121. Persistence Scholars

A college degree generally results in higher incomes, more pleasant and more stable jobs, greater life satisfaction, and lower unemployment probabilities. Many students that enter college, though, leave without a degree, but with high levels of student debt. In this episode, Dr. Michelle Miller joins us to discuss an innovative program she helped develop at Northern Arizona University in which faculty members work together to discover ways of helping their students successfully complete their educational goals.

Michelle is the Director of the First Year Learning Initiative, Professor of Psychological Sciences, and President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Miller’s academic background is in cognitive psychology. Her research interests include memory, attention, and student success in the early college career. She co-created the First Year Learning Initiative at Northern Arizona University and is active in course redesign, serving as a redesign scholar for the National Center for Academic Transformation. She is the author of  Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, and has written about evidence based pedagogy and scholarly as well as general interest publications. She has been working with a Persistence Scholars program at NAU for the past two years.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: A college degree generally results in higher incomes, more pleasant and more stable jobs, greater life satisfaction, and lower unemployment probabilities. Many students that enter college, though, leave without a degree, but with high levels of student debt. In this episode, we discuss an innovative program in which faculty work together to discover ways of helping their students successfully complete their educational goals.

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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. Michelle Miller. Michelle is the Director of the First Year Learning Initiative, Professor of Psychological Sciences, and President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Miller’s academic background is in cognitive psychology. Her research interests include memory, attention, and student success in the early college career. She co-created the First Year Learning Initiative at Northern Arizona University and is active in course redesign, serving as a redesign scholar for the National Center for Academic Transformation. She is the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, and has written about evidence based pedagogy and scholarly as well as general interest publications. She has been working with a Persistence Scholars program at NAU for the past two years. Welcome back, Michelle.

Michelle: Hi. Thank you. It’s great to be here.

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

Michelle: I sure am. I’ve got a… I think it’s some type of green tea. It’s actually imported from China, so I can’t read the label, but it tastes great. [LAUGHTER]

John: I have Forest Fruits green tea, which I picked up at the OLC conference in Orlando.

Rebecca: And I have vanilla coconut tea.

John: We invited you here to talk about the Persistence Scholars program at Northern Arizona University. Could you tell us about this program?

Michelle: Yeah. So this is a faculty professional development experience that works very much as a blended course, and it’s run for the past few years. And it was something that we developed and designed right in our institution to address, as you can probably guess from the name, student persistence, and broadly speaking, student success. And to do so in ways that would complement programs that we already had in the works, as well as some other more traditional kinds of faculty professional development programs and courses that focused more exclusively on teaching or course design. So, that’s how we brought this into this space. And it’s been a really exciting experience to get to build this from the ground up and to run it with a number of cohorts of our faculty at Northern Arizona.

John: Could you tell us a bit about how the program was structured?

Michelle: Maybe I should back up a little bit and tell you a little bit more about some of the roots of this program and why there was such great support for it from the beginning. This came out of some real brainstorming. I was in a group a few years ago that was charged with just really open ended brainstorming about this topic of student persistence. And as you can imagine that, from an institutional standpoint, that fits into some very important questions, such as retention, especially retention from the first to second year which, those who are in this arena know is a really critical area for ensuring that we keep the students who we recruit to our institution and ensure that students can accomplish the goals they set out to when they sign up with us. So, I was in this group and as I said, we had this very open ended charge of saying “What else could we do to support student persistence?” And because of my background with the First Year Learning Initiative, which is another kind of student success initiative at Northern Arizona, my perspective is always “What about the faculty? What about the academic side of student persistence and engaging faculty in advancing that, and getting excited about that question?” So, together with some of the other folks I was working with, notably John Doherty, who I’ve collaborated with a number of times on student success initiatives, we got to thinking, “Well, how could we reach out?” I had seen quite a number of programs or appeals to faculty, which really came at it from a very emotional, or sort of heart perspective, saying, “You know, really think about your students, have compassion for the backgrounds that many of them come from and the challenges they’re facing.” And I think that’s wonderful. That’s great and conventional wisdom about how to recruit people and get them excited about something. They say “Speak to the emotions, get to why.” Well, I think that’s true. But, faculty are a bit of a special case. I think that we’re wired a little bit differently [LAUGHTER] in some ways. And I think that we have to come at this intellectually as well. So I said, “What if we had some kind of a program that would bring people in and really engage them in this very rich scholarship that’s around, not just teaching and learning, but also everything we’ve come to know about the factors… institutional factors… psychological… social factors… all these things that play into students persisting until they do attain that degree?” So, that was the idea. Now it sort of went down on paper and sort of stayed on ice, stayed in a file drawer for a few years. But then my leadership came back to me and said, in the context of some other things we were doing, they said “Wait a minute, what about this program that we had thought up?” And at that point, we were able to really put it together and make it happen.

Rebecca: What are some of the things that you covered as part of this program that would be different than the first- year program that you’ve ran, or other things that are focused on pedagogy?

Michelle: We tell faculty when we recruit them in that this is not the place to start if you do want that traditional, like, “How can I improve my classroom?” teaching, or “How can I brush up on these skills?” We have lots in place for that. So, what is different about this is that it does focus on the scholarship of persistence. And you know, from my background, I’m a psychologist, I’m a research psychologist by training. So I actually didn’t know, and I started to get into the course design and student success game. I really wasn’t aware of just how much really good quality scholarship has gone into this and how people have thought about and really committed to many books and articles, all this knowledge that they’ve come up with, or what impacts student persistence and what institutions can do, what faculty can do. So, it does have that flavor of a slightly different content area that, again, many of us are just not aware of, even if we care a lot about teaching in our own discipline. And I think what’s also different about it is that it doesn’t take a traditional kind of workshop or book group kind of approach. I think those are really, really great. We all see great examples of those in faculty professional development, but this was structured as a blended course, specifically. So it’s designed with a kickoff workshop that lasts about a day. And then we go online and do just some very structured weekly modules, largely focusing on some readings and discussions and one culminating project. So, I think that, as well, is something that faculty rarely have the opportunity to engage in. I think there’s some national programs out there, for example, ACUE’s program… that’s online, but that’s also a full year. And this is a little bit more compact, and I think it’s designed in a way that’s a little bit more manageable with a typical teaching and research load that faculty have.

John: And you also had people do some visits to various places on campus too, as part of that, I believe.

Michelle: Right. This is the culminating project which we tried in the first few iterations to kind of refine this and I think we ended up with something that’s really a standout and here I have to credit my leadership K. Laurie Dickson. Dr. Dickson is a colleague of mine and part of the upper leadership at Northern Arizona University. This was her idea and she really encouraged me to develop this. We didn’t want to have, as a culminating project, kind of a very typical five paragraph essay or research project or something like that. We wanted to push faculty out into some areas that were particularly new. And we wanted to have them engage in some perspective taking on angles and aspects of the students experience and the university experience that they just normally would never do. So we called this the field project… so, a very generic name, but here’s how this played out. It was up to them to design an experience. It didn’t have to be lengthy… didn’t have to be some gigantic multi-day thing, but just something that they could go and do and experience, and then write about it from a very first person, very subjective perspective. And also, we did ask them to kind of tie it back to some of the readings that we had done and some of the concepts that we had seen over the course of the experience. The examples of what faculty came up with were just… it’s mind boggling, the creativity that people brought to this. Now one of the popular ones was to simply go on a campus tour. Now, how many times do we as faculty ever do that? And I mean, I work in a building where the campus tours originate. So, I see them every single day going and coming, the parents, the students and everybody, the student tour guides. And it’s just never occurred to me to ask, “What are they saying? What’s the little back conversation? What’s the mood like among people who are on these tours? What do we tell students and their parents, as they’re coming into our campuses?” So people could opt to go on one or more of these tours, you could also go on a department specific tour, which is also a fairly popular twist, and then reflect back again on “What does this tell us about what it’s like to be a student here?” and to start taking that perspective as a student and thinking about “What would affect my likelihood of persistence?” So that was one, but we’ve also seen many other options on this as well. One very creative faculty member decided to go out physically to these different student support spaces and organizations. And we all read about those, I know I do, I get the email that says, “Oh, here’s the center that we have for veterans. Here’s the center that we have for Native American students. Here’s where you go, if you need help with writing.” Well, we see those, but what do they look like? What do they feel like? Are students there when you visit, and what sorts of activities are taking place there? And she actually put her reflections together as a photo essay. So, she took pictures of the spaces, she thought about the look and feel of the spaces, and through that she demonstrated that she was taking this new perspective. And this was not an art or design professor, by the way, her specialization is in foundational math, so you can see they’re crossing out into other disciplines. So, even something like observing a class that’s not yours outside of your discipline, you can make that work as well. If you come at it from this perspective, not as like “I’m here to critique the teaching and get ideas for my own teaching,” but “What’s going on in the back row? What’s more clear, what’s less clear, how might the mood or the feel of the classroom change if I come over a couple of different weeks of the semester, and how does that seem to me?” So those are some of the things that faculty actually did to experience some of these things from the other side.

John: How many faculty were part of this program?

Michelle: We usually have run cohorts between about 12 and 20 faculty per semester. And I think we’re about four semesters in, so it’s not an enormous program. But you could see over time with a concerted effort and continued dedication to the program, continued support for it, that we’ve now directly engaged quite a few faculty from around the university. And I should say as well, here’s another little twist that I was not anticipating when we sat down to design this program, is that it’s not entirely all faculty either. We’ve also reached out to staff members, for example, people who work within our advising center or our academic support centers, which function as our tutoring centers on campus. In the first cohort or so I just received a request of somebody’s saying, “Hey, my staff would really benefit from this, do you mind if we have a person or two participate in it?” First I said “Well, okay, I wasn’t planning on that. But I can’t see why not?” Well, I soon learned that having that mix of individuals in the cohort is part of the power of it. Because you think academic disciplines are siloed, we are tremendously siloed in terms of units of student support across campus. To see the interplay in discussions and in meetings between people who work in these more direct student support roles, and people in more traditional faculty roles is really amazing. It really cuts across several of those silos as well just in the participation.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about some of the content that participants were surprised by that was counter to what their assumptions were?

Michelle: One of the challenges in pulling the content for this was that I did have to be really, really selective. Being excited about this, of course, I’ve got 100 articles and things that I want to share, and all these concepts to lay on them, and I went with just a very, very few that I felt were the most powerful and the most backed by research. I would say that one of the ones that surprised them, maybe pleasantly so, is some of the academic work around lay theories and belongingness, which is related to mindset. And probably a lot of your listeners are familiar in some way with those. But, in particular, the work of David Yeager, he’s one of the major researchers in this area. His work focuses on how you can communicate to students that things like intelligence and the potential for academic success are not fixed, they’re something that can be built up through effort. A piece of this is normalizing struggle in a way that, just because you get to campus and you feel lonely, and you feel overwhelmed, that a lot of successful people start out that way, so don’t quit. And what’s I think surprising to faculty and definitely was to me as well when I started reading the work is just how powerful some relatively small interventions can be. Just going through, say an online module that exposes students to some of these mindset concepts can result in statistically significant changes to the likelihood of persistence, retention, and things like that later on down the line. So, I think I was surprised, and I think many faculty are surprised by that as well. And that that work is really high quality in terms of the scholarship behind it, the statistical analysis, how the studies are set up. That’s another kind of pleasant surprise too.

John: A while back, we had Angela Bauer on the podcast, who’s now at High Point University. And she had an intervention in the chemistry department there, where just growth mindset messaging that was delivered by slides that were used by all the people in the department eliminated the achievement gap there. So it was a remarkably powerful effect, which is very consistent with what you’re describing there.

Rebecca: Can you talk about a couple of other small interventions that faculty can implement that are really powerful?

Michelle: Another theme that’s come out of the work on this has looked at the effect of structure… increasing course structure so that, for example, instead of the two midterms and a final, we have those distributed smaller assignments over the course of the semester. And that’s one of those things that there’s got to be a dozen good reasons, from the memory research all the way down to mindset, why this is a really good and powerful thing to do. Now, whether that’s a small intervention or not, that could be a matter of perspective, because for some people, if their course is designed in a completely different direction, that could be some major overhaul there. However, I should say that many of the faculty, in fact, most of the faculty who participate in this, are part of our First-Year Learning Initiative already. In fact, that’s kind of why we decided to develop the program as strongly as we did, is we felt it was a really good complement to those courses that were already part of this initiative we have to ensure really best practices in design for key first-year courses. So, many of those courses are already supposed to have that type of design. But this is a way to continue to engage faculty, particularly those who maybe weren’t on the scene when that course was first designed, they show up and they’re saying, “Why do we have all these grading quizzes?” or “How come it’s set up this way?” Well, this gives them some of the backing behind doing that. I think as well, some of the things that we can look at are simply the communications we have with students. So, that’s another area where I think it may be a little bit under the radar, just how important this stuff is for student persistence, that it’s not even the course design or how the course is taught, just the words that get exchanged in, say, office hours, or the tone of the email that you send to a student to respond to them when they write to you with a question. I think that an experience like this gets us to stop and think and say, “How can I tweak my phrasing or bring in some of that good perspective taking to make those communications either more compassionate or gentle?” or to communicate something like a growth mindset that, “Hey, it’s not a matter of whether you got it if you don’t, we’re just going to jump in where you’re at. And with effort, you can succeed at this.” So, I think those are some of the key things that we can bring in as faculty to affect this very big issue of persistence.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about things that you do in the kickoff workshop? Can you talk a little bit about some of the things that faculty come in knowing or not knowing or mis-knowing?

John: Mis-knowing, is that a word?

Rebecca: I don’t know, I just invented it. [LAUGHTER]

John: It is now.

Michelle: Yeah. I love that term. So, there’s that kickoff workshop where we most directly start to query people’s assumptions, knowledge, and misconceptions about persistence, and to introduce them to this idea that yeah, this is a serious area of academic inquiry that’s interdisciplinary, and we can all access it for the benefit of our students. And in a blended course, it’s generally a good practice to offer face-to-face bonding and group cohesion experience first, before we all go off to our separate online corners. At this kickoff workshop, there are elements of it that are recognizable to anybody who comes to faculty development workshops, but I think there were some novel components too. I mean, one of the things that we do is, it’s simple, but it’s a really effective kickoff exercise. So, we would have either a sticky wall where people can put ideas, or we’ve sometimes bedded rooms that have whiteboard walls, and we have pens, and I say, “Okay, what are some things you’ve heard about why students don’t persist? Just give me reasons. You don’t have to endorse them. They could also be the things that we do here in the faculty meetings.” So, that’s a nice kind of permission giving, kind of opening, I think, to let people say things that they know that are maybe not backed up or they’re not sure, or they don’t agree with them, but they think they’re important to put and they’re also encouraged to put those ideas in groupings. So, there’ll always be some around economic factors, or psychological and social emotional factors, family support. So, we all write on the walls and have these things in front of us for the rest of the day, statements about what barriers there are… to keep that in the front of our minds of what really is affecting our students. As we engage with this work, there is a presentation component, but I really center that around five key claims. So, I think too, it’s important to come with this not just like, “Well, here’s some tips that you can have and some things that some people believe.” I say, “I am not neutral on this. And here’s my five beliefs and these underlie everything that we’re going to do. And you can agree or disagree with these, but I can back them all up, that this is what drives us” and you know, as faculty I think that’s appealing. We want to know what are those assumptions and just to list them off real quick, there are academic persistence matters, so this is important. There are disparities that both reflect and perpetuate inequalities, ethnic class, economic, that we do know a lot about how persistence works. So, that knowledge base does exist. That there are effective strategies for addressing those disparities, although they’re not easy or cheap, I’m not there to sell faculty on magic bullets or “Hey, if you just tweak with this one thing, everything will be fine,” because we all know that’s not the case. And then lastly that faculty do have the ability to positively affect persistence through their teaching, but also through those interactions that they have informally advocating for certain kinds of policies with the institution. So, I really present that. And then lastly, we have a hands-on data exercise. Now one of the things that I think can be a barrier for faculty as they want to get involved with this is we think, or we really don’t have, access to the information that is specific to our campus. So we also have an exercise where I bring in librarians, this is really great. They’ve supported me a great deal in this and we get people on laptops and say, “Alright, here are some sites to explore, national sites about student persistence, databases, article databases you can look at. Use these to uncover solutions, facts about student persistence right here, right now, just do this right now.” And we also get them access doing some basic working knowledge of our institutional dashboard for looking at things like pass rates or grade breakdowns which you can do, you can do it by course, you can do it by semester, you can do even more fine grained by student characteristics. This is all out there, but the vast majority of faculty just do not either know that or they don’t have that working knowledge. So, what I envision is okay, a faculty member can, if it comes up in their department, “Oh, hey, what can we do about this course that’s maybe a bottleneck or we think we’re ready to redesign this one over here?” They can pull the data for themselves and say, “Well, here’s how things changed when we brought in, say, a courseware system, or here are the students who are having the most difficulty, or if a student passes this course, here’s their likelihood of succeeding in this one down the line.” Faculty love that. And once that power is in their hands, I think that they really can carry that out. That’s all the stuff we do, and the kickoff that we have right there and how we establish that grounding for them.

John: It’s great that you have that data. Many institutions are very protective of data, even though it could be really useful in helping us learn about what works.

Michelle: Then to turn around and say, “Well, faculty are kind of in the way here, faculty are this or that?” Well, yeah, we do have to look at what have we empowered faculty to be able to do reasonably and in ways that are appropriate to their own discipline?

John: What are some of the myths that people come into this with in terms of what leads to students dropping out, or failing, or withdrawing?

Michelle: I don’t know if I’m ready to quite call it a myth, but there is perhaps a sort of counterproductive concept, which is the old “If we would just admit better students” who are, and I’m going to use a terrible phrase, “college material.” I mean, that phrase is awful on many different levels as we look at our students, who are these complex human beings, who’ve come to us willing to step up and try to do these incredibly challenging things to accomplish goals that benefit them and benefit our whole society. There is that. And I think an associated belief is, all of this should just be addressed in K-12. And aside from the practical issues there, especially if you teach at a public institution, which we are, I don’t think that’s right to just say “This has to be sort of repaired as a problem by the time it gets to me, or I can’t… or shouldn’t… do anything.” So that whole complex of beliefs about something didn’t happen before this student graduated from high school therefore kind of what’s the point and if the school wants to retain more students, we need to admit the more academically skilled students from the beginning. I say I’m not ready to call that a myth, that is because, yes, absolutely, things like the accomplishments and achievements, academic experiences you’ve had before you come to college. Yeah, those are all great predictors of retention. It’s not that that doesn’t matter at all. But a great deal of other things do matter. And I think that those are maybe where we want to redirect students. And I think as well among faculty who still have themselves a form of fixed mindset, that is really problematic too. And, you know, this really hit home for me. There’s a recent article by Elizabeth Canning and her colleagues at Indiana University Bloomington, titled “STEM Faculty who Believe Ability is Fixed Have Larger Racial Achievement Gaps.” Wow, just think about that for a second. They were looking at the beliefs that are in the heads of the faculty, not even their teaching or what they selected, or what they said to students overtly, but the beliefs they have about who achieves and why, and whether that capacity, that potential is fixed. That plays out in accentuating the exact types of gaps and disparities that we are here to shrink and get rid of. That is surprising and disturbing. And they also find there’s less student motivation overall in those courses. So, I think that that’s maybe another constellation of very counterproductive problematic beliefs that, “Oh, the students aren’t motivated. They don’t want to do the work, but maybe they can’t do the work, maybe they aren’t cut out for this.” If that’s in my head, that is going to leak out and infuse the teaching that I do. And then we have more of these gaps at the end of the day. Those are some of the beliefs that I think are more of an issue. I think less frequently, we’ll see some version of “Well, we’re maybe trying to come from a place of compassion and look at things like oh, family issues, caregiving responsibilities, jobs that students have to hold down in order to be able to support themselves and their families as they go through their education.” It’s great to acknowledge that, but then I think that sometimes faculty can then have this very kind of dead end view of it and say, “Wow, I don’t know if there’s any way this could work.” And yeah, there are only so many hours in the day and we can’t just say, “Oh, education can happen on the margin, no big deal.” But I think too, what we need to step back and look at those beliefs and say, “Well, what are some institutional policies? or “What are even some things written into my syllabus that accentuate that barriers, or put barriers up for students who have those responsibilities? Do they all have to be there? What can I take away that doesn’t get in the way of what students are accomplishing or what’s expected of them, but simply make some of these much more possible?” So that’s kind of a set of those ideas too.

John: One other point there is that students who are most at risk often end up leaving with a large amount of debt and have the most struggle trying to pay for it, putting them at further disadvantage. So, the more we can help these students to be successful, the better off they’ll be.

Michelle: Right. And so many faculty, I mean the faculty who I’ve talked to, and I’ve talked to many at this point, I really believe that they care. They do care about that issue… that deeply disturbs them and deeply bothers them, the idea of somebody leaving with tremendous amount of debt that’s going to limit their lives, and what if they leave with that debt and without the degree that they came for? That’s a tragedy. And I think that we can take that intention and that reaction and channel that into positive action.

John: What types of incentives were there for faculty to participate in this program?

Michelle: For those of us who do work in this space of faculty professional development, we know that that’s an issue. There’s so many demands on faculty time, and so it’s important to have that. So, quite simply, we have a small honorarium. And in fact, it’s small enough to where at first I thought, “Well, do we really need this?” but the feedback I got from my staff and also from faculty was that yes, this is important, if only as a gesture, that we realize this takes your time. So that was $150, and they came in the form of professional development funds. So it’s just enough to plug in, maybe get some books or help make up a gap in some funding for a conference. Those are some of the typical things that faculty use that for. So we have that, and as a kind of a less tangible, but still very important incentive was, as I said, this is part of the First-Year Learning Initiative. And so courses that want to maintain their presence in that program and kind of stay in good standing have to demonstrate this ongoing engagement. So, especially after the first semester or two, we started to say, “Yeah, this is a powerful program, and we really want to make this First-Year Learning Initiative participation contingent on doing this.” So many of the faculty who are there, they do come in because it’s really required for their participation in this bigger program. But, then we have some who come because they’re simply interested and they’ve heard good things about the program as well. So there’s a spectrum of those incentives, both tangible and intangible.

Rebecca: What are some of the students that are the most at risk for persistence? What students are we really helping by engaging in this literature and these methodologies?

Michelle: I think that for people who have some familiarity with the area of student persistence, no surprises here. It’s students who are first generation, as a large proportion of our students at Northern Arizona are. So there is that, there is kind of a constellation of socio-economic factors which can play out in everything from just simply the financial resources one has to attend college, all the way down to the quality of the schools, and the preparation, the pre-college preparation that you were able to get as part of the education you were provided in K-12. So, there is that. Students of color, students of color definitely are going to have a number of barriers and challenges that are going to play out in terms of persistence. And then there are, within particular disciplines, as many of us are familiar with… in particular disciplines where the gender representation or representation of women is relatively low, there can be some persistence issues there as well. So, in the more traditionally male STEM fields, engineering, mathematics and so on, but really, largely these issues of class, of race, and economic opportunity are what all are coming to a crux when students are in these crucial early semesters of college participation. That’s what we’re seeing.

John: It’s fairly early. You’ve only been doing this program for two years, but do you have any evidence of its success in terms of impacts on students?

Michelle: This is a very faculty- and staff-oriented initiative. And there are so many different factors that impact retention and that all go on at once. And by the way, that’s something that I’ve definitely learned as… when I got into this as well… is that there are just this enormous number of options, and even outside of the classroom. Then you have things like learning communities, residential communities, bridge programs, mentorship opportunities, all of these things are kind of getting into the mix sat once, which is probably not a bad thing to have all of these, but it does make it difficult to tease that apart when you look at something like overall retention rates or persistence rates for an institution. However, we have gathered some really systematic assessment data through our participants specifically. So what we did over the past few semesters is we brought in a kind of a pre-assessment so we could capture some very key things about participants’ knowledge and commitment to and ability to advocate for student persistence at the beginning… at the outset of this… before we did anything, and then at the end, after they’d done this about six to eight week program, and so there we do see some pretty dramatic changes and some really dramatic improvements. So, one in particular that stands out is that we asked participants how capable they feel to discuss and apply concepts from the research literature on persistence. And that is very, very low at the beginning. It’s about two and a half on a scale of one to five. And that went up to a little bit over an average of four on that same scale of five after the program. So, that’s something where faculty said, “Yeah, I feel like I can come into this as an informed advocate.” Knowledge about student persistence, that’s another area where the self-rated capability goes way, way up. And also, another thing we asked them is how capable they feel to identify and dispel some of the major misconceptions about attrition and persistence. So there too, the numbers are very, very similar. So we get positive comments, but I also feel like those quantitative ratings have really targeted what I wanted to change as a function of this program.

Rebecca: We talked a little bit about institutional concerns about retention and persistence. Why should faculty be engaged in this piece? We often think, “Well, that’s not our responsibility.” But, why should it be a faculty responsibility, in part?

Michelle: So here’s the thing. I think that this really fits with my experience over about 10 years of working on this at the institution. I think that so many of the initiatives that institutions spend all this money and their political and social capital on setting up, those live or die in faculty meetings. And I think that there’s very limited realization of that on the part of leadership. And it’s understandable because that’s one place where they don’t get to go. But I’ve sat in many, many, many such a meeting over my career. And here’s the thing, in my experience, it can just take one person who thinks that this initiative is misguided, or they think we ought to just admit better students that that should be fine, or they only care about retention for financial reasons. It only takes one highly vocal person to shut that down in that department and there may be other people who are sitting there who are interested in this… they’re saying, “You know what, I care. I think that social inequality is perpetuated when students don’t persist. I see real disparities, and I’m not comfortable with that. And I think this is a social justice issue.” Well, especially if that person is more junior or is not tenured, and the person who’s highly vocal is senior and is tenured, that initiative is not going anywhere. And I don’t care how much money you put into it, or what kind of big stipend is attached to it, it’s not happening. So that’s where I really had this vision as a designer of this program that I wanted people to be able to kind of raise their hand and say, “Well, actually, there’s some research that shows this”, or “I learned about this one concept,” or “Have you thought about how inequality is perpetuated, and maybe we should care for those reasons.” So, to equip and emboldened people to do that… Now that’s always up to them. They can take persistent scholars and come away with whatever conclusions that they want. I honestly come at it that way, that it is up to them to draw their own conclusions, but I do feel, especially given those things they tell us on our assessments, that we’ve done the best we can to equip them to go in to be those advocates. And it isn’t just teaching too. Don’t forget faculty, even though we can’t always affect things like financial aid or how drop/add policies are handled or any of that, we do have faculty senates, and sometimes we can weigh in on those issues. So, if we can bring pressure to bear in a positive way on our administrations, we usually think about it as “Oh, the administration is kind of leaning on us to support student success,” well that runs the other direction, too. And it can. And how does that happen? When we have the information because, again, faculty, we run on evidence… that’s baked into our culture, and that is who we are. So if you are the person at the meeting, you can say, “Well, I read this entire book by Vincent Tinto, who’s the most respected researcher in this area, I’ve actually read that book. And here’s what I took away from it. And so here’s why we should maybe give this initiative a second thought.” That’s what I think can be very, very powerful for creating change.

John: Faculty are well intentioned, but they don’t always know what they can do to be effective, and it’s really easy to blame the students when students aren’t successful. And we see that in lots of departments and lots of people. Providing them with information, I think, could start to make a big difference.

Rebecca: I think a lot of faculty are overwhelmed. They might be interested in these topics, but don’t have time to dig around and find the research and sort through it. So, having a curated opportunity like this is a good way to engage deeply with some key materials and come out of it with that perspective, which I think is really valuable. And we see that in other areas too, where we want to learn more about memory, or we want to learn more about learning strategies or whatever. If we can curate those things, then it’s often easier for faculty to engage and think about how they can individually commit to those ideas because they don’t have to sort through all of the information. It’s collated for them.

Michelle: And that’s just such a perfectly articulated way of describing what our design philosophy really was. And yeah, to say you can make a website or a giant compendium of “here’s a lot of suggested resources,” but it’s a different challenge to say, “Okay, you can assign three things. You can select three things for us to read over this three-week period. That’s it, what are those three things going to be?” And I did, it really did force me to really focus on quality and what was powerful. Yeah, that belongingness mindset lay theory piece was one, transparency was another that I selected. And really the last iteration to it, I also selected an excerpt from Lisa Nunn’s book, 33 Simple Strategies for Faculty. It is oriented towards first generation, but it really crossed over into so many practical applications of the research we were reading about. So that was a huge hit with the last cohort of participants as well. So being selective, having one targeted experience that you can simply share in a very informal way, rather than sitting down to write the giant literature review, I think that’s the sort of thing that we do need. And we did design it with that blended approach with that idea of maximum flexibility. Every week was its own modular piece where we did the same thing, so there wasn’t a whole lot of thrashing around about “what are the expectations” and so on. Even things like designing it so that it starts up about three weeks or four weeks into the semester and wraps up, like in the fall, we wrap up before Thanksgiving. That’s a big, big deal to faculty. If you coordinate it with the students’ semester, that’s just going to be too much. And you’re going to hit people with way too many demands right at their busiest time. So, that was also really appreciated as a factor that promoted faculty participation.

John: In an email exchange prior to this conversation, you mentioned something about the AR program at NAU that you’ve been working with and some results that were relevant to this discussion. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Michelle: It’s so funny, this faculty professional development program ended up intersecting with a completely separate piece of my research agenda right now. I’ve been working for the last about two years with our amazing cross disciplinary group here, the Immersive Virtual Reality Laboratory at NAU with Professor Norman Medoff and Professor Giovanni Castillo. They had designed, already, this program for organic chemistry so students get to actually manipulate with molecules and they worked with a chemistry professor to make actual meaningful assignments that would use that program in this really cool way. We even set up kind of a almost experimental study where we did the classic flip a coin and one section has access to the VR and the other section does not… it has a substitute assignment instead. Of course I’m interested in looking at the impact on student success. Well, I got into the data, and I looked at the overall impact and there is, there’s a reasonably consistent trend towards better grades in O-Chem. And also better final exam scores if you have access to this particular technology and way of interacting with the material. But then I started doing the subsidiary analyses and I was really surprised. We broke it out by first-generation status and first-generation college students, which was about half of our participants, in this case, experience improvements, positive impacts of this intervention that were larger and more consistently they were significant. All the measurements that we looked at were consistent in terms of the advantage that they got. And we’re working on writing this up for publication right now, and we did present them at a conference over last summer. And it’s really stretching my mind as well to try to say, “Well, why is that? What does that maybe communicate to students when we offer them this? How might it actually maybe shore up the experiences of students who have not had access to as good of a chemistry education, most likely, before they got to our university, compared to students who come from continuing generation families?” I was so surprised. And now there’s something that once again is telling me persistence has a lot to do with these other factors. Can we control them? Can we address them? Of course we can’t, as faculty, but we can look to discover ways that extend what we’re doing in the classroom or take particular approaches, and like so many of the interventions that we do in course design, this is one that doesn’t bring anybody down. I mean, if I’m from an advantaged background, I’m from a majority group, I’ve had this great background when I come in, I can benefit too, that’s fine, but somebody else is going to experience disproportionate benefits. And it’s maybe in a way, replicating a pattern that we’ve seen time and again with other ways of approaching these challenging foundational level courses.

Rebecca: That sounds really exciting.

Michelle: Thank you.

John: I’m looking forward to reading that.

We always end by asking, “What are you doing next?”

Michelle: Well, I have handed off the Persistence Scholars program. So while I’m still very proud of the work and feel very engaged with it, I have stepped away from the First-Year Learning Initiative, and as part of that the Persistence Scholars program is going to be led by a colleague of mine, Cody Canning at NAU, and I’ve handed off that program before as part of sabbatical and so on. So it is neat to build a program from the beginning that can be taken on and have it structured in depth enough to where you could take it on and then bring your own expertise and particular perspective to it. I’m still very engaged nationally though with spreading out these ideas about student persistence, learning and success in the first year, and looking at how we can take those and develop those in other places and really spread those efforts out, since I know so many of us nationally are just really fired up about this. So that’s where that stands right now. I’m working on a book right now with West Virginia University Press, with a very dynamic editor and a group of writers who are all working right now on writing about different issues in pedagogy in higher education. So that’s an honor, and I’m having a lot of fun with that book. So, memory and technology is what I’m writing about, and that’s something that springboards off a lot of the teaching that I do and some other writing as well. And that is something that I think is an issue that we see recurring now as being a very timely issue for people who are teaching. So that is taking a lot of my intellectual effort right now, and I’m looking at ways to keep engaging people in Minds Online, which, although it does have that specific technology angle, I think does pick up on many of these issues of promoting student success, and reducing disparities, and finding sometimes very surprising things that happen when we start to teach in new ways. So, that book came out around five years ago, it’s hard to believe, but I’m also looking at all the ideas and research that’s come out since then, and new applications that faculty have come up with. So, I’m looking at some new ways to keep that percolating along and kind of harness some of that energy we all have around that topic. So, I would say with that, just stay tuned or contact me to learn more, and we’ll see how that develops over the next year or so.

John: And when is this new book coming out?

Michelle: Oh…

John: Tentatively?

Michelle: It’s coming out after I write it. Let’s just say 2021. So it is well, well underway. We’re in striking distance of having that out in 2021.

John: And that’ll be part of the West Virginia University Press series edited by James Lang.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us. It’s always a pleasure.

Michelle: Likewise, it’s always great to talk about these issues with both of you.

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

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

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120. Scaling Accessibility

Adopting a culture of accessibility at an institution can seem both daunting and full of barriers, but movement forward can happen with the right strategies in place. In this episode, Dr. Sherri Restauri joins us to discuss how institutions can progress from providing accommodations for individual students to an institutional commitment to building accessibility into the course design process.

Sherri is the Director of Coastal’s Office of Online Learning and also serves as a teaching associate at the Department of Psychology at Coastal Carolina University. Sherri has served for a number of years on the steering committee for the OLC Innovate and Accelerate Annual Conferences, including serving at the 2020 OLC Innovate Conference in Chicago in the role of Co-Chair for Equity and Inclusion.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Adopting a culture of accessibility at an institution can seem both daunting and full of barriers, but movement forward can happen with the right strategies in place. In this episode, we discuss how institutions can progress from providing accommodations for individual students to an institutional commitment to building accessibility into the course design process.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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Rebecca: Our guest today is Sherri Restauri. Sherri is the Director of Coastal’s Office of Online Learning and also serves as a teaching associate at the Department of Psychology at Coastal Carolina University. Sherri has served for a number of years on the steering committee for the OLC Innovate and Accelerate Annual Conferences, including serving at the upcoming Innovate Conference in Chicago in the role of Co-Chair for Equity and Inclusion. Welcome, Sherri.

John: Welcome.

Sherri: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

John: Our teas today are:

Sherri: So, I actually am drinking my favorite iced coffee. I have a salted caramel mocha with me.

Rebecca: That sounds good. Sounds a little chilly for us to have that around here today… it’s a little cold, but… I have a vanilla coconut tea.

John: That one’s new.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: I have a Forest Fruits tea from Epcot… from the Twinings pavilion there, which I picked up at the OLC conference.

Rebecca: How appropriate. [LAUGHTER].

So, digital accessibility is becoming increasingly important, valued, and a topic of focus at many institutions, but really requires a cultural shift to fully implement. You’ve been really successful at directing these efforts at Coastal. Can you tell us a little bit about your efforts and strategy for becoming a more accessible campus?

Sherri: I would be happy to share. One of the things that I feel like we have really been most successful at here at Coastal was trying to change the language that we use, specifically around the concept of accessibility. And my work specifically began when I got here about three and a half years ago, and originally, there wasn’t any kind of workshop or training on our campus specific to accessibility or digital access. And I built the first workshop, which was actually called Digital Accessibility in Online and Hybrid Learning, around the concept of increasing student access to learning. And so the premise of the workshop, in the first five minutes actually, introduces the faculty, staff, and students who attend that workshop to the concept of increasing access to education and educational material, rather than to the idea of accessibility. And so they’re taught the scope of access is something that’s much, much larger than maybe the way that we were taught when I started in the field of education teaching 21 years ago. It’s not about accommodating one student out of 400 in an entire academic year. Instead, it’s about designing from the ground up in a way to make content accessible for all users. And so it is truly taught under the umbrella of a universal design for learning and teaching approach. And honestly, this is many times the first time that faculty have heard that approach. In the past, a lot of times they were instead under the assumption that we were making accommodations to address one specific student. And so instead, we’re actually designing so that all content is accessible and is readily available to all students, even prior to the first day of class, if possible. So, I think our work in the culture shift here on campus started with modifying the language and the vocabulary. So, we don’t actually say accessibility as much as we do instead use the term digital access, because for us, that includes things such as affordable learning, and OER, all of that actually falls into the scope of access on my campus.

Rebecca: How do you recommend allies and advocates nudge or pull or push others to join them in accessibility efforts to actually make for true cultural shift in the organization and institutions that they’re a part of? Sometimes it’s really easy if you’re the person that’s like really excited about it, to make some efforts, but it’s hard to figure out how to get others engaged and really feel as committed as you are.

Sherri: I totally agree with that, and I think that I’ve seen it be successful, as well as unsuccessful in my own campuses at different institutions. And one of the things that I found that was most instrumental, looking at the three campuses now that I’ve served on, the two that it was most successful on, were ones in which I could launch a digital accessibility initiative, not as a champion myself, but with a committee backing me. And so on the two institutions where I found the most success, it actually specifically was ones in which there was already a designated body that I could bring on board who had perhaps a faculty representative from each academic college. So, when I began initially launching the digital accessibility initiative on the Coastal campus, I immediately presented that my Digital Learning Committee, which is actually what used to be called the Distance Learning Committee, and presented to them initially the idea that “This is coming, I need you to come on board as my college representative advocate, and I need you to be a champion as well within your academic unit.” In doing that I brought allies on board. It’s advantageous that the main technology tool that we were to later adopt is actually called Ally. But, one of the tools that we were to later adopt, it was actually in conjunction with my Digital Learning Committee, where they were able to be an advocate through our budgeting, our purchasing, and instructional needs in order to provide support for me. If I had tried to do this type of an initiative without having a standing committee to support me that I don’t think it would have been quite as successful. So being able to form allies with maybe committees that already are in existence, and maybe even also to strategically reach out to certain committees and/or departments on campus that look like they may be a benefit to use. So we made an outreach directly to accessibility and disability services, to diversity and inclusion, to the university library, to our provost’s office, and then also to freshman orientation, in order to find a way to make sure that access to all students was truly viewed as something much broader than just accessibility.

John: How did you get faculty to buy into the program? And what sort of training did you provide for faculty?

Sherri: I was honestly extremely excited when I took this position to know that there was already what we actually like to call COOL grant. COOL grants are a faculty monetary incentive grant that has required as well as optional elective training opportunities built in with the ultimate outcome that’s twofold. The twofold piece of that is faculty will learn information that will help them to build and administer better, stronger, high quality digital learning courses. But, the ultimate outcome is also specifically that the courses that they are actually building for digital learning purposes will be submitted to my unit for a quality review with evaluative feedback on how to improve those. And so from that particular perspective, there was already an existent grant program that existed. When I came on board, I decided to modify that grant program and incorporate accessibility into it. When I got here, it was focused on quality, but accessibility had not yet been incorporated. And so when I got here in 2016, that was one of our first components that we actually added into it. And we were able to incorporate that as the ninth of our 10 core components. And within our second semester of arrival here, we began offering the digital accessibility as a required component of that training. We do offer additional, I would call them optional electives, for faculty as well, so they just can’t get enough about digital accessibility. Then part of the grant is that they can take up to five elective trainings to learn more and they can take as much about digital accessibility as they want. I think one of the things that really became advantageous to our faculty is, the more they learn… even if they submitted with the intention of one specific class, let’s say, Psychology 425 was a grant program… they learned so much that they initially might have intended to only apply it to that first course, but then they turned around and applied it to every course from that point forward. So, that’s where that cultural shift started was once they learned how advantageous these principles were to every single one of students in every class, they started modifying the way that they taught. And they started modifying the way that they uploaded materials and that they built the course items into their course as well. It was amazing to actually watch that type of a shift for our faculty. It’s like watching light bulbs come on, because they suddenly understand there’s technologies that already exist here that can make it so that my students who have an hour-long commute can learn. It’s not just about a student who may or may not have a disability, it’s about a student who has a long commute, or a student who doesn’t own the software, or a student who can’t afford my textbook. So, their accommodations were for all kinds of students that met all kinds of needs that I don’t think that they had anticipated, but they learned very quickly it could help the students in many, many different ways.

Rebecca: I think it’s one thing to learn about some of the technology related or the strategies you can use to make things more accessible to increase access, but it’s different from making that part of your regular workflow. Do you have any tips for faculty about how to incorporate these practices in the way that they generally approach their classes and prepping for classes and preparing their classes each semester?

Sherri: I do, and one of the things that I think is important to understand is every single university, campus, or school environment is configured and structured in such a very different way. Some of us have centralized units that support faculty and some campuses do not. I’ve served on both types of campuses. And so it’s important to recognize that faculty may be coming at this from a very different perspective. Some have more support than others. We have a very small unit. We have two instructional designers for a campus of over 10,000 students. And so with that in mind, to make this successful, we actually invested as a unit all of our time in building very well structured templates, both course templates as well as material templates… and by material templates I mean accessible syllabi, accessible course modules, everything that we have is already compliant with WCAG standards, so that all they have to do is make modifications and adapt it. In addition to the template materials and the template courses that we generated, I think one of the things that we also found most exciting for faculty is we started looking at ways to expedite the administrative struggles that they were running into. And a good example is, when a faculty member submits a course for a grant review, we end up looking at it for every single component. And so one of the biggest red flags that we would see is our faculty were spending hours and hours and hours creating wonderful lectures, but none of these had closed captions. They couldn’t pass a grant without having accessible courses. And so one of the very first things that we were able to do was implement a component by which faculty simply alert us of all multimedia, and my unit, in my department of online learning, actually complete the closed captions for all of them for everybody on the entire campus. So, we’ve taken the workload off of them. We actually, through a training program, have trained our graduate assistants and student workers to do closed captioning to standards. We utilize a third party program called Echo 360 for our lecture capture. And starting in the fall of 2019, we enabled what is called ASR for automatic speech recognition, so that there is a component in place to begin the captioning to standard, and then our student workers and graduate assistants pop in and make the modifications. The faculty actually have no administrative responsibilities for that, unless they choose to caption themselves. So, one of the pieces that’s heaviest lifting for compliance, specifically, was just simply the time to make those modifications. And so I immediately started looking at what are the heaviest lifting pieces and what can we do as a unit to lift that for the faculty so that they don’t have to make those accommodations. One of the things I think that we got such positive feedback as well about during the 2018-2019 academic year was when our campus learning management system integrated the Ally accessibility tool. I was looking for ways for faculty to best understand how to use that tool to convert their files. And the tool itself is fairly simplistic, but it can be implemented in different ways. So, the technique that I actually created, and I’ll be happy to share with your listeners, is we actually created what we call an Ally drop spot. And in that particular drop spot, faculty simply mass or batch upload all files at one time, check all files at one time, and then move content around once it’s corrected. That’s not something that’s actually taught by the vendor. It was just a creative idea that I came up with because I too am a faculty member, and was trying to figure out a way to save time. And so that seems to be something to celebrate. And so we use the Ally drop spot, not just for academic classes, because the culture has changed so much on our campus that administrative documents, things like announcements about upcoming movies on campus that are going out via email, everything that is now distributed digitally must be WCAG compliant, which makes my heart very happy. And so from that perspective, having an Ally drop spot, having a centralized technique in which faculty can batch upload or staff can batch upload content to be checked and corrected immediately, again, with administrative heavy lifting that we built into simplify the process for them.

John: So, the focus has been on new development and redesign. Have faculty started to go back and redesign or re-tool some of their older materials as well?

Sherri: Yes, is the short answer to that. I think that one of the things that, and I’m going to point at Ally but it wasn’t necessarily because of Ally, that having that particular type of tool on our campus helped us realize is: Ally, for example, scans all documents that may exist in your learning management system and inadvertently one of the after effects of that is that happens to alert you to the age of your original file creation. So for example, if I’m teaching a spring 2020 psychology class, and Ally scans my file, it may alert me that that file was originally developed
in Microsoft Word 1997. And so it will alert faculty, through happenstance, that it might be time to update the version that they have been using to create their files. And so I think one of the things that’s been really interesting to watch is even though the intention was “let’s make content more accessible,” the answer, John, is that actually the tools that we’ve given them, whether it be Echo 360, or whether it be Ally, they started using these to improve all courses all the time. I had a conversation just this morning after our “welcome back to our campus” presentation with a faculty member. And we were discussing how when we started teaching more than two decades ago, we used to be taught that the best way to make files accessible for everybody, because everybody doesn’t have the same software, is just save it as a PDF and everybody can access it… and actually, that backwards now…

Rebecca:: Yup. [LAUGHTER]

Sherri: …and we were talking about how important it is to understand that the times have changed. And if you started teaching like I did two decades ago, the things we were originally taught have changed so drastically, and I think faculty coming to a 90-minute digital accessibility workshop, that sounds so short. But, that one 90-minute workshop gives them enough information to understand times have changed. “Wow, here’s these 18 tools that are available. And here’s these five processes that exist. And I thought that I couldn’t do these things because I don’t have an extra 100 hours available this semester to add captions, but I have services that are provided by my institution to allow for that.” Our campus is not one that has a significant technology budget. And so most of the items that I’ve mentioned today in your episode are things that we developed internally. We don’t send off for closed captioning for third parties, we simply don’t have the funds for that. Most of the types of things that we’ve done have all been in-built. The quality metrics that we use for evaluating our courses to make sure that they’re compliant and that they meet standards are all in-built. We are not using a third-party for quality evaluation, we instead built our own. And so many of these are actually using the resources you already have. They’re using the personnel you already have. Again, we retrained and retooled our graduate assistants and student workers to make sure that they can assist that with doing a ton of heavy lifting. And I feel like one of the things that I think, if I could communicate to other campuses who are looking to implement something like a digital accessibility initiative, is this isn’t really about having to have an extra $300,000 per year or having to have an extra 10 staff. We don’t. [LAUGHTER] We didn’t actually purchase really anything additionally, minus one extra product. Past that it was just finding ways to make this fit into and enhance our current processes so that everybody was compliant, and really bringing the whole campus forward alongside of us.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about your student staff team and their role? You mentioned it a little bit, but can you talk a little bit more about the scope, the kind of training that they received, and what tasks they actually help your team with?

Sherri: So, as a student worker myself 20 plus years ago, one of the things that I remember feeling is that I never really felt like part of the team. I was given small tasks and I never really understood the mission, or the vision, or how me putting computer parts together in a computer lab ultimately helped the mission of the university. And so, for my office in digital learning, when we bring our staff on board part-time or full-time I tell them during the orientation it’s the last time they’re going to hear me call them a student. After that, they’re simply referred to as staff or part-time staff. With that in mind, they are asked to, expected to, attend all formal meetings, all informal meetings, all staff meetings about visioning and planning and they go through all levels of training, including they are required to go through the same level of digital accessibility training as our faculty. They spend about the first two to two and a half weeks learning what digital accessibility is and why that’s important… the mission of not just my department, but also to the campus. After that, we have a standardized set of trainings they go through focused on quality enhancement, and also on best practices for digital learning. And then they go through a set of training relating specifically to closed captioning and what we typically call WCAG compliance for the web accessibility. So, they’ll go through those processes. They’re also trained on very specific technologies specific to my campus, like Echo 360, Moodle, and all the other tools that we use here internally. By the time they end up graduating and leaving us, they are truly experts. So they learn a tremendous amount about the technologies, but what we actually ask them to do because we only get to have students for no more than 20 hours a week. I don’t know if any of you have ever had to sit down and try to do closed-captioning or closed-captioning editing…

John: Every day.

Sherri: …but nobody can do that for 20 hours a week. So, I would never ask anybody to do it for more than about five hours a week. So, out of their 20 hours, only about five of that is actually closed-captioning. They will do the edits. And the edits are actually super easy to do through the vendor that we actually have as well. They allot about five of their 20 hours to closed captioning. The other 15 are spent in doing other types of work such as conversions within the Ally system, helping our faculty to make modifications to improve the digital accessibility of their courses. Two of our student assistants, the part-time workers, also directly assist us with the open inclusive education process so that they help our faculty to locate OERs that can be implemented into their courses. We only launched our OER initiative about two and a half years ago, and we already have over 60 faculty. So, we’re very proud of that particular access work. And so we’ve been able to make a tremendous amount of headway super fast, partially because of the assistance of our part-time staff. We’ve been doing a lot of the legwork to locate really high quality, open and inclusive materials for our faculty.

One of the things that we found with our particular students is once they have learned about all the different principles that they’re being taught to use to assist faculty, they’ll turn around and start using those to improve their own learning in their own courses. So that’s actually something that again, wasn’t planned. But students start learning study strategies based on alternative formats. So, a good example is they learn about the Ally tool which provides alternative formats to a PDF, which may have MP3s, and all of a sudden, our student workers may start using that as a study technique, which changes the entire course of how they progress in their own programs, too. We had one particular student who served as a part-time staff member specifically focused on digital accessibility. And she enjoyed it so much, she built an entire website for pre-service elementary education teachers who would benefit from learning more about digital accessibility. So, I feel like bringing students into this couldn’t have been a better choice. It’s actually directly impacting not just our student workers in the way that they actually study, but it’s impacting their careers as well because we recruit students and graduate assistants from every academic college.

John: That’s great training for those who might be doing some of this work in the future. And everyone’s going to be doing more of this as we move forward, so I think it’s a great program.

Rebecca: How many students are on your team?

Sherri: We just had two graduate, which is, of course, what they’re here for. But it’s always so sad that we have to have some of them leave. So currently, we have two student workers and two graduate assistants so that’s four, they’re 80 hours a week of part-time staff.

Rebecca: Great, that’s exciting. Can you talk a little bit more about the faculty grant recipients and their role in onboarding some other faculty to get them excited about accessibility as well?

Sherri: Absolutely. So, you’ve heard me say the term COOL a couple of times, like our COOL grants, that COOL is the acronym for my unit the Coastal Office of Online Learning. These grants which are called COOL grants, there’s actually two different formats of those. One is a year-long, and the year-long course development grant is focused on building brand new courses that have never been placed into an online or a hybrid program. And we give them an entire year to do that. A lot of times what I found is as they’re going through a series of trainings, the thing that they benefit most from, in addition to the 10 trainings that they take along the way in a year-long grant program, is physically being in the same space with other faculty here also going through that grant program. So, we don’t necessarily tell them that they’re going to be put together into a peer group, but they are. We call it a cohort. And so for example, cohort eight ran throughout the 2019 year, they’ve just submitted their grant for review on January 6th. We have about 40 who participated in that program, and they have truly formed a cohort. What will happen is once their courses are reviewed, evaluated, modified and completed, those courses become what are called COOL certified and so those certified individuals from cohort eight all stay on an individual listeserv. And then they also get grouped in with previous cohorts. We have recently formed what we call a Digital and Open Learning Faculty Learning Community. And that particular community pulls from these faculty who have previously completed COOL certified courses. And we’re actually taking this full circle so that not only “Are they learning the material, are they building a course? Are they offering the course?” But the faculty learning community is pulling all of those individuals together, so that we can do research and write manuscripts together. So, that’s our final step: “Wow, we’ve learned so much together. What if we collaborate as a group who successfully completed a certification and a grant and actually pull this together into a journal, or a web article, or a blog, or whatever it might be?” So we’ve already been blogging, our very next step is this faculty learning community is going to start doing some of the outreach regarding manuscripts and presentations as well.

Rebecca: You mentioned universal design for learning a little bit earlier as your approach to accessibility rather than using the accessibility term. Can you talk a little bit about pedagogy and how accessibility and universal design for learning overlap but also where they diverge? And what role you see these initiatives playing in our approach to student learning?

Sherri: That may be my favorite question yet, actually. [LAUGHTER] So, interestingly enough… universal design. I like to ask that question when I begin teaching my digital accessibility workshop, that’s actually one of the first things that I say, Rebecca, is I ask them “How many of you have ever heard this term?” And it shocked me. I am a former instructional designer, so I honestly thought, “How would a history professor know this? How would a math professor know this?” Most of them know. And I don’t know how that has occurred, but most of them have heard it. But, in practice, they’ve never been taught it. And so once I realized about three workshops in that they had conceptual knowledge of what universal design was, I started actually flipping the script a bit on that and saying, “Explain to me, what kinds of workshops fit you’re learning needs better. Let’s start talking about how, if instead of me teaching this workshop face to face, what format would be better for you and explain to me why.” And once I began actually putting into practice for them, from their own learning needs, because my COOL grant recipients are required to take 10 trainings, and with children and with work duties, it’s very difficult for them to fit that in. So I like to give them the opportunity to explain to me what they perceive universal design to be, as it fits their learning needs. And once they grasp that and they personally apply it, then we actually start working on “Let’s talk about what universal design actually means when we build content. Let’s talk about what universal design means when you’re teaching a hybrid class that only meets four times a semester.” And one of those meetings is for an international trip with the class. So, let’s discuss all of these different pieces and how interaction and how accessibility all intersect. I tend to find that, because I do distinguish for them the difference between Universal Design for Instruction and Universal Design for Learning, that seems to actually create a pathway for them. And the way that I tend to distinguish that is UDI, Universal Design for Instruction is what we do. That’s us. That’s the faculty. We provide instruction. Universal Design for Learning, that’s what our students do. That’s how they learn. And so I feel like giving them the two pathways of “Let’s see what you do, and let’s see what they need to do and let’s focus on both of those pathways,” that actually feels like a wave that helps our faculty to best understand how to make adaptations. When I do teach the digital accessibility workshop to our faculty, I think one of the most challenging concepts that we faced prior to the year 2018 was having to individually go through one software program by the next. “Let’s check your document in accessibility for Excel. Let’s check your document for accessibility in Word.” After 2018, once we introduced our newest software purchase, and that’s the Ally tool, We had like a one-stop-shop, and I feel like helping them to understand you don’t have to do all of the legwork, but you can rely on a product that we’ve been able to bring on board for you to help teach you how to do those things. I think that actually relieves a lot of the stress. We have over 10,000 students here, and I truly believe all of our faculty are here for the right reasons. Their hearts are in the right place, their motivations are in the right place. A lot of this is “I don’t understand the steps. I don’t understand this technology, and it’s going to take me too long to learn it. And I don’t have that time available to me.” So, I view my role and my team’s role as being advocates for finding the right technologies and the right techniques. And then again, like I said earlier, doing that heavy lifting. Universal design, then, I think, interestingly enough, ended up applying not just to how our faculty develop their classes for our students, but it also applies to how I teach those classes to our faculty. I have to design my training, my support, in a way that is also universal. I made modifications by the second year I was here so that many of my face-to-face workshops were converted into an online webinar instead to accommodate the learning needs of our faculty. And that, to me, is the epitome of universal design. I didn’t just change my own classes, I changed my training classes for our faculty.

Rebecca: We’ve heard you say a couple of times about the heavy lifting done, in part, by your staff. Not all institutions or campuses have a staff equivalent to yours to do some of the heavy lifting or the student groups set up. How do you suggest individuals get started when they might not have the time resources or the funding resources or the staff resources, and it just seems, like, impossible?

Sherri: So, that particular question is one that I hear at most presentations that I’ve had the opportunity to share our successes with digital accessibility. I think one of the things that stands out for me the most is, both at this campus and another campus that I’ve served at, is we are not a heavily funded campus, most of the resources that we utilize are free. The development that we did with both our quality metric that we use for evaluating our courses is free. And I’d be happy to share that with the listeners as well afterwards that they’d have access to evaluate their own courses to determine the accessibility. We also have many online webinars that we share with our faculty are actually those that are offered for free because we don’t have the budget to actually purchase many of the higher cost ones. And so we utilize, a good example would be many of the free webinars and free downloads, specifically related digital accessibility come from the R&D sector of 3Play Media. And a lot of times we share those with our faculty members as an opportunity for them to self learn. Many of the templates that are available that we actually share with our faculty came from state level consortia. So a good example of that is, in my state, in the state of South Carolina, we have a new initiative called SCALE, which is South Carolina Affordable Learning Initiative. And South Carolina was actually one of the last states to come on board with that type of an initiative. So most states within the U.S. actually do have a state-funded initiative, but many faculty don’t know that it’s there. So one of the things I would definitely encourage them to do is maybe reach out to their library and ask what the state level initiative is. And I also would be happy to share information specific to SCALE because though it is specific to the state of South Carolina, all resources are freely available to anybody outside of the state as well. And it’s one that we like to promote here at Coastal. I would definitely say also, Rebecca, one of the things that I found, because I was one of those faculty members at one campus that had to serve independently without a tremendous amount of support, and I did a lot of my own research. And I found most of mine, interestingly enough initially through some searching, through MERLOT. MERLOT, a lot of times people think is just specifically to OERs. But a lot of times what I actually found was, in my discipline of psychology, I actually did just a direct outreach to other faculty who were members of MERLOT, but in the psychology discipline, and many of them freely share all of their available materials, and that includes things like accessible syllabi. So, it’s really interesting to see where things like OERs and accessibility have intersected in academic disciplines.

Rebecca: Those sound really great and helpful. Can you talk a little bit about the training that you’ve been doing for your faculty? You mentioned a little bit that there are webinars or what have you. Are they structured as full-fledged courses or one-off training opportunities?

Sherri: Yeah, so we actually do offer a number of different training opportunities, some of them do fall directly under the COOL grant initiatives. With the COOL grant initiatives, faculty do have a set of both required and elective courses, and examples of those would be quality assurance. The quality assurance teaches the faculty 10 different core principles and again, I’d be happy to share that information with your listeners. The other one that I think is probably my personal favorite, of course, is the digital accessibility. That one is actually taught in a face-to-face, 90-minute format and we usually offer it anywhere between six and eight times a semester. It usually is part one for our faculty. They learn a lot in that 90-minute workshop but because they were so interested in learning it we had to build a second part. And so they typically take digital accessibility face-to-face and then part two is what we call Ally intensive… and so it’s a hands on work specifically with the Ally tool. We also specifically, of course, teach face-to-face as well as self paced workshops specific to our learning management system, which we use Moodle here on our campus. We also teach both OER I and OER II. OER I, I specifically teach on our campus. And again, it’s taught actually as open and inclusive education. And so I teach the face-to-face one so that faculty learn how to include things that might already have been paid for out of our students tuition and incorporate those into their classes so that there’s no additive cost. And the OER II is a self paced that faculty progress through on their own in order to complete that one. Probably one of my favorite ones though, Rebecca, is actually a little bit different. This is one I get probably the most positive feedback from faculty about is what’s called a hybrid blended workshop institute. That particular workshop is 10 weeks long. And because hybrid is something that maybe, is just a different thing for faculty, is something that sometimes they maybe have already been teaching hybrid but they didn’t understand really, the functionality of what that is. What we decided to do, my co-instructor and I actually built the hybrid blended so that the faculty complete between 60 and 70% of that online, and the other workshops are face-to-face. So, by the time they finish, they have successfully taken as a student, their first hybrid class. I think that has the most impact on them. Being able to actually go through 10 weeks as your own student is so impactful. And that particular course has had a tremendous impact in a positive way. We also teach courses specific to academic integrity. We teach them about not just academic integrity principles for building content, but also about different types of tools that they might employ in order to enhance academic integrity in their courses. And then multimedia… that we teach about like personal lecture capture and utilizing multimedia for learning and those types of things. And my unit actually works hand in hand with a sister unit on our campus, which is the Center for Teaching and Learning. And they offer many of the offshoot classes that have to do with pedagogy as well. So, we’re not all by ourselves, we actually have a sister unit who helps to supplement a lot of what we do by teaching specific pedagogy classes.

John: That’s a nice, rich mix of workshops that you’re providing.

Sherri: Thank you. Yeah, we work very hard. We actually have just done a complete overhaul and have modified all workshops during the fall break before we came back for spring. So, we’re excited about the upcoming offering.

Rebecca: That’s great. So we usually wrap up by asking “What’s next?” You’ve already said so many things that you’ve been doing. But what’s next?

Sherri: So, part of what we’re doing is we’ve been working, we’re trying to figure out a way to bring all this full circle, and so the development of the Open and Digital Learning Faculty Learning Community is brand new. It has just been formed. It hasn’t even formally been announced. I’ve been talking about it for about two months. But, it hasn’t even been formally announced to our campus yet,… with the rollout of the faculty learning community, so that all of these previous cohorts can come together. And for those that are interested, we can conduct research. We can write manuscripts and here’s my most exciting part that I’m actually looking forward to, I can actually collaborate with faculty members on grant proposals. And we have not been able to do that together yet. So being able to sit down and work together and bring all this to fruition in a way that will actually move our campus even further forward by being able to write grant proposals and publish about some of our positive outcomes. I think that will be fantastic. Up to this point, we’ve offered what we call three different exemplary showcases. And the way that those work is we evaluate our COOL grant faculty recipients and to even graduate you have to become COOL certified, their courses have to hit or exceed at least 80% in quality criteria. Some of our faculty who are incredible superstars end up hitting or exceeding at 100%. And so those faculty get nominated as what we call exemplary showcase presenters. We’ve now hosted three of those, and our fourth one will be actually hosted this year in 2020. So, the exemplary showcase will be an opportunity for this next round of faculty to continue to present about the best practices. It will be our first showcase where we have individuals presenting who have implemented OERs in classes that fall outside of the scope of just digital and online learning. So, these will be classes that were taught in a traditional face-to-face environment that have converted to OER for affordability and inclusion reasons. So, I think that’s important because you mentioned, Rebecca, at the very beginning of the interview, “How is this a cultural shift?” I began here with only really being able to do my outreach to just online classes. By year two, I rolled that out to hybrid. And so in year four, which starts very soon, it will have been rolled out to all formats, all classes, all faculty, all students. And so that’s a cultural shift. Being able to find a way to show people that access is for all people, and affordability is for all people, all course formats is important. So that, to me, is the biggest thing that is coming is this cultural shift is going to continue to expand, because we’re opening up so many of these grant opportunities and these faculty support initiatives to faculty here teaching face-to-face, or hybrid, or flex, or flipped, or any variety of format that you might want to teach because access is supposed to be for all learners. And so I think that was our ultimate goal. It’s just taken us a few years to get there. And this will be our first year to actually see it open up and be totally inclusive to all formats as well, and having a faculty learning community as a target goal for how to showcase all of these best practices and all of this incredible hard work and dedication that our faculty have had in converting their courses and making them available, that will be fantastic. In the 2019 academic year, my team first started tracking the success of students based on their GPAs and their drop, fail, withdraw rates in order to see if there was any kind of correlation between those and the courses that had successfully completed quality course review. And I’m so pleased to actually tell you that, for the first time, we were able to actually see decreased drop, fail, withdrawal rates and increased GPAs in classes that had complied with and excelled in all of these quality initiatives there. So, for the 2020 year, we’re going to do a much larger research sample on that and start continuing to investigate quantitatively, “Are we able to track and even predict students success relating to GPAs and drop, fail, withdrawal rates when the faculty have successfully implemented this?” At this point we’ve seen it in undergraduate, graduate, and across all academic college disciplines. So, I’m hopeful we will continue to see it in the 2020 year as well, so we’re excited and this is one of the things that the faculty learning community is going to be helping me with, is tracking the student success metrics. And hopefully seeing some improvements across all the disciplines as well.

John: Were the results statistically significant?

Sherri: They are significant. However, one of the things, John, is the sample is still quite small. So yes, the answer is they are statistically significant. I am not comfortable publishing them yet until we have a much larger sample. So in the 2020 year, we will be working towards a much larger sample, so that I will feel more comfortable in promoting that.

John: Excellent.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for sharing your insights and strategies today.

Sherri: You’re very welcome.

[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.

107. Project NExT

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

Show Notes

Transcript

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

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

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

Sarah: Sarah Hanusch.

Rasika: Rasika Churchill.

Jessalyn: Jessalyn Bolkema.

Zoe: And I’m Zoe Misiewicz.

Rebecca: Welcome everyone!

John: Our teas today are:

Rasika: I’m having Earl Grey.

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

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

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

Rebecca: And I have… English afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: It is trickling for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

Zoe: Yeah, publisher provided questions and tools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: I agree. That’s why I do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: It’s our pleasure.

Jessalyn: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Zoe: Thank you very much.

[MUSIC]

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

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

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

106. Leveraging Faculty Expertise

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

Transcript

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

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

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

Chilton: Thanks.

Tim: Thanks for having us.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are…

Chilton: I’m drinking English Breakfast right now.

Tim: I’m drinking dark roast coffee.

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

Rebecca: Yeah [LAUGHTER]

John: And I have a ginger peach white tea today

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

Chilton: What is your normal tea?

Rebecca: English afternoon.

Chilton: English afternoon, there you go.

John: All through the day.

Rebecca: Yes.

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

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

Rebecca: Right, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim: Yeah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chilton: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chilton: Correct.

Tim: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chilton: Yeah.

Tim: Nice.

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

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

Chilton: Yeah. Very nice.

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

Chilton: And what do you call yours?

Rebecca: Winter Breakouts.

Chilton: Oh, nice.

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

Chilton: Yeah,

Tim: Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chilton: Yeah [LAUGHTER]

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

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

John: Yes.

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

Rebecca: We do it in May.

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

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

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

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

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

Chilton: A good point.[LAUGHTER].

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

Rebecca: Yeah.

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

Chilton: Well said!

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

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

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

Tim: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: Just a growing cohort

Tim: …a growing cadre.

Chilton: Yeah, a growing pool.

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

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

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

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

Chilton: Yes. [LAUGHTER]

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

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

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

Chilton: Yep.

Rebecca: All important work that needs to be done.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

Chilton: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Tim: Our pleasure, thank you for having us.

Chilton: It’s fun to be here.

[MUSIC]

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

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