This week we resume a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, Martin Springborg and Susan Hrach join us to discuss how sensory experiences can be used in an object-based learning framework to enrich student learning.
Martin is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College. Susan is the director of the Faculty Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and an English Professor at Columbus State University. Martin and Susan both contributed to the Pedagogies of Care project. Martin is co-author with Natasha Haugnes and Hoag Holmgren, of Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts. Susan is the author of the forthcoming Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement Affect Learning.
- Haugnes, N., Holmgren, H., & Springborg, M. (2018). Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts. West Virginia University Press.
- Hrach, Susan ( forthcoming, 2021). Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement Affect Learning. West Virginia University Press.
- Pedagogies of Care
- Claxton, G. (2015). Intelligence in the flesh: Why your mind needs your body much more than it thinks. Yale University Press.
- The Professional andOrganizational Development (POD) Network
- Jessica Metzler
- Whitehouse, Bonnie Smith (2019). Afoot and Lighthearted: A Journal for Mindful Walking. Penguin Random House
- Google Arts & Culture
- https://native-land.ca/ – The website that Rebecca mentioned that will tell you whether you are on native land.
- Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)
- International Coaching Federation
- Center for Coaching Excellence
John: This week we resume a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, we examine how sensory experiences can be used in an object-based learning framework to enrich student learning.
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.
Rebecca: Our guests today are Martin Springborg and Susan Hrach. Martin is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College. Susan is the director of the Faculty Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and an English Professor at Columbus State University. Martin and Susan both contributed to the Pedagogies of Care project. Martin is co-author with Natasha Haugnes and Hoag Holmgren, of Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts. Susan is the author of the forthcoming Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement Affect Learning. Welcome, Susan, and welcome back, Martin.
SUSAN: Thank you.
MARTIN: Thanks for having us.
John: Our teas today are:
MARTIN: Actually, it’s very hot in Minnesota right now. It’s like, it feels like 100, but it’s truly 93-94 degrees. So, I’m drinking iced latte with vanilla almond milk. It’s really tasty.
Rebecca: That sounds good.
SUSAN: Nice. I’m having a similar heatwave issue. I’m drinking sparkling water that has cucumber and strawberry flavor.
Rebecca: Well, that sounds good.
SUSAN: It’s my current summer favorite.
Rebecca: I, despite the fact that it’s 90 here, still am drinking hot tea because, I don’t know, I have a problem. [LAUGHTER] I’m drinking a summer berry green tea.
John: In our last podcast recording, you mentioned the summer berry green tea and I forgot that that was something they had at Epcot, and I saw my own, so I am drinking the summer berry green tea that I picked up in Epcot last November. It’s very good.
MARTIN: Can I ask a tea question, as long as I have two tea aficionados here?
Rebecca: We can try. [LAUGHTER]
MARTIN: So, my afternoon drink of choice is Earl Grey tea and coffee in the morning, Earl Grey in the afternoon. But I know there are different schools of thought on how you should steep this tea. So, just give me the definitive steeping on Earl Grey tea. That’s what I’m after.
Rebecca: I have a tea pot that does it itself.
MARTIN: Buy the tea pot that that does it for you.
Rebecca: It’s like you put in the kind of tea and it just does it.
John: You specify the type and the strength and it brews it to that level. Yes, but, I think four to five minutes is normally recommended.
MARTIN: I’ve heard three, I’ve heard five. So, I’m like, should I just do four and split the difference?
John: Four is probably pretty safe, I think.
Rebecca: Yeah, I clearly can’t handle it myself. so I have a tool to do that for me.
MARTIN: Thank you.
John: I have the same one. It’s a Breville tea maker, it’ll brew tea and you just pick the type, and it will even drop the basket in once the water has reached the appropriate temperature,
Rebecca: …and take it back out, it is the most expensive teapot you can possibly buy. So we invited you here today to talk about your contribution to the pedagogies of care project. Can you tell us a little bit about this project?
MARTIN: Yes. So, there’s a Teaching and Learning Series that West Virginia University Press has been engaged with for some time now. I want to say a couple of years we’re going on. So there are many authors within this series. Mainly the books are just short, to the point, for faculty, here’s how to do this thing. Tom Tobin, I’m just going to credit him and Tori Mondelli, both of them for starting this. Basically, when the crisis hit and we all were involved as directors for teaching and learning and other roles on our campuses, were responsible for helping faculty move courses online, and myriad other things, Tom and Tori got the gang together on Twitter and just said, “Hey, let’s put something together.” And that’s really how this thing started to form. We had a couple of meetings to talk about how we would do it, and we just did it. Everybody took on a part of it. And Susan asked me if I’d come on board with her object-based learning session, which I was happy to do. But now that the resource is out, it’s been made available to everybody. It’s an open educational resource, and anybody can use it for however they’d like.
SUSAN: One of the fun ideas that Tori and Tom suggested from the beginning is that it would be a multimedia collection. And so we tried to keep the videos and podcasts to no more than 20 minutes, or maybe a little bit over 20, but not much. And there’s infographics and PDF articles. And so I just thought it would be fun to have an audio-only entry and fun to collaborate. And so Martin’s area of expertise fit in nicely with the topic I wanted to address and we were off to the races.
John: It’s a really nice resource. I know we’ve shared it with our faculty and many teaching centers have shared it with their faculty.
MARTIN: Thank you.
SUSAN: It’s great to know.
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s definitely been popular on our campus. I’ve certainly been eating them all up and digesting what’s there and taking advantage. And in your particular entry, you talk a lot about object-based learning. Can you start by explaining to our listeners what object-based learning is?
SUSAN: Sure. Yeah, so I’ve heard it referred to both as object-based teaching and object-based learning, but it comes from the fields of museum education and art history and archeology where the object is the primary way into knowing more about a culture or a time period or an aesthetic sensibility. So new neuroscience of learning is affirming that that just works really well as a structure for human learning in general. So I take the sequence from a book that I have found really useful by Guy Claxton called Intelligence in the Flesh. But he identifies these three steps to learning: the first step is noticing, the second step is imitating, and the third step is practicing. And so object-based learning focuses mostly on that first step, noticing, as sort of the foundation for how you’re able to imitate well and then practice well after that. So, I first became familiar with this by going to a pre-conference workshop at POD in 2018. And Jessica Metzler, from Brown’s Sheridan CTL, did this great session called “Ways of Seeing” and she took us to the Portland Art Museum and we all sat around and looked at this sculpture from, I think it was the Anglo Saxon period. None of us had any idea what it was. And so it was perfect because it was an interaction with a primary object for us to be able to start a series of questions of inquiry.
John: Could you explain how this might be used in other disciplines? Certainly, we can see how statues might be used, but how might it be used perhaps in the STEM disciplines or in other fields?
SUSAN: So, if you think about just a sort of an experience that everybody’s had… just to be more concrete about this noticing, imitating, practicing… something as simple as tying your shoes. How did you learn how to tie your shoes. Well, you had to notice what your parent or somebody was trying to get you to notice, and then imitate what they were doing, and then practice a lot yourself, right? So any discipline that’s conducting an experiment or analyzing any kind of text, and I mean that in the broadest sense of the word, think about the way that you wrote your first scholarly article. You had to notice how other people did it, and then imitate them. And then just practice your own a lot. It’s just the sort of formula that works really well for almost any kind of learning. And it starts with noticing. And so, whatever object you might take to have your students notice carefully is the place to begin. For example, something that sounds kind of abstract, I taught a translation studies course about a year ago, and I structured the whole course on just that three-part premise. We just noticed a lot of things about how translators were approaching the task. And then we tried to imitate various approaches, that we had already noticed that they took differently, and then the students were able to start practicing their own versions of translation with, I think, a much more informed sense of what they were doing,
MARTIN: Well, my background, before I got into faculty development was in the visual arts, I taught photography and art history for about 20 years prior to getting into faculty development. One of the courses that I taught was co taught between myself and a creative writing instructor. And so I taught the photography side of that class or half of that class… and the creative writing for that part, the students use photographs as primary sources to really start that writing process for the various pieces that they wrote during the course. And so that’s another example of how the photo was the object.
John: It sounds like the first part of this is just helping students develop the skill of focused attention, so that they learn how to pay attention to things that they might not normally focus on. And, as part of that, you describe a sound walk activity as an example. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
SUSAN: Yeah, I’d be happy to. Sound walks are pretty much self explanatory. You send the students… I mean, you could do this indoors as well… but outdoors works better. Just out for As short of a period of time as you might feel you can spare, and tell them that their task is to just only notice what they can hear. And it’s best if they can immediately write down all of the series of things that they can hear. It’s okay for them to write down something that they can’t identify, that’s something they notice in the soundscape. But if you have them go outside, and then they’re walking, which builds in movement, which is automatically better for opening up our brain’s ability to absorb things, and then ask them to take this shift in their normal perception that just like triples the impact of their ability to notice things, to perceive them in a new way. And so it’s sort of like priming the brain for learning other things, because you kind of take in your brain out of its normal autopilot mode, it’s more open and receptive to noticing other things.
Rebecca: I’ve taken a similar approach in some of the things that I do in my classes as well because I teach primarily web design. And students often are familiar with websites, they go to them, but they go to them as, like a consumer, and not as a maker. So they don’t really notice unless they take the time to slow down and look in a different way.
SUSAN: That’s perfect. Yeah, that’s a great example. I mean, I think a lot of education in general is helping people to learn how to shift their perception of things, and then also to remain open. Once you’ve changed your mind once, that’s not the end, you’re going to continue to have that sort of open and curious attitude to be able to continue shifting your perception as a lifelong learner. So I feel like it’s just such a foundational skill in higher ed in general.
Rebecca: So Martin, can you describe some of the ways that you might use the same method in a more visual environment, rather than just in audio?
MARTIN: The object-based learning, as Susan mentioned, is pretty native to disciplines like art history, visual arts. Certainly, for example, in teaching art history, that’s an easy use, you’d bring students to a museum, and you have a guided time with them, where you guide them in that exercise of looking at something and applying it to something that they’re going to do back in the classroom or on their own time in preparation for the next class or a discussion. So, we together look at a piece or pieces, or they have their own itinerary, where they have pieces that they need to find focus on, make notes about. If you’re teaching that kind of class, reproduce in sketch form, and then bring that back to an assignment or assignments that they will produce back at the college. I feel like my discipline is an easier application for object-based learning than what we’re talking about the expansion of that into other disciplines. In our podcast, we talk about taking object-based learning and applying it to the STEM fields, for example.
SUSAN: And I want to add too, I mean, I think visual attentiveness is really its primary mode, but I sort of narrowed down for our podcast because we knew we wanted to keep it under 20 minutes, let’s just talk about two of the senses. But, you could do a lot with touch, I think. And I’ve seen some really great pieces, some museum ed pieces about physically handling objects, and the way that students can learn things about any sort of texture or object through just paying a little bit more attention to its tactile existence. And, I’m in literature, it’s not the first field you would think of as being tied to an object that way, but, you know, books, people have very deep attachments to the physical book. And I don’t think that we stop often enough to just talk about what that means. If you bring your students to the archives, for example, and they’re allowed to handle an older book, what does it smell like? What’s the texture of those pages like? What is the cover like? Those are all really interesting ways for them to find their way into being more curious about the object itself, the text itself. And for the most part, we just sort of present the thing as if the content inside is really all that we need to pay attention to. And really, it’s the full experience of that material object… the type font… the way it was produced… you know, all of those things about the history of the book are fascinating, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit archives and deal with archival manuscripts. And it really did transform the way that I looked at early texts when you can look at the physical handwriting of the person who produced it, touch the paper that they touched, it’s a very human way into the study.
MARTIN: And these practices are not just good in theory, like “Oh, it’d be nice to bring a class out of the archives so they can smell books,” or have that experience of touching and interacting with those as primary sources. I don’t want to get us off on a tangent right now, but a project I’ve been working on for some time is photographing faculty teaching in the classroom, to just document what that looks like, and some very real examples of what Susan is talking about. So, I was just at Princeton photographing a class where they actually were down in the archives, and they had books that they were leafing through… old rare texts that were one of a kind to illustrate the points that the faculty member was trying to make in this humanities class. Another, I was at Caltech not too long ago, photographing a geology course, where the instructor was passing out rocks that the students could actually feel, touch, experience, as he was talking about that kind of rock. So, it’s used all the time. It’s maybe more prevalent than people actually realize.
Rebecca: I think one of the things that’s interesting is we often try to tell stories about our experiences. And those embodied experiences include all of our senses, but we often try to capture it in one medium, and we don’t always think about all the other senses. So, I think taking this time to notice, and notice in different senses. Maybe then, as a visual designer, it might be really interesting or important to to notice all the other senses instead of just the visual in studying something, because we tend to preference the modality that we create something in.
John: It’s all creating additional connections for people that make it easier, perhaps, to integrate the information.
SUSAN: That’s right. And I think even, just to build on what Rebecca was saying about how we tend to privilege one sense, and it’s often sight, but I think it’s helpful for students, even imaginatively, to start noticing how something might feel with their other senses. So, as an example, I did a little experiment with my Renaissance Lit students a couple of years ago, and I read them the description of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, which is particularly violent, and it’s an exciting thing to read about, but it’s a little gory, and I asked them to respond to it by doing a little imaginative exercise about putting themselves in that room. And they could be anyone in the room. They could be just as a witness, they could be an observer, or they could be the executioner himself, or they could be themselves, sort of as time travelers. And then I asked them specifically to talk about what the temperature of the room felt like, what it smelled like, what sorts of internal sensations they were feeling as the execution unfolded. And I got this really great set of responses back from them. A lot of them are studying creative writing. So I, you know, was partly designing this exercise because I know that’s the writing that they’re interested in doing, but it was just really fun. And I think if you were teaching history, or really any field in which there’s some sort of story that you could read and have people kind of imaginatively place themselves at that moment, maybe the moment of something important that happened in your discipline, it gives them a more embodied way to connect, even just imaginatively, with it.
Rebecca: in this era of social distancing and virtual spaces and screens, do you have some suggestions of ways to incorporate object-based learning in new ways, than maybe some of the ways that we talked about which might really require being in close proximity or in small spaces like an archive that you might not have access to in the fall?
MARTIN: Well, there are primary sources all around us, we just need to step outside. And with a little guidance from the instructor, students should be able to have those experiences anywhere that they might safely explore in the world right now. So, it doesn’t really need to involve, for example, going to a crowded museum or another crowded space to find primary sources. You can, for example, go back to geology again. And you can easily go on a field trip yourself without human contact to locate the kind of rock or material that your instructor wants you to find and reference and be in the presence of and touch. That’s just one example.
SUSAN: Yeah, I love thinking of ways to get people out from behind the computer and the screen. I mean, I think the whole vision of online learning that we have right now involves people being planted at their desks behind their computer, and oh my gosh, we just need to find ways, like Martin said, of sending them out on field trips on their own, to do whatever might be productive. For you to ask them to leave their desks and go investigate. It could be something in their own kitchens. It could be something outside. I just recently had the opportunity to teach an introductory level interdisciplinary course, and I used this wonderful book I would recommend to anyone by Bonnie Smith Whitehouse that’s called Afoot and Lighthearted: A Journal for Mindful Walking. And she’s got 50 different writing prompts that you can assign as part of taking walks with the students. They’re super thoughtful. She’s got all sorts of great references to important thinkers and their philosophies about walking and why it matters, for example, to social movements. And so, it was so timely, in fact, with the recent Black Lives Matter protests and what just walking means for human beings in a bigger sense. What are we doing with our bodies when we use them in those ways? And so the course was based on physical movement and the creative brain, and I asked the students to pursue some sort of creative project and, oh my gosh, they picked the most fun collection of things. They were crocheting and building furniture and tie-dyeing t-shirts and baking and so they were doing these creative activities, but they had to walk and journal and then see what sort of effect that had on their creative process. And it was great fun, and I also felt like it was the sort of thing we all needed, me included, at this particular moment, I don’t think it was what any of them were expecting from an academic course. But, they did a lot of writing, and they put into the online discussion board, all sorts of sensory things. So, they would record 20 seconds of their walk through the neighborhood. And we could hear their footsteps and we could hear the lawn mower and we could hear the birds and it was just such a great way into students’ environments. That was unusual, and that made the course feel like it was jumping out of the computer in a way. So that was something I feel really lucky to have been able to just use as an experimental summer class. And we had a good time.
Rebecca: One of the things that you mentioned in your work is using podcasts as a way of noticing. Can you talk a little bit about ways that we might use podcasts?
SUSAN: Well, yeah, I think in a similar kind of way, to get students away from their desks and from sitting, there are so many great podcasts now, and there’s lots of educational podcasts that are connected to everybody’s discipline and touching on current themes that make it feel really relevant. And that material is just out there waiting for us to curate, and adopt, and include in our courses. And then, I think, if you can direct the students to listen to an episode of something that you find relevant for your discipline and tell them that the assignment includes you must take a walk while you’re listening to this or do some other sort of movement that does not require you to be mentally focused on the movement. So cleaning, I think, painting a room, or maybe driving long distances… I wouldn’t want somebody to be too distracted in their driving, but not doing homework for other classes… let’s put it that way… an activity you could participate in and listen to the podcast at the same time. I think that’s really kind of the ideal way for them to be able to experience an audio only delivery of content, and also have them not sitting in front of their computers.
Rebecca: What I really love about hearing about podcasts is it actually gets students to start doing some professional development. It’s modeling some of those kinds of things that they might do professionally as well, to continue knowing and learning and noticing new things in the field. It almost get them in the habit really early. [LAUGHTER]
SUSAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is, I think, at least the current mania for adult learners. And also, so many people are really attached to their books on… Well, I would say books on tape, but they’re not really books on tape anymore, or CD… they’re audio books. So I suppose it depending on the book, you could also assign students to read a primary text as an audio book and see how that shifts things, how it changes it up,
Rebecca: Especially when it might be in the author’s voice or something and changes how you’re understanding it or you’re hearing that person with their words and their emphasis.
SUSAN: Oh, so that reminds me of one other little exercise that I can recommend, which is, if you’re in a classroom, and you could do this with social distancing, and you have a podcast or an audio interview or something that you want the students to hear, you can have everybody listening to it as a group, but give them individual spots to stand along the whiteboard, or if you’re lucky enough to have portable whiteboards where they can be apart from each other, and have them standing and taking notes and doing whatever sort of sketching or doodling or things come to mind as they’re listening to the audio piece. And then when it’s over, everybody gets to share their notes together, and you can kind of see what everybody picked up on as a group. It’s really great. It’s a nice way to have them build on each other’s knowledge and also to sort of watch how other people take notes, and how other people process things. But I wanted to ask Martin, because I saw at some point in the spring that a number of museums had started making their collections more available as virtual tours, did you pay any attention to like which ones we might want to look at? Or do you remember which of the museums were doing that sort of virtual gallery walk?
MARTIN: I didn’t, and I haven’t been teaching for a while now. But because, through Google, I would frequently have my online students visit museums around the world, and then do virtual tours. So even though if the museum itself didn’t have that capability, you can go to Google Arts and Culture and do a tour through Google, that Google has set up for you. That’s a really great resource for anyone using Arts in the classroom to take advantage of. Of course, there are places like MoMA, etc… they have virtual tours set up already that are, in my opinion, they’re just a little more limited than what Google has available. But, since they’re produced by the museum themselves, they’re also a little better quality than what Google has to offer. But, at any rate, the student can go through a museum virtually and it’s experience, kind of like you’re walking the halls.
SUSAN: That’s great. I didn’t know about the Google Arts and Culture.
John: And more generally, there’s a growing number of virtual tours that are provided to historic sites, to other locations, where if you have even Google Cardboard, you can get that 3D experience with your smartphone, which provides a somewhat richer experience at times when travel may not be as likely or when people can’t afford travel in general.
SUSAN: Sure. That’s a good point, John,
SUSAN: John’s reference just now to visiting historic sites made me think about the way that I initially got interested in sensory learning, which was because I’ve had a number of wonderful opportunities to teach abroad. And it was such a striking difference to lead students through historic sites and have them walk in the footsteps of either a character from a story or the author of the story. I started designing these assignments called “You are There” reading experiences where we would go to the place and then read the thing that was written in that place or about that place. And I just enjoyed those learning moments for me and for the students so much that it became sort of a driving challenge for me to figure out how we can replicate that, when obviously, we can’t take everybody 3000 miles away to have a “You are There” reading experience. So, what can we do with our bodies on campus, in the environment that we’ve got, that would allow them to have a similar sort of portal into a distant world? Our archival library is focused on an American collection and I didn’t think there was anything in there for me, as a early modern British person, to be able to take the students to and then when I talked to the archivists, they said, Well, you know, our earliest two maps are colonial maps. They were made by French and British mapmakers and the dates were like 1592 or something and then it suddenly clicked for me… wait a minute, 1592, that is me. I can take my students to our library even though it’s focused on Americana. And we had a great session with those maps at the library because we could see how the French wanted to make the territory of Louisiana exaggeratedly large. And the British wanted to make their colonial territories exaggeratedly large. And so neither of the maps are particularly accurate, but they definitely show the bias of their creators and it was just really wonderful to be able to stand in front of these large-scale maps and have the archivists also talk about them as not meant for actual navigation. They were like propaganda pieces. So, you never know when you might find something on your campus that lends itself to a “You are There” moment.
Rebecca: It’s funny that you mentioned study-abroad things because I’ve also done a lot of classes with travel, and I did some similar kind of sensory work and had students experience a similar kind of space, like a cafe or something, in our town… like at school, and then do the same kind of activity abroad. And then we compared those different experiences. And we did it for different kinds of spaces, even wayfinding and the different ways you might get around. How you might get around in a building you’re not familiar with on campus versus how you might navigate in a different place where you might not speak the language.
SUSAN: That’s brilliant. I love that.
MARTIN: That kind of exercise is still completely doable. Even though we’re somewhat cooped up right now, you can still get out of your house, I had an assignment every semester in my photo class that had students go back home if it was possible, or go to another place of significance and do a guided looking and photographing exercise of that site, which is an exercise and learning experience that is completely doable still and safe. But, it’s so important to get out in the world and be guided through exercises like that.
Rebecca: I was in a webinar yesterday where they did an acknowledgement of the native land that they were on and then encouraged everyone to do the same that was participating in the webinar and took us to an online site that would actually tell you if you weren’t aware. And that’s another way of experiencing your space in a different way and thinking about it in a different way. Although not necessarily sensory, it still kind of gets to that place-based information, which I thought was really powerful and really interesting.
SUSAN: That is really interesting.
MARTIN: And with a place of significance, there’s no way to experience that in a book. You can’t really truly understand what Frank Lloyd Wright was trying to do with Prairie Design unless you go to a place and experience how it fits within the landscape. You can see lots of pictures of it for sure, and books, but you have to be there at some point. You have to be present at one of those sites to understand that kind of work.
SUSAN: But I think we can do a really good job with priming students to have that moment when they get to see Frank Lloyd Wright house have as big of an impact as it possibly could by doing things like Rebecca was saying about. You teach them how to just shift their perception in familiar environment. And then, I think, even just the looking at the photographs of a place that they may eventually visit leads to that really excited anticipation of seeing this thing that they’ve been guided to notice carefully and feel like they have a lot of prior knowledge and experience about before they get to see it in person. It helps to, for example, when you do finally get to go to a museum, feel like it’s just this huge thrill to see some object that you’ve been staring at in a book for a while. It’s a different thing than being guided through rooms full of paintings that you’re seeing for the very first time, and you don’t really have the context to appreciate why this is a big deal. I noticed that when I did a one-week Spring Break travel program, because I had been really skeptical about how that could possibly be a long enough time for students to understand cultural difference, for example. And, I mean, it is too short of a time for them really to go through the full journey of feeling alienated and rejecting the new culture and then coming around to understand partial differences in cultures, but we got to use our two months in the classroom before that spring break travel to get everybody pretty excited about when they would get to see these things in person. And they were completely thrilled… starstruck… about getting to see things that, if we had gone on your typical six-week summer program, I would have been standing in front of whatever saying, “Okay, here’s this important architectural piece, and here’s why you should care about it.” And everybody would be sort of zoning out because they just didn’t have enough prior context to appreciate why it matters. I mean, I think sometimes later on in life, people go, “Oh, hey, I saw that once. Now I understand why it was important,” but it’s hard to do that on the spot.
MARTIN: Totally agree. We can prime students to be completely raptured and excited. I saw that all the time with photographs and other pieces of art that they would experience only in books and then go see these larger-than-life-size things in front of them, that had only been 8 by 10, or 5 by 7 pieces of image on pages. And like you were talking about earlier… audio sources, so, like reading a poem yourself or having it read in class, and then hearing the poet read it… completely different meanings… and you’re completely blown away. People laugh at me because… I’m just going to go to this place… and this is a stupid thing. But, I always make this argument to my teenagers, “You should see the movie before you read the book, because if you read the book: first, it’s gonna ruin the movie; and if you see the movie first, it only makes the book that much better, because there’s so much more in it. And I’m gonna stand by that argument. I think it works.
SUSAN: I see exactly what you’re saying. I mean, I think what that speaks to is kind of layering sensory experiences together as a way of making them the most profound. I get that
John: More generally, we try to integrate new knowledge with our existing knowledge,and we need some sort of structure, some type of scaffolding to tie it together. And I can see that case. I’m not sure I’d make that argument about always watching a movie first. But, I can see the value of that. And if you re-read a book, you notice a lot of things you don’t notice the first time, in part, because you have that larger framework and structure. And I think that can be applied, to some extent, to learning in any discipline, because no matter what discipline it is, you’re trying to help students develop the ability to have focused attention on what that disciplinary lens has, in terms of what is important within that approach to viewing the world. And people need to be trained. And I think in any of these things, students come in and start learning a little bit and they notice some things. But if we want to continue their development in the discipline, we have to provide more scaffolding to help them learn to appreciate or learn to focus on more detailed things within the world around them. And I think that’s a process we need to work on, no matter what discipline we’re working on. And tying in more senses to that I think could be helpful. Just as an example that I think Rebecca and I can refer to, maybe need a little bit more so. When we first started recording podcasts, if we had a 20-minute podcast, it would take maybe an hour for me to edit it. And then now I’m spending about maybe 12 times as much time, maybe 20 times as much time editing many of the podcasts, because, initially, you just go through and you take out the obvious issues, but then you start noticing more things, you start noticing the sibilance after you’ve leveled things, you start noticing more background noises that you wouldn’t have noticed. earlier before we started recording. For the first year or so of our podcasts, we were recording in a place where there was a toilet flushing and sinks running all the time, and doors closing, and a coffee grinder and a blender. And at first, we didn’t really notice that because it was part of our everyday life. But the more I focused on the audio, the more those things jumped out. And that’s what we have to train our students to do in any discipline. In economics, what I try to do is help students see things in the world that they wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, it was just part of their environment. And sometimes I’ve had students do video projects where they actually go out and analyze behavior. And that type of experience of looking at it with this different lens helps them see the world differently in ways that essentially transforms their view of the world from that point onwards.
SUSAN: I’m so glad you refer to economics there because there’s a perfect example of a discipline where you’d say, “Okay, I don’t know how this connects at all, right? And you can definitely see how shifting their perception by paying attention to different things, noticing different things, is grasping the concepts that they need to learn in order to understand economics. But it’s also, I think, just really important to remember that perception is an embodied process. It’s hard to make that happen by just sitting still at your desk and listening quietly.
Rebecca: The other thing I appreciate about thinking about object-based learning and sensory experiences is that it reminds us that objectivity actually has a point of view, tight? [LAUGHTER] We often think that there’s no bias in objectivity, but it does. And it really brings the subject to the forefront in that there is subjectivity to everything that we experience around us and actually gets us to pay attention to that subjectivity rather than thinking that you follow some design principles and somehow you’re being objective and doing good work, rather than thinking about what that actually means as an experience of something.
SUSAN: Yeah. And I think a challenge about teaching as we become more and more expert at what we notice, is that it takes a lot of effort for us to remember what it’s like to be a novice, and I think that’s a source of a lot of grumbling and frustration among senior faculty. We teach new students all the time, but over decades, it can feel like “I have told them this 50 times already, why are they not learning it” …because you have said it 50 times already, but you haven’t said it to the same 50 sets of people.
Rebecca: It’s a good reminder. [LAUGHTER]
MARTIN: You do have to say that with each set of new students,
SUSAN: it can seem sort of shocking, sometimes, when you’re an expert at something that people can’t see what you can see.
John: I know I have had that experience where I’d just say something in class and I said. “Didn’t we just talk about it?” In the same room, I had, but it was a semester before. [LAUGHTER] Oh, yeah. Yeah, we do feel like we’re repeating ourselves a lot, but we have been over many, many years,
MARTIN: I’m coaching my faculty right now in using or applying the Transparency in Learning and Teaching framework that Mary-Ann Winkelmes has been talking about for a while now. And, hear of that is writing your assignments in a way that makes it possible for students who are not native to your discipline to understand what you’re talking about. So that’s in a document. You don’t have to say it 100 million times because it’s written and if they have questions they ask, but it’s transparent from the get go. Like this is what I’m breaking it down in a way that somebody who’s not like me is going to be able to understand.
John: And I think that’s especially important in a world in which we may end up doing more of our instruction asynchronously or online… where in the classroom, if you come up with explanations that aren’t quite complete, students can ask questions right then. But if you’re doing something in an asynchronous online environment, students are kind of left out there on their own. And it is especially important that we have detailed instructions that will fill in those gaps. And that you have a mechanism where students can ask you easily and get quick responses, either ask you or ask other students so that they’re not left out on their own trying to figure out what you meant, when it was perfectly clear to you, but it’s not so clear to a novice. And I think one of the things you mentioned in our earlier podcast with you that sharing this with colleagues and other disciplines might be a good way of getting that sort of feedback, where if they can figure out what you’re asking people to do, then students would be able to.
MARTIN: That’s very true.
SUSAN: My students always do a good job of letting me know where I haven’t been clear. [LAUGHTER] Even when I feel I have made the TILT so explicitly detailed, I’m always surprised.
John: I know in faculty development workshops, sometimes we’ll explain something which, because we’ve been talking about these things so much, it makes perfect sense to us. But ,then we have to go back down a little bit and explain what assumptions we were making and what the basis for that is. Because, when you’ve said the same thing many times, it’s easy to forget that people may be new to some of the concepts.
SUSAN: That’s right. And I appreciate what Jim Lang has, I think, tried to do with the series that he’s editing, which is about books written by human beings, for other human beings, is to try to get away from language that could potentially be offputting to people who really do care about their teaching and want to improve, but are a little resistant to talking about alignment, or maybe the other terrible “a” word, assessment.
John: Susan, could you tell us a bit more about your forthcoming book?
SUSAN: Yeah, so I’m super excited about my book coming out. It has been a year’s-long process for me. I’m not a neuroscientist, I had a chance to learn a lot about embodied cognition, which is sort of an emergent subfield in neuroscience and cognitive psychology. But it also borrows from centuries of philosophy. So Wittgenstein, for example, was interested in embodiment. And so it’s a work of integration. I’m trying to pull from a lot of different, maybe even an eclectic, set of sources in order to think about how… if we pay attention to the body… how does that change learning and classroom teaching in college? And so one of the first questions is, what is learning look like if it does not involve everybody coming in and sitting down in a chair? I’m sort of stimulated by thinking about how classrooms might be radically different by just turning inside out some of the things that we think of as normal. Why do we think sitting down in front of a desk is the way that we study something. I mean, just as an example of putting these things into practice, I’m standing right now, because my research convinced me, and as well as my lived experience, that we think better on our feet. And we think even better while we’re walking, which is why the peripatetics, the Greek philosophers walked as a part of their practice. So, it’s sort of a wacky book, it’s going to be for people who are willing to maybe try some unusual unorthodox things in a classroom. It asks us to pay attention to internal movement, as well as external movement and the senses, and then to think about our physical environments as well. So, I have a section on learning outdoors and thinking about the space of your classroom. And one of the things I lament about the age of PowerPoint is that we often walk into a room and it’s been turned into a cave because everyone pulls the shades down immediately, so that you can see the light of the screen better. And I mean, there couldn’t be a worse, less stimulating, mind-opening environment than a bunch of chairs facing a screen in a dark room. So, those are the sort of assumptions that that book is questioning and ways to kind of shake it up and follow what we’re learning about the brain to be better teachers.
Rebecca: I can’t wait to read it.
John: When is that coming up?
SUSAN: It will be out in spring 2021. I think it’s going to appear in the fall catalog from WVU press. So probably we can start orders in the fall.
John: And Martin, we talked a little bit about your book in an earlier podcast, but could you tell us a little bit more about when that’s coming out?
MARTIN: So, it’s just for this podcast, in case folks just don’t listen to the other podcast, but listen to this one, the project I just briefly mentioned earlier, where I make photographs, of faculty teaching, that is the project that’s behind the book that Cassandra Horii and I are working on together right now. She’s the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach Director at Caltech. So, she and I have been working on this project together for quite some time. I’m making photographs, we’re using the photographs to talk faculty about their teaching afterwards. The working title is What Teaching Looks Like: Post-Sscondary Education in America. And what we’re doing is really, we’re writing a series of essays, 10 in total, and then there are 10s of thousands of photographs that we’re condensing down into about 200 or so final pics that we’re actually using to illustrate the things that we’re talking about in educational development so much these days, including object-based learning. So, for example, those photographs I mentioned earlier, handing around rocks in a geology class, students poring over primary texts in Princeton in an archive. Those are the kinds of photographs that we’re showing in this book. So, that should be out next year.
SUSAN: I can’t wait to see that. Martin, I almost feel like maybe we can get our books shrink wrapped as a set, because I was lucky enough to be able to include some illustrations in my book. I can’t wait to see your pictures because it was really hard for me to find pictures of anything except students sitting down in desks all looking straight ahead. Like, that’s what the picture of teaching has been. But it sounds like your book is going to do such an important job of awakening us to what else it might look like.
MARTIN: So, we’re just blowing the lid off the stock photo industry in higher education. [LAUGHTER]
Rebecca: Yeah, I’m looking forward to both of these books, for sure.
John: Me too.
Rebecca: We always wrap up by asking, what’s next? You already talked a little bit about your books, but we didn’t ask our actual question of: what’s next?
MARTIN: What’s next, in reality for me is, while I do have a check-in with Cassandra tomorrow to talk about some of the essays that we’re writing for this photobook, the immediate pressing thing for me is preparing the faculty that I serve to teach online or continue teaching online throughout fall semester, and really, it’s a heavy lift, but I don’t want to make it sound like it’s too much of a drudgery to do that, but we’re preparing in actuality, and everybody’s doing this, for a semester that we don’t fully know yet what it’s going to look like. It’s frustrating. But, that’s what’s next, really.
Rebecca: Sounds like a good time.
SUSAN: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] I’m feeling that too. I mean, obviously, this has been such an intense period for faculty developers, I mean it’s sort of sinking into me more week by week that not, just within our own little communities, but the general public. I mean, there’s pieces in the New York Times now. I mean, they get it the general public goes, “Whoa, this whole educational enterprise, it’s experiencing some really challenging re-envisioning at the moment,” and so it feels like we’re doing really important work, but it’s hard. So to answer the question, “What’s next for me in that arena,” I’ve been pursuing a coaching course this summer in order to be more effective at one-on-one faculty development and helping people to set goals and pursue the things that will make them feel more fulfilled as faculty members, not just in the teaching arena, but in terms of their research and scholarly and creative activities, the service that they do for the institution… just being more intentional, I think, about carving out our careers. And coaching is a field that, it hasn’t been used much within higher ed, but I think has a lot of potential to help everybody.
MARTIN: What course is that Susan?
SUSAN: There’s a number of them. It’s certified through the International Coaching Federation. So, the coaching organization I’ve been taking the class through is called the Center for Coaching Excellence. It’s based in Minneapolis, actually. And so they offer a series of certification programs. And it’s been a real challenge. I mean, writing the book was really growing into new territory for me, and this is really new territory as well. It’s learning how to ask powerful questions. And so I’m still feeling very novice.
Rebecca: Feeling nervous is a good thing for developers to be feeling as we’re helping faculty go into new territory. [LAUGHTER]
John: And I think we’re all novices in many of the things we’re entering into this fall.
Rebecca: Well, thank you both for joining us today and the really powerful work that you’re doing and the conversations that you’re bringing to the table.
SUSAN: Thank you so much for the opportunity. I’m super excited to be on your podcast.
MARTIN: Me too.
John: We very much enjoyed talking to you and we look forward to seeing your work.
SUSAN: Thank you both. Thanks, Martin.
MARTIN: Thank you all.
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. Editing assistance provided by Ryan Schirano.