in the moment like, “Oh my gosh,” and we lose perspective like that there’s not someone else who could step in and provide the same if not better service than we could. So, that’s a practice I wish I did more. But, I will say I’m pretty darn good at saying no to stuff. I got asked, for example, to be on the Diversity Committee at our institution. If you’ve ever listened to my podcast, you know that is just central core to who I am and my values, but that committee’s work, and what was on their agenda for that year, wasn’t going to be an expression of my values in that space in the way I would have necessarily wanted it to be. That was a hard “No” to say, but looking back, I’m really glad that I did because there are other ways in which I’ve been able to express that value that didn’t require that same amount of time with a agenda that just didn’t match, if I’m expressing that well.

John: in your book, you talk about personal knowledge mastery and how it relates to productivity. Could you talk to us about that a little bit?

Bonni: I was first introduced to personal knowledge mastery by one of the experts. And that’s Harold Jarche. And he has three phases, not even necessarily phases, but three ways in which we can use personal knowledge mastery in our lives. The first is, and you’ll probably recognize that you do this all the time, we seek out information. So, I know that both of you are on Twitter, at least I think both of you are.

Rebecca: Yup.

John: Yes.

Bonni: I feel like I’ve seen you up there. So, Twitter for some of us is a way in which we seek out information. I’m recording this just a few hours into my morning, and I’ve already had a few resources I’ve been able to glean from Twitter and the days just getting started. I don’t, by the way, spend hours and hours but it’s a nice place to check in and be able to seek out information from people I trust. And then many of us also use what are called RSS feeds. That’s a Real Simple Syndication. It’s a way of making a custom newspaper. When I used to subscribe to a physical newspaper, I used to take the sports section, and just set it aside and get to the parts I was interested in. [LAUGHTER] I don’t have to do that anymore. RSS lets me customize and say I want this blog, this blog, this news source, etc. And so that seeking work… I feel like there’s never been such a time in my life as the richness of ways in which we can seek. There’s too much there, as we know, so these tools let us filter. We can make lists on Twitter for just the exact kind of information we might want to dip our toe into or an RSS we can set a filter that says “Yes, I want this blog, but not if it talks about this topic.” I was about to insert a topic there. I’d really get myself into trouble. [LAUGHTER] The controversies that are on Twitter right now that I’m just like, “Okay, I read enough. I don’t need to hear any more about that today.” [LAUGHTER] The second part of it is sense making. So, we seek and we sense. It’s not just about all this flying at us. But, it’s information that we translate into knowledge that then we save and we think about and we begin to wrestle with these ideas. We start to have more of a knowledge map in our heads of how these things fit together. And then the last thing we do is to share, and sharing might be as simple as tweeting about it. It could be as simple as emailing it to a colleague, which I did, by the way, a couple of those Twitter articles because they were about STEM teaching, snd I have a colleague who’s written a number of grants: “Oh, I think this might be a good one for the next grant that you write, it’s a wonderful report.” So, sharing can happen one-on-one and also can happen more broadly. If you’ve got a blog or you want to do micro blogging like Twitter allows. So, in terms of personal knowledge mastery, I would say that the biggest way that I’ve been able to leverage this comes out of using a social bookmarking tool. In my case, it’s called Pinboard, the one that I use, but there’s lots of them out there. pinboard.in. Another big one is Diigo, D-I-I-G-O. Diigo is known because you can highlight on the pages themselves, and those highlights save with your bookmarks as well as any annotations. And some people really like that. I just like the ease with which I can click on my button, tag it, and then I’ve got tags so I can say “Next time I teach this class, what’s a video that conveys this concept around this particular topic?” It’s really, really powerful. So, if we’re ever having conversations about topics that are near and dear to my life, I’ve got at least 100 bookmarks or more on a topic and that really has been a rich learning experience and also enables me to share with other people really richly.

John: And they also come with plugins for most browsers, so you can easily just save them directly while browsing the web.

Bonni: Yeah.

Rebecca: I used to use Diigo quite a bit, and then I found it overwhelming. I just had too much. So I use Pocket now. But the same kind of idea. I put things in my Pocket for later.

BONNIE: Yeah, I have a similar thing happened to me. On Twitter, I have it set up if i star something… I guess it’s not a star anymore, is it a heart? Whatever it is I do [LAUGHTER], it automatically saves on to Pinboard. I used to go in and tag every single one of those. And you can imagine… I mean, it’s not that hard to imagine that you might star or heart 20 things in the reading of Twitter. That just got overwhelming. Pinboard and other bookmark tools…They are searchable, just the raw text themselves. I wasn’t getting that much payoff off of tagging them. Now I just feel so free. If I’m reading the article, I tag it. If it’s important enough to me to have read it, tag it right then. But if you didn’t tag it right, then forget it. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yep.

Bonni: Let it go in there, and if you miss a couple along the way, it’s not going to be the end of the world.

John: And some of those things can be automated with if this then that [IFTT] and Zapier. We use that to automatically send out tweets about workshops that we’re doing on our feed and it saves a lot of time and things that we might forget otherwise,

Bonni: Yeah.

Rebecca: I do it to post things on my class blog related to the class as well. And it’s automated.

Bonni: And those are talked about in the book as well, automation… the topic of automation. If this then that is a big one. I live here in Southern California. It’s been raining lately, and you know, we get a lot of rain, [LAUGHTER] so we got to be reminded to bring our umbrellas of the forecast calls for rain. And so if this then that will remind me to bring that umbrella the next day. [LAUGHTER]

John: We don’t have as much of an issue with rain this time of the year.

Rebecca: …or snow.

John: Although it was raining today, actually, the temperature went above freezing, so we got a coat of water on top of the ice.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that sometimes impacts productivity is the fear of sharing, not the like one-on-one shares of resources and things but maybe spending too much time trying to overachieve on something or polish it too much and then you spend so much time trying to perfect something or clarifying what it means to you that you don’t share it out. And that sometimes can eat up a lot of time.

Bonni: Oh, yeah. And it doesn’t help that we see examples of people really having their tweets or their blogs really pulled apart in some hyper-critical ways, but it doesn’t necessarily help me. More than a year ago, I started a column with EdSurge. And I hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but I’m so grateful now that they don’t have comments, because I look at the Chronicle. And I just think, oh, that would just be awful to just expose yourself that way. And that’s probably just my own insecurity about writing, etc. But, sometimes feedback can be so powerful, but to give anyone on the internet that has any feeling at all whatsoever about what just got written, I don’t think it’s the most helpful way for us to grow our writing skills and our other communication skills. So, that makes it even harder, I think, but yet I see the kind of value that I’ve had by what John Stepper refers to as “working out loud,” but I just changed it to “teaching out loud” because that’s what I feel like I do. It’s really hard work to be that transparent. I think Brene Brown has some wonderful things to say around that vulnerability. But when I listened to her words of wisdom… by the way, her Netflix special if people haven’t seen it is just a wonderful illustration of the kind of vulnerability that she’s talking about… I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have not exposed myself to a lot of vitriol, because I don’t tend to write about controversial topics or speak about it on the podcast. Although, I say that and I laugh because you can just talk about lecturing versus active learning… before you know it, you’re like, “What just happened?” [LAUGHTER] So, I suppose in some ways, I’ve probably been lucky. And in some ways, it’s the style with which I deliver things because I feel like there’s so many ways you could look at issues I don’t tend to just take a really hard definitive line on things. It’s not my style to like try to create that. That’s an important part of discourse. It’s just not what I do well. I like to ask beginner’s mind questions. That’s how I contribute to these conversations. And I’m glad for the people that try to push us a little bit. We need that, too.

John: So in terms of productivity, how have you been able to maintain such a high quality podcast while implementing so many things in your classes and in your new role?

Bonni: Well, specifically, when it comes to the podcast, I want to go back to what Rebecca just asked about, because one of the reasons I’ve been able to do it is because I told myself from the very beginning, it doesn’t have to be perfect every time. And that seems like a relatively small, safe commitment to make to oneself. It’s incredibly hard. And so I will be here today to say there are episodes that just gripped me from the very inside that I feel like are wonderful intimate moments between two people talking about a topic that is so near and dear to me. And there’s others that are, as my husband said the other day, “Eh, not everyone has to be perfect, and especially because it could be perfect for one person who is listening that really needed to hear that information, but maybe not for the masses.” And if I tried to aim for perfection I’ll never get a single episode out. So, part of this to me is doing what Katie Linder refers to often as playfully experimenting, if I think of it as not the best podcast that has ever been created, and every episode will, you know, completely blow you away, I’m playfully experimenting. That’s one of the ways I enjoy sense making like we talked about with personal knowledge mastery and sharing. If I think of it more in terms of that, that also, by the way, helps with the teaching aspect of it. If I try something new, and a lot of times I hear from really large schools, I teach at a place where total student count is less than 3000. We’re a small school. I remember interviewing Thia Wolf from Chico State, and she’s talking about their program that they do. It’s a part of public sphere pedagogy and how they bring together government and business and the students and politics and all this into this wonderful week of events, and I thought like, “Oh my goodness gracious.” Like, “That’s just not gonna happen, at least not on year one.” By the way, small schools can do incredible things. But we can’t do all the incredible things, like we can’t match a huge R1 one-for-one on the innovative things we might try out. So that first year, it was just about, “Oh, well, let’s think about if you had the end-of-the-semester project, if you opened the fourth wall, if you will, to use the theater analogy, if you invited people in to that experience and to give your students feedback.” That’s how I took this huge idea and made it small enough that I could playfully experiment with it that first year. And then the last thing that I really try to remember is that I remember when I first went to an open education conference and Ken Bauer was there and he’s so gracious and introducing me to a lot of people. And he’s about to introduce me to Robin DeRosa, who if you’re not familiar with who she is, listeners, she’s just a wonderful voice in open education and public education. And I just felt like she was just a celebrity I was not ready to meet. So I’m like, “No, please don’t. I’m not ready.” And it turned out, she actually listened to the podcast regularly… already knew who I was… and as surprising as this was to me… I still can’t process it now… was actually apprehensive about meeting me. And I’m like, “What on earth is this world that we’ve come into? And I’m not even telling that story for like the main points because it wasn’t until maybe three months after that, I hear her being interviewed on a podcast. And she’s talking about how she had just gotten started in this movement, going to a digital pedagogy lab, like a year and a half before that.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Bonni: And I thought, “Oh my gosh…” like I thought she had been at this for at least 10 to 20 years. There’s no way she was just emerging in this field. And so I think we’re all starting things. And like, there’s just so many different arenas. If we wait until we feel like we’re ready, you’re never going to start. And so I like to remember Robin, she’s such an inspiration to me. But yet she also in many ways… part of why she can be that inspiration for us is because she sees herself as just getting started.

Rebecca: It’s a really good reminder, I think.

Bonni: Mm hmm.

Rebecca: And I think that it’s okay to just be starting. And it’s okay to share when you’re just starting.

Bonni: Yup… really hard to do, but I think really important. And part of that too, back to my making those huge things down to smaller digestible pieces. My example of doing that with Thea Wolf’s project of just like, “Oh, who am I going to invite to this last little presentation of our projects?” …perhaps that help someone else get started too, because sometimes you just can’t translate it. So, we’re all getting started in our own ways, and hopefully, we’re never done. Because I don’t want to keep doing this if we’re done, right? [LAUGHTER] We’re always learning and always growing.

Rebecca: Yeah, such good reminders. [I’m] finding many of the things that you’re talking about very good reminders before I start my sabbatical, so it’ll be very productive. [REBECCA]

Bonni: Wow, exciting. What will you be doing?

Rebecca: I’m doing some research on accessibility. But, your reminders about getting started on things might push me to do some things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise,

Bonni: …or just for a while and do nothing. That’s always an option.[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I might do that too.

John: Robin DeRosa visited here and she had a major impact on a lot of faculty. And I think also a lot of us were surprised to hear her talk about how she hadn’t been doing this all that long. Because it doesn’t seem that way. When you hear her talk and present on this material.

Rebecca: You can be new to something and still be really passionate about it… and committed to it.

Bonni: Yeah, and very good at it as well.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: When will your book be coming out?

Bonni: The book comes out in January of 2020.

John: So it should be coming out shortly after this podcast is released.

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

Bonni: Well, since the book is just being released out into the wild, I do plan on sitting and doing absolutely nothing for a while. But, in addition to that, one of the milestones I’m looking forward to on the podcast side is that episode 300 is coming up in March. So, I’m starting to think about how to mark that time as a milestone and think through some of the ways in which I have just been transformed and invite others to do the same. So I’m looking forward. I haven’t quite figured out what that looks like yet, but I am looking forward with anticipation to that opportunity to step back and reflect

Rebecca: It’s a really exciting moment for sure.

John: Your podcast was one of the very first ones I started listening to. Actually, Michelle Miller was here about five years ago, and she mentioned it. She gave it a plug during one of her presentations. So, I started listening and quite a few people I think did then on our campus,

Bonni: And your podcast, how long after that, did it start?

John: A while. We just started that in 2017 in November,

Bonni: I think I must have started listening relatively soon from the beginning, I mean, because I feel like I’ve been listening for a long while and I just enjoy the conversation. It’s like once a week is about all I could do. So, it’s fun to have you know, another regular conversation about teaching. I just love it. And especially because it’s tea, and I don’t drink coffee so Im really looking forward to a tea oriented podcast. [LAUGHTER] Not that I don’t also love that coffee-oriented one, but you know, it’s just fun to have tea get a voice in the matter.

John: TOPCAST actually just released an episode in early December where they were drinking tea. I think it’s the only time I’ve heard them talk about tea.

Bonni: They’re encroaching on your territory, you better watch out.

John: They mentioned that and I saw one of the presenters down at OLC and I got a picture of him drinking tea there.

Bonni: My daughter this morning said “What podcast are you on?” I said “Tea for Teaching.” She was so excited because I said “They always ask what we’re drinking.” She said “Tell them ice tea, Mommy.” “Okay.” [LAUGHTER] I’m actually laughing because I during this conversation, I’m looking aside I had brought my iced tea in ‘cause I hadn’t made it to Starbucks this morning… and look what appeared… the actual Starbucks iced tea. My husband has come into the room while we’ve been talking and left some iced tea, lest you think I’m not a committed iced tea drinker. There’s a second bit here to go. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Awesome. I also really appreciate the idea that one of the big rocks can be sitting and doing nothing.

Bonni: Yeah, yeah.

Rebecca: I just wanted to emphasize that.

Bonni: But I will say, as someone who’s not great at that, but enjoys the practice of attempting it, it’s hard.

Rebecca: I agree.

Bonni: Cause we become accustomed to the constancy of the movement and the thinking that our purpose is to do instead of to be, and so that’s really hard work to do. and can be troubling and unexpectedly emotional. You have to dose up on the ways with which you’ll process what might come out when you actually stop.

John: That’s something I’m not very good at.

Rebecca: No, definitely not.

John: Well, thank you. This has been really fun talking to you and we’ll keep listening to your podcast and we recommend it all the time.

Bonni: I know it’s so fun to talk to our podcasts that we like to listen to.

Bonni: Well, I feel like we’re sister and brother broadcast because I so enjoy listening to tea for teaching and I’m so honored that you would want to have me on the show. So thank you so much.

John: Thank you.

Rebecca: Well, thank you.

[MUSIC]

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

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

[MUSIC]

116. Simple Sustainable Videos

Faculty are often reluctant to create video content for their classes because of concerns over technical expertise, the demands on their time, and discomfort being on camera. In this episode, Karen Costa joins us to discuss how videos can easily be created, save time, and improve connections with students.

Karen is an adjunct faculty member teaching college success strategies to online students and a faculty professional development facilitator at faculty Guild. She’s a staff writer for Women in Higher Education. She writes regularly about higher education and her new book, 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos, will be released from Stylus in the spring.

Show Notes

  • Faculty Guild
  • Costa, Karen (2020). 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos. Stylus Publishing (forthcoming, April 2020).
  • Podcast listeners can receive a 15% discount + free shipping and handling by using the discount code: TEA99 on the order form for 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos.
  • Karen Costa’s YouTube site to accompany 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos.
  • Powtoon
  • Screencast-O-Matic

Transcript

Rebecca: Faculty are often reluctant to create video content for their classes because of concerns over technical expertise, the demands on their time, and discomfort being on camera. In this episode, we focus on how videos can easily be created, save time, and improve connections with students.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Our guest today is Karen Costa. Karen is an adjunct faculty member teaching college success strategies to online students and a faculty professional development facilitator at faculty Guild. She’s a staff writer for Women in Higher Education. She writes regularly about higher education and her new book, 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos, will be released from Stylus in the spring.

Welcome!

John: Welcome!

Karen: Thank you.

John: Our teas today are:

Karen: I love tea. I feel like I need to take a stance on tea in this podcast. [LAUGHTER] I go through phases with tea. I was in a huge tea phase a couple years ago, I had a holiday tea and had some ladies over for tea. It was really fun. And I’m not in a tea phase right now. So, I’m not drinking tea.

Rebecca: Well, maybe this episode will get you back into the tea phase.

Karen: I’m certainly going to re enter a tea phase at some point. It’s just a matter of time. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I’m drinking English Afternoon. I almost feel guilty saying that.

John: You should.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: And I’m drinking Bing Cherry Black tea, a Harry and David tea. We’ve invited you here to talk about your forthcoming book: 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos. Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of this project?

Karen: I can. [LAUGHTER] I have to say I just submitted the second round of edits and redid the index for the book. And I’ve been working on it for about a year now. And I feel like everyone already has it, and it’s wild… the entire book creation process. [LAUGHTER] If I can go back a bit… I fell in love with making videos in high school. So, I took a media class… junior and senior year… with one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Bestwick. She was my English teacher as well. And a couple of my best friends were in the class. So, it was just a ton of fun. And when I think about what we got to do in that class, I’m still pretty amazed. Mrs. Bestwick… she was amazing. She gave us just this incredible opportunity to create. So, we hosted our own radio show junior year, and then senior year, the high school installed televisions in all the classrooms This was in the 90s, so that was like a big deal. And the media class, we did a morning “news show” where we read the announcements about the school and sometimes hard-hitting news like interviewing the star of the field hockey team and stuff like that. The show was called The Morning Minute, and I got to be a part of that. And I fell in love with being on camera and creating videos. I am an introvert, so I haven’t figured that out quite yet. But, I really loved the energy of doing that work. I know y’all are in Oswego. I went to Syracuse for undergrad, so I was right down the road. And I know how winters are up there. I went to Syracuse for broadcast journalism. That was my plan. I wanted to be a news anchor. And freshman year of college, I went to my advisor and I said, I want to change from broadcast journalism to undecided and he said “No, you can’t do that. No one does that.” He said, “everyone wants to change from undecided into broadcast journalism.” So I said, “Well, I’ll be the first.” And so I did. [LAUGHTER] I don’t know if that was a smart decision or not. But, I didn’t really do much with video for a while after that, and then sort of flash forward to around 2006, 2007 when I started teaching online, I was working in higher ed and I was teaching a college success course online. And I immediately was trying to figure out how to make that online course more engaging and to create a sense of classroom community and to connect with my students. And I thought, why not make more videos for my online classes, and I just went down the rabbit hole. And I’ve been there ever since. And trying to figure out ways to make videos and make them engaging and efficient and effective. And I hadn’t really thought about it much. And then a couple years into it, I was talking to somebody about it, and I said, “Oh my gosh, I circled back to something that I really loved a long time ago, and it just found a different expression.” I thought I was going to be on the news, which would have been a terrible fit for me because it’s a really intense environment [LAUGHTER} and I kinda like peace and quiet… and teaching in higher ed as a much better fit for me. And I figured out a way to bring videos into that. So, through that experience, I just fell in love with videos, and I’ve been figuring out ways to bring them into my teaching. And then I started talking about it to everybody who would listen, and started sharing that with faculty. So, the book was born of that experience.

Rebecca: What a great journey.

Karen: Yes, a full-circle journey. [LAUGHTER]

John: One of the nice things about your book is that you have some QR codes in the book that give you examples of the things you’re talking about.

Karen: Yes. So, this is funny, I can take zero credit for the QR codes. Those were the idea of my editor, John von Knorring, at Stylus. We were going back and forth on a couple of things and he said, “Karen, what do you think about using QR codes in the book?” And I was like, “Ooh, QR codes…” because the last exposure I had to QR codes was probably 10 years ago when they first came out… and remember you have get the QR code reader app on your phone. They were cool, but they were also a little clunky. And I am pretty intense about keeping things as simple and sustainable as possible, which is in the title of the book. So, I was really a little hesitant about that, like “Are faculty going to have to download an app and remember their app store password to get to these videos.” And John said, “No, QR codes are different now.” So, what I learned is you just open the camera on your phone and hold it over the QR code and you’re brought right to the video. So I said, “Okay, let’s give this a try.” And I’m so, so glad that he had this idea. Because, obviously, a book about videos is enhanced by giving people easy access to some of those videos. So when I was editing the book, and I kept coming across those QR codes, I was just so excited about the chance that faculty would have to access those videos easily. And the last thing I want to say about those I hope when people see the videos that they say “Oh, this is kind of basic, this is nothing special.” That would be the greatest compliment if they see a video and say this is nothing special, because my hope is they see them and think this is something I can do. I’ve been thinking about doing more on YouTube, and I found this site, this higher educator created and the videos were amazing. And I was floored. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so impressed by this.” And at the same time, I was like, “This is not in my power right now to do this…” like I could, but I just don’t have the time and energy. They were sort of hyper-produced polished professional videos, and I think it’s awesome that he did them and there’s a space for that. But, I’m here to advocate for a different type of video that any faculty will feel empowered to create. So, hopefully, when people see the videos, they think this is something I could do.

Rebecca: I really like to focus on being authentic and not doing something that’s overproduced because I think you’re right, that really does intimidate faculty. And sets them back like, “Oh, I can’t do that. I don’t have the time.”

Karen: Yep.

Rebecca: So if we’re doing something that is a little less polished, a little more authentic, a little bit more of in the moment, what are the benefits of doing it that way?

Karen: There’s a lot of benefits. And you mentioned time. So I’m going to start there. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I think we’re all sort of being bombarded. And I know I feel like I’m constantly working to protect my time, and that there’s so many external elements that are seeking to fill my time up. And I know the faculty that I work with are wearing multiple hats. They are teaching, they are department chairs, they are on committees, they come home and grade and prep, under really immense time challenges. So, one of the big philosophies in this book is that videos will make your life easier, and we’ll save you time. I couldn’t rationalize putting something else on faculty’s plate right now because they just have so much. My sense is that this is a system that will ultimately help faculty to be more efficient and to save them time. And the other piece of that that’s really important is that the types of videos that we’re talking about here humanize the online learning experience and the learning experience in general, whether you’re teaching online or land based. So, when you look at a really hyper-produced video, it can be visually stimulating and exciting and really cool to look at. But, it can sometimes make you feel separated and a bit distant. And there’s something special about creating a really basic simple video on the fly… just talking to your students… that helps create that connection. I get to say now… I’ve been excited to start talking about this… the woman who wrote the foreword to the book is just a force in higher education and online learning and the movement to humanize online learning. Her name is Michelle Pacansky-Brock, some of you might know her as Brocansky. That’s her Twitter handle and her website, and she was kind enough to write the foreword for the book and she’s done amazing work with this movement to humanize online learning. And that is a big part of these types of videos is to help students realize that you are a real person and not a robot. So, those are some of the benefits: saving time, not putting a ton of time into creating these videos, and building that human connection with students

John: Ane modeling that should make faculty feel more comfortable too, which makes it more likely they’ll actually start doing this.

Rebecca: Karen, can you elaborate a little bit more on ways that you save time… so, saving time by not making it hyper produced, but I think you were alluding to other ways you might save time as well.

Karen: Yeah, so one of the biggest realizations for me… I didn’t start making videos to save time… I talk about that there was sort of a creative passion for me and I wanted to connect with my students. I actually did a lot of not smart things in my video creation process early on, and I’m now able to share those stories with faculty to save them time. There’s a lot of like, “don’t do this” in the book. I would, for example, add lots of telling details to my first videos. So, I would be like “look at the snow outside of my house” and “can you believe it’s already snowing in November” or I’d say “Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.” I did things like that. So, immediately, as soon as I did that, that video was something I couldn’t use again. And I would also mention specific dates like “the discussion post this week is due on March 27.” And so then that video was dead, I couldn’t use it again. So, one of the things I learned was how to make videos reusable so that I could reuse them from term to term… really just a simple strategy of staying general. So, instead of saying a specific deadline, say “I posted the deadlines for this assignment in the announcements, so please look there.” So, now I can use that video, in a lot of cases, in future terms. And the other thing is that I use videos for frequently asked questions. So, that was a huge realization for me when I would get all these repetitive questions from students term after term after term. Rather than always emailing every student and answering those questions, I could create videos that would be more proactive. So, that was a big shift I noticed in my online classrooms when I started creating videos was that students were more likely to accurately complete the assignments and to be putting forth great work and I didn’t get as many of those repetitive type questions because they were getting those answers in the videos. And that saved me a ton of time. Just, I think, a lot of folks realize that those emails, they seem like, “Oh, it’s just 30 seconds here or there answering them” but they really do add up. So, anything we can do to be proactive there and to still support students and student learning and to get those questions answered. But, to do it in a way that’s more reasonable, I think, is a really powerful shift and videos can help us do that.

John: So, you’ve talked a little bit about how videos can create more of a sense of instructor presence in online classes. And you’ve talked about how it can be used to reduce the workload on faculty by not having to treat an online courses, perhaps a set of independent study for each student were working one-on-one with them by email, but might videos also be useful in face-to-face classes to help flip the classroom?

Karen: That is another track that the book takes and I taught land-based classes before I started teaching online and then for quite a while I was teaching both at the same time. And what’s funny is that my online teaching started to influence my land-based teaching. So, I started to realize that I could use videos in my land-based classes. And that was inspired by my online teaching. That’s something I think we’re starting to talk more about how online courses were sort of originally seen as like second best, like, “Oh, if you can’t take classes in person, you could take them online if you have to.” And I’m an advocate for there’s tons of benefits to online learning, and many of us learn better and more effectively online. And I think we’re now starting to talk about how online teaching can influence land-based teaching. So, that option to bring videos into the land based-classroom is there. It’s something I write about in the book. I think there’s two aspects: the flipped learning mode, for folks who are interested in sort of taking more of the passive learning elements (and I know passive learning some people say is an oxymoron), but, if you’re going to bring students into a land-based classroom and do a lecture, why not record a lecture, send that out, and then do some more interactive stuff in the classroom. So, that’s kind of the flipped-learning model in a nutshell. So, I talk in the book about how you can do that. And I think people are interested in doing that. But a big obstacle is how do I even make those videos? So, I want to make that accessible to people. But, even if you’re not thinking about the flipped learning model specifically, you can send out a welcome video to your land-based students before class starts, to just say, “Hey, I’m looking forward to seeing you. Here’s what you could do to prepare for the first day of classes.” That’s like such a simple 10-minute strategy that gets students prepared to come in and get ready to learn and get going right from the start on that first day. So, that’s just a really simple thing that a land-based professor could do. I talk about when canceling classes or you’re traveling for a conference or we just had a bunch of snow days last week, there’s a lot of opportunities to bring videos into land-based teaching as well.

John: In fact, I had just done that. I was at the OLC conference with Rebecca and quite a few other people, and because I was teaching a large face-to-face class, I created a couple of videos…

Karen: Yay!

John: …inserted some questions, uploaded them as SCORM objects, so that way my students could still do some online quizzing like they would have done if they were in class with clickers. So, videos can have lots of useful purposes in classes.

Karen: Absolutely.

Rebecca: How would you recommend faculty get started?

Karen: Well, I guess the kind of cheeky answer is to buy my book. [LAUGHTER] But in the meantime, certainly folks can check out the videos that I created to accompany the book are posted on my YouTube page. Those are open to anybody and you’re welcome to see those. The way that I learned was through trial and error. The simplest recommendation I have is to record a welcome video on your phone in the YouTube app. That’s just the most basic, simplest type of video I think you can create and welcome students to your class, introduce yourself, tell them what they’re going to learn, why you’re excited about teaching, and share that either with your land-based class or in your online classroom. And what I would also add to that is there’s a lot of anxiety for faculty, and for people in general, about being on camera. And I think this is a challenge. We live in a society where we think, “Oh my gosh, everybody’s putting all of their lives online, what do you mean people are anxious to be on camera?” It’s very different. Facetiming your best friend is very different than recording a video for your students. And a lot of folks are very nervous to do that for a lot of reasons. So, I would just say that to be human, to be nervous, is okay. And I think we’re learning there’s actually a benefit to that. Your students are also nervous, they’re terrified of starting college or a new class. So to see you say, “I’m creating my first video and I’m a little nervous about doing this, but I’m going to give it a try…” that can have such a huge impact on your students and to help normalize fear and frustration which is really important, particularly for our first-generation college students. So, know that that’s not a negative, if you’re nervous to be on camera… that it actually might really be a positive thing for you and your students. This is another thing I get kind of passionate about. There’s a lot of energy out there about you have to create these hyper-produced perfect videos using this very complicated technology. Just shut that out. And if that comes to you down the road… and there is a place for that… I don’t want to knock that… but, it’s okay to keep it really, really simple… a two-minute welcome video, no bells and whistles, just you speaking from the heart is a wonderful place to start.

John: What are some of the most common mistakes that faculty make when they create videos? When should faculty think about trying to avoid?

Karen: Okay, this one is, I think, controversial is a strong word… but I know that I differ from some folks here… I don’t like when people use a script. And here’s why. When people are nervous about being on camera, I think it’s a very logical response to think “I’m going to create a script because if I get nervous, I’ll just read off the script.” And [LAUGHTER] I say this in the book. There’s a very specific population of folks who can read off a script and still be engaging and they are professional broadcasts. Most folks reading off a script… and I’m sure there’s exceptions to this rule… but, if you’re new to being on camera and recording videos, reading off a script can come off as very robotic, and, actually, sort of disengaging, and what we’re looking to do in these types of videos is to be very human and to connect and to reveal ourselves, not in an inappropriately personal level, but to just show our humanity… and reading off a script, I think, can be an obstacle to doing that. So, that’s one of the biggest mistakes I see is that when people are just clearly reading from a screen, it just kind of falls flat. So, my recommendation would be, have an idea of what you want to say and then just speak from the heart. And if you stumble over a few words, amazing, perfect, you get the chance now to show students here’s how to make a mistake and keep going. What could be a more powerful lesson to share with our students then how to make a mistake and keep going? So, that’s actually a good thing. I think the other big thing I see that I talk about is this idea that the camera eats your energy. [LAUGHTER] So, you can take someone who’s pretty engaging in a traditional land-based learning experience and put them on camera and the camera takes some of that energy out of you. So, you do have to be a little bit peppier on camera than you might be in a traditional setting. So, I just remind folks to just add a little bit of pep. I know that can feel weird at first, but to smile and be a little animated… you’ll think that you’re looking a little bit goofy, and you won’t, because the camera will take some of the energy out of that. So, just put a little pep and energy into your videos… to smile… to look like you’re having fun. And you know, fake it till you make it. If you pretend that you’re just loving being on camera and be a little silly, you’ll be surprised how quickly you just do start having fun with it.

John: I had students do some podcasts this semester, and that same issue came up about whether they should use a script, and what I suggested is before they record it they should try it three ways. One is they should try just doing it freeform, then they could record it when they reading from a script, and then they could record it where they’re using an outline to structure it. And I said, record all of those, listen to it and see which sounds more natural. And then that’s what you should go with when you record it. And, maybe that might be a good approach for faculty ,because some people might be better with a script; others might be better when they just have an outline; and others might be better just improvising things.

Karen: I like that, and obviously experience is a great teacher, right? So, one of my philosophies of teaching is that I want to help my students in any setting, whether they’re students or faculty, to become their own best teacher. So, absolutely try out different things. I also think… be a consumer of videos. A funny thing happens when you start making videos, you start to notice a lot about other people’s videos. So, notice the videos that you love that are really engaging and notice the ones that aren’t as engaging and that can give you some clues about your own video creation strategies. Absolutely. But, try out different things. I think that’s great.

Rebecca: A really similar conversation that I just had with my students about web design. they were telling me that they don’t use browsers on their phones. They use mostly apps, and they don’t know what websites look like.

Karen: Oh, wow.

Rebecca: And it’s like, “you might not know what a welcome video looks like if you’ve never seen one, or you never experienced something like that. So, it’s better to seek them out and find out what they’re like and what the genre is even like before making any judgment.”

Karen: Yeah, and you can learn so much. I learn as much from things that I love as from things that don’t seem to work for me. Like, “Oh my gosh, that’s fantastic to know that, for me, a script doesn’t work because I’ve seen a lot of videos where folks are obviously reading off a script.” So, that’s great knowledge. Just start to be a savvy video content consumer and notice what speaks to you. For me, what really speaks to me are just personal, no nonsense, no frills, speaking-from-the-heart types of videos. And again, I think there’s a place for all kinds of videos, but I noticed that there’s a strong contingent out there for the more hyper-produced videos. So, I want to be a voice for these more simple and sustainable videos for sure.

Rebecca: I think the key, like what you’re talking about, is finding whatever feels really authentic to you.

Karen: Yeah, absolutely.

John: One of the most common things that faculty do is create screencasts pf slideshows or other things. What’s your take on whether or not there should be a talking head on those videos? I’ve seen a lot of arguments in many directions there.

Karen: Yeah. So again, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer there. So, I’ve tried to give people a bunch of options. If you have creative videos, where you’re on camera, and you are just incredibly uncomfortable, and that’s translating into the quality of the video that you’re creating. I really want to encourage people to try and practice and I do think most people will come around and start to feel more comfortable and create engaging content being on camera. But if eventually you’re at a point where you’re like “This is just not working for me. It’s not authentic for me.” Then maybe it’s time to set it aside at least for a time, and you can still make really engaging simple, sustainable videos for your students in a lot of other ways, and one of those is to create screencasts, where you’re not on camera, and you’re just recording the content on your screen. So, that’s a really big benefit. That said, I love being on camera. But there are days when I don’t want to be on camera, or I don’t feel that I’m camera ready, per se. I work from home and if just all heck has broken loose that day, but I still need to make a video for my students, I will just sometimes opt to not be on camera. So, it’s just a good option to be able to do screencasts. The other thing I do say is to think about attention and cognitive load, and I almost always add my headshot to a screencast. But if you have already established that relationship with your students and built that connection, and you feel like being that little thumbnail of you being on camera might be a little bit distracting, If you’re perhaps presenting a complicated concept to them in the screencast, then maybe you want to stay off camera so that they can use all of their attention and mental resources to focus on the screencasts itself and not on you. And there’s a benefit to that. I talk a lot about thinking about your instructional goals and meeting your students needs and your needs when you decide what type of video to create.

Rebecca: I like that emphasis on: there’s two audiences here that you need to address: yourself and your own humaness [sic] and time and whatever as well as the student.

Karen: I’m really glad you said that, that ended up becoming a really big theme of the book. I set out to write this book about videos and one of the big themes became faculty success. And I’ve written and talked about this before. We often talk about faculty success only in relation to student success. And faculty are sometimes treated as a means to an end. And I don’t think that works, and I don’t think it’s going to work. I think that we need to talk about faculty success as being worthy in its own right. And I really try to look for, and advocate for, those spaces of mutuality, where both faculty and students are benefiting. I think with our limited time and energy and resources that those are the spaces that we really should be investing our attention to support this work we do in higher education. I’ll bring staff in there as well, all the wonderful staff that work in higher education. We can’t create cultures of care that are only focused on caring for students, [LAUGHTER] and that sacrifice faculty and staff. That’s not what a culture of care is. So, I think it’s really important for faculty to think about, “Yes, this is what I want to teach students and I care about student learning and success, and how is this going to impact me…” and it’s okay to take that into consideration and to look for perhaps a compromise where you’re able to do both.

Rebecca: I really like your emphasis on sustainability as well. One of the things that I’ve done in the past because I teach such a technical area that changes so frequently, is that I had a lot of technical screencast videos that were really helpful to students, they really love that it was me talking to them for all those reasons about having established a relationship and it was familiar. When I screwed up, It was like they liked that, but then they would get out of date so quickly.

Karen: Yeah.

Rebecca: So, I moved away from that for a while, but I’ve actually moved back to doing it again. But, on a much smaller scale that’s more manageable, where it’s something that I think it’s going to last a long time rather than some of the things that are changing or a little more nuanced, or that there’s a lot more conversation that might have to happen around those topics.

Karen: I just had a huge smile on my face as you’re describing that journey and the evolution of your system because that really describes my video [LAUGHTER] creation evolution as well. I had so many videos… just all in with videos, and I set myself up in a way that wasn’t sustainable and then I got a little bit burned out with making them. I had a room in my house with lighting and a screen and every time I wanted to create a video, it became this huge thing. And I had so many videos that they weren’t always reusable, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was still making them but my production level just went down pretty drastically. And now, for me, the priorities are making sure students are able to navigate my online courses, [LAUGHTER] because I don’t think we realize how scary that is to go into an online course. We’re in there all the time, we know it like the back of our hand, and for a student who’s new to college or new to online learning to go into an online course, is incredibly overwhelming. So, I always want to have videos that kind of show them around, welcoming them into our classroom, and then building those connections with my students: speaking from the heart, reaching out to say thank you, and to connect with them. And since I’ve gone back to those basics, I’m in a much better place with my system. So, I think we need to talk about sustainability and teaching, not only with videos, but with teaching in general. So, that’s another big theme of the book.

John: I think you had, in one of your videos, a discussion of Powtoons and using similar tools. Am I correct on that?

Karen: Yes. Powtoons are another alternative I talk about. I like to give people options. So, we’re not all going to feel comfortable being on camera, Powtoons are something I discovered a few years ago, and it’s a great website. It’s like a lot of our tech tools. There’s a free version, and a paid version. And with the free version you can create really adorable [LAUGHTER] little videos for your students. Powtoons are animated videos, and they give you a template, so you can just pop in a few different elements. And you can have a little avatar of yourself or you can bring in a picture of yourself. And they’re a great option for faculty who don’t want to be on camera, but still want to create really fun and cool videos for their students. So, a little bit more complicated than creating a screencast, in my experience, but if you are artsy, you’re creative, and that’s something that’s a really important part of your teaching practice, Powtoon’s a great option.

Rebecca: Do you address accessibility at all of your books?

Karen: Yes. Accessibility is something I’m learning a lot about in the past couple of years, making that shift from an accommodations mindset, which was where I think I was, and I think a lot of us were and still are, to a model of accessibility. So, I’m not an expert on it. There’s a lot of great folks out there who are. But, what I know is that I have a lot to learn and that for me, sort of a basic strategy is to add captions to our videos, and to make sure that we’re not just relying on the auto-generated captions that we get in YouTube, which aren’t always accurate, and to make sure that all of our students can access our videos and enjoy our videos. So, there’s a lot of talk about captions in higher education right now. So, they do add some time to your video creation process. What I recommend is that you start where you are, and if you already created videos and you need to go back (I’m doing this myself), start adding captions. And when you create a new video, just take the time. It seems like it’s more time… Once you get the hang of it. It usually takes about, depending on the length of the video, but if you’ve got a five-minute video, it shouldn’t take you more than five or six minutes to add captions, and it’s worth its weight in gold for what it will do for our students. So, start there, and my hope is that we’re going to see some more tools that support faculty in creating accurate captions for their videos. And we’re not quite there yet. It’s still requires some manual labor. But, the important thing is to keep that in mind, and to have that accessibility mindset, and to keep learning. I think we’re all learning every day about accessibility.

REBCCA: The cognitive load is a great reason for a short video, but so is accessibility. [LAUGHTER] …for the captions.

Karen: Yeah, absolutely.

John: For people who are getting started, are there any recommendations you have for either hardware or software?

Karen: I keep it really, really simple. So, I think most of us have a built-in webcam on their computers. And I say go with that. Some folks like to purchase an external webcam that is a little bit better quality. You do not need to do that. You can work with the webcam that’s built into your computer. You used to be able to record videos on your desktop in YouTube and you can’t do that anymore. So, that sort of added an additional layer, I record using a tool called Screencast-O-Matic, which I talk about quite a bit in the book [LAUGHTER], and I hope it’s around for a very long time. It is right now, in my opinion… I’ve tried a bunch of different options… it’s the most intuitive tool that we have. And I record in Screencast-O-Matic. I can record my headshot-type videos, I can record screencasts, or a combination of both. And then right through screencasts, I can upload my videos onto YouTube, and it takes me… for a five-minute video… the entire process takes me about 10 minutes. So, I would absolutely recommend… I use the free version. There is a paid version… I use the free version. I upload into YouTube also free. I do my captions in YouTube. And then I share with my students. The only other thing that I have invested in, which came with my phone, are earbuds and that’s what I use. I used to have a bunch of different microphones, and I just stick with my basic earbuds now and they get the job done. So, I keep it that simple.

Rebecca: And when you keep it that simple. It’s a portable studio.

Karen: Yeah, absolutely.

John: And your smartphone can also make it even more portable when you’re doing something in the field or on-site somewhere,

Karen: Yeah, a lot of folks are using their smartphones and I think that’s fantastic. And I talk a lot about it in the book, I’m kind of embarrassed to say this… I’m always in front of my computer working. So we have kind of a good relationship, my computer and I. [LAUGHTER] But for a lot of folks, they’re going to feel more comfortable on their smartphone. It’s a different energy for me. I don’t know what it is, I feel like I have my professional energy on my computer. And when I do record sometimes on my smartphone that feels like a more personal space for me. So, I don’t feel like my best video creation self when I’m recording on my smartphone. But, I know a lot of folks who do it, and as you said, it can go with you anywhere. So, if you’re out and about in the world and you see a teachable moment that you can share with your students, you can pull it out and record right on the spot. And I should mention through the YouTube app on your phone, you can record, which you can’t do on your desktop. So, for some folks if they don’t want to use Screencast-O-Matic, that would be a really simple option to record through the YouTube app on their phone,

John: Why might including videos be especially important in online classes?

Karen: I guess I just want to emphasize that I think we’re learning more and more about the importance of faculty-student relationships and connections, particularly in the online learning environment. And I would say that we’re talking a lot about online course design, which is fantastic. I am trying to get out there as a voice to talk about online teaching. And I saw on Twitter the other day, someone said, “Well, course design and teaching are two sides of the same coin.” And I think that makes a lot of sense. But I really want to get out there that just designing an excellent course is obviously an important place to start. And we also need to think about how we’re teaching and facilitating those online courses. And for me, it always comes back to relationships and building a positive classroom community. And what I’ve heard from my students over the years is that videos help them to feel connected to me. So, I cannot tell you the number of times in my course evaluations that students will say, “I thought that I was not going to know my online teacher, I thought that I would never see my online teacher, I didn’t know what to expect. And I feel like I really know Karen through the videos that she created for us.” And a lot of them… students are real smart… a lot of the comments will say, “The videos were really helpful for my understanding of course, assignments and learning and I really love that Karen took the time to make them.” So, they see that videos are not only a tool for teaching, but they’re an expression of caring… of my care for them. And I think that really impacts their learning experience. So, I really want to emphasize that relationships, human relationships, are important to online teaching and I hope we’ll continue to focus more on that in the future. And I think videos are going to be a big part of that.

John: When is your book scheduled for release?

Karen: Well, I just submitted the second round of edits and the index and we’re going to be seeing it… Deadlines come and go and shift, but we’ll be seeing it hopefully in early 2020. I’m sure I’ll be updating everyone on the specific date when I have it. [LAUGHTER]

John: And you’ve shared with us a link to a discount code for our listeners. So, we’ll include that in the show notes.

Karen: Awesome. Thank you. Folks can pre-order the book now if they’re interested as well.

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

Karen: [LAUGHTER] I have to share this. There’s a woman I follow online. She’s an author. She’s an activist. Her name is Glennon Doyle Melton. She wrote a book that was one of Oprah’s selections, so she gains a huge audience through that. And she shared a story online recently. She was interviewed for a podcast, and they asked her that and she said something like, “Well, I’m gonna go pick up my kids from school…” and the interviewer said, “No, I mean, like in your career and your future…” and she said, “Oh, I don’t really think about that. I just think about doing the next best thing.” So, I really love that, [LAUGHTER] because I do try to focus on just doing the next best thing, which for me is wrapping up this term, this semester, in a really positive way. I think my sense is we’re all really sort of feeling it right now. And this is a tough time of year in higher education. And at the same time, I really want to end on a positive note with my students and my faculty, even though I’m tired, and I’m ready to wrap things up. I don’t want that to negatively impact my students or faculty in any way, I just really want to finish strong and honor all the work they’ve done this term. So, I’m focused on taking care of myself and having a positive end to the semester for all parties. This book journey has been pretty wild and it’s been going for a while now. So, I’m really excited to actually see it come out into the world and to share it with faculty and… I love working with higher ed faculty so much and they’re doing such good work in the world. So, I hope that this can be a tool to help them be happier, healthier, and to feel empowered in their work.

Rebecca: I think it will.

John: I’m looking forward to receiving a copy of the book.

Rebecca: I think at the end of the book when it finally is released, then it’s time to have the tea party.

Karen:I will need to do something to celebrate that. [LAUGHTER] I described the process as like, “I’ve never run a marathon, but I imagine writing a book and publishing is like running four marathons.” So, I don’t know where I am in that process, but…

Rebecca: …you just know you’ll be really tired when it’s done. [LAUGHTER]

Karen: Yeah, tired and grateful. Yeah, absolutely.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us today.

John: Thank you.

Karen: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

[MUSIC]

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

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

115. Tangelo Park

Unequal access to educational opportunities in the United States has helped to create a poverty trap from which it is difficult to escape. In this episode, Dr. Chuck Dziuban and Harris Rosen join us to discuss a remarkable program that demonstrates how students and communities can flourish when educational barriers are eliminated.

Chuck is the Director of the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where he has been a faculty member since 1970, teaching research design and statistics. He is also the founding director of the university’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. Harris Rosen is the owner of several large hotels in Orlando and a philanthropist who has invested heavily in the Tangelo Park and Parramore school systems.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Unequal access to educational opportunities in the United States has helped to create a poverty trap from which it is difficult to escape. In this episode, we explore a remarkable program that demonstrates how students and communities can flourish when educational barriers are eliminated.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our guests today are Dr. Chuck Dziuban and Harris Rosen. Chuck is the Director of the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where he has been a faculty member since 1970, teaching research design and statistics. He is also the Founding Director of the university’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. Harris Rosen is the owner of several large hotels in Orlando and a philanthropist who has invested heavily in the Tangelo Park and Parramore school systems.

Welcome.

Chuck: Thank you.

Harris: Yes, welcome. Thank you.

John: Are teas today are:

Harris: I have the blueberry and it’s caffeine free. That’s what I drink: blueberry tea, caffeine free.

Rebecca: Yum.

Chuck: and I have orange spice.

Harris: …and is it okay if I put a little honey in it? [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: You have our permission for sure.

Chuck: Thank you.

Harris: Thank you so much.

Rebecca: I’m drinking royal English breakfast today,

John: I’m drinking Tazo Refresh Mint tea today. The first program that you worked on was the Tangelo Park Community school program that began in 1993. And the more recent preschool program was instituted in the Parramore Community schools. Could you tell us about the origin first of the Tangelo Park program?

Harris: Yes, well, we go all the way back to 1993. And I remember, very vividly, sitting in my office and thinking about how incredibly fortunate I’d been… from New York City’s Lower East Side to college, in the army, and then ultimately working for Disney, and then after Disney purchasing a tiny little motel here in Central Florida. And at that point of time, in 1993, the owner of five hotels with my sixth under construction… and planning and dreaming about another property, a resort property they I always dreamed about having. And it occurred to me that I’ve been blessed beyond anything I ever imagined. And that a voice said to me, “Harris, it’s time for you to offer a helping hand to those in need and to say thank you, God.” And so I thought about that for a while, and I remember growing up in New York. My mom would be very, very strict with my brother and myself in terms of doing homework and getting good grades, indicating that if we did well, one day we wouldn’t live in the neighborhood we lived. And the neighborhood we lived in was between the East River, Little Italy, the Bowery, and Chinatown. Not exactly a gated community. And so my brother and I certainly dreamt one day that we wouldn’t be living there. And so, here I was sitting at my desk with all of the things that have occurred in my life being so incredibly blessed. So, I called a couple of friends of mine, because education was something that was always very important growing up, Bill Stone and Sarah Sprinkle. Sarah, an early childhood expert; Bill, a Principal of one of the top high schools here in Orlando. And we met several days later, and I said, “I want to do something that has to do with education. What do I do? I can give college scholarships. If you think that’s probably the answer.” But the answer was a little bit more complex. It was “Let’s put together a program that is a little bit different, Harris. Let’s create a preschool program for 2-, 3-, and 4-year olds and then let’s offer fellowships, complete scholarships, for those who are accepted to either college or community college, or perhaps a vocational school. And I said, “God, that sounds beautiful. That sounds really simple. Let’s think about doing it.” And so we thought about it. And we ultimately decided that all we really needed was a community. And so I called Orange County Commission. And I spoke to Commissioner Mabel Butler. And I said, “Mabel, this is where I am right now with a thought, all I need is a neighborhood, an underserved community.” She said “I’ll be right over.” I said “Really?” [LAUGHTER] She said “Yup, I’ve got something in mind.” And she did. She came right over, then drove me to a community not too far from my office. And she said, “Harris, welcome to Tangelo Park.” I said, “Well, wonderful.” And she said, “Well, not wonderful. This community is under siege. It is in terrible, terrible straits. Crime is out of control. Drug abuse is absolutely outrageous. Teachers that teach here at the Tangelo Park Elementary School have to leave with security. As soon as classes are over, they’re not permitted to stay.” I said, “Oh my God, that’s awful.” But she said “The neighborhood wants to change. And that’s a good thing.” So I was introduced to some of the neighborhood individuals, and I just introduced myself as who I was without going into any detail. And then I was introduced to the Principal of the elementary school, Bob Allen. And I shared with Bob what I had in mind. He said, “Harris, look, let’s have a neighborhood meeting, and you share with the neighborhood what it is that you have in mind.” And I said, “Fine.” So, several days later, I was asked to go back to Tangelo, which I did, and there were about maybe 100 people there at the meeting, and I indicated what it was that I had in mind, and the reception was not what I had anticipated. People, I think, just didn’t understand what the program was, but they were wondering “If I have a child that 16 or 17, I guess he or she won’t be able to take advantage of this scholarship, but if they’re 2, by the time they’re 17 they’ll be able to go to college for free.” And I thought that that might be something that was puzzling them. And I said, “Well wait… in June, those youngsters of yours who are in college, I will pay everything. Those of you who have youngsters in high school and are graduating and are contemplating college, community college, or vocational school, I’ll take care of everything.” Well, the place went crazy. [LAUGHTER] And that was the beginning of the Tangelo Park program. We’ve been doing Tangelo Park now for 26 years. And Chuck can give you all of the data in terms of how many kids we’ve sent to college, what the graduation rates are, what the return on investment is, all of that stuff, but that was it. It wasn’t complicated. In the army, we learned K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) and we kept the program simple at Tangelo. We had a challenge because we didn’t know where to put the preschool, because the Tangelo Park Elementary School certainly was not able to accommodate a preschool. So we drove around the neighborhood and spoke with individuals who owned homes (they were all single-family homes), and we asked them if they might mind if we converted a little part of their home into a tiny little preschool accommodating about six children. And we would pay for all of the refurbishing, provide all of the material, and they would be certified, we would certify them as certified caregivers. Well, within a very short period of time, we had 10 volunteers. So, we had 10 little preschools, and that was the beginning of the Tangelo Park program. Boy, that was a long babble, wasn’t it?

John: That’s wonderful.

Rebecca: No, it’s a great story.And I really love the idea that it bookends. We tend to think about interventions being K-12. But it’s interesting that the intervention is really a before school, and then after K-12. Can you talk a little bit about some of the results that you’ve seen by having the interventions at this early stage

Harris: Before Chuck will provide you with all of those details, you mentioned preschool two, three, and four. What we have discovered, and I think it’s fairly common knowledge now, the brain develops more in 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year olds and then at anytime else in their lives. So, Isn’t it wonderful to begin education then to what a wonderful advantage these youngsters have in kindergarten, and elementary school, and middle school, and high school, and in college. And so that’s why we decided to do 2, 3, 4 programs, because it’s a perfect time to do it.

Rebecca: I have a two year old so I deeply understand what you mean. [LAUGHTER] She’s rich in learning everything. She’s in preschool and you can just see her brain exploding with new information and new ideas. She’s a sponge.

Harris: I had four for a while, a five-, a four-, a three-, and a one-year old. So, I know what you’re talking about. [LAUGHTER]

Chuck: Let me just review. I just love to hear Harris tell story. To be clear, in Tangelo, it starts at two years of age. quality education begins at two years of age, three years of age, four years of age, pre K, all the way through school that begins. But, all the way through the system, these children in Tangelo are supported. They get support all the way through the school. They start with a tremendous advantage coming into kindergarten. They come in and in many cases reading. It’s just a marvelous kind of experience. But, we also have a program in Tangelo for years where we work with the parents…. parent leadership… help them become advocates and help them learn how to become leaders in the school, help them how to negotiate with the school on their children’s behalf. Oftentimes these parents would go in and confront. That’s not the way to do it. The way is to learn how the school operates and then advocate for their children. Then, all the way through, we have a counselor at the high school who works with the children all the way through… prepares them for college… and the results are really amazing. So, they begin to prepare for college. We have an alumni association: students who have graduated from college and come back.. work in the community… and are activists. To be clear, not every student has to go to college. Harris pays for many other things. They can go to community college, they can choose to go to the military, God bless them. And if they want to go to vocational school and learn a productive trade, there is support for that as well, so they have lots of options. We understand that college is not for everyone. Given those kinds of things, given those bookends, as you said, Rebecca, the results are nothing short of amazing. Now I’ll say this about Harris, in the early years, he didn’t want to collect any data. And then what began to happen is people began to notice the program. And then they began asking for data. So, Harris said to me at one time, “Chuck, we need data.” So, we have data.

Let me give you some of the data. We know that the children both in Parramore and Tangelo are making tremendous cognitive gains from two to four years of age. They’re also learning things like executive function, how to control their anger, how to work in groups, all of the kinds of social skills that they need to function well in groups and work with college. They’re also learning social-emotional skills, how to communicate their feelings. So all of these wrap up around in this early childhood program. Now, 26 years ago in Tangelo, we reckon (as best we can tell) the graduation rate in high school from Tangelo was about 60%. Today, it’s 100%. Virtually every child within Tangelo graduates from high school. We’ll talk about the impact of that financially in just a minute. So, from 60% to 100% graduation. Now, if they choose to go to college, they can go either to community college and through our direct connect program move on to a State University of Florida college. And you have to listen very carefully to this. Mobility rates have gone down greatly in Tangelo. They used to move away, now they don’t. So, those children who are eligible, they just don’t move away. Those children who remain in Tangelo and are eligible for the college scholarship, graduate at a rate of 78% from college. Caveat, they remain in the community. Think about this. Because I’ll tell you right now, the national data show that if a student lives in the lowest economic quartile in this country, the chance of their graduating from college is 10%. The odds against them are 10 to 1. That’s unacceptable. And Harris will tell you, we are wasting millions of minds In this country, we raise that to 78%. Even if all the kids, even the kids who don’t graduate from college, they have college exposure, all the data shows they make more money in their lives than if they’ve never ended college at all. Crime rate in Tangelos is down 78%.

Harris: Correct.

Chuck: That is nothing short of amazing. Harris will talk to you about that as well. But preschool, college graduation, high school graduation, success in college has tremendous impact. So Tangela was fixed, in a way. My kids are older, they’d graduated, I’d move into Tangelo for the scholarship. Why not? Rebecca, move to Tangelo. [LAUGHTER] Your kids have a scholarship. So, that’s the general picture. John and Rebecca, have your listeners contact me. I will send anyone in the country all the data… the data, they are compelling. That’s what I have.

Rebecca: One of the things that you were mentioning is related to a lot of our previous episodes about first-generation college students and the lack of support networks that they might have or not knowledge about how to negotiate school institutions like college, but also their high schools to get the resources and things you need. So, I really love that your program includes educating the parents and supporting the parents and learning how to navigate those systems, especially if they’re not familiar.

Chuck: Well, sooner or later, you should ask him how much he‘s spending on this. [LAUGHTER] Because it is a bargain of the century. But, what we noticed in Tangelo to expenditures, preschool and college scholarship at the beginning of the program, most of the expenditure was for college scholarship, and then it crossed over. And Harris became concerned. He was saying “What’s going on here?” …and what’s going on here is, as the students know how to negotiate the system, they’re getting other scholarships. So the Rosen scholarship becomes a safety net. If they don’t get a scholarship, he pays the full ride, but they’re getting other scholarships because they know how to operate the system. They work with the counselor, there are transitions of all kinds.

Harris: Yeah, I must confess that I was really quite concerned. All of a sudden, I’m looking at data…. I can now pronounce that correctly, right? It’s not data [said with a soft “a”], it’s data [said with a hard “a”], [LAUGHTER] and I’m looking at data and I’m looking at a line that’s declining… a line that previously was skyrocketing. And I was like, “Oh, my God, we’re failing.” No! Grade point averages in high school have skyrocketed from let’s say, 2.00 to 3.7. And these youngsters are qualifying for so many other scholarships. Rosen, you have become a safety net. And that’s actually what happened. Now, there’s one thing that Chuck mentioned that I can touch upon, crime in the neighborhood down almost 80%. Oh, my God. So, about a year ago, I met with Sheriff Demings, and he said, “Harris, I have to tell you something.” “What’s that Sheriff?” He said, “Tangelo Park. We just have to thank you so much. I said ”What have I done?” “Are you kidding, we hardly get any calls over there. We now consider Tangelo Park to be an oasis. There’s less crime in Tangelo Park than there is most of the gated communities here in Central Florida. Thank you.” Amazing, isn’t it?

Chuck: One more thing about data. I love data. John knows I love data. [LAUGHTER] People ask the wrong questions, or ask the wrong metric. And here’s the question they ask: “How many graduated from high school? How many scholarships did you give? How many went to college?” How many graduated, divide.” The wrong metric. Let me tell you, given where Tangelo was of the 500 or more college scholarships that were awarded, the expectation would have been 45 college graduates. You know how many we have? 154. We have increased the probability of graduating from college in Tangelo Park by 300%. We have produced 216 college degree. Why? Because they’re getting multiple degrees. We have 26 graduate degrees. So, what they do is they they get an Associates, they get a bachelors, they get a graduate degree. We have doctors, we have lawyers. It is amazing. That is the right thing. You’re offering hope to this community. And when you offer hope, amazing things happen.

Harris: That’s so much positive stuff. But there is a negative component. We’ve been doing this now for 26 years, we spoke to some of the wealthiest individuals in America and some of the largest foundations in America… maybe in the world. Nobody else has replicated the program, despite all of this incredible data. Why? They certainly have the financial resources to do it. We cannot figure that out. Why, why, why, why? Out of complete frustration and because I wanted to continue to do good things, we adopted the Parramore community three years ago, and the same results are forthcoming and yet no one else in the entire United States of America has raised his hand and said: “Rosen, the results are amazing. We have underserved communities in Ohio. We have underserved communities in Chicago. We have underserved communities in Baltimore, we’ll do it.” Why not? I don’t understand. It’s driving me crazy.

Chuck: John and Rebecca, what I like to say is the funding crickets keep chirping in three-0year cycles. You have to understand this is a 26-year commitment. This is not a three-year funded cycle.

Harris: Oh, yeah. And I think Chuck raises a very good point, because I used to foolishly… when people would say, “Harris, how long do we do the program?” I said, “Well, in perpetuity.” I would see them almost wanting to throw up. Well, that’s a long, long time. And so we just say now until the neighbor transforms into perhaps a middle income community, but that might be the obstacle. We don’t know how long we have to do this. And we might have to do it for a very long period of time. How sad it is, though, that that is a hurdle that can’t be overcome.

Chuck: Yeah.

Harris: What is so wonderful about this, is that those individuals who have wealth can benefit. “Rosen, how do they benefit by doing something good.” They have a good feeling. Oh, no, no, no, no. Because every youngster who graduates from high school will earn over his or her lifetime, a half a million dollars more. So, I don’t care what business I’m in in that community, I’m going to benefit from that, right? If I can get all of these youngsters to graduate from high school, they’re all going to be earning a half million dollars more over a lifetime. They’ll come into my store and buy stuff, or they will avail themselves of the service I provide. And the United States of America is a beneficiary. Because for every dollar we have provided, and I think it’s about $16, $17 million so far, society receives a return on investment of $7. So we if we invest a a million, it’s $7 million; if we invest $100 million, It’s $700 million. My God, what a wonderful investment is that if you’re in business, if you’re in the private sector, and yet not enough to persuade people to say “we’ll hop on board.”

Chuck: And this 7 to 1 is not off of the top of our head. We hired an economist from the University of Chicago to do a return on investment study of Tangelo and he came back with a conservative estimate of $7 put back to society for every one that is invested in Tangelo and Parramore. So, the thing that’s a side effect that we’ve just begun to figure out is the economic impact of this philanthropy is tremendous. We were always working around, this is the right thing to do. But now we discovered amazing things that there are 1.2 million students who do not graduate from high school; they drop out every year. If we created a program that allowed them to graduate each year we would add $10 billion to the United States economy. Those are facts. The reduction in crime would be astounding. There is a huge economic impact of the Tangelo model. It’s not just the right thing to do. It will change the economy of this country. It costs far less to educate a student than it does to incarcerate them.

Harris: What is so amazing is this. It’s almost as if God is watching us and is tormented as we are by the lack of others to hop on board. And he said: “Maybe we have to change the equation, guys. Maybe instead of it just being a completely philanthropic initiative, we could infuse some economic benefits also.” Oh really God, economic benefits. My God. That’s amazing. A half a million dollars they graduate from high school, add another 200,000 maybe a million dollars of graduate from college, depending on the degree… crime will evaporate and save billions and billions and billions of dollars. The return on investment is seven to one. So, if you invest a bit and we as a society get back 7 billion and we’re doing something really good. Isn’t that the perfect, perfect, perfect scenario? Excuse me, I get a little bit excited about that.

Chuck: He does.

Rebecca: So, I’ll say it sounds pretty good to me. One of the discussions that happens a lot in K-12 and also in college settings is about diversifying student bodies and bringing underrepresented groups to college and then, of course, transforming different disciplines as a result… like careers and fields. And it seems like if we can get kids that would normally be in college to college that starts to actually solve or address some of those problems or those things that we really want to accomplish in higher ed and really in our society writ large.

Harris: So, this really is, if there is a perfect kind of philanthropy, this is perfect. Look at the wonderful things we’re doing. Yes. And I’m not patting myself on the back. It does accomplish some wonderful things. In addition to that, the private sector, the United States of America is the beneficiary. Look, if I were president of the United States of America, I would invite some of the wealthiest individuals in America and I would invite Harris and Chuck and some other people Lance Lochner and I’d say “Guys, talk about your program because we have people here who can hop on board in a heartbeat… people here from Baltimore, from Detroit, from Chicago. We want them to do as you guys have done and guess what? They will benefit from this also.” That’s my dream.

Chuck: We want your dream to come true. We believe, deep in our hearts, that the talent pool in our underserved communities is as deep as any gated community in this country. We know it. We’ve seen it all of the time. And the things that you say, Rebecca, are absolutely true. We have to reform our universities to understand better how to deal with more diversity. We have to help these students when they get to college. We’ve heard lots of things about these students as they come on to college campuses. It’s just not walking onto a campus and succeeding. They need support all the way through. You know what? I love Oswego. By the way, these people are sitting where I went to school, I went to school in Oswego, and you just bury yourself in snow. [LAUGHTER] But, you’re right. We’ve gotta support from that two-year old program all the way through, and then we’ve got to pay it forward. But we can’t understand and I said this again, and I’d love to do it again. The funding cricket keeps chirping in three-year cycle, you cannot fund for three years. It will not work. It cannot work. You’ve got to stay with it. Think about this… 7 to 1. And it’s only a conservative estimate. And now we’re going to put together an economic package. The data we have are astounding. We have some data that suggests that 75% of high school dropouts commit crimes. You can’t have it.

Harris: This is not very complicated. Not very complicated at all. If we can convince wealthy individuals and foundations throughout America, to do what we’ve done, adopt underserved communities… if we can make sure that every underserved community in America has a preschool component, and every single one of those youngsters stay in high school until they graduate, we will change America, one underserved community at a time. And we will not recognize what we have become: the perfect nation in the world.

Chuck: Yes, you can see, he’s not very passionate about this. [LAUGHTER] I want to repeat, I have all the data. It is clear, it is compelling. Please have your people contact you, I will send them the data, the return on investment study, any videos they want. And when you hear the testimony of these young people, how their lives have changed, it makes you want to weep.

Harris: And so Chuck,, we can invite them to Parramore and Tangelo Park.

Chuck: …anybody who wants to come.

Harris: You would not believe what you see. Two-, three- and four-year olds reading! …enthusiastic about school… can’t wait until they finish high school and go to college. It’s amazing, transforming these underserved communities by infusing hope. That’s all that we’re doing.

John: And that does require that long-term commitment that you mentioned. Now, you talked a little bit about those preschools. Could you tell us a little bit more about how they were set up? You said they were groups of five or six or five to seven children in each?

Chuck: Yes, the original Tangelo, as Harris said, the school was simply not capable of adding a facility that would be a preschool. But, there was some talk about this in terms of what would you do? How can you get around this program? So, what Harris did is he refitted houses, he trained residents. Now, we had 10 preschool residents who were trained to work with the school system. This is an education, but he was providing employment for them as well. So, he infused an economic component into this preschool kind of thing. And they were wonderful. We have all kinds of videos, you would love it. John and Rebecca, you should come down and sit with these kids… learning, learning, learning… We’ll send you videos, you can see them. But what happened is… we’ve been doing this for 26 years and most of the daycare provider educators are retiring. So, the natural thing to do is Harris simply build facilities in the new school. We have a set up now where we have two facilities. The preschool program was just wonderful. It was wonderful because it was in homes. The parents knew the providers, they trusted the providers. They were in the community, so if the parents who were little late getting home to pick up the kids, it was no big deal. It was a perfect, perfect scenario for the community at the time. And the new school in Parramore is phenomenal. It is just amazing. Because the model was like going into schools and houses in Tangelo, it is now built so every classroom looks like you’re going into a home. It’s amazing.

Harris: And that is something that we learned from Tangelo Park that the youngsters just loved the home environment. They did so beautifully. They were tranquil and they were eager to learn and the caregivers were so wonderful. So, we said: “Now in Parramore, how do we recreate that feeling?” If you come down and visit the Parramore preschool, you will not believe it. It’s almost as though you’re entering a beautiful area with little homes throughout, because each school room has a door that looks like a home door with a little mailbox next to it and you walk in, and it looks like a little part of a home. And we have preserved the integrity of the six to one. We have 12 youngsters, two teachers… two caregivers… and it works beautifully. So, we can replicate it. You don’t need to have that home, you can replicate the environment and the feeling. And we’ve done that.

Rebecca: It just sounds like the next step in maturing that idea.

Chuck: Oh, absolutely. We have talked to experts all over the country. And we know without a doubt that this education has to begin early. Our adage is “the first year of college begins at two years of age.”

John: There’s a lot of research suggesting that. I know in economics, that’s where most of the cognitive differences start to show up in test performance. That’s an ideal time to start it.

Chuck: John, I forgot you’re an economist. We’ll have you come down and do the next return on investment study. [LAUGHTER]

Harris: The United Negro College Fund… I think Chuck touched on this… says “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” We’re too great a nation to be wasting minds. We can do better than that. Preschool, and then the college scholarship program…, but make sure preschool and then high school graduation. That’s the key component. College… not required. Wonderful, but preschool and high school graduation… focus laser lik on that.

Rebecca: It’s clear where folks who could fund projects like this into the equation. What role do you see educators or higher education playing in advocating for programs like this or helping propel initiatives like this forward?

Chuck: Well, I can speak from the university’s side because I’ve represented the University of Central Florida 26 years and I can see that universities in many ways are going to have to change the way we do business. One, you need to ask about the organization of the Tangelo Park program. There is none. What we do is we make a decision every month in the community board meeting. That’s all there is. There’s no chart , no organizational chart. There are no CEOs, nobody is paid. We’re all volunteers. Harris provides the support that’s necessary, but it is the right thing to do. And it really puts organizations off because it’s so…. What did he use the term? K.I.S.S. That’s what it is. It’s very simple. It’s very informal. It’d be interesting for you to see Harris as the treasurer for the board. And his report is “I paid the bills, end of report.” [LAUGHTER] But the notion is, therefore then Rebecca, there’s no overhead. You know what I mean about grants in colleges and universities. Every dime goes to the program. So, universities are going to have to really change how they look at their notion of philanthropy. Our notion is to go to a foundation in the program and take our cut. There’s no cut in there. And then we’re working a great deal with adaptive learning. I did a podcast for you on adaptive learning. If you put a kid in college algebra for one semester, there’s going to be a difference in how much each of them learns. We have to rethink the way we deliver education. There’s no question. You can’t take a kid from Tangelo and put them in college and give them 21 hours, it’s the wrong thing to do. They have to acclimate to higher education.

Harris: So, we have been asked on occasion why, when we’re asked about the public sector, we say no. My understanding is that government now is about… is it 22… 23 trillion in the hole. They can’t afford to do anything like this. I’m a little guy, but our little company has no debt. I can afford to do this. There are thousands and thousands of thousand people like me out there. I want them to get off their tush. I want them to listen to what it is that we have to say, ask for whatever material or information they want, step out of their office, take a look at their neighborhood, find an underserved community and do what we’ve done. Now, I must confess that early on, 23 years ago, I wasn’t sure if the public school system would be able to do the job. They have done a brilliant job. I am so proud of them. We don’t need private schools, we can do it within the public school system. And what happens is when the teachers see these youngsters start school at two and enter kindergarten already reading and writing and knowing colors and numbers and everything, they’re motivated. And when they know that these youngsters will all graduate from high school, and some of them will go on to college and not have to pay a penny. So when they’re sitting around with their friends in college, and inevitably that conversation is “How much money do you owe?” and our kids silently smile. They don’t owe a penny. So, government doesn’t have to be involved. The public school system can do it. We, the private sector, might have to help with the preschool component, as we did. But, aside from that, let the private sector do what the private sector should do support this wonderful program.

Chuck: The lessons that have been learned, there is no question that this has worked. The lesson that is learned is that there is no question that it can be replicated in hundreds of communities across the country. We have people all over the country doing pieces of it: preschool programs, scholarships, but we have yet to have someone put the entire program together somewhere. We don’t give up. We’re going to keep trying. And I’m going to emphasize again, I have all the data, we have a template. If somebody wants to learn how to do Tangelo, we have it. We have everything. So, the lesson that we have learned is that we do have hope. We have so many stories we could tell you, but I know we’re getting to the end of the time.

John: I seem to remember in some of the documentation, some estimate of the cost per student. Do you have that offhand.

Chuck: I think it’s about $5000? Isn’t it?

Harris: Yeah, probably around that, yes?

Chuck: Yeah, probably around $5,000. Yeah.

Harris: I guess it’s something that I should know, but I really don’t… [LAUGHTER] We’ll get the number for you, but it’s close to $5,000.

Chuck: I have an interesting story, though, with the preschool. Harris has a graduation… preschool. When the students finish preschool, they have caps and gowns. They have a commencement ceremony, and Harris invites them to turn their tassels from the right to the left. And we do this by every preschool graduation. And I was in Parramore, and there were hundreds of students graduating and Harris said, “How long is this going to go on? He was flipping tassels. But, then at the end, a woman came up to me and said, “Thank you, this is wonderful.” “You’re welcome. Did you have a student graduating?” She said, “”No, I just live in Parramore, and I wanted to see.” That’s what this program does. It unites and supports and codifies the community. But it takes time.

Rebecca: So, you’ve already done so much. What are you going to do next? [LAUGHTER]

Chuck: We’re going to have you do a wonderful edit of this. It’s going to be broadcast all around the country, and we’re going to find someone else to do it.

John: That would be wonderful.

Chuck: That would be great.

Harris: That would be wonderful.

Chuck: Go Lakers.

John: Go Knights.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for sharing your story and your program with us today.

Harris: Thank you so much.

Chuck: Thank you so much. Have a good day.

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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.

114. Dead But Not Buried

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Travel courses can provide an opportunity to experience a different part of the world through the lens of a particular discipline. In this episode, we discuss the rich interdisciplinary learning opportunities that may occur when faculty and students from two different courses and disciplines travel together.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Today our guest is Dr. Kathleen Blake, a bioarchaeologist, a forensic anthropologist, and an assistant professor in anthropology at the State University of New York at Oswego. Welcome Kat.

Kat: Thank you

John: Our teas today are:

Kat: I’ve got a ginger tea and a mug from the Czech Republic.

Rebecca: The perfect match for today. I’m drinking my English afternoon tea.

John: …and I’m drinking ginger peach black tea. We invited you here today to talk about your collaboration with Rebecca on an international travel experience for students. This collaboration started with your course “Dead but not Buried” with travel to Prague and Brno in 2017. Can you talk a little bit about this course?

Kat: Sure. This course came about because students were interested in bone churches, which are churches that are found all throughout Europe, but there’s one particular beautiful one in the Czech Republic. And I thought “How can I make this into a course, basically?” And so I was looking at to make it into an anthropological framework and the idea was to see how cultures interact with their dead, how they treat their dead and the different cultural aspects of living with the dead, in particular, if the dead are present and active in your culture, as they are in this case. And the class also examines the framework of the dead over time and burials over time, so we went as far back as Neanderthals up through modern times. So, it covered quite a wide range of different time periods.

John: How did this collaboration between the two of you get started?

Kat: I took the class the first time in 2017. And I went on my own. Rebecca and I had initially talked about doing it together. However, we weren’t able to.

Rebecca: Someone decided to have a baby. [LAUGHTER]

Kat: And so we decided that the second time around we would see if we can make this work, and in particular, I was looking for somebody outside of my area. I didn’t want someone in the social sciences, I wanted somebody outside of anthropology and outside the social sciences, and the more we got to talking, the more it seemed like a good fit.

Rebecca: So first, you started by showing me pictures of things that looked really cool, some interesting design things. So she clearly marketed at me, right? [LAUGHTER]

John: Including some dead things, right?

Rebecca: …including some dead things… that I found unusually interesting and got me enticed to figure out what this place was really about and started discovering and doing some research and finding out that Brno actually is quite a design hub… that I wasn’t aware of.

Kat: Through our discussions, I learned a lot more about art than I ever knew. And finding out that the Czech Republic in general is a really big design hub, right?

Rebecca: um-hmm.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about how the collaboration worked in terms of the two different fields?

Kat: We used the existing structure through International Ed (both the Q3 and Q4 structure), but Rebecca was in the Q3 structure.

Rebecca: So, our Q3 and Q4 classes are a half a semester class that then would have travel either during spring break or in May at our institution. So, I taught a Q3 class but we didn’t travel in spring break. We traveled in May all together as a big group.

Kat: And I taught the Q4, which was from spring break until the end of the semester. And then we traveled together. And we tried to encourage the students to sign up for both classes. So, there was some overlap of students, although not all the students signed up for both classes.

Rebecca: And we did that so that students could have up to six credits for their experience, and it would provide interdisciplinary perspective on a place. And so my class focused on design specifically, and designers in the Czech Republic and art forms in the Czech Republic and the histories of that. And then, obviously, I didn’t deal with the dead at all, actually in my class. [LAUGHTER].

Kat: And then I taught my course as normal. And we kind of found there was a little bit of overlap that we didn’t realize there would be through the course.

Rebecca: We did have some assignments that were in common between the two classes. So, that it would help facilitate students making the connections between the course material because all the students ultimately were exposed to at least some of the course material for both courses, even if they weren’t enrolled in both courses because we all traveled as a group. So we were gone for 12 days, and through that time, we visited a number of different sites, some that were more anthropology focused, some that were more design and art focused. But all students went to all of those places. And then there was a couple of things that they could choose to do on their own or explore on their own. And so that worked out, I think, pretty well. And we had some really surprising experiences. For example, we were in one bone church and Kat had set up the history and understanding of the place but then I had a whole bunch of students come up to me and asked me about analyzing the design aspects of the spaces that we were in, which was really interesting. And I found it bizarre because I was learning about the space… It was the first time I had been in it and certainly didn’t feel like an expert… but students were asking me questions about it. But, then I also heard them talking to each other. So, the design students were asking the anthropology students about what they were seeing, like what the bones were, what parts of the body they were from, I was asking the students the same kinds of questions and then they were asking the science students and anthropology students were asking the design students about visual aspects that we were experiencing

John: For those in our audience who are not familiar with bone churches, could you provide a description of what these are?

Kat: The one main bone church that’s probably the most famous is in Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. And this church was a church that had been consecrated and so it attracted a lot of burials, especially during the black plague. Later on, the graveyard became full and so they dug up all the bones and normally they would put them maybe underneath the church, but in this case in the 1800s, they decided to elaborately decorate the church with the bones creating chandeliers, swag, pyramids of bones, a coat of arms, all kinds of sculptures, so it was a way to elaborately decorate their actual church and they held church services in that location until about eight years ago.

John: Are there are some photos or photo albums that you guys have created that perhaps we could share with our listeners in the show notes.

Kat: Oh, definitely and the students came up with some really good ones, too.

Rebecca: We have a blog the students were contributing to. So, there was some research that happened in my class before we went. The students put together a research guide of contemporary sculptural work that we were going to go to and some building some architecture. But then they also did some reflections about some of the spaces that they had visited once we were there that were more related to Kat’s class.

Kat: And the design students were making comments about how beautiful the bones were… the natural structures, how symmetrical they were… just thinking of the body as more piece of art than it is a piece of anatomy in some way. So it was interesting to hear their comments.

John: You mentioned that students could get up to six hours of credit. Were the two quarter classes three credits or two credits? How did that work?

Kat: Each class was three credits. So a normal quarter class in our institution is three credits,

John: but then did they get additional credits for the travel component?

Kat: that part of the course so we would meet once a week for an hour and then the travel at the end is included in the course.

John: Okay, so that was required it wasn’t an optional component.

Rebecca: Correct. And then the benefit there for students is that it was two different courses, but the travel piece was identical. So, the actual physical going somewhere and the time required for that was only one time. But, there was different coursework for each course. Although we had one reflection journal that was the same across both courses.

John: How did students react to the experience,

Kat: I thought it was positive overall. We got some of the students who had never even heard of anthropology, all of a sudden interested in anthropology. And then we had some of the anthropology students who were interested in things like photography and art. And so were immensely interested in asking Rebecca a lot of questions about both.

Rebecca: I think we have a new photography minor as a result.

Kat: I think so. I think we also have a new art minor.

Rebecca: I think we might, yeah. [LAUGHTER] I think we found it really interesting. And you might think that the art students would band together or the anthropology students would band together, but that didn’t necessarily happen. Partly we were strategic about how we put room assignments and things together. But we had three first-year students that traveled with us that were from different majors. And they bonded really nicely together and were doing all kinds of things together.

Kat: And I think they’re still good friends to this day.

John: Now, we had an earlier podcast in which we talked to two people who had done several trips, and they talked about some of the logistical issues that came up. How did the logistics work with your trip?

Kat:I would say overall, the logistics worked really well. I think the most harried part was the air transport getting there. But once we hit the ground, we had things pretty well organized. We’re very well organized people. I think that’s part of it. We had everything organized down to a tee. And we built in a lot of free time, and that made a big difference.

John: And to be fair, the other people were pretty organized, but there were some airport delays and there were some students who disappeared for a while unexpectedly.

Kat: Thank goodness we didn’t have that.

Rebecca: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] In the past, I have had courses with travel that have had things that went awry. I had a flight that was detoured and had to let fuel out. And there were students sitting next to the window and could see the fuel spewing out. And that was kind of concerning for students who had never flown before. So, certainly I had some harried experiences as well. But, I think overall, not so much. The biggest struggle that we’ve had is one that I also had when I took students to India was actually heat. And then students, although we were trying to prepare them and reminding them about hydrating and things just had a really hard time dealing with warmer weather and walking around a lot.

Kat: And in much of Europe, in the Czech Republic, in particular, things are not air conditioned. So, I think that was an adjustment for many students. Part of the reason that I wanted another faculty along was because I think it’s good to have a second person there for support. In case something goes wrong, you’ve got that second person. I think it really makes a difference. When you’re planning a trip like that.

Rebecca: We had a couple students who weren’t feeling well. We had some sinus congestion stuff that seemed to be spreading amongst the group. There were students that weren’t feeling well but you know, we’re checking in… may have picked one of us to check in with It may not even be the faculty member that they knew the best initially.

Kat: I think that was the case, yes.

Rebecca: So, we were able to tag team that a little bit and help support those students when they weren’t feeling well.

Kat: And that’s the thing. The first time I traveled, I did have a student who was ill and I was busy at the hotel tending to her and I couldn’t be with the other students. So, I think having that backup is important

John: Kat, you had traveled before with this class. But, this time you did it with another faculty member. How was it different this time than in your past experience?

Rebecca: He really wants to know how big of a pain in the butt I am to collaborate with.

John: Oh no, that I know. [LAUGHTER] I know all of that. But, in general, how was the joint experience different from individual experiences?

Kat: Well, Rebecca’s probably the best travel buddy I could have picked, so that worked out really, really well. Not only just having a backup in case students need help but having someone that you can have a break with… the students can go off and do their thing and you can have, shall I say grown-up time on your own with another faculty member, I think, makes a huge difference. Before I was having dinner with the students… I was with them 24-7, and it just sometimes gets to be a little bit too much.

Rebecca: We also found that we were able to do some exploring and find some new potential options for students for future trips. So, we were quite busy. I think the students found it surprising how much walking we did after we walked with them all over the place. We did double the walking on a pretty regular basis.

Kat: Yeah, after dinner, we would just go explore. And we also use that to create challenges for the students. So we were using WhatsApp and we would send pictures of where we were, there was a certain art sculpture or something they were supposed to be finding. And we’d say, Hey, we found it. Have you guys found it yet and give them some challenges each day. So it was a good way for us to get out and about together but also to help students explore.

Rebecca: Yeah, to find different places, but also just to see the environments that they actually were in quite a bit because they were in some of those areas frequently, but not really paying attention to their surroundings as much as maybe we wanted them to. It became a little competitive. And I think there was one time that the students made it out to one of the sculptures that we had trouble finding.

Kat: Yes.

Rebecca: they found it before us…

Kat: Yes.

Rebecca: and then it…

Kat: …the Trabi at the German Embassy.

John: So, you had them do a little scavenger hunts after the regularly scheduled program?

Kat: Yes. And they weren’t hard or rigorous in any way. But we would give them challenges almost every day.

Rebecca: Although we started off with a gamified experience the first day. There are the signs above a lot of the buildings that were before there were numbers or a street sign with numbers, there were little pictures.

Kat: Most people weren’t literate. So…

Rebecca: Yeah. So, it’d be like the house of the Golden Bear or whatever. And so a lot of those exist still in the city of Prague. But there’s one street where there’s a lot of them. So we took them to that street the first day and told them how many that were on the street and gave them the challenge to find them and photograph and document them. But then that became a challenge to find more throughout the city during the week. So, Kat and I would find some like, “Oh, did you find this one yet?”

Kat: Yeah, we were often posting all different ones that they’d never seen, and then they wanted to know and we say, “Ah, but you have to go find it yourself.”

John: How did students do in a different language because I assume most of them were probably not fluent before the trip.

Kat: We tried, we had gotten Duolingo and required them to download it and to try to at least say a few phrases. But Czech is a very difficult language. Surprisingly, some of them picked up a few keywords. And I think they were all commenting that if they made even an attempt that the people were very kind to them, and then would switch to English pretty readily.

Rebecca: Yeah. And we had a particular level that we required students to meet in Duolingo for each of our classes. If you took only one class, it was at a certain level. And if you had taken both classes, it was at a slightly higher level. I’m not sure if we would have picked that same exact app next time, because some of the things that it prioritized in the early levels seemed really not that useful. So, I think we would need to explore a different option. I mean, it certainly had like “Hello,” “thank you,” “bathroom,” all those basic things. Yeah, there’s another Czech app through… I think it’s through the Czech embassy, that we also encouraged them to look up and that seemed to have more user friendly type phrases that would be helpful.

John: We have lots of classes that travel overseas, but not many of them involve this type of collaboration between two disciplines. What are the strengths of this model compared to a single disciplinary approach?

Kat: I would think one of the things is you’re drawing students that you would not normally draw… ones that had never even heard of anthropology were drawn to an anthropology class. I think it’s an opportunity to get students in a different discipline or even a different school that would not have been interested before. \

Rebecca: The classes that we offered were also at a higher level, they were like 300 level. So, at that level, I think students tend to navigate towards classes that there may be more familiar with the faculty. So, as the faculty teaching in the art class, I was then able to get those art students to register for Kat’s class and vice versa. We were able to encourage them to try something different. And we sat in on each class so I attended all of Kat’s classes and she attended all of mine and that also helped the students get familiar with both of us so that they would all be comfortable traveling with both of us. I think it enticed students because of the additional credits that they could get out of the experience. But, I think the real valuable part was traveling to all of those different locations with the mix of students and the mix of faculty that we had… because we had science, anthropology, and art…well, really design… design students.

Kat: …and the science students were geology, zoology, and biology. So, they were not all anthropology students. But, I think those anthropology students, and the bio and zoology all said that they learned so much more about art and design that they just weren’t even aware of before. So, I don’t think that would have happened otherwise. We’ve traveled to the same places, but Rebecca talked about the street with the signs. Well, I’ve taken students down that street before but we never noticed the signs. We never noticed the whole kind of street full of signs. So it brought a whole different level that was not there the first time.

Rebecca: And we ended up going to places that weren’t on your original itinerary either. Students expressed an interest in going to the anthropology museum when we were in Brno. And it was such a great connection between art and anthropology, we had no idea. But, in the first floor was an entire art exhibit. That was the whole focus. And then they had full to scale models of cave paintings up in an upper level that was really fascinating for art students who had seen pictures of these things like teeny tiny in their textbooks and things but kind of got to experience something, although it wasn’t like at the site, you could see him at scale and how it went on the contours of the wall, etc.

Kat: Yeah, they’ve made a 3D model of it. And even anthropology students who’ve seen this in pictures as well, to get a sense of the 3D nature of the cave drawings. And you could see how maybe a bison was created on a bump coming out of the wall. I think for all the students that brought a different dimension to it, whether they’re art or anthropology.

Rebecca: …and I think the students pushed us to do some different things too… like we decided, “Okay, we’re gonna figure out this public transportation in Brno” when we had originally thought about only walking and then gave everyone a challenge to take the train somewhere after we all took the train together somewhere.

Kat: We just gave them a day pass, and they used it. One whole group got lost, but they found their way back. And it was quite the adventure from what we heard. But, I think they all had a great time.

John: In upper-level classes, students are often in very narrow silos. And this got them out of those silos.

Kat: Yeah, definitely. And then we did something that I never in a million years would have done, and that was to go to a puppet show.

Rebecca: Which I thought was a terrible idea when we first sat down.

Kat: It was a terrible idea for the first five minutes of the puppet show. And then it turned into the most hilarious thing that we thought the students would hate and they absolutely loved.

Rebecca: Puppetry is an important art form in the Czech Republic. So, I thought it was important to expose students to this. So, I found a puppet show to go to but then we got there and it was this teeny tiny little theater, really hard chairs. And we sat down we’re like, “We’re only going to make them stay until like intermission right?”

Kat: Like, “Okay, they can leave as soon as we get to that intermission“ and I was surprised they all wanted to stay. They enjoyed it. They thought it was different, but interesting.

Rebecca: Well, because It was in Czech puppetry style, which has some interesting humor in it. But it was Don Giovanni… so in Italian.

Kat: So we couldn’t understand anything.

Rebecca: But, you could, actually, you totally could follow the storyline.

Kat: Sure. I don’t think we had any Italian speaking students to help us out, though.

Rebecca: No.

Kat: And this form of puppetry, you see the puppeteers, which made it even more interesting.

Rebecca: Yeah, it was like a behind-the-scenes tour while you were seeing the show. So I think the students found that really interesting.

John: Are you thinking about doing similar trips in the future?

Kat: We are thinking next time maybe of going to places like Spain or Italy or Portugal, which all have different types of bone churches, so ossuaries or different places like that. Maybe we can take this and modify it for a different location.

Rebecca: And I know that you brought some of the reflections that students had at the end to demonstrate the impact that it had on students. Do you want to share what some of those were?

Kat: Well, one of the students had a really interesting reflection that covered both of our topics. This was an anthropology student. But, one of the things he said was that it was how objects were displayed that was important. And I thought you could talk about bones that way. But you could also talk about the artworks. And that that is how you interpreted them and interacted with them. And I guess the first time I went, I didn’t think about interacting as something we were doing in the bone churches or ossuaries, but we were interacting with that space.

Rebecca: We ended up having a lot of conversations about one of them had music playing, and how that impacted the experience of the space versus if it had been quiet. So we ended up talking about all of those as designed experiences, and not just the visuals or the display of the bone.

Kat: Right, interpreting it on multiple levels. And so that got across to the students because they all seem to comment on that. Other students said that they had no idea what Art Nouveau or Cubism was, or even Soviet architecture and now that they did, and that was from a Zoology and Anthropology major, but they learned quite a bit about that. The Soviet architecture was interestingly blended in with everything else. And I think that’s one of the things I love about Prague and the Czech Republic is that mix of old and new and the students commented on that quite a bit. Another student talked about death and grief in clarifying life. She had just recently lost her grandmother and said that no one in her family would talk about the grieving process. And so she found this class very helpful to help her clarify her thoughts about that whole event in her life.

Rebecca: That was a student that took book classes, right?

Kat: Yeah.

Rebecca: One of the challenges that we gave students was to go into a grocery store and purchase something and then to write about that experience. And we found that they were hesitant to do that on their own. We ended up having to physically take them to the grocery store and go in with them.

Kat: Yes, but where they did open up was the farmers’ market. And every day in Brno, there’s a farmers market in the square and they loved that and were able to navigate that easily. So I don’t know what the difference is. If it’s just less threatening. Those people were less likely to speak English… that makes it interesting, but they seemed to enjoy that more.

Rebecca: We had a number of students that were not from a city and so grocery stores in cities are much smaller. And I think that the students were weirded out by that.

Kat: One of the things that was important through this whole class was that we weren’t just in major cities, so Brno’s the second largest city, Prague’s the largest city in the Czech Republic, but we also went to very small cities. So, students got to see all types of communities within the Czech Republic and I think that was important as well.

Rebecca: And Brno is a second largest city, but not a tourist destination by any means.

Kat: Not a tourist destination, no. And Brno, one of the comments that the students were making was the fact that they could see the homeless people… they were out and about near the train station, things like that. In Prague, they didn’t see that. They were probably there, but they just didn’t see it.

Rebecca: One of the things that we also did in Brno and that we didn’t do in Prague, in part because it’s a smaller place, is that we took students to a university there. It happened to be a design school or art school, but we took students inside and met with a faculty member and got a tour of the spaces and saw some student work. And all the students across all the disciplines found that to be really interesting and useful. So, we noted that next time we take students abroad, we need to make sure that we have some sort of opportunity for them to at least see a university space. We had trouble scheduling interactions between students, our students and their students, because of exam schedules and things. They were in exam time and most of the students weren’t around.

Kat: Yeah, we were not able to schedule with the forensic anthropologist or any of the anthropology faculty for that reason. So that’s the only downside of going this time of year is that that’s typically exam time for European schools.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about your preparation for the trip? I think you went there in advance to investigate places.

Kat: Well, Rebecca had never been there. I have been to Prague several times, I had traveled personally. And before I put the class together, I did take advantage of some funding that was available through our international education program to go and scout out locations. And I had looked at other places I’d looked at to Austria, Austria also has some bone churches. But it just seemed like the Czech Republic was a good fit and to stay in a stronger, more confined area, then to broaden it out, and maybe weaken the impact of it. And I had been to Prague, but I had never been to Brno until I scouted it out, I had not been to all of the small towns that I ended up using the first time around. And so for three of the small towns, it was the first time I’d ever been there when I arrived with students. It worked out okay. I don’t know if I would recommend it, but it did work out okay.

Rebecca: I think in general, I wouldn’t normally do an international class unless I had been there before. But because Kat had gone in this case, it worked out fine. I ended up having to do a lot of extra research on art and design. And I connected with a faculty member in Brno actually about art and design just to make sure we were kind of taking students to the right kinds of places and things because I couldn’t quite get a full sense, especially because that particular city is not tourist oriented. And so some stuff wasn’t even available in English. So, I had a little trouble navigating some of that, but it was a lot easier in Prague.

Kat: And what do you think having gone there the first time, what were your impressions that you wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t gone as a group?

Rebecca: I think it’s always different when you actually visit a place when you have that kind of three dimensional experience of what that feels like, smells like, tastes like. I was very excited that we found some Czech food that was gluten free that I can eat. I really wanted to be able to eat traditional Czech food, but I’m a celiac, so I can’t eat traditional Czech food. So, we were able to find a couple places that took a little extra hike on our part to get to those places.

Kat: But interestingly enough, the Czech Republic, and Brno in particular, are vegan hubs. Who knew? So, we had a couple of vegans with us, we had no problems at all because there were a lot of choices.

Rebecca: We also did all of our logistics, Kat took care of hotel and some transport in country and I think it’s helpful sometimes when it’s the faculty member that does that if you have an orientation as to where things are and how close they are so you can schedule things appropriately.

John: What have you learned? Or what would you like to try that you weren’t able to do this time?

Kat: I know we want to have a hotel with air conditioning next time in Prague. That’s going to be high on the list.

Rebecca: Yeah, I think the students have just such a difficult time dealing with the heat that they need a place where they get a little reprieve, so that they can be more energetic throughout the day. If you can’t get good sleep because you’re too hot at night, then the day becomes challenging. I think we’ll incorporate more challenges from the start. We know what to do challenges on. We tried some out, we know which ones fall flat. [LAUGHTER]

Kat: But, most of them were well received. And so I think we definitely will include those from the first day.

Rebecca: We talked about a different language app… that also seems very important, man. We didn’t have the anthropology museum on the schedule initially, but we will definitely go back there. That was a really good experience.

Kat: We were pretty good about scheduling free time. But I think there were a couple of days that we made notes that we would want to expand the free time that the students had or switch things around the order of when we went to different places. And we did find out that most of the places we wanted to go to in Brno were closed on Monday. That became an issue because we were there on a Monday. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: We certainly talked about the possible benefits of combining the class and making it just one class that’s the full semester with the travel. But I think the flexibility of having him be two separate classes is really worthwhile and that we’re still able to give all of the students at least some interdisciplinary experience even if they only end up in one of the courses.

Kat: And we’re going to make it more explicit on International Ed’s website next time that the two classes are connected. That seemed to be absent.

Rebecca: So we also talked about we had to use so many stairs…

Kat: Yeah, and many were outside or very narrow. And so claustrophobia and fear of heights need to be mentioned in our warnings. I had disclosed about stairs, but I didn’t consider the claustrophobia or fear of heights. But, it was something it that was not on my radar. The other thing we were talking about doing differently was instead of using a tour guide at the castle to give them a scavenger hunt at the castle, and then just plan to meet back.

John: We always end our podcast with the question, what are you going to do next?

Kat: I think the next is to plan our next trip to the Czech Republic, but also consider other locations, potentially Spain or Portugal or Italy…

Rebecca: …and get those right on the schedule, right?

Kat: That’s right.

Rebecca: I’m on sabbatical studying accessibility, which was also something that we looked at a little bit while we were in the Czech Republic, because there were a lot of places that were very not accessible. [LAUGHTER]

John: Well, thank you. This was interesting. And it sounds like you’ve got some future interesting trips, just to plan.

Kat: Thank you very much for having me.

[MUSIC]

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

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

113. Podcasting for Professional Development

This is a live recording of a session in which we discussed podcasting for professional development on November 21, 2019 at the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate Conference. This episode provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Tea for Teaching podcast and an introduction to how to start your own podcast.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Today we’re recording live from Disney World at the OLC Accelerate Conference. Today’s episode is a behind the scenes look at the Tea for Teaching podcast and an introduction to how to start your own podcast.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Today’s teas are:

Rebecca: Well, I was supposed to have my favorite tea, but my co-host forgot to bring my tea. So I have Awake tea.

John: I specifically said I would be providing the tea. I thought she would be packing it. In the envelope you’ve received, we would have had two teas, but there was a communications gap. But you do have one tea which is one of my favorites. It’s ginger peach black tea from Tea Republic, which is what I’m drinking today.

Rebecca: Like our podcast, we want this session to be conversational. So we encourage you to ask questions throughout the session, rather than leaving them at the end. Ask for clarifications, ask for insider knowledge, or share your own perspective. Judie Littlejohn, who is wearing the Minnie Mouse ears, is assisting us today and has a microphone available to you to ask questions. We ask that before you ask a question though, if you can state your name, and then she’ll also collect your actual written name so we don’t spell it incorrectly in our transcript. Don’t worry, we’ll edit the episode so that we all sound great because we do heavy editing. So, please help us make this session and this podcast episode really useful by participating throughout. And we have a link at the very end to the digital resource and all the things that we’re going to talk about in much more detail if you want to visit that later.

John: So, we thought we’d talk a little bit about how we got started. We’ve been running a teaching center at Oswego for a while. We’ve been working together for I think, five years or so. A couple years ago, we both came to the idea that a podcast might be rather effective. And we both been listening to podcast for a number of reasons. I travel back and forth every summer to Duke and I do a lot of things in SUNY. So I’m driving across the state quite a bit. And podcasts were convenient way of just keeping myself entertained, but also doing some professional development work while driving.

Rebecca: And the summer before we actually decided that we were going to do this podcast in the first place. I had had a baby and I was desperately looking for intellectual stimulation. So, I spent a really long time and many hours listening to every kind of possible podcast, I listened to stories, I listened to research, I listened to teaching podcasts, I listened to Teaching in Higher Ed, Design Education Today, and many, many others. That was all I was doing day in and day out because I couldn’t do anything else having two hands full.

John: At our teaching center, we normally offer about 300 workshops per year. But we noted that a lot of faculty weren’t able to attend because of time conflicts in their schedules, because they were adjuncts working at multiple institutions, or they were commuting over large distances. While we record these workshops as videos, busy faculty often would find it difficult to sit down at a computer and watch a recording of the workshops.

Rebecca: So, when we came back in the fall of 2017, we both were trying to explore ways to address that issue. And we said, well, what about a podcast? And we thought we’d experiment. So, this was all meant to be a small little experiment. The small little experiment started with needing a brand. I’m a designer, a graphic designer… So, everything needs a brand. You got to start there. That’s the only way things can get done. It was kind of challenging to come up with a name.

John: We did actually asked for suggestions from our faculty. And they came up with maybe six or seven names, none of which we both liked.

Rebecca: We had these roundtable sessions on a regular basis that were really popular called Tea for Teaching and at one point, one of our colleagues said, “Well, why don’t you just use that?” And we decided to do that. it was a format that I had brought with me from another institution. So, it’s a name that has traveled with me a bit. So, we decided to do that. But, of course, now that means we’ve had to rebrand our roundtable discussions on campus.

John: This picture up here, and we’ll include a link to that in the show notes [included in slide show in the show notes file], shows a table in our conference room that we use when we did the tea for teaching sessions. And we’ve got probably a couple hundred different types of tea there.

Rebecca: Just a small selection, in case you’re not sure what you might want. For some, there’s too many choices. You spend your whole time trying to decide what it is that you’re going to drink during the discussion. We checked immediately and found out that teaforteaching.com was available… we got it… and then of course, we failed to check all of our social media, and it was not available. So, we use our personal Twitter handles and teaforteaching.com. So, this is a memorable lesson: that you need to make sure that you check all platforms for the name that you’re choosing for something ahead of time. But, of course, we were just doing a little experiment, so it wasn’t going to be a big deal. We decided from the start that we’re going to use an interview format and that meant that we needed to have guests. So, we started initially by reaching out to faculty that were on our campus that we knew that we’re doing interesting things. And, specifically, we started with our teaching award winner, and that was Casey Raymond.

John: He recorded a couple podcast with us. But, our very second guest on the show was Judie Littlejohn, who we knew, but she drove to campus. We were a little nervous about doing something online at first… we were just getting started. So, she visited us and was our second guest. And then our first guest that we didn’t know was three months later, actually, Doug McKee, who’s a host of the Teach Better podcast. He’s also an economist at Cornell, and I had followed him on Twitter, and I saw him post something about the Active Learning Initiative. And so he was on episode 12. And Judie was episode 2.

Rebecca: I think we have another one of our guests in the audience today.

John: And we also have Michelle Miller, who’s been on now for four podcasts as of this week. The most recent one just came out on Wednesday, which was on Neuromyths and Evidence-Based Practices. actually an OLC-sponsored study that originated at OLC a few years ago.

Rebecca: So we’ve had a number of guests that we’ve selected from articles and books in the Chronicle or what have you that we found or tweets that we found interesting and then we pursued… and as our guest list has evolved, we’ve been really excited that we’ve been able to highlight our local faculty in the mix. So, we have both local, regional, national, and international guests. And it’s really nice because we’re able to elevate our local faculty, which was important to us from the beginning. This is also a moment just to remind everyone that this is supposed to be interactive, and no one has asked a question yet.

John: If anyone has any questions at any time, just raise your hand and Judie will get the microphone as close as she can. It’s only a 50 foot cable. If you’re further than that, you can come up to the microphone.

Rebecca: Make sure you ask questions as it relates to the topics that we have a nice dialogue during the actual episode that’s released.

STEVEN BORAWSKI:

Steven Borawski. I’m from Tiffin University. I’ll be the first brave soul, I guess. I just got interested in podcasting… been listening forever. And one of my kids wanted to make one. And so I’m kind of curious, when you started to realize you had something more than just an experiment… when did it get kind of serious for you guys?

John: Within the first month or so when the number of downloads went from being in the dozens to being in the hundreds? We were kind of surprised by that. And by the end of the first month, we had downloads in I think about 35 or 40 countries. And that was not anything we anticipated. We expected originally it would be mostly people within our institution, or within the SUNY system, because we did have people from other SUNY campuses on at first as well.

Rebecca: I think it was also a moment of success when we had some faculty who hadn’t come to any professional development workshops before, who came up to us and said that they had listened to an episode and found it really helpful. As soon as we had one of those interactions it’s like “Big win… we need to keep doing this.” And we both had those kinds of experiences multiple times over. So, it’s been really rewarding in that respect, because it was really for our own local campus is why we did this. It wasn’t to have a bigger audience, although we have a bigger audience than that.

John: And we’re thrilled by that. And that makes it easier to get new guests. And we didn’t want to invite too many guests who were nationally known until we had a reasonable size audience. And once we started getting some nationally and internationally known guests, we felt much more comfortable asking people. But, one of the things that’s really amazed us is how, when we’ve asked people, they nearly always have said yes.

Rebecca: Which is great. [LAUGHTER] From the start, we mentioned that this was going to be an experiment. So, our initial recording studio was just our office… there was just this little tiny table in the corner of our office… We could close the office door. We put a little sign on the outside that says recording in progress. There was a big window and people could kind of see in and see what was happening. And early on we were doing a lot of our recordings, coincidentally I think, in the morning, it wasn’t intentional. And so we didn’t realize that our office is on a major thoroughfare, apparently. So it became really obvious in our recording with Robin DeRosa, which we recorded in the early evening after she gave a workshop on our campus. So, we heard noises like this: [sound of toilet flushing]. The women’s bathroom is located behind our office. [Blender sound] Our office is located adjacent to the cafe. [LAUGHTER]

John: …which is a Starbucks with a grinder and a blender and other noisy things there.

Rebecca: [Sound of a noisy cart rolling past] …that apparently receives deliveries at the exact same time we were recording. So luckily, Robin has a great sense of humor. [LAUGHTER] Because we had to stop every five seconds to allow for all of those noises to occur. So we weren’t getting those constantly in the background. And we were laughing pretty hard by the end because it was getting quite ridiculous.

John: There was one time where Rebecca started a sentence about three or four times and at no point did she get the whole sentence out. And it took me probably an hour to rebuild it from the different fragments of sentences into something that sounded like a complete sentence. And that podcast particularly it took about an hour and a half to record and it became about a 38 minute podcast once we removed all those second starts and other noises. So, that was the problem that we had. One of the first things we did is we made sure that the microphones we use were dynamic mics, rather than condenser mics. They’re not powered, they don’t pick up noises as well from further distances. They’re based entirely on proximity. They’re based on the pressure of the sound wave. So, using a dynamic mic is a really good thing to do if you’re going to set up a podcast and record in the sort of environment we normally have. There are other mics that work really well in a studio and capture sound much more accurately, but we don’t really want all that sound to be captured from our office.

Rebecca: So, we have a small upgrade in our location. And I mean small. We’re in a borrowed space for our recordings, which is an old recording booth for an actual TV station. So, it’s just like a teeny, tiny little closet essentially, that we have strung up all kinds of fabric and things on the walls so that it absorbs some sound.

And there’s a couple of things that we do to make people a little more comfortable. We usually start with a little informal chatter. And literally, it’s that just a little informal conversation to get people to feel a little more comfortable. Most of our guests have never been recorded before, so they’re pretty nervous. And we have now noticed that there’s all kinds of nervous tics that people have. Our favorite one is the rubbing of the pants. [Sound of hand rubbing against fabric] So, it’s like this on your leg constantly while you’re talking, which is really loud when you’re recording. We try to remind folks about some of those nervous habits and just get them to feel comfortable.

John: And the chairs that we borrowed for this room. squeak whenever people turn or fidget and when people are really nervous they turn and fidget a lot. So, we do a fair amount of work on the editing there. [LAUGHTER]

JUDIE: We have a question.

CLIFFORD STUMME: My name is Cliff. I do a little bit of podcasting and online content creation myself. And usually the success metric for that is how much ad revenue am I creating… how much are sponsorships paying? When you guys are working on this, the first thing that comes into my mind is there’s got to be a lot of like professional development or career benefits that go along with it. And maybe this is something you’re going to be talking about later. But, I’d really like to know what kind of personal benefits that you’ve seen from it, whether maybe opportunities to speak or whether you guys just do it for the love of helping the people who listen.

John: We started doing this primarily as an alternative to some of our workshops, although we haven’t really cut back on workshops that much. And, mostly, it’s just been a lot of fun that normally when we do workshops, and we have maybe 10 or 15 people there and we talk about ways of implementing various strategies. We get to hear little bits and snippets of what people are doing. When we’re dealing with a podcast, we sit down and record with them, typically for an hour or so. Sometimes it’s a little bit less, but we get to explore what they’re doing in much more depth.

Rebecca: I think it’s a really great opportunity to get to know so many really great researchers and teachers, both on our campus and nationally. And it’s been a really great opportunity to hear what people are doing. And, I think one of the benefits but also maybe one of the problems with doing this podcast is we have all these really great ideas of things that we want to do in our classes and no time to do it. Because, every time we interview someone, we think, “Oh, wow, let’s do that too.” And I think we’re in a constant cycle of redevelopment, which is good, but at the same time, I get like maybe a little too excited about all the cool stuff we hear about.

John: Yeah, and I do the same. I had students write a textbook last time based on hearing about open pedagogy, and quite a few other projects like that.

KIM BENOWSKI: Hi. I hope you can hear me, I hate talking on microphone. So, I probably would not be the one podcasting, but I work with a media team and whatnot at my university. I’m Kim Benowski from Cornell, and a lot of the media work that I’ve done with faculty… and there’s many faculty that want to come prepared. So, they often want to pre-write a script. They want all the questions and such. I’m wondering how you deal with that. Because in my experience, when we’re making videos, the unscripted is often so much better, more authentic and genuine, especially for a podcast. I was wondering how you handle that and if there are certain things that you do to coach your faculty in advance like, “When you come expect X, Y, and Z.” I ask them not to prepare, if you want to bring bullet points, that’s great, but how do you apply this in the podcast?

John: That’s a really good question. What we do, basically, is we share a Google Doc with them with questions that we’d like to address and we leave it editable so they can modify that if there are things they’d like to emphasize that. We tell them we we want to keep it conversational. Many times people bring notes and sometimes they start reading from the script. And it doesn’t sound quite as good. So, we discourage that. And if they start reading from a script, what do you normally do?

Rebecca: Then I ask a really like, bizarre question that’s not on the script. That’s my job.

John: There have also been a few times when we said “That sounded like you were just reading from the script. Let’s redo that.” One of the things we tend to do to put people at ease, though, is we tell them that because this isn’t live, we edit it thoroughly. And if there’s something you said that didn’t sound good, just say it again, just start over. And we’ve had podcasts that were an hour and a half or an hour and 40 minutes, edited down to 38 minutes with the start overs removed. And we’re not perfect in terms of our presentations, and many of our guests… it’s the first time they’ve done this type of thing. So there’s lots of arms, there’s lots of breathing noises. There’s lots of other things. There’s people who will say “like,” “you know,” “sort of,” “kinda like” all the time, and we just simply remove all that before it goes out.

Rebecca: Yeah, and in case you haven’t noticed we’re not very polished. But, when you listen to the episode that will come out. It’ll sound way more polished.

John: …and shorter.

Rebecca: John’s really good at doing that. But also, if you don’t like talking and being recorded, neither do I. I’m actually quite introverted and really hate this. But, it’s possible you can do it.

TRACY MENDOLIA-MOORE: Tracy with Western University. My question is: “How much time are you investing after the podcast… in the editing? Like, on average… I’m sure there’s more or less, but on average, how much time are you investing in that?

Rebecca: Too much.

John: Too much. On average, it’s probably about 20 hours a podcast.

JUDIE: Would you repeat that, please?

John: On average, it’s probably about 20 hours a podcast.

Rebecca: But, that’s because John is like obsessive. The average person would never edit it to that extreme.

John: But that also includes generating the transcript and cleaning up the transcript as well.

Rebecca: While we’re getting over to the next question, do you want to talk a little bit about our setup and how to deal with some of the noise?

John: If there’s basic noises like a room hum or static, there’s noise filters.

Rebecca: What about people who pop their Ps all the time, john, like your co-host.

John: Yeah… So, if you look at the microphone there, you notice that little thing at the top, that’s a pop filter. so that when people…

Rebecca: …pop their Ps…

John: …like that directly into the microphone, that cuts it down a little bit. And the rest is just cutting out a little bit of the initial tone and dampening it down and softening it a bit.

Rebecca: And if you want to annoy your co-hosts, you make sure that you have lots of annoying sentences that have a lot of pops in them.

John: And another thing we were having problems with at times is when the microphones were on a table like this, people would tap the table or bump the table or drop things on it. So, we have shockmount on the microphone, so that they’re all suspended basically in elastic.

TAYLOR KENDRICK: Hi, this is Taylor Kendrick from Samford University. Thank you all for hosting. I was curious about when your very first podcast went out. You said you had a very good response. What were you doing for getting the word out? “Hey, we’re here.” So someone would listen.

John: We shared it on our local campus email, we’ve got about 1200 people on our email list and we also shared it in a SUNY-wide Facebook Workplace group… so that all of SUNY has access to that. And it also got shared by some people in SUNY, who put it out in news releases, and so on. And from there, it just sort of spread. We’ve posted on Twitter, and we have a Facebook group. And so we shared it on social media, and it just gradually kept getting bigger and bigger.

Rebecca: I mean it started off a little slow, but it has grown pretty rapidly since then. So, we talked a little bit about guests who have never been recorded before and don’t always know how to have their space setup. So, John, do you want to talk a little bit about some of the things that we do for that?

John: Sure. We do send out suggestions to people to use the best mic they have available and to try to make sure they have a solid network connection. We remind people not to be rustling papers when they’re talking, or if they’re using the laptop microphone, which we discourage… but if they’re using their laptop microphone, we ask them not to be typing or scrolling on the laptop when they’re doing it because then you get this dragging sound and so… And some guests, we had to remind 10 or 12 times to do that, because they put some notes up on the computer, and they were scrolling with a touchpad…

Rebecca: …you mean I should do that right now?

John: And that would be an example. But basically, there are other issues. We had a podcast not too long ago where we had someone who was outside, we had someone else who was in a new apartment. So, the person outside we were getting wind gusts coming in and a bird behind them. And the person who had just moved into a new apartment ended up having bare walls and a bare floor and it was like an echo chamber. So, it was an interesting challenge to clean all of that up. There are some nice de-reverb filters you can use to do some of that.

Rebecca: So, we try to remind guests, especially if they’re remote to find a space that maybe has carpeting or some other absorbing materials around to make the space a little bit better. And then also to preferably have a microphone that’s not attached to their headphones so that we don’t end up carrying them through their headphones.

PIERRE BORQUE: I have three questions. I’ll ask them. I can ask them to answer and then the second one you can answer My name is Pierre Borque. I’m from the École de Technologie Supérieure of the University of Quebec provincial system in Montreal. So, my first question is: Do you have any idea of how large your audience is and how do you know that?

John: We get downloads statistics, and we’re generally getting about 3000 downloads a month right now… or a little over, I think the last month it was 3300 or so. So, it’s grown quite a bit.

Rebecca: We also have pretty good traffic on the website, too, but I don’t have the latest stats on that.

PIERRE: My second question is, how many podcasts have you done?

John: We just released our 108th, which is Michelle’s podcast on Neuromyths…

PIERRE: So, how do you generate new content? Are you sort of… the same subjects keep sort of coming back? What’s your strategy for generating new and interesting content?

Rebecca: We find people that we want to talk to. [LAUGHTER]

John: And we also look at Twitter to see what people are posting about. When new books come out, ee look at that… we look at reviews… we look at The Chronicle to see interesting studies that people have done or interesting books that are being posted or talked about or interesting issues. We also look at Inside Higher Ed, and we’re getting more word of mouth where people are recommending people as possible guests to us as well.

Rebecca: I’m pretty sure our attendance at this conference was a scouting adventure. [LAUGHTER]

PIERRE: My third question is for our administrators of which I used to be one up till very recently. Have you identified to your administrators any impact or any benefits in your own institution of hosting this podcast? Has it helped students, faculty, some specific benefits that you’ve cited for your own administrators by hosting this impact? I would like to see some examples.

John: We hear from lots of people about changes they’ve made in their classes and they sometimes talk about how it’s impacted their teaching. The evidence on that in terms of the feedback cycle is not as complete as we’d like. But that’s true with most of the workshops that we’ve been doing. I think the main thing is we’re reaching faculty who we otherwise hadn’t been reaching. And that’s also often times has made them come in for other workshops when they can..

Rebecca: It’s a little challenging to breakdown that specific data from the kind of stats that we can get from the each episode because it just kind of regional data. So it doesn’t tell you: “This is a person from SUNY-Oswego.” But, we’re able to make some guesses about where they’re coming from.

John: We’ve had at least two or three people said that they became interested in doing open pedagogy project because of the podcast we did with Robin DeRosa, and they’re doing them this semester. Actually, two or three people mentioned that specifically, but we have now nine new faculty doing open pedagogy project as part of a SUNY-wide grant. But, I think that podcast inspired at least some of them to consider doing that. And I know Michelle’s podcast on retrieval practice has induced more people to consider doing more work with retrieval practice in various forms. And people do come up to us and tell us about that or send us emails about that. And we do see it in other workshops, where they’re talking about how they’ve implemented some of these things.

Rebecca: And I think our administration really values it. I know that our Provost as well as our Diversity Officer have mentioned it to faculty that they’re considering hiring and those that are newly hired. We even, at new faculty orientation, had quite a few faculty come up to us. It was like, “Oh, we’re so glad to finally meet you.” Because they had been listening, which is a really bizarre experience, right? [LAUGHTER] Wait, you’ve been listening? What do you mean? Who are you? [LAUGHTER]

John: And it’s sometimes really strange at a conference when people come up and start talking to you about something. And then it will be obvious that they’re talking about a podcast episode. They listen, and they feel they know us because they’ve been listening to us for 100 hours or more.

Rebecca: …and our voices are familiar., yeah.

MICHELLE BAKER: Hi, my name is Michelle. I’m from Penn State University. And I’m wondering, on the technical side of things, what software do you use for all of the editing that you’ve been talking about? And my follow up question to that is you’ve talked a lot about reducing sound. I’m wondering do you also add sound effects and music and if you do, where do you find that?

John: In terms of adding it, and that’s an easy one. We licensed some music from one of the sites that that provides these sources. And that’s recorded and just fixed. And we just do that. That’s the intro and outro. In terms of editing, we use Adobe Audition for most of our editing. And we do have a campus license for that. In terms of things related to software. When we have remote guests, it’s a little more challenging, which is why we postponed that a little bit when we first started, because our network was not always stable, and our guests often don’t have stable network. So, we do end up with some drops of data or sometimes people disconnecting, or the quality of the voice just fades away. So, what we used to do, up until about three or four weeks ago, we were using Zoom for Voice over IP. And on our local side, we were using Audio Hijack, so that our voices would be recorded in our local mixer directly from our microphones, but we’d take the incoming voice from our guests as a separate channel so we’d be able to edit our guests and us separately, so we normally sounded pretty clean (unless there were carts going by or toilets flushing), but the guests audio varied a bit depending on network speed and noise and other issues. We just recently moved to SquadCast. And the first time we used it was with a podcast with Kristen Betts and Michelle. What that does basically…

Rebecca: Thanks for being a guinea pig.

John: …it’s a double-ender recording session. It’s a web based app. It records each end of the podcast separately to the local computer and streams it in the background. So, you get the highest quality audio from each end of the podcast. And you can have up to, I believe four different sites connecting at once. We used it with 3 in that one. So, Kristin Betts was on one channel, Michelle was on another, and we were on a third,

Rebecca: It starts getting a little complicated when you have more than four people. It’s like hard to follow who’s talking. We’ve done a couple where there’s a few more guests than that, and it’s really challenging to edit. It’s challenging to listen to. So, I think for us kind of the max. As we mentioned earlier, we started off as an experiment. We’re well over 100 episodes now. So, clearly, it’s not an experiment anymore. It’s a thing we do. [LAUGHTER] And probably no one’s more surprised about this than I am. And John just keeps saying “It’s growing, it’s growing, we got to keep doing it.”

John: And we have had pretty steady growth. Each month it’s gone up. We’ve been over 3000 for the last four months. And we’re certainly on track for that, again, we have listeners in every state. I remember, there was that last state, it took about five or six months to get to but we finally got it. I think it was… Arkansas.

Rebecca: It was. Yeah.

John: Arkansas was the last state. And when we finally got that person, it was great. And now we see a teaching center there actually has this on a website. We’ve got notification of that recently. So we’re now getting a reasonable number of downloads from every state and we have over 100 countries.

Rebecca: Yep. And I think a lot of the evidence that we had that we mentioned earlier is really anecdotal and when faculty reach out to us or send us messages, we try to keep all of those stash those stories and things that we have those that we can report back on. We also are really proud that from the very, very beginning, our podcast has been accessible… meaning that we made sure that the website itself is accessible but also that we have had transcripts since the very first episode. We think that’s really important and we’ve maintained that and we continually improve the site and do things to increase the accessibility. Originally, we were using YouTube for those transcripts, and then a lot of human editing from there. But now we’re using otter.ai, which actually comes with some capitalization and punctuation. [LAUGHTER]

John: Yeah, because YouTube was really good in terms of its accuracy. But you just got a stream of words, and it didn’t identify the speakers. It didn’t put in punctuation or capitalization, and it was a real pain, just adding those things. Otter.ai is slightly less accurate, but putting in all the punctuation and putting in the capitalization… and identifying speakers. It recognizes my voice, Rebecca still has to be trained again, so that it will recognize her. But our guests come in as an identified speaker 1, unidentified speaker 2, and it’s really easy to clean that up. It makes it much easier and it’s probably cut 30% off of the transcript editing time.

Rebecca: and I think otter.ai is free for 50 hours a month.

John: 50 hours a month… per Gmail account. And if you have multiple Gmail accounts that makes it pretty large,

LUVON HUDSON: Hi. Luvon Hudson from Central Piedmont Community College. And my question is simply… I don’t know if you can recommend, or if you have advice around, maybe like a sweet spot, if there is such thing, for the length of a podcast, a lot of my faculty don’t really like to sit long. So, I don’t know if that translates into the same thing for podcasts as well. I’ve heard you say 38 minutes twice. I don’t know if that’s maybe your sweet spot, because I do know that transcription and things like that kind of add into that backend work. So, do you recommend that or is that even a factor? Is it more just around the content and the quality of what you’re talking about?

John: It varies a bit with that, but we generally schedule hour-long recording sessions. Sometimes, they go a little bit longer, but we try to keep the actual recording to an hour, including some conversation in the beginning, some setup and so forth. Most of our episodes are between 30 and 40 minutes. We do have longer ones, but the longer ones in general had a lot of really rich content that we just couldn’t cut or we wouldn’t want to cut. I don’t know what the optimal length is. And that’s one of the questions, actually, in the survey. We’re curious. But I know, I tend to prefer not to listen to podcasts that go over an hour. For me, most of the podcasts I enjoy the most are between 20 and 50 minutes, because that’s nice for a reasonable commute.

Rebecca: I’d say we have a lot of faculty that commute and they come from two different cities into Oswego and the shorter one is like a 30 or 40 minute commute. So trying to keep to that one I think is key for our local audience.

John: I should say that one thing that I do is I listened to all my podcasts initially at 1.5 times and now I listen to them at double speed. And it’s really a little disconcerting when we talk to someone who I hear on other podcasts, and all of a sudden they’re really slow speakers because I’ve gotten used to hearing him at double speed.

MARIE BAMAS: Hi, I’m Maria from Middle Tennessee State University. When you guys started really getting into this and refining it and making what you had started out with better in terms of like the software or the hardware and your content? Did you go to other conferences? Did you do most of your research on the interwebs? I mean, like, how did you refine it and get all the information and kind of like, make it as best as it could be like what it is today?

John: That’s a good question. All the above, except we haven’t really had that much formal training on this. Mostly, if I’m noticing a noise problem when I’m editing, I just do a search on the web, or I look at the help in Adobe Audition, or I’ll look at some of the LinkedIn learning discussions of how to do these things. There are so many YouTube videos on removing pops and clicks and other things. And there’s YouTube videos on pretty much every type of thing and I use those a lot when I’m trying to deal with a different problem that I haven’t dealt with before. Adobe Audition keeps getting better. One of the things that happens is, we mentioned the first podcast that were relatively short. The very first one, I think it probably took maybe an hour to edit because I wasn’t hearing a lot of the noise there. One of the things that happens is, the more you edit these things, the more you notice. The noise in the office we had lived with for years. So, it was just background noise that we didn’t notice. But when you start hearing it from headphones, and you start using better headphones, you can hear that noise much more clearly. And so you just become more adept at observing things and cleaning them up.

Rebecca: I think in terms of content, we got some yeses from people that we were surprised said yes. So, then we just started asking more people that seemed like a stretch, and then we kept getting yeses. So now it’s like nobody’s a stretch, we’ll just ask. Sometimes we get ignored. Sometimes we get yeses. Very rarely do we get nos. So it’s been really great.

TAYLOR: Hi, this Taylor again from Samford University. Going back to the issue of what your shows are about and your content, was your original idea to do PD (professional development) specific just for your university or with particular subjects or was it always “These are people we want to talk to.” Because I’ve thought about doing PD specific for my university on topic versus guest.

Rebecca: Yeah, it specifically has always been about teaching and learning. So, we run the Teaching and Learning Center on our campus, and so it was meant to substitute for some faculty instead of going to workshops and things that this would be a supplement or an alternative in the way of being more accessible in alternative format for folks who might need it. I think it’s always focused on being a professional development specifically for faculty, although I think we have a mix of faculty, staff, and administrators who listen,

John: But, it’s primarily interviews with people who are very skilled in the specific thing that we’re talking about. So, we find people who are doing interesting things, interesting applications, or interesting techniques, and then we interview them. So, it is professional development, but it’s generally professional development using experts on that particular topic.

Rebecca: And think we tried to find a mix between people who are doing research on particular topics as well as faculty who are implementing things in their classes so that we have examples as well as research to back some of those things up.

JUDIE: Do we have time for one more?

Rebecca: Yeah, I think we have time for one more.

LUVON: Typically at our school, we normally have to go through our communications and marketing department. Do you have any issues having to do that?

John: We didn’t tell anybody. We just started doing it. [LAUGHTER] And by the time we had a national and international audience, they were actually pretty pleased with it. So, I don’t think our Dean or Provost discovered it until we had been doing it for a few months. And they started hearing about it from other people.It’s gotten some good favorable reviews from the administration, but I think we found it easier just to do it without going through those channels.

Rebecca: Well, and then, actually, our communications office did a feature story on our hundredth episode. So I think we’ve got buy in now.

John: Yeah.

Rebecca: After 100 It’s a thing.

John: Yeah. So we did it. It worked and then we got the buy in.

Rebecca: Always. [LAUGHTER]

John: We may edit that part out .[LAUGHTER] But we did have our Provost on the podcast.

In that document that we shared with you, we have details on setting up your own in terms of microphones, hardware, low-budget ways of doing this more expensive ways of doing this. So, there’s a lot of resources there. And if there’s anything we can help you with, just send us an email and we’d be happy to give you some assistance.

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

John: I’m going to DIsney World… I’m going to continue with the conference, go back and work with my students for the rest of the semester.

Rebecca: And I’m going to be on sabbatical in the spring. That’s what I’m going to do… and so look forward to some recordings with some guest hosts while I’m away. I’ll still be recording some, but we’re hoping that some of our previous guests will come in and guest host while I am away.

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[APPLAUSE]

John: Thank you.

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.

112. The Gig Academy

Over the last several decades the proportion of classes taught by tenure track faculty have decreased while student support services are increasingly  being outsourced to third parties. In this episode, Tom DiPaola and Daniel T. Scott join us to discuss the impact of these shifts on students. Tom and Daniel are  (with Adrianna Kezar) co-authors of The Gig Academy, Research Assistants at the Pullias Center for Higher Education and Fellows at the Urban Education Policy PhD program at the USC Rossier School of Education.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Over the last several decades the proportion of classes taught by tenure track faculty have decreased while student support services are increasingly being outsourced to third parties. In this episode, we examine the impact of these shifts on students.

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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 Tom DiPaola and Daniel T. Scott, two authors, with Adrianna Kezar of The Gig Academy. Tom and Daniel are Research Assistants at the Pullias Center for Higher Education and Fellows at the Urban Education Policy PhD program at the USC Rossier School of Education. Welcome.

Tom: Thanks for having us.

Dan: Yeah. Thank you.

John: We’re glad you could join us.

Our teas today are:

Tom: Just for this interview, I busted out my favorite Jasmine pearl tea. So, I’m enjoying a nice cup of it while we chat.

Dan: And I have a coffee. So, a caffeinated cousin. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I’m drinking English afternoon.

John: And I’m drinking black raspberry green tea. We invited you here to talk about The Gig Academy. Actually, before we talk about that… You’re both graduates of a SUNY school, aren’t you?

Tom: Yes, indeed.

Dan: Yeah.

Tom: SUNY Purchase… proud alums.

John: Did you know each other before you moved to USC?

Tom: We did as a matter of fact, we both studied philosophy with some of the same folks at Purchase. So, we did know each other, though, we’ve grown considerably closer in recent years.

Dan: Yes, We’ve really been following kind of parallel career paths.

John: And writing a book together would extend that a little bit further.

Dan: …a dream.

Tom: Indeed. [LAUGHTER]

John: In The Gig Economy, you talk about the replacement of long-term employment relationships with contingent labor. Could you tell us a little bit first about your own experience in academic labor markets?

Tom: We’re sort of in an interesting position. I am in my final year of the PhD. And so I’m at this point where all of these things that I’ve been reading and thinking about and hearing horror stories in the media and through organizing for years is finally the world I have to dive headlong into. And so trying to approach the job search in a measured way that was mindful of self-care needs and of the things that I know are controllable and not controllable. But, before this, I worked at Bronx Community College, actually, and I sort of lucked into that work. I didn’t go through a crazy competitive process to do it. And then coming at it from a faculty angle now is considerably more intimidating, but hoping for the best. Everyone I know is just sending out everything… everywhere they can… hundreds of applications… while they’re trying to complete their dissertations, which is fun.

Dan: Yeah, and I’m one year behind Tom, in terms of proximity to the labor market. So I’m feeling a bit less of that pressure at the moment, but getting ready. And on my path to this position here, between completing the BA at Purchase and joining Rossier I had a few different staff support type roles in different higher ed institutions. I worked at Purchase at Borough of Manhattan Community College and in those roles I was supporting student support programs. And so, in some ways, I was a part of this growth in support staff that we discussed a little bit in the book. Some of those positions were contract positions. And so that I felt that contingency as: “I know my contract is coming up and I need to line up another job.” But others were more permanent. So, I got to experience a good range of staff role proximities to contingency.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about the scale of the shifts in the academic labor market?

Tom: Sure. And I think it’s important to note right out of the gate that one of the ways that we tried to approach this subject differently in this book, is by trying to consciously move past the discussions exclusively about academic labor. And I think that we’re at a time where the amount of adjunct exploitation is sufficient enough that that’s becoming a household issue; where even non-academics know that this is a problem. And the conversation does typically tend to revolve around adjuncts and other forms of contingent faculty and PhDs who are out of work. But it’s actually a much bigger thing. And that’s sort of what we’re trying to argue here… is that this is part of a much larger restructuring project, both of the university and of society at large. And that’s partially why we thought the term “Gig Academy” was apt because it’s talking about the entire post-secondary structure, and it’s trying to link it to these other larger cultural shifts around how we value contingent work in society. So, it’s important to note that, while I’m sure we’ll spend a lot of time talking about academic labor, and that may be sort of what the audience is most interested in hearing discussions about, it’s important to remember that it’s everyone: the overwhelming majority of all non-managerial labor in higher ed is contingent, temporary, insecure, poverty waged. And the reason it’s important is because when it comes to talking about solutions and things to do about it, we have to look for all of the channels of solidarity that we have. And so that necessarily includes going outside of simply the precariat, who are instructional labor. And we need to think much more broadly about what that kind of organizing could look like because it’s a question of power and what’s happened to power? That’s the initial comment I would make. Dan, do you want to jump in?

Dan: Yeah, we know one of the most cited statistics is that nearly three quarters of all instructional staff are now contingent labor, but the shift towards contingency has been occurring among all other forms of roles as well. For example, it’s reported that 32% of office and administrative staff are now part time and this movement towards part time this and contingency happens to everyone because the compensation for every role can be cheapend through reducing benefits by shifting to part-time status and reducing hours and then also combining multiple positions into one. And then the biggest problem though, and the reason why we have these two kind of disparate statistics in a few other numbers throughout the book is that there’s not good data that has been collected about work in academia, whether it pertains to contingency employment outcomes for PhDs, or the working conditions of other staff.

Tom: Yeah, there’s only so much information you can glean from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And these are not sexy subjects of research. And folks aren’t necessarily interested in institutional research offices of aggregating this data because it could reflect poorly on them. In fact, one of the similarities you notice is in the way that this kind of mass casualization allows for a selective reporting of diversity statistics. So, institutions can give the race and gender breakdowns of their faculty in aggregate, and it looks like it’s a much more diverse workforce than it is in reality. And this is the same sort of thing that companies like Amazon do, who overwhelmingly have low wage workers of color and warehouses and overwhelmingly white male, highly paid tech workers working on the platforms, and they just combine those together to make it seem that these jobs are more equitably distributed than they are. And that’s part of how this consolidation of power over time has played out. And it’s part of this larger project of neoliberalism. And some folks are hesitant to talk about neoliberalism for understandable reasons, because it’s a word that is thrown around a lot casually and used with some, if not imprecision, at least without proper contextualization. And it’s a word that needs contextualization to talk about because it could mean anything from some cultural quality that you’re describing to mode of power or an ideological tendency or an organizational structure or chains of authority or a sense of identity… you could be talking about personal identity in terms of neoliberal tendencies. And so it’s really important to always specify upfront, when you want to invoke these concepts, what it is you’re actually talking about. So, here we’re looking at the political economy side of it, and how this interfaces with the history of higher ed, because it was in the 70s and 80s that we saw the rise of Reaganism and Thatcherism and we saw this broad disinvestment in the public sphere.

This is in many ways, a well trodden story that plenty of academics know well. But it’s worth recapitulating because as this public disinvestment was happening on a large scale, and unions were ill equipped to contest it because of the way that they had, in their own history, become somewhat exclusionary and focused on backdoor negotiations as opposed to rank-and- file strategies that actually mobilize the base and democratize the process. So, all of these things converged with new opportunities for universities to seek revenue through market mechanisms and other things that get broadly roped under corporatization. But after the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which Dan could probably say a little more about, but the consequence was that a lot of resources got shifted into more higher return producing ventures around intellectual property because they could capitalize on those things in ways they couldn’t before, even when public monies is used to produce these things. And so it changed a lot of the incentives, and institutions wanted the highest return for the time and energy that was being put in within any domain. So, for faculty (for star faculty, especially) the return to the institution for them teaching an intro level class of 30 students is comparable to the return that they get when an adjunct does that and an adjunct costs $3,000 a semester to teach that course and a tenured faculty member costs $150,000 a year and lots of benefits and other things… and so in redirecting a lot of the efforts, and as part of the scientific management revolution, where the point was to optimize production, we saw a lot of the shifts and it had consequences for the power structures that increasingly guided these institutions. And so the important thing about calling this the “Gig Academy” is because even though 20 years ago, Slaughter and Rhodes had their landmark work, Academic Capitalism and the New Economy, and that sort of introduced all of this new thinking about how neoliberal restructuring has changed higher ed, they were mostly focused on this kind of external profit-seeking, venture-seeking, financialization, restructuring, some of the research and those sorts of things. And they do talk about casualization, of course, and they do talk about the workers. But, this has been 20 years of this being the norm. It’s no longer the ascendant regime. It’s actually the dominant mode through which all of this is done. And so we’re in a dangerous new state of emergence around what this means because it’s changed at such a broad structural level that it warrants a new term to account for the ways that the relations of academic production have been comprehensively restructured.

John: You mentioned that this is not just in the professoriate, but it’s more general. And in the book, you talk a little bit about outsourcing of many activities that used to be done by full-time employees of the college to other businesses outside. Do you want to address that just a little bit?

Tom: The point about outsourcing and David Wiel has a good book about this phenomenon sort of generally called The Fissured Workplace. And part of how this operates is you take auxiliary functions, non-essential functions, and you find that the easiest way to optimize and render cost effective these things is to outsource to third-party contractors. And this has a number of benefits from the perspective of the institution’s executive administration. For instance, with maintenance staff or food-service staff, housing staff, those sorts of workforces can be administered through third-party contractors (Cisco, Aramark, etc.) who manage their own hiring, who make their own schedules, who have their own internal protocols, etc. So, you’re taking, in some cases, workers who before enjoyed substantial benefits of being university employees for a long time. And there’s lots of stories about institutions that have these historical ties to the community. For example, where we go, USC has always taken pride in this and lots of local families have histories working for USC in non-academic capacities. And that that was a community sustaining way of having work and income and also participating in something that’s larger in some ways than just a service job because you’re still part of this institution. You can get tuition remission and you can have access to the health care that other workers have and so forth. And so they’ve shed a lot of these things. Most institutions have shed those arrangements in favor of these blanket arrangements with third-party contractors who can just bring in an endless procession of part- time contingent workers to do that work. And there’s very little risk of cross organizing in the way that they might fear where if you look back, for example, at the Justice for Janitors movement about 30 years ago in the early 90s (and that actually happened to involve USC) it was the maintenance workers trying to unionize while the institution was trying to outsource that work in general. And what happened was like faculty and students and local community organizations and immigrant right groups all came together and the unions and the maintenance workers themselves and so it was this broad-based effort to resist part of that outsourcing and ultimately, they were outsourced and they unionized, but even when they unionized that power that they claimed couldn’t be directed easily at the university because now they negotiated with the labor contractor. Universities who do this has its hands washed of that. It no longer has to concern itself with that. It no longer has to concern itself with whether these workers have access to health care or more than a poverty wage and so forth. They’re not part of those immediate considerations. And so they do that as much as possible in order to fragment the campus to make sure that power over these workforces is as centrally administered as possible in order to control cost and control risk. And so yeah, the outsourcing of staff… and we’ve even seen this with administrative staff… so, it’s not just the service work that we traditionally think of around food and housing and maintenance and so forth. But, even once you get into administrative staff and other knowledge work, you find these same things. So, it’s really like looking at these patterns across every stratum of the workforce.

John: From the standpoint of students, one advantage of this is it keeps costs lower, but you also talk a lot about the costs of this to students. What are some of the negative impacts to students of having this contingent labor force in higher ed.

Dan: Yeah, so the increasing levels of contingency that staff, faculty, custodial staff, professional staff, all types of staff basically, experience means that they have lower bandwidth mentally… fewer resources to offer when engaging with students. From the faculty perspective, you can’t necessarily hang around after class for a half hour talking to various students about their interests beyond what happened during class discussion. If you have to run to go catch your other job at the other university because the current one where you’re working doesn’t offer you a full-time role or doesn’t offer a role with enough pay so that you have to work multiple full-time roles and then connected to what we were just talking about in terms of the outsourcing dimension, universities are outsourcing advising staff and other staff that perform interactive and supportive, engaging roles with students as well. And so with that comes an increasing formalization of those interactions. So, that instead of me being the academic advisor that you come to, and we’re talking about your personal life, and maybe I’m sharing about mine a little bit, and there’s this kind of interpersonal connection with a permanent staff member located physically at the university. Instead, you’re dealing with someone who might be working remotely to provide advising services and is basically just trying to make sure that they cross all their t’s and dot all their i’s to satisfy the requirements of their particular engagement with you so they can move on to the other several hundred students that they’re responsible for in their caseload. And so, generally speaking then, the increasing move towards contingency and outsourcing means that staff are less connected to the university and therefore less connected to students and then they’re also just dealing with priorities beyond making students feel like they really belong and connecting them in this deep sense.

Tom: And because this is in the context of a broader devaluation of teaching, it has consequences for the quality of instruction that often get pinned on adjuncts, or other contingent faculty as lacking care when, in reality, the incentives are such that it’s almost impossible to avoid certain things being diluted. For example, there’s a lot of talk about academic freedom these days and what’s happening to academic freedom and people are scared of teaching X, Y, or Z because they’re sounding the warning alarms about cancel culture or whatever the case may be. But, for contingent faculty, the concern is mainly getting rehired. And to the extent that you are part of a lecturer pool where you’re interchangeable with a lot of other people, the folks in charge of hiring you semester-to-semester are likely to consult and put an overemphasis on things like student feedback, and also passing rates, these simple kinds of metrics that they can look to to decide whether someone’s worth rehiring, and those can be gamed, obviously. You can lower your grading standards and the complexity of your assignments. And you can avoid controversial topics that would benefit students to talk about… and that you want to talk about. But, you have these other concerns that understandably take precedence and that’s on top of all the burnout and general overwork and under pay. So, you’re getting paid $3,000 for this semester, whether or not you come up with a really thoughtful critical pedagogical approach, or if you just use the cookie-cutter syllabus that they give you when they bring you on for that course. So, there’s not a lot of opportunity to perform well and for faculty to self-actualize in that way, because those incentives are so misaligned. So, the learning suffers in that way, too. It’s not just… although it’s a huge piece of it… that you’re losing personal connections to others and to people you learn from, which we know through educational psych studies that this is important. These relationships are how we learn. Learning, absent some kind of community of that learning, is usually much more difficult, which is at least partly why it’s been tough to shift to a MOOC model of administering higher ed through these just massive open online courses, where you can get generic competencies in things. And that’s in part because your human brain needs these social connections in order to effectively learn… because you don’t just learn and it’s done. It’s an ongoing process, obviously. And we have relationships to sustain those. I mean, I’m still close with my college advisors, and I went to a SUNY school. I feel like I was spoiled by that by being right sort of in the middle of the institutional tiers where the faculty weren’t under publish-or-perish pressure and pedagogy and good teaching was valued by the institution enough that you could have these really meaningful experiences and form meaningful bonds and you got advised by your actual professors. And it was very easy to develop a romanticized view of the academy when I was 18, based on what I knew of my philosophy and literature professors at SUNY Purchase, and then you see both extremes once I started working at community colleges that were under-resourced, and I saw how much people struggled to make things work. And even when they cared very deeply about what they were doing, and the students and everything, being spread so thin… and then at the other end just like upper-elite crust of private research institutions where teaching is not valued as much because it doesn’t ultimately bring new returns to the university if you’re a great teacher; it does if you get that extra grant or you publish that extra article or so and so forth. So, the odd thing is, in a lot of cases, the higher up in the prestige of the university, the more likely you are to encounter questionable pedagogy because of these misaligned incentives, which isn’t to say there aren’t great professors everywhere. It’s just the these are structural limitations.

Rebecca: We’ve talked a little bit about academic rigor potentially being influenced by contingent faculty because of incentives. But, it strikes me that we had a recent episode with Julie Martin, Episode 104, about social capital and how social capital is really important for first-generation students. So, can you talk a little bit about how contingency across staff and faculty impacts this group or this population of students more so than some other groups of students.

Tom: We could easily make a case around how, without these connections through the institution, students are worse off. They don’t have sources of support and advice and connections. Students who are advised through this kind of highly efficient Tayloresque process where every activity has been unbundled from everything else… they don’t have that network to resort to and they can’t get that advice. And for first-gen students whose parents did not go to college, obviously they’re missing out on a lot of informal guidance that other students get and so these institutional relationships can be really important substitutes for that. Whether or not you have social capital is a reflection of your class status or where you fall in the stratum. But, as a place of intervention, it doesn’t actually help if the overarching economic and political structures are the same. There’s a lot of well intentioned interventions in higher ed designed to increase the amount of social capital that students have. And there’s a lot of like private funding behind these initiatives for good reason, because it doesn’t threaten the larger power and economic structures. Providing social capital can be helpful at a small level, but at a structural level, it’s impossible to move the needle simply by trying to supplement social or cultural capital.

Rebecca: I think you misinterpreted what I meant, because I wasn’t implying that we should have interventions but rather that when the structures are taken down where faculty aren’t playing the role of an advisor or have this ability to be integrated into the structure more, in a role other than just teaching their class.

Tom: Oh, absolutely.

Rebecca: So… [LAUGHTER]

Tom: Sorry. No… I wasn’t… I was totally in agreement with you. And then I wanted to go the step further, because I think some folks could listen to that and say, “Well, the answer to that is to just create a separate platform where we put at-risk students in touch with people who are going to increase their social capital.”

John: The focus of that research that Julie Martin had done was basically on the degree of connections that students have with their fellow students, with faculty, and with a college in general. And what her research was basically showing is that first-generation students come in with much weaker knowledge of how colleges function, and much of that information is picked up through interactions that they may not have, and it raises their probability of dropping out, failing, or withdrawing from college. And so basically, I think what Rebecca was arguing is that the impact of having more contingent staffing of colleges is likely to have a differential impact on first-generation students who are less likely to be successful in completing the degree. And that’s I think, where this impact could be fairly substantial. Because what it means basically is the people who potentially have the most to gain in terms of higher future income and careers are going to be placed most at risk, while those who come in from wealthier family backgrounds are more likely to be successful because they come in with more of that knowledge from their past experiences.

Tom: Yeah, exactly. I totally agree. And I think that’s basically what we argue in the book. I didn’t mean to seem that I was pushing back on that argument. It’s an important one, and it’s definitely true. And I think it goes even further to some extent, because the increased likelihood that someone drops out for these reasons, falls also disproportionately on students of color. And when that happens, those students are also more likely to have debt that they then are at risk of defaulting on particularly if they didn’t finish the degree. And we know there are lots of studies of the student debt crisis that show how this disproportionately falls on students of color and students of color who weren’t ultimately able to complete their degrees or who got roped into predatory for profit-schemes.

Dan: I feel like the takeaway is that whenever you reduce institutional supports for the most marginalized groups of students, whether its first-generation students, which we both are, by the way (shout out to first-gen students), working class students, racially minoritized students… Yes, the most marginalized groups always end up suffering with the removal of these formal supports because folks with capital can supplement their college experiences through college advisors, like private advisors, I mean, and through other forms of third-party support, to help them gain knowledge and help them gain navigational understanding for gaining success through higher ed.

John: What solutions would you suggest? What can be done to remedy the situation?

Dan: I think one of the biggest things is for workers in higher ed, workers in other industries, basically to start applying their own agency and concern towards addressing these issues. We’ve seen increasing levels of unionization among workers in different industries, and especially in higher ed. But, these trends are not going to reverse themselves and the executive-level decision making that has contributed to it, in addition to the broad entrepreneurial mindset that is a part of American culture, these things are not going to just go away. And so it’s important for workers to recognize that through organizing and developing collective power, we can start reshaping some of these trends. That seems like among the most important dimensions for me,

John: You just suggested that unionization rates have been increasing. Is that the case for higher ed? I know there’s been at least some increase in graduate student unionization. But, is that true generally?

Tom: It is true generally. The impact could be modest depending on which class of worker you’re talking about. I think graduate students are significant to note because they are the ones who seem to be really working to shift the paradigm around how and why we’re organizing. And as we live in a sort of post-Janus world where there are less structural legal protections around unions and unionizing and bargaining, there’s been a deserved shift back to focusing on issues of power and how you actually accumulate enough raw collective power to compel institutions to act in ways that benefit the student body and that benefit the workforce, and not just the endowment and not just the board and the real estate interests that the institution may have. And so this is why graduate workers are becoming more militant and organizing more effectively around these social movement unionism principles that has a larger agenda than simply increasing the attractive terms of our contract. It’s moving beyond this “Let’s just talk about pay and insurance and compensation. And let’s have bigger conversations around structural issues.”

We gathered some strength, I think from the K-12. teachers unions and the really inspiring strikes and other actions that we’ve seen actually yield important wins for these folks. And we’re starting to see the value of being able to actually throw a wrench into the gears of production itself in order to be heard and to have demands taken seriously and concerns taken seriously and to redistribute power. And it’s important to look at the broader social trends around labor activism and how this is getting expressed in certain circles of higher ed, and we’re trying to advance that conversation in part because for all of the controversy around unions and some people, particularly older folks who remember the decline of the union movement have mixed feelings or bitter feelings about the unions and how they act and what they do. At a really basic level, a union is just workers coming together to act collectively and exert leverage over their managers and employers, and over thus the conditions of their work. And so we’re finding new and interesting ways to push those battles and have those conversations outside of conventional union strategies like 50% plus one elections. And we’re focused more on power, which I think is really crucial, in part because of the way that this connects to the broader gig economy. And the way that we’ve normalized this idea of the independent contractor and this following your passion and everyone is their own brand and all these other ideological tendencies that end up just allowing these flexible labor markets to work more smoothly for those who are skimming rent off the top. And that’s what we see… universities are the same sorts of platforms in a lot of different ways. And for something like Uber, the contingent labor force that keeps Uber running is a temporary solution. They see it as a temporary fix for a long-term game, which is just to automate everything to have perpetually money making robots, roving the city who never need breaks and benefits. And so the drivers are really like, to the extent that they’re getting paid in peanuts to do this work… and all the maintenance costs are being offloaded onto workers, as opposed to being a responsibility of the employer, which is something we see in higher ed as well. Because, if you’re an adjunct and you have to work at three different universities, teaching intro-level classes to make ends meet, you’re shouldering all of the costs of the academic supplies you need and the car that you take to get from campus to campus and the gas that goes into that car and whether or not you have memberships with the necessary learning platforms to be able to interface with whatever student learning management system is being used. And so these are all like these micro ways that costs are being offloaded onto workers, and that this is turning into a convenient form of control for the institution at large.

John: You’d advocate basically then a larger role for unions, and then would the unions be lobbying for perhaps less use of contingent labor?

Tom: I mean, sure… In the short term, there may be ways to try to compel institutions to both improve the working conditions and pay and compensation for contingent workers. But, the goal would be to really eliminate this by democratizing the power structure. And it’s on all of us to do that, because the goal is to ensure that the decisions being made at the university are being made democratically and are being made by people who have the interests of students and scholarship at heart and not purely business or market interest. And to get there, we have to look well beyond the old structures of faculty governance. It’s not going to get us there just to bring a few nominal adjuncts into governance meetings and curriculum committees and so forth. We need to fundamentally redistribute the power at universities that had been siphoned in really small doses for so long. Because as the number of faculty in secure positions was dwindling, a lot of the responsibilities of faculty, in a kind of organic sense, were being shifted into administration. And so this is how we ended up in a situation where the amount of tenure-track faculty was languishing while the number of PhD students brought in is spiking. And the number of contingent faculty are spiking, because there are all of those incentives. And for the faculty who have security, their main concerns are doing research and trying to do an increasing amount of work that they have to shoulder among an ever smaller population… around governance and searches and so forth. So they’re all too happy to let the administration deal with hiring adjuncts and all these things. But over time, it’s been this gradual relinquishment of power to the point where tenured faculty have so little power, they’re afraid to even use it. And it should be the number one priority of anyone on the tenure track or with tenure, to stand in solidarity with the contingent workers. Because, that is the only way you can ultimately guarantee the longevity of academic freedom and all of the other rights that you enjoy, because you need that power. Without the power, you’ve got nothing. And so that’s one way we want this book to function is to make folks realize that the kinds of artificial divisions that we see among faculty who are on the tenure track who are doing the scholarly work versus those who are kept and cycled through various contingent positions, we absolutely need to bridge that gap. And it would behoove anyone with any power and security to join that fight. So, yeah, it’s going to take organizing. Unions are an important part of it. We have to look beyond unions. We have to think about broad based organizing through every possible vehicle that we can.

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

Tom: General strike. [LAUGHTER]

Dan: I’ll say, for the Delphi project, another avenue that we’ve been pursuing in terms of supporting shifts in the structures and political economy of higher ed institutions, is to recognize institutions who’ve made novel changes to support non-tenure-track faculty. And so we’ve been offering this award in recognition, which names their excellence and also provides a little bit of funding to them. We’ll be going into the third cycle of the Delphi award this upcoming year. Right now, we’ve been working to communicate the nature of changes that have been made for the last year’s winners. And so we’ve been recognizing that and then we’re also involved in working with graduate student union organizing, at USC specifically. So, that’s another big next for me personally. And then we have a couple grants to study, again, institutions that are making novel changes to transform the nature of teaching and learning.

John: Well, thank you for joining us.

Tom: Thank you. This has been a great conversation, and thanks for reading the book and inviting us on here.

Dan: Yeah, thank you so much.

Rebecca: Thank you.

[MUSIC]

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

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

111. The Business of Academic Dishonesty

There are a number of websites that market themselves as study tools and tutoring services that are used by students as tools for cheating. In this episode, Dr. Liz Schmitt joins us to discuss how these sites work and the steps faculty can take to protect their intellectual property and the academic integrity of their courses. Liz is an economics professor and Acting Chair in the Department of Economics at SUNY Oswego.

Show Notes

Rebecca: There are a number of websites that market themselves as study tools and tutoring services that are used by students as tools for cheating. In this episode, we’ll discuss how these sites work and the steps faculty can take to protect their intellectual property and the academic integrity of their 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.

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John: Our guest today is Dr. Liz Schmitt. Liz is an economics professor and Acting Department Chair in the Department of Economics at SUNY Oswego. Welcome, Liz.

Liz: Thank you.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Liz: Cocoa and coconut.

Rebecca: Interesting.

Liz: It is. It’s my favorite. And I actually nagged John until he bought me more.

Rebecca: Excellent.

John: And I have ginger peach black tea.

Rebecca: I have Lady Grey today.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk a little bit about the growing problem that we’ve seen with the growth of online services that seemed to be designed primarily to facilitate academic dishonesty. I know you’ve had some issues with that in your courses recently. So, we thought this would be a good time to talk about that.

Liz: No, excellent. My post-traumatic stress hasn’t been maximized by the issue. So, let’s talk about it some more. But seriously, actually, it’s a really important issue. And I think our faculty are just not as well informed of this as they need to be. I think in the coming year, it’s going to become my mission to talk about this a lot more.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the incident that just recently happened to you to give some context and to help faculty understand how these kinds of things play out?

Liz: Certainly. So, really for years, even with the growth of the internet, if you’re using a publisher product… and it used to be sort of paper test banks and end-of-chapter questions… they show up on the internet. Some faculty just aren’t careful and were just posting them on non-password, open web pages. And then sites begin to grow where publisher content was widely published, by students often, with answers and answer keys to sort of pay it forward to future students who might be reusing it. I think what struck me this fall was the extent at which original content (because of this problem I had given up on publisher content)… but my original content in terms of my questions were being uploaded, essentially in real time. And within a few days, custom answers were being made by some of these sites. And this is really a new step in it, because it used to be the easiest way to get around this was to be writing your own content and guarding that content. And we find unfortunately, in September, that that was not enough.

John: The problem isn’t entirely new, though. For decades, maybe for centuries, fraternities and sororities and so forth, have kept files of old exams. But, the internet allows that to scale much more extensively and creates profit opportunities for people who facilitate those services. So could you tell us a little bit about some of the sites that do this?

Liz: Well, let me say this takes a step from the fraternity/sorority test file with this obvious broadening of the audience online, and no longer in geographic proximity. So, social affiliation and institution is no longer an indicator of what’s available to you. It’s searchable. So, it’s fraternity test file on steroids. It’s really one of the issues. But the other issue is these online proliferation of sites correspond to publishers emphasis on their digital content. As publishers really deal with essentially trying to get out of a used textbook market and kind of adapting for new ages of information, they really push their online content… which means faculty are relying more on that online content to operationalize many best practices such as retrieval practice for their students. So, it’s also more useful for students to have access to this. But, I think what really happened this fall is their ability to customize in short frames of time really eliminates the ability for me to just change up assignments in order to control the problem. So, really for low monthly fees, Chegg.com is what I ran into trouble with and for the low, low price of $15 a month they can upload questions. There’s a limit on how many questions, I think, they get a month but students potentially being strategic about it can upload questions and then get customized answers. Caveat emptor, some of the answers were great, some not so great and downright strange, which is really how I gleaned on to the problem to begin with. [LAUGHTER] And there are other sites. Chegg has some competitors I would say Chegg’s probably the market leader in this, but there are some competitors: Course Hero…

John: Course Hero has been out there for quite a while. My first exposure to this was about four or five years ago, when I had a student post in their online class that they were a member of Course Hero and they encouraged other people to join, mentioning that they could get their membership just by contributing a certain amount of graded work from the course to the site in return for that membership, and asking them to use her code so she could also get some credit for them joining. I had a little chat with that student about academic integrity and reminded her that if she posts anything on that site it would have to be taken down and she was going to be reported for this. This type of thing seems to be increasingly more common.

Liz: …much more common. And then you even have an issue like Quizlet. And one of the issues like Quizlet is students actually use it to create flashcards to study. So, I actually think there’s some honest intent for students that often come on to Quizlet. By making quizlets out of your questions and things you ask though, they actually create something for students that come after them. But, often Quizlet is really set up for students to actually create flashcards for different kinds of courses and study. But that’s really the leftover intent. And then, of course, there are online paper mills sites that actually offer existing papers… and again, narrowing topics can get around that and just not say “Write a paper on any broad topic…” that’s kind of really asking for trouble. But again, the customization that has come along makes that even more problematic as well.

Rebecca: And it’s somewhat affordable. It’s not incredibly expensive to be a member of these sites or to get a paper written for for you.

Liz: Yes, Chegg’s membership is $15 a month. So, that’s incredibly affordable. There have been sites… they come and go… kind of on a dark webish sketchy servers… but there are also sites offering to just take your online course. Those tend to be $1200 dollars, and up… Those sites get to be more pricier. But frankly, if you were a faculty member serving an institution with a more affluent student body, you should be very concerned about that.

John: Many of these sites also provide custom paper writing services. So, even if you’ve specified a narrow range of paper topics, students could still order a custom written paper.

Liz: Exactly. I would be fair to Chegg.com… that Chegg com responds within 24 hours in my experience to DMCA requests. So, they’re actually very responsive. And they take them down immediately. And they send warnings to the account that you posted things that you didn’t have permission to post. Chegg.com also cooperated with an honor code request, basically giving me upload dates and the emails of the members that uploaded content as well. So, they will cooperate, like I said, a pretty rapid fashion. I think it really, in the area of legality, it’s not clear if you correct yourself but become this conduit for things to happen, then, I don’t know what kind of legal responsibility is going to come there. It’s sort of beyond my expertise. But, I suspect it would take big players it takes like publisher lawyers and things like that, to really come up against this and demand that you really set up a situation that facilitates the repeated stealing of our content. Because it can be an intellectual property whack-a-mole game, because they take it down, but then another student post It from entirely different account and Chegg and these sites are kind of saying they’re not responsible for that. Legally, I’m not sure if you facilitate that, how responsible you are. There’s also paraphrasing tools. Paraphrasing tools… that’s very caveat emptor or buyer beware type of situation… and I actually have an example to show you what can happen when plagiarism tools go bad. Friends don’t let friends use plagiarism tools or this is going to happen. So, let me show you the answer from Chegg expert which was a very nice answer… is as follows: “Expectation of rise in inflation will lead to a drop in the prices of Treasury bonds. This is because the required yield by investors will increase in order to generate higher returns after beating the inflationary pressure.” Great answer, run it through a paraphraser and this is what you’re going to get: “Desire for ascend in the expansion will prompt drop in the cost of the Treasury bond. This is on the grounds that the required yield by the financial specialist will increment so as to produce higher returns subsequent to beating the inflationary wait.” [LAUGHTER] So, that’s not a thing… that is not a thing. I think the odd choice of vocabulary… Here’s words that college students almost never used. And here’s 10 of them right now, in the same paragraph. Obviously, that’s the warning sign. And the idea is, of course, context is important. Certain words that are used by convention or tradition in financial markets. Something that’s really a synonym, technically, in the English language is not in the context of financial markets.

John: A traditional way of catching students who were doing this often was that they were providing you with something that seemed a lot stronger than their other work.

Liz: Yes.

John: And this sort of reduces that down to where, perhaps, it may not be as obvious in all cases that someone is doing that because the quality of the work will no longer look exceptional in the same way.

Liz: Yeah, the exceptional quality of work, you’re right… because the first answer actually does set up my radar because it uses a complexity in sentence structure that I might not expect in this answer. But, I think the other one was just immediately obvious because the word choice just doesn’t fit. So, even if you were actually looking around on Investopedia, or some other website to borrow language, it’s not language that would be used by someone writing for that.

Rebecca: Even as a non-expert in the field, I could tell you that that is not language of the field.

Liz: “Desire for ascend in the expansion?” Yeah.

Rebecca: No, no.

Liz: I think pretty much called that one out.

John: But if you have some foreign students in your class, that sort of thing might sometimes happen. I’ve certainly seen examples where students have used synonyms inappropriately. So, some of this may get by.

Rebecca: In some cases, though, if it was a student where English wasn’t the first language, you would probably have some assignments and know already the kinds of mistakes that that student would make.

John: Yes.

Rebecca: So, you would have an idea of whether or not that would be consistent for that student or not.

John: We touched on the issue of hiring other people to do a student’s work, but could you talk a bit more about how the gig economy may play a role in academic integrity issues?

Liz: Well, the gig economy is basically the idea of you give me your specialized topic and I will write a paper custom for you: words, APA or MLA, the formatting etc., ready to go… Course completion, I will take your online course for you… paper writing services, again, is sort of that issue. And again, in ome of these paper writing services, it’s sent as a Word document, and they don’t actually strip the properties of who created that document.

John: And one of the things that has helped facilitate this, though, is the international reach of the internet. In countries such as India, where incomes and wages are a lot lower, you can pay people relatively small amounts to get reasonably high quality papers written in very strong, solid English

Liz: Right, exactly.

Rebecca: So, what can faculty do? This sounds very dismal.

Liz: It does sound dismal and there’s no solution that doesn’t involve some time on task here. And I think that’s a big problem. Because most of my faculty colleagues, I don’t really know anyone who sit around doing nothing… who has extra time to deal with this, and that’s got to give. Scaffolding is a common way to deal with this. So, it’s a recipe for disaster to assign a paper, be very unspecific about the topic: “Do any topic in post-World War II US history out…” That’s going to be bad. You want to focus the topic, then you actually scaffold. When do you want a thesis statement? When do you want an outline? an annotated bibliography? So, trying to have the pieces turned in really prevents their ability from coming out to get a paper or it’s really the red flag when a student several weeks into the process suddenly wants to change topic, having had struggled earlier with the topics and then they tell you when they want to change, you need to get ready for what that paper is going to look like. And you can scaffold in other ways, even on homeworks: you reference. I reference “Using the model from chapter seven,” “using the model we talked about in class in week six” or “using the discussion issues that were brought up in discussion three.” And so you can’t easily post those and get answers because then the students would have to provide the context, which defeats the purpose as well, of the questions. Algorithmic questions, and algorithmic questions can be posted and solved, but algorithmic questions are really after the fact, it makes it a lot easier to snag people. Because, if you just have a general problem…. So, I had a problem on the internal rate of return, which is a common time value of money concept in the field of finance. And while I think students really got their answers from Chegg, unless they were kind of lazy enough to exactly copy the wording of the answers, I couldn’t really get them because there really was a way that you solved this in the spreadsheet. So, the solution should look the same. So, you get around that by algorithmic questions where the numbers are unique, and then you know, exactly who uploaded that question. And in a learning management system, it’s easy enough to regenerate numbers every semester or year that you’re teaching the course. So, there’s a new set of unique numbers. So, that’s more about enforcement, I think. Questions that work from very specific data, maybe a data set, or quotations. So you can start with: “Mitt Romney, in a debate in 2012, called China a currency manipulator. What does that mean?” And so that quotation again, makes it harder to find general answers to that question. Questions that reference their own experiences, where they have to call up a specific experience themselves, and expound on it, and apply it in class. And current events. So, if you do actually have a very current event, then you can actually prevent going back in time and trying to find older questions, because it’s a current event as well. And so you’re constantly changing. So, you might be testing on the same topic, but you’re constantly changing the context. And your question has to be written so that you forced them to address the context as well.

John: I’ll often ask students to find an example of something in the last six months that illustrates some concept that we’ve just discussed in class. Because if I only offer the class once a year, they’re not going to be able to go back and find earlier examples from the class.

Liz: Right. And then I guess my least compromised questions are ones where they actually create a graph using the Federal Reserve Economic Database based on macro data or financial data. And again, that’s right, because it has to be current. And from year to year you change the time period, or what you want them to look at, or different measures of inflation, things like that. And then you can really grab that, and I have yet to see a FRED question appear on Chegg.

John:(…and FRED is an acronym for Federal Reserve Economic Data.).

Rebecca: What is your process for monitoring because clearly, you’re doing some monitoring.

Liz: Right. Well, when I found the extent of this problem in September, I basically went forward several weeks, and just copied and pasted questions into the internet search engines. I also ended up at least getting a subscription to Chegg so I could look, because the other issue is if someone screenshots an image of a question from their learning management system that might not show up in a Google search, but it’s going to show up on Chegg because Chegg actually has the text… kind of an alt text… that comes up, and that will show up as well. And so I started doing that. I opened a Google doc. And then every time I found one, I knew I had to change the questions in my graded activities. And then I would put it in the Google document. And I ended up with a 20-page DMCA document to Chegg about all of the questions I wanted to take down that take me through about week 10 my course. So… to be continued… as to how many I will find. But really, the monitoring really comes up at first when you get just a very unusual answer, or you start getting all the same answers. So, in a class of about 37, there’s about 10 students that were trying to tell me the same thing, especially if they illustrate a concept… I don’t ask for a numerical example… But they give me one. When you see the first person do that, you’re like “That’s great.” And then you think, “Well, why would the second, third and fourth person choose the exact same numbers to illustrate this concept?” There’s only one reason and it’s not a good one.

John: You mentioned the paraphrasing tools making it a little harder to find when people were trying to copy materials. There’s other tools out there too, though, which are online plagiarism detection sites where students can get a paper that they think fits the requirements of the assignment, upload it to that, see if it’s found, and if it is, just make minor changes and resubmit it until it ends up with a relatively low plagiarism score. And complicating this a bit, is that some of the major paper mills advertise that they use a TurnItIn service to check the papers that they sell for plagiarized content. Because one of the issues for the companies that are selling papers to students is that sometimes the people they hire to write papers simply plagiarize existing material. So, this makes it a little bit harder perhaps to detect that sort of work for hire. What might you do to detect papers that have already been run through the TurnItIn or similar systems and modified to come up with low plagiarism scores?

Liz: Well, I think you have to go backwards from that and recognize the limitations of those tools. I was never a big fan of TurnItIn. SafeAssign is just kind of a starting point. SafeAssign often gives a lot of false positives as well. Because if people are citing sometimes similar sources, which you would expect, then you’re going to see that pop up in SafeAssign. So, I think you got to go back and say, are you choosing the topic that is sort of paper mill proof, or things like that? Downloading when you have electronic submissions, which I do, and downloading them can also pick up issues of extra characters designed to trip it up. So, people put characters and they change the color to white to try and trip up that detector and that easily shows up when you highlight them. Those are some of the things that I would use. wWe haven’t had TurnItIn on our campus. We had SafeAssign, which I already knew the limitations, but the tell is you read it, and you’re like I’ve met five college students that write like that… in 23 years. So, I’m now deeply suspicious of that. Often the language doesn’t match, which is why scaffolding also becomes important… because the language doesn’t match what’s been done earlier in terms of: if you don’t think the student wrote the paper and you can’t find the source, you invite them in. And you ask them about where they found the source. Or I really love what you said about the impact of inflation on average households in the 1970s. Could you explain how you developed that? …and they won’t be able to and as a result, they’ll often say, “Well, I wrote this paper and I immediately forgot everything.” And faculty members get caught up into this. “Well, I have to prove a negative or I have to prove that that’s not possible.” And you don’t, I think you’d say: “On your face, that’s a really ridiculous argument. Either you need an MRI right now, because something wrong has happened. You’ve had a stroke and you need help, or you’re not being honest about where that paper came from. And you’re allowed a chance to defend yourself from these charges. But that defense isn’t reasonable. And I’m going to move it on.”

John: Pretty much every time I’ve run across that and brought the students in, they almost always confessed pretty quickly when they realize that they can’t explain what they had written.

Liz: Yeah, I think turn it in has these separate issues too. Is it ethical? We’re complaining about our intellectual property being posted. But, students that do write original papers, that’s their intellectual property. And we’re forcing them by virtue of getting their degree and meeting requirements of a course, to release some of that somewhat. So, I think there are issues of privacy and property, ethical issues that I know a lot of other faculty out there have just really pushed back against for years with turn it in. Others argue it’s about us policing students by requiring this prevention method, we’re almost taking the assumption that something’s going to go wrong, that it can create a hostility and an adversarial relationship that we don’t want in students. I think there’s some truth to that as well, which is why it becomes so important to think about the design of your course and your learning activities, because it’s so much better to prevent this and to make it very difficult than to deal with it afterwards. As I tell my students in my annual first day of class, don’t test me on this because I fail people at least once a year for this kind of thing. I actually say this is the worst part of my job, and I hate it, but I do it. So, that should tell you how important it is to me.

Rebecca: I think that it’s sometimes it’s a little more obvious to faculty how to prevent some of these things from happening in an face-to-face class, because you can be doing in class assignments, you can have them working on things in class and see their progress. But that doesn’t play out maybe as easily online because you don’t necessarily know what they’re doing. So, do you have some strategies of how you scaffold or do things a little bit differently online?

Liz: I would back up again, because some people say, “Well, this is why I don’t teach online, because I’m worried about ringers and things like that.” But, often people that tell me that do assign papers, and I say “Basically, anything that’s done outside of class is susceptible to these sites…anything.” And so really, again, there’s a lot of face-to-face classes, particularly in STEM that are using homework packages that students complete on their own. And then there are plenty of classes that assign papers that are done outside of class. The idea is, is that the in-class possibility of a face-t- face class does provide this check. But in an online class, you really compel them to actually talk about things in a discussion. And so you can use your online discussions to lay the groundwork of what they want to talk about, requiring them to reference discussions within the course as well. And so that’s one way to try and mimic that check that in-class does. And there’s proctoring software, which again, is potentially foolable as well, but there’s also design. So in an online class, the idea is no one thing should be worth a lot. Any one thing should be worth less than 20% in my opinion, because the idea here is if you want a ringer, you don’t want that ringer, by just taking a single exam, to move your letter grade significantly. You’d need a ringer for the whole course or a really, really good friend to do this for you. So, that’s another thing and in designing them exams, you can time them, not necessarily just time them but there’s one question at a time, no backtracking options. So, you want to think about a very structured way to require students to demonstrate understanding that just make it a lot more difficult to outsource.

22:08 redo

John: You can do the same type of scaffolding online as you do in a face-to-face class. You just have different stages, as you said. In the first stage, you could have them submit a thesis statement. In the next stage, you could ask the students to submit a bibliography, followed by an annotated bibliography, and then a rough draft and a final draft of the project . And that’s not really much different than it would be in a face-to-face class.

Liz: And all in the same place are all of these writing samples because that’s how you’re communicating with students: via emails, course messaging, discussion forums, and then other graded work. So, in some sense, there’s a large body of written work to form a basis for your suspicions or concerns.

Rebecca: I’ll also add that we focused on lot on written work, test questions, and things like this. But, the same kind of plagiarism can happen with images, it can happen with code. I’ve had those same experiences in my classes as well…. sharing of digital files to make a particular design and boy does that look kind of similar to something I’ve seen before or an image that’s being claimed as their own or not documented where it came from. So those same things happen. They don’t play out in the same way in Chegg and some of these other sites, but those same practices happen through like a gig economy or just sharing amongst other students and when their digital files are a lot easier to share them when they were physical things.

Liz: Also in creative fields, there’s something worse in the way that’s sort of accepted, because if you look at fashion design, the ripping off of top designer early designs to then the knockoffs is astonishing. There’s a photo that has a Manolo Blahnik sandal, frankly next to an Ivanka Trump sandal, and they’re the identical red sandal. And it’s really just you slapped a different name on it and use different materials, perhaps. And obviously, they’re about six months apart in terms of product cycle. So, I think people in creative fields see that recycling, even in the music field, whether they get permission, you see music, that’s a remix of other older musicians, and you need permission for that, but you don’t necessarily know that when you’re listening to it and enjoying it. So, I think you actually see in some of the real-world situations how visual borrowing and frankly, stealing, is kind of accepted in some of these fields by some very successful people. Whereas, in the written world, when authors get found with plagiarism, it’s considered a big deal. And it’s kind of very embarrassing for them to get caught. Books can be recalled… things like that. It seems like written word… there seems to be more of a consequence, for now, when that happens, whereas in creative fields, that’s not always true.

Rebecca: There’s a lot of visual and audio copyright cases, though. And that’s where that tends to play out. The fashion example that you’re giving… those are considered functional things and not considered creative. So therefore, they’re not protected by the law in the same way.

Liz: Exactly. But, I think for what students observe, and behavior that they might emulate, when they look at professionals and their choices, that distinction isn’t going to come up.

Rebecca: One thing that I always argue is that when we talk about intellectual integrity, that copyright comes into the discussion in particular fields, because it is sometimes a common practice. And it’s there for a reason. we iterate on our culture, our culture creates new culture. It’s not a crazy concept, but you need to know where it comes from. And you need to provide attribution and in an appropriate way, which is no different than following MLA or APA or some other thing. So, I think that’s always something that people should be thinking of, and that when you’re having written papers, and there’s images and things in it, that you’re also thinking about that part of the content as well and not just the written word.

John: One other thing that I’d like to bring up is an earlier podcast that we did with Judith Boettcher, who talked about one way of avoiding this issue by having group projects that provide students with a lot more autonomy, but in a very structured fashion. And that’s perhaps a way of getting around this where students can take more ownership of the project and they create more of the project as a group, which would make it a little harder to engage in academic dishonesty. And we’ve also, in previous podcasts, talked about some open pedagogy projects, where the work that students do is posted publicly. And if they know that when their work is posted publicly, and they’re copying something from anyone else, it’s much more likely that they would be found and they’d get in some trouble later. So, those are two other things, perhaps, that might be ways of reducing the incentives for academic dishonesty.

Rebecca: Community based learning is another one… or service learning where you’re doing projects with the local community, because all of that context would be unique every time you’re doing something. So, that’s another opportunity for grading those assignments that really aren’t reproducible, and would be really, really hard to get an answer for… unless the person lived in the same community.

Liz: I agree. I think the biggest challenge is in some of these courses that are tool courses. In some courses you’re acquiring the tools that you would learn for projects and to consult, etc. And so when you teach these tool courses, it’s not always appropriate to have these kind of finished product things, because they’re in progress of assembling that toolbox that they’re going to use. And this is where reliance on sites like Chegg become a big problem.

Rebecca: At the beginning, we started with the idea that faculty aren’t always aware of these tools, or even the ways that students try to manipulate the system. Can you talk about ways that we can help increase this awareness with our colleagues?

Liz: I was just talking about this this morning with another colleague and we were bemoaning our Chegg purgatory this semester, and she says, “I just don’t think other faculty realizes… or how can we be the only ones that care about this.” So, I think some of them are honestly unaware because faculty aren’t always in sort of the student space and understand what those crazy kids are doing these days. So, I think, in some sense, faculty that have been more tuned in to creating learning community or kind of developing a relationship with their students are more likely to get ideas of what’s going on as well. But I also think there’s some willful ignorance here… this whole “Well, I didn’t know.” But I took steps to make sure I didn’t know because once you do know, it obligates you to do something, if you “don’t know,” and I’m using quotes, which is not helpful on a podcast, air quotes, but if you really don’t know that you’re MyLab component of the course is completely compromised, that doesn’t obligate you to think about changing up your course, and the weighting of activities and what activities. Once you know, it really obligates you to act as a faculty member. And so some people say, “Well, I wonder if my stuff is up there?” and like, “Oh, it is.” I don’t even have to look, I can say “Yes, it is.” And then academic dishonesty takes time. I’m really at 40 hours and counting with academic dishonesty documentation, DMCA documentation, and then reworking items in the course to deal with this issue so it wasn’t a lost semester. And I’m a full professor, think about an assistant professor not only trying to balance and develop their research agenda in conjunction with this, but also not wanting to rock the boat with unhappy students. I’m going to be getting a nice bottle of something sparkly, when I read my faculty evaluations in January. They’re going to be lit. Perhaps we’ll do a dramatic reading and have a tea party with tea and maybe something stronger. But, you know what? I can weather that. I can take that. And that’s going to be an issue. And frankly, I’m really proud of this institution, about how administrators really back faculty, enforcing the integrity of coursework and the degrees. And I know that doesn’t happen at other institutions, frankly other institutions that are maybe more tuition dependent and driven… that are unwilling to make steps that make students leave with financial implications. So, in some sense, this is really one of the best environments here at Oswego to actually try to enforce these policies as well. So, I think that’s one of the reasons that faculty don’t act, because there absolutely is some blowback to that.

John: And faculty might also see that each year they teach the same course, their students are doing better and they might be very content just to see that improvement in the scores so that all the work being submitted looks more like the best work from the year before. And it’s really easy to passively accept that.

Liz: Well, I would actually note that what’s more astonishing, is not the extent that Chegg has corrupted these issues, but there is a significant contingent of students that do not use it. Maybe they are unaware of it. Maybe they decide they don’t want to use it. But, when someone says, “Well, I can’t believe how many students cheat,” I would say, “Well, I can’t believe how many don’t, given the incentive structure.” And so that’s somewhat encouraging. But, also I had to decide if I was going to email the entire class and say, “Look, I’ve seen this happen. And you have to know that this is not allowed, that I’ve already made it clear in the syllabus. This is not allowed, and this is what will happen.” And it was a real-life decision about the Streisand effect, because you have to wonder if 20% of the class is saying “Wait, there’s a Chegg and we can get answers there? Alright!” You didn’t know if you wanted to clue them in, but I figured I had to act under full information.

Rebecca: I think it’s also really interesting when you start seeing students wanting to apply for jobs at those kinds of organizations, and then what kinds of conversations you’re going to have with those students, when they say, “Hey, I found this really awesome job that I want to apply for at Chegg.” It’s like, “Well, think about that. What does that mean? And what are those implications? And where are the ethics behind that?”

Liz: Well John, and I were talking earlier, there are Faculty Fellows at Course Hero, and some of them have made a name about teaching in the profession. John was probably more polite about that. One of them’s at a conference and I think I would stand up and say, “How do you reconcile partnering with a site that facilitates academic dishonesty and intellectual property theft every single day?” I would be curious as to what the answer is.

Rebecca: The pay is really, really good? [LAUGHTER] I don’t know.

Liz: I guess. The one I’m thinking of has a pretty sweet gig right now, so I’m not really sure.

John: this presentation was right after one that was riddled with references to learning styles, so I saved my powder for that one.

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

Liz: First, I’m already kind of brought this up in faculty assembly. And I’ve brought it up in academic meetings, because I’m acting chair this year. So I brought it up in leadership meetings. And I hope we can actually do a workshop through our Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. So, maybe a breakout workshop talking about our experience, and try and really broaden the understanding of the issues here. I’m also working with our faculty union, the United University Professors is also very interested in compiling violations of intellectual property rights, and trying to deal with that and push back against those sites. And I’m actually sharing my DMCA documents. So I made an editable form for some of the big sites, so you can easily go in and change them. I made a template for what you would ask the Associate Dean to fill out in order to ask for upload information from these sites as well. So trying to minimize the work involved for people who want to do this and take action. And then, finally, I’m just looking ahead about how I’m going to really redesign this course that I’ll teach a year from now, and to motivate and enforce original work.

John: And I should note, we’ve also been offering workshops for at least seven or eight years now.

Liz: You’ve been offering workshops on these sites and things like that….

John: …and attendance has been generally limited. We’re lucky if we get 15 people.

Liz: But you don’t have me. I’m a draw. I’m a draw… a star. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: …especially if we could do the dramatic reading of the examples.

Liz: Exactly. There will be a dramatic reading, and there will be sufficient supplies of snark. And I think it’ll work. But, I actually think maybe a case study. So, we come and we talk about these sites, but I can sit down with other faculty who’ve had this problem. And this is what I found… this is how I found out about it. And this is what I did about it, and this is what you should be doing about it.

Rebecca: This has been super informative. Thank you very much, Liz.

John: Thank you, Liz.

Liz: Well, thank you for having me.

[MUSIC]

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

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

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

110. Fostering a Growth Mindset

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

Show Notes

Transcript

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

[MUSIC]

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

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

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

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

[MUSIC]

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

Sarah: Thank you.

John M.: Thank you.

John K.: Our teas today are?

Sarah: None today

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

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

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

Rebecca: I have English afternoon.

John K.: And I have a ginger tea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John M.: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John K.: Okay.

Sarah: And leave it at that. [LAUGHTER]

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

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

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

John K.: Many academics do.

Sarah: Yeah.

John M.: Yes, of course.

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

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

Sarah: Precisely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: Yeah.

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

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

Rebecca: Yeah.

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

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

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

Sarah: Exactly.

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

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

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

Sarah: Yay!!

John M.: Good.

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: You’re not “teaching” them.

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: So I hear you…

Sarah: Yeah.

Rebecca: …nut…

Sarah: I hear you, but…

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

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

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

John M.: Right

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

John K.: Yes.

John M.: Right. Right, right.

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: Sounds like a new adventure.

Sarah: It is a brand new adventure.

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

Sarah: We’re moving to a new building.

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

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

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

Sarah: if only…

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

[MUSIC]

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

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

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

109. Active Learning

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

Show Notes

Transcript

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

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

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

Trish: Thanks for having me.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Trish: I am drinking a peppermint decaf tea.

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

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

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

Trish: Mhmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: No.

John: That one I haven’t heard of.

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

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

Trish: Oh, I have to check that out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trish: Yes. Exactly…[LAUGHTER] Exactly.

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: …sounds really exciting.

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

Trish: Thanks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

108. Neuromyths

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

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

Show Notes

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

Transcript

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

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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

Kristen: Thank you so much for having us.

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

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

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

Michelle: And, I have a wonderful hibiscus tea.

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

John: And, I have ginger peach black tea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristen: Oh, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

Kristen: Oh, that’s exciting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: Thank you.

[MUSIC]

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

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