80. Self-Regulated Learning

Most students arrive at college with serious misconceptions about effective learning strategies. In this episode, Dr. Linda Nilson joins us to examine what we as faculty can do to help students develop their metacognitive skills and become self-regulated learners.

Dr. Nilson is the founding director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University. She is the author of many superb books, book chapters, and articles on teaching and learning. In this episode we focus on discussing one of her books: Creating Self-regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-awareness and Learning Skills.

Show Notes

  • Linda Nilson—Director Emeritus of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation (OTEI) at Clemson University
  • Nilson, L. (2013). Creating Self-regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-awareness and Learning Skills. Stylus Publishing, LLC..
  • Nilson, L. (2014). Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Professional and Organizational Development (POD)—Network in Higher Education Conference
  • Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of personality and social psychology, 77(6), 1121.

Transcript

This transcript has been edited to improve readability.

Rebecca: Most students arrive at college with serious misconceptions about effective learning strategies. In this episode, we examine what we as faculty can do to help students develop their metacognitive skills and become self-regulated learners.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Today our guest is Dr. Linda Nilson, the founding director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University. Dr. Nilson is the author of many superb books, book chapters, and articles on teaching and learning. Welcome.

Linda: I’m very honored to be here. Thank you.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are…

John: Are you drinking any tea?

Linda: Yes, I am drinking tea. I am drinking Lemon Lift.

Rebecca: Oh that sounds like a great way to start the day.

Linda: It is. It’s a very good way. Well, I also started it with coffee, but… [LAUGHTER]

John: And I’m drinking Ginger Peach Black tea.

Rebecca: And I have my Golden Monkey tea today.

John: We’ve invited you here today to talk about your book, Creating Self-regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills. Could you define what it means to be a self-regulated learner?

Linda: Yes. Self-regulated learning is the conscious planning, monitoring, and evaluation of one’s learning for the purpose of maximizing it. That’s a very fancy way of putting it. It’s that voice in your head that asks you questions about your learning as you’re involved in some sort of learning task, questions like, “Okay, I’m going to do a reading now, what strategy works best for me?” Now you just might brush over that because you’ve done readings of this type a dozen times, a hundred times, whatever, but you’ve asked yourself that question along the way. “What’s my best strategy? What kind of a task is this? And monitoring: are my strategies working for me? Am I getting it? Can I paraphrase the last couple of paragraphs that I just read?” It’s a reading thing, but it works also in lecture. And then at the end, you evaluate yourself. “Well, let’s see. I had a goal, being able to recite five main points from this chapter, let’s see if I can do it,” without looking at the chapter of course. [LAUGHTER] So you evaluate your abilities, you evaluate your strategies. That’s really what it’s all about and it involves a great deal of talking to yourself.

Rebecca: So how did you get interested in talking to yourself? [LAUGHTER]

Linda: Well, I heard voices. [LAUGHTER] Well, how did I get interested in this topic? Actually, it was an accounting professor at Clemson that got me interested in it. This is 2007, right, this is a long time ago. And so she said to me, “What about giving a workshop on self-regulated learning?” In my head I said, “Huh? What’s that?” I’d never heard of it. And so I decided to go find out about it and it took me a few years to really get a workshop together on it and I decided, “Gosh, this is wonderful. This is learning how to learn. This is familiar to me,” because I’ve been talking to myself for years. [LAUGHTER] So I thought, “Okay, I’m not crazy. This is a learning strategy, a major learning strategy, one that you can use throughout your life.” And so I gave the workshop, I started giving workshops, like at the POD Network Conference—which is made up by people like me who go to this conference every year—and then I decided—well, I didn’t decide—a book publisher came up to me and said, “Please write a book on this, I will publish it.” Since I was in love with the topic anyway, I decided to do it. And so I did and delved into it deeply.

John: As you’ve described it, it sounds like part of this deals with improving student metacognition, but you note that it goes a bit further. Could you talk about the additional aspects of it?

Linda: Metacognition is the cognitive part of self-regulated learning, which is a major part of it. However, there are a couple of other elements to it that I don’t know that you could say are really focused on cognition. There is the emotional element to it, which involves getting yourself to be motivated and interested in the topic. Remembering, reviewing what your professor told you about the relevance of this topic, and thinking about it yourself. We can motivate ourselves, we can reframe a task for ourselves, and we can certainly reframe what is going on in terms of a learning experience. That’s a major, major part of it. The emotional part of the end is: “If you didn’t reach your goal, what do you do about it?” Do you give up, walk away, and say, “Well, I wasn’t born to do engineering,” or whatever the topic is. No, what you should say is, “Let’s try another strategy. Let’s look into possible strategies.” As instructors, we need to familiarize students with various strategies because they come to us—I like the phrase—“as feral children” in terms of the life of the mind and what they know about learning. We don’t have cognitive psychologists—unfortunately—teaching first grade or fifth grade, and so we need to equip them with how their mind works. There is one other element, a physical element, and that involves planning, monitoring, and evaluating your physical setting, where do you study best. If doing a reading or writing assignment, is it in a coffee shop, or do you have to essentially be in a soundproof booth where you don’t have any stimulation? How much coffee should you have? Or tea? [LAUGHTER] What kind of an environment should you set up for yourself—perhaps putting your digital distractions in another room. How should you schedule your breaks? Other things that you might want to consider is the amount of sleep that you have had because that can be a very important element of learning and writing. Some people study better to mild background noises as long as they are familiar music they’ve never heard before. You’ve got to try out these different things and find out your best setting.

John: In your book you describe how you became a self-regulated learner. Could you relay that story?

Linda: Yes, it was based on fear and terror. [LAUGHTER] As a child, I went to a private Catholic girls school—great education, but not in the sweetest of ways. From about fifth grade on, we had what was called recitation every single day in English and history classes. The nuns would ask a question and would randomly call out students’ names—we were in small classes so it wasn’t an absurd thing—and we had to get up and we’d better have the answer to the question. Now, not all the kids did, but I needed to be Little Miss Perfect because I wanted to get into college. Somehow I thought that the answers that I gave in fifth and sixth and seventh and eighth grade would or would not get me into college. So I learned to quiz myself while I was reading chapters or essays. Constantly quizzing myself. And another thing we had to do, usually later in the day, was called “exercise period.” We had 35 minutes to write an answer to an essay question that was generally related to the readings. And we couldn’t look at our books. It was out of desperation that I was trying different strategies so I could perform very well every day, and I was really quite successful. So when I was reading about self-regulated learning, I said, “My God, I was doing this as a child.” That’s why it sounded so familiar to me.

John: But that’s not the experience I think that the students we have entering our colleges have.

Linda: You are so right. You are so right. And we don’t do this to children anymore, okay? There is a good side to it—there really is—because you do buckle under and get very serious about your homework, very serious about your studies, or you look like an idiot the next day. Anyway, the sport I’m trying to think of is that sport where you get the ice or any kind of ice particles out of the way.…

Rebecca: Curling?

Linda: Curling! Curling, yes, we are curling teachers and curling parents. We try to clear the way for our students. We don’t want to put them in stressful situations. We don’t want to ask Johnny to read if Johnny might not be able to read—and I mean, get up and read well—and the problem with this is that students are denied the opportunity for achievement. And there is no achievement without the possibility of failure, there just isn’t. So students have no idea what fear and terror in school might be. There’s bullying and all that, but I mean from the learning experience. So no, they don’t have any kind of the experiences that I had.

Rebecca: How do we start coaching students then to become self-regulated learners if they’re coming out of this really different environment that’s much more supportive and doesn’t allow for failure seemingly?

Linda: They start failing in college. We’re still sort of, you know, curling them a little bit, but they are really facing a much greater challenge. They get insecure really quickly because they’ve been told how special they are and how smart they are, and then they begin to question that, because they’re not doing as well as they were in high school, where you could get an A relatively easily. Now, “Oh my, it can be really hard,” and then they start getting C’s, and then you have their attention. That’s a way that you can tell them that, “There are ways that you can get A’s, you did not learn how to study, here is a way to learn.” Does it involves a sort of effort? Sure, but it’s really just talking to yourself and deciding what strategies would be best for you, testing out strategies, seeing how they work, and you will be more successful. And there have been studies of students—like in developmental courses—that show that the students who are struggling the most tend to know the least about self-regulated learning strategies and start to do better if they use these strategies.Of course we’ve got to get them to use the strategies, we’ve got to explain these strategies. It can be life changing for them in the most positive way.

John: I think part of the issue is that faculty generally haven’t been taught these strategies themselves. They somehow found ways to be successful, so they become self-regulated learners, but faculty are the exceptions. They’re not the typical student, and they’ve never really been trained to teach students how to become more effective learners, in part because they never learned that directly themselves quite often. What can faculty do to be more effective in this way?

Linda: Well first of all, faculty have to realize that they’re the weird ones, and everybody else is normal. [LAUGHTER] So we have to stop projecting our learning abilities, our strategies, our interests in the life of the mind onto everybody else. We have to not only sell our material, but we have to equip students to learn our material. We don’t want to do that. We say, “They should know by now.” Well, guess what? They don’t. So what are you going to do about it? You’ve got to start from where they are. Teaching students learning strategies takes a couple of sentences every class. Now, if you really want to get into self-regulated learning activities and assignments with them, that might take a few minutes per class period, but you don’t have to do it every class period, and a lot of self-regulated learning activities can be homework, in which case they take no class time at all. This is so easy to do. This is why I think faculty have really been attracted to my book and why I’m asked to speak on it so often, because there are so many little things you can do that don’t take away from the content at all—rather, they reinforce the content—that make this huge difference in the performance of most students. You can’t always bring everybody along with you. There are some people—some students—who’d just as soon shoot themselves in their foot, but most do not. They find these activities so easy to do. They don’t take a lot of time and they get to know themselves and start doing better, so students don’t complain about this.

Rebecca: Can you describe what a couple of those activities might be?

Linda: Sure, absolutely. Well, let’s consider the different parts of the course and I’ll just give you just a few, some of my personal favorites. For starting a course for instance—starting and you can also end it with these sorts of activities—but one of them is a goal setting activity. You can assign this as homework, you can have students do it in class with students write on “How I earned an A in this course.” Now, you would be surprised and students will be surprised—C students and B students will be surprised—that they know what it takes to earn an A in a course, and they will come up with, “Well, I’ve got to come to class every day, don’t I? And in class I can’t fiddle around with my mobile device, and I have to start a paper sort of early and I have to keep up with the readings.” For many people, writing this down is goal setting for them. They think, “Well, you know, maybe I could do this, maybe this isn’t so absurd.” If you make a discussion out of it afterwards, the A students will say, “Yeah, I do these things, it’s not unrealistic.” And then the C and B and F students will say, “Well, let’s give it a whirl.” Then at the end of the course, you give them another little essay assignment, “How I earned an A in this course—or not.” [LAUGHTER] True confessions time, right? And so students assess how well they met their goals. Goal setting is definitely a part of self-regulated learning, the planning and then self-evaluation at the end. Another thing that you can do is you can give your students essay questions. If you give an essay final—or have any essays on it at all—you can give them the essays on the final to take the first day. This will not take much class time at all, because students will know very little, or they’ll try to BS an answer. So they will try but they can be really quite wrong. Now at the end, for the final, they correct their answers, and then rewrite these answers given the knowledge that they have gained throughout the course. This can be really interesting for faculty—for not just faculty… well, it can be interesting for them, too—because they can see exactly what they learned. So it is a measure of learning. Faculty will never get that comment on the student evaluations saying, “Well, I didn’t learn anything in this course.” Never again, that’s gone. So anyway, those are a couple of things that you can do. Little assignments you can make on the readings. Little reflection exercises like, “What did you think was the most important point in this reading? What surprised you the most? What connections can you make between what you read and your prior knowledge, what you already know? Or to your life? Or your emotional reactions to it, if the material is amenable to that?” So those are little reflections you can give on the readings. Another exercise, a self-testing exercise, is called “read, recall, review.” This is the best way to do reading. Forget about rereading, that’s what students really do… It’s really a waste of time. What students should do is to read a portion of the chapter or the whole chapter, put their notes away, close the book, and then recall as much as they can and write it down. Then they should go back and look in the chapter for what they forgot and what they might have gummed up. And they know that, “I didn’t really get that point.” And so they go back and look at it, and then they recall again. Read, recall, review. Studies that have been done on this showing it is so much more effective than rereading. It really doesn’t take that long, and then you actually have the material in your head, even in your long-term memory. You get retrieval practice, you get deliberate practice, so there’s nothing as good as testing yourself except—well, the nicest thing we can do for students is to test them. In lectures—I should say mini-lectures—it’s a good idea to have students do this. You stop, let’s say, every 15 minutes or so and have students do the same thing. Write down everything that they can recall, and then work with their neighbor to fill in the blanks—their own blanks—and ask any questions they have. First they ask their neighbor their questions, and then they ask you. This doesn’t take very long at all, maybe five minutes, but then you know that the students got it and can remember it. Again, most effective… studies done on this, too. So this makes students aware of their learning or their lack of learning. You can give students what are called active learning checks. You give your mini-lecture, and then you stop—and by the way, you can warn students you’re going to do this so they’re listening—and ask them, “Okay, what are the three major points in my last mini-lecture that I talked about in the last 15 minutes?” Then they write those things down—and it could be two things or four things depending—and turn them in. They don’t really have to turn them in, but you know, you might want to see them yourself. Then you reveal the three most important points, and they monitor and evaluate their learning skills. Now, students are motivated to want to learn how to listen to you, so they want to improve. According to a study that was done, they improve really quickly. The first time, 45 percent of students got all three points correct. By the third time, 75 percent of the students got these correct. Remarkable progress, really remarkable. Then there are meta-assignments. In a problem solving field like chemistry or math, we are denying students learning opportunities when all we do is mark the wrong answers as wrong or incomplete and then drop the subject. Students should be able to correct their mistakes to get half the points back, let’s say. In other words, they’re going to learn how to solve that problem if it’s the last thing they do. [LAUGHTER] Again, you give them some sort of an incentive, then they learn. There have been studies on this technique as well. It’s extremely effective. And students can learn not just from you, but in peer groups. Peers can help each other very effectively. There is a wrapper—they’re called “wrappers”—for an exam, a reflection that students do after they get their exams back where they answer questions like, “How did your expected grade compare with your actual grade? How do you feel about that?” So they have to look at the exam and your feedback. “How many hours did you study? Was that enough? What did you do while studying? Might you want to change your strategies? Why did you lose points? Were there any patterns that you see here? How are you going to study more effectively for the next exam?” This has been life changing for students because they’ve never thought about this before. They’ve never really looked at their exams, their mistakes. They drop them too, right? They don’t want to see what they did wrong. Yet these are the best learning opportunities possible, and they will remember them. We remember our mistakes, we learn from our mistakes, and it’s sad that we don’t stop and use those errors. These are just a small sample of self-regulated learning activities. I can give you many more. [LAUGHTER]

John: And there are many in the book, which we strongly recommend to people.

Linda: Yes, yes, yeah…

Rebecca: A lot of what you’re talking about seems tied to growth mindset as well.

Linda: Exactly, and this creates, this generates the growth mindset because students learn that they can learn, they can do better. Otherwise they feel like their learning is like the weather. “Maybe it’ll rain on me, and maybe not. [LAUGHTER] There’s really nothing I can do about it. Because it’s all about you, professor, you are responsible for my learning, just like the fates are responsible for the weather. [LAUGHTER] And if I’m not learning, you’re not a good instructor, or you’re pitching the material over my head, or your teaching strategies are wrong.” And so everybody else gets blamed, and then they start to realize, “Oh, I can do this.” Now, this isn’t the best news for them in the world because then they have to start taking responsibility for their learning. And that can be, for some students, a hard pill to swallow. For other students it will be very empowering, and what we want to encourage in students is that sense of empowerment.

John: And that’s especially important, I think, in freshman-level classes, because students generally don’t come in with that type of mindset. They’ve often been able to blame it on the teacher and do things over and over again until they get the grade they want or get the extensions and so forth with a focus on self-esteem in many classrooms.

Linda: Oh, yeah, self-esteem without achievement.

John: But it’s an adjustment. So if they come in with a fixed mindset, and they’re confronted with failure, it’s pretty easy to give up. So we need to encourage students, I think, to see failure as a learning opportunity as you’ve mentioned. As instructors, I think we have to somehow convince them of that, because they don’t come in naturally picking it up, but the techniques you’ve mentioned are very good for that.

Linda: You know, our whole society makes them feel they’re not responsible for their learning. Look at what happens in K-12. Students have to take standardized tests and if they don’t do well, who gets blamed and who suffers? The teacher and the school, and that’s nuts. In the final analysis, we teach ourselves. We are responsible for our own learning. Good teaching can make a big difference because we can be motivated or unmotivated by teaching. We can acquire learning strategies through teaching. So it’s not that students are just left adrift on their own, we do have to help them. We do have to put them in learning experiences where learning becomes attractive for them, or you can’t help but learn, right? But they’ve got to pick up that learning and run with it themselves.

Rebecca: So you mentioned the idea of encouraging students to see learning and the self-regulation as empowering. What about those students who are a little resistant to that because it’s surprising to them that they’re not getting it and they’re failing and that it’s going to be more work? What are some things that we can do to encourage those students to see things a little differently?

Linda: Yes, first of all, if they’re failing and they subconsciously want to—it happens, it really does —[LAUGHTER] there is not a whole lot you can do about it. They might need some counseling and they might need to get some help from professionals like psychologists. But again, it can be difficult for students to realize that the ball is in their court because it’s a whole different gestalt for them. The only cure for that is success—a little bit of success—where they start doing a little better, let’s say, on the quiz on the readings or they start being able to solve more problems. That’s really the only cure. And we are assuming that they want to be successful. Again, if they prefer failure, then they are responsible for their own failure.

Rebecca: Right, they’re the ones that are normal and we are not, right? [LAUGHTER]

Linda: Exactly.

Rebecca: Maybe that should be the refrain of this interview, right?

Linda: Yes. They are the normal ones and we are strange. And we always have been strange. We were the strange kids in school, too. [LAUGHTER]

John: In your book you mentioned the Dunning-Kruger effect as being a barrier to some students, that the students who don’t understand things as well often overestimate their understanding. How can we overcome that?

Linda: Self-regulated learning helps when we give them activities and assignments where they do self-evaluation, because the only way to learn self-evaluation is through practice, practice with feedback. And that feedback doesn’t even have to come from you; it can come from peers or a computer program. We don’t give students a lot of practice in self-evaluation, and they certainly haven’t had much of it in K-12l. But the nice thing is that when we have students look back to see if they met their goals, or to evaluate their study strategies, or to assess their mistakes and the reasons for their mistakes, it makes all the difference in the world. After low-stakes practice, you can introduce higher stakes self-evaluation assignments and see more savvy self-evaluations.

John: What recommendations do you have for faculty who’d like to start building more self-regulation? Are there small steps that faculty could take to get started on this path?

Linda: Absolutely. There’s a sense in which most of the assignments, most of the activities, are little things. Here’s a little thing you can start off the course with, I was talking about essay questions, but you can just have students do a little reflection the first day and then again on the last day about the subject matter, as in, “What do you think chemistry is? Why is it a science?” You can find out a lot about students’ misconceptions just by looking at these reflections. And then of course, they’ve hopefully corrected a lot of misconceptions by the end. This could take like all of five minutes the first day. There’s so many little things. Here are some ideas for experiential learning. It’s so easy for students not to make a connection between a simulation, an interesting role play, a service-learning experience, or field work to the course. So it’s important that whenever you do an experiential assignment or activity, students reflect on what they are learning—for a simulation, to look back and explain what their goals were, to evaluate how well they met their goals, to assess their strategies, to explain how their strategies changed and their responses to other players. It’s very important that students become conscious of what’s going on in their heads. Only by becoming conscious can they remember the strategies? [LAUGHTER] And then they can write them down and articulate them. You can have students do short papers associated with papers and projects where they record, while they are doing it, the process they are following. If you’ve given them a process to follow, they even have a skeletal outline of what they should be doing. This is a place also for self-evaluation. If you have students do a revision, oftentimes you give them feedback on what they should revise, and they may or may not read your advice. So you can have them paraphrase your feedback back to them and write out their goals for the revision. What are they going to do? What are their strategies for revision? These are just little things. Students start to realize the value of this. And again, this is an assignment where you can’t screw up. It’s not a test, it’s just a reflection of what’s going on in your head. Students like to learn about themselves. And this is like the reading reflections. This is no stress. How do you mess this up? It takes less stress to just write an honest answer than it is to make one up that sounds credible. [LAUGHTER] I want to make faculty aware that the activities don’t have to be graded at all. The assignments don’t really have to be graded. You “grade” them pass-fail. Students pass just by completing the assignment. Let’s say, you had them answering three questions, three reflections. Did they answer three reflections? Is it vaguely on the chapter? Okay it’s not about football, it’s something about what’s in the chapter. [LAUGHTER] And did they meet the length requirement? It’s always a good idea to give length requirements on these reflections because for students, length means depth. So if you ask them to write a minimum of 150 words, you know, they’ll tend to do that. Those who don’t fail.You don’t count every word that students write. You eyeball the reflection. Essentially you are “grading” pass-fail at a glance. It doesn’t take much time. Plus, it gets students to do the readings in the easiest way and most productive way for them. It’s all about them, and it’s not about us. We just have to hold them accountable in some very quick way. Even the longer assignments that you might associate with a paper or project can be graded pass-fail. You have to make them worth some points if you’re still on a point system. But there are alternatives, that’s what specifications grading is all about. You don’t have to use points. In any case, you do have to at least eyeball the reflections and give some value in your course however you are grading. That communicates to students that this is important to you, that you put value on this meta-assignment or assignment wrapper, as you might call it. The same thing with the post-exam wrapper, these reflections on this exam. You make students do it because it’s worth 10 points if they simply complete it and hand it in—even though it’s for them—and they will realize right away that there is some value to this. Again, for some students, it will be life changing in the most positive way. And they will start to realize the way that they’ve been preparing for or taking exams may not be the best. They will realize what they tend to do when they’re taking an exam, such as to misread the question, or to be careless, or to not budget their time, or to not really thoroughly study all the material. Cramming is not very effective. You don’t have to spend time grading these exercises or giving any feedback at all. They can give themselves their own feedback. If they did it and they get the 10 points, okay, that’s plenty of feedback for them. They did it. You regard it as their meeting the requirements of the assignment.

John: And this is a topic you cover in another book on specifications grading, which is also another book we’d like to recommend. We’ll include a link to both of those on the show notes.

Linda: The title of the book is Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students—it’s been found to be motivating—and Saving Faculty Time, saving you time. If there’s one thing we don’t have, it’s time. Time is really more precious to us than money. Otherwise, we’d be working in some venture capital firm or something. [LAUGHTER] But time is really quite a precious thing for us. So, in terms of these sort of assignments, for self-regulated learning assignments, they’re all what we’d call “specs graded.” You set out the specs, they’re very simple, and you just grade them pass-fail.

Rebecca: I think pointing out how it doesn’t have to be complicated for faculty is important because I think we all want students to learn. We all want them to be self-regulated learners.

John: We all want to give students feedback, but we don’t want to make it impossible for us to keep up with our work.

Rebecca: Yeah. Or feedback that’s going to get ignored anyways.

John: Right.

Linda: You’re worried about students reading the feedback, and our feedback is valuable. We’ve given it, we’ve taken the time, and so you make them paraphrase it back to you. And this could be a learning experience for us because we might be “misread.” Students might not understand something that we’ve said. Awkward—that’s my favorite one—a sentence structure is awkward. What does that mean? That student didn’t set out to write an awkward sentence. That in itself will not help them because they don’t know what you’re talking about, and this is most unfortunate. But again, it’s a learning experience for us and we can learn to express ourselves somewhat differently. Too often, students get back a paper from us and look at the grade, read the paragraph at the end of the paper, and put it in their “circular file.” They dump it. They don’t read that feedback, so how are they going to get better? So paraphrasing our feedback back to us can be a very valuable exercise for them. And you can let them gain back some points for it. I just think that faculty should look at themselves as responsible for helping our students learn. They don’t come to us with those skills. We can be the finest instructor in the world, have the most interesting classes, hold their attention, and motivate them, but if they don’t know how to process that material in their own minds, it’s all for naught. Now, maybe, hopefully, seniors have learned to learn their material along the line. And by the way, there can be different learning strategies for different subject matter. There are different self-regulated learning activities and assignments for problem solving mathematically-based fields, and different ones for the social sciences and humanities. There can different kinds of assignments, different kinds of readings, actually different kinds of lectures. So we have to respect that. But we have to become conscious of study strategies, learning strategies, our strategies, and other strategies that are out there. But self-regulated learning strategies, to my mind, they’re the shortest distance between two points. Shortest distance between ignorance and learning because it’s all going on in your head, and it’s so powerful. The value of it to students becomes evident rather quickly.

Rebecca: And it’s a skill that can help through a whole lifetime, not just while they’re in college and I think helping students realize that is also really valuable.

Linda: Like no other generation before, these younger generations are going to have to learn to learn on their own. They’re going to have to keep up with their field, whatever their field is, and they might have to—will very likely have to—pivot into another field because their first field might run its course. They’re going to have to learn on their own. They aren’t going to have employers holding their hand. Not at all. They’re probably going to have to learn online, where you really are responsible for your own processing, more so than you might feel let’s say in a face-to-face class, and for your own motivating as well. There needs to be more motivation than simple fear that you will go hungry and won’t be able to get a job. [LAUGHTER] Yes, students are going to really have to learn how to learn. If they consider that a bitter pill, that’s too bad. This is reality, this is life, and most of them have not learned that life is hard. Many of them are wondering where their next meal is coming from, but a lot of students have not. Students need to learn along the line that life is not easy, that nobody does curling on their path. And they will face challenges, but if they have the strategies for facing these challenges, no problem. They needn’t be paralyzed. They needn’t freeze.

John: You foster some really good advice and I think our listeners will appreciate this and it’s really powerful.

Rebecca: Yeah, I agree. We’re all wondering, what’s next for you?

Linda: I’m actually Director Emeritus. I’m actually retired from Clemson University. But you know how academics are, [LAUGHTER] they don’t disappear, they just sort of like fade away. So I’m trying to ease into retirement because it’s not an easy thing to do? Not when you love what you’ve been doing. But I have sworn off writing books. That’s progress! [LAUGHTER] I’ve written some articles and chapters in other people’s books, so that’s fine. And I’m still traveling to give keynotes and faculty workshops. That’s hard to give up because it’s interesting to go somewhere else, somewhere new.” And I still give webinars and podcasts. But eventually I won’t be doing that anymore. Ultimately I want to work with animals. I do love animals but I’m still busy doing this and still loving doing this, but also loving just as much not having to do bureaucratic tasks for the university [LAUGHTER] and not having to stay up until two in the morning doing my email. When I’m traveling, not have to worry about, what’s going on back at the office. So I’m not complaining about retirement. I really like where I’m at right now, but I know that I will eventually fade into the sunset. That’s okay because then I’ll reinvent myself.

Rebecca: Sounds like some self-regulation was going on there, I’m pretty sure. [LAUGHTER]

Linda: Yes, I’m trying, I’m trying to retire but not too quickly.

John: Well, we’re glad you haven’t, fully yet.

Rebecca: This was really great. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today.

Linda: Well thank you for this opportunity. I hope that I have helped some faculty members out there to help them help their students to achieve more, because again, we all do want our students to learn. We’re all in love with our material, it’s worth learning, and we just have to help our students do that. So thank you ever so much, and thank all of you listeners for listening.

Rebecca: Thank you so 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 Kim Fisher, Chris Wallace, Kelly Knight, Joseph Bandru, Jacob Alverson, Brittany Jones, and Gabriella Perez.

78. Helicopter Parenting

Over time and across locations, increased income inequality raises the stakes of pursuing a college degree, resulting in increased parental intervention in their child’s education. In this episode, Dr. Matthias Doepke and Dr. Fabrizio Zilibotti, the authors of Love, Money and Parenting join us to explore the implications of these evolving parenting styles for our educational system.

Matthias is a professor of Economics at Northwestern University and Fabrizio is the Tuntex Professor of International Development Economics at Yale University.

Show Notes

  • Dr. Matthias Doepke –  Professor of Economics at Northwestern University
  • Dr. Fabrizio Zilibotti– Tuntex Professor of International Development Economics at Yale University.
  • Doepke, M., & Zilibotti, F. (2019). Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids. Princeton University Press.
  • World Values Survey – A global  survey of society values and norms.
  • James Heckman – Nobel Memorial Prize winning Economist at the University of Chicago
    • Elango, S., García, J. L., Heckman, J. J., & Hojman, A. (2015). Early childhood education. In Economics of Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, Volume 2 (pp. 235-297). University of Chicago Press.
    • Heckman, J. J., Stixrud, J., & Urzua, S. (2006). The effects of cognitive and noncognitive abilities on labor market outcomes and social behavior. Journal of Labor economics, 24(3), 411-482.
    • Doyle, O., Harmon, C. P., Heckman, J. J., & Tremblay, R. E. (2009). Investing in early human development: timing and economic efficiency. Economics & Human Biology, 7(1), 1-6.
    • Heckman, J. J. (2011). The economics of inequality: The value of early childhood education. American Educator, 35(1), 31.
    • Heckman, J. J. (2012). Invest in early childhood development: Reduce deficits, strengthen the economy. The Heckman Equation, 7, 1-2.
    • Heckman, J., Grunewald, R., & Reynolds, A. (2006). The Dollars and Cents of Investing Early: Cost-Benefit Analysis in Early Care and Education. Zero to Three, 26(6), 10-17.
    • García, J. L., Heckman, J. J., Leaf, D. E., & Prados, M. J. (2016). The life-cycle benefits of an influential early childhood program (No. w22993). National Bureau of Economic Research.
    • Heckman, J. J. (2006). Skill formation and the economics of investing in disadvantaged children. Science, 312(5782), 1900-1902.
    • Doyle, O., Harmon, C., Heckman, J. J., Logue, C., & Moon, S. (2013). Measuring investment in human capital formation: An experimental analysis of early life outcomes (No. w19316). National Bureau of Economic Research.

John: Over time and across locations, increased income inequality raises the stakes of pursuing a college degree, resulting in increased parental intervention in their child’s education. In this episode, we explore the implications of these evolving parenting styles for our educational system.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Our guests today are Dr. Matthias Doepke and Dr. Fabrizio Zilibotti, the authors of Love, Money and Parenting. Matthias is a professor of Economics at Northwestern University and Fabrizio is the Tuntex Professor of International Development Economics at Yale University. Welcome.

John: Welcome.

Matthias: Thank you.

Fabrizio: Thank you for having us.

John: We’re really pleased to have you here. Our teas today are…are either of you drinking tea?

Matthias: Not right now.

Fabrizio: Not really. No.

[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I’m drinking English Afternoon.

Fabrizio: Very good.

John: And I’m drinking Cranberry Blood Orange, it’s a black tea.

We’ve invited you here to discuss Love, Money, and Parenting. In this book you use economics to explain differences across countries and across time in how we raise our children. How did this book come about?

Fabrizio: Well, this book comes from our research. For many years, we have been interested in understanding what’s going on inside the family’s interaction in society, the cultural processes as determinants of economic development. But this is also a book that comes from our personal experience as parents. We have been moving around many countries. Our professions, for instance, led me first to London where I took my PhD. Then from there I was here in Spain. I moved to Sweden, I stayed for eight years, back to the UK in between, and then in Switzerland. My daughter was actually born in Sweden and has lived herself in many countries and eventually I have moved to the United States while my daughter stay in Switzerland. So, both as a parent and as a person, I have been in contact with many parenting cultures.

John: And Matthias?

Matthias: From my perspective also, it was a large part of the motivation was the contrast between my own childhood and what it was like as a parent. I grew up in the 1970s in a very relaxed time for parenting where we had a few hours of school, we would go to lunch, and then the afternoon and evenings you could do pretty much whatever we wanted. It’s a very freedom-oriented, independent childhood, which I greatly enjoyed. And so I expected that my own parenting many years later will be very similar to that, the truth ended up to be completely different. So we are now much more involved parents than my own parents had been. And so a lot of the motivation from the personal side comes from reflecting what the reasons why the parenting we do now—in the society we live in today—turned out to be so different from what we were used to as children.

Fabrizio: If I can add something to that—Matthias has emphasized the contrast between our own childhood and our own parenting—there is also a lot of contrast between parenting culture in different countries and every time I’ve moved…a big culture shock. We live in a world that, especially in moving around in industrialized countries, you would expect the difference not to be so large and yet when my daughter was born in Sweden, I was shocked by the way children and parents interact in Sweden, how generally relaxed liberal Swedish parents are. Then I moved to Switzerland. The culture there is somewhat more formal. Children have to respect some stricter rules and the school is also like that but then when I moved back to the UK with my daughter for some time and then later I moved to the US, I realized that the pressure on children is much stronger in these countries than in Sweden or in Switzerland, where I lived.

Rebecca: As you had children as you were moving into these different spaces, did you find that your parenting style shifted as you shifted cultures?

Fabrizio: Yeah, to some extent it has. I mean, it’s hard not to adopt somehow because to some extent, the way other parents behave and expect you to behave affects you as a parent. At the same time, of course, I was bringing with me my own cultural way of thinking so sometimes that led to some little cultural clash. I remember when I decided that it was a good idea for my daughter to start school at six, which is unusually early for Sweden where kids start at seven. I had some discussion with the teachers and the offices, because they weren’t so sure this would be a good idea. I guess part of the reason why somehow I compromised with the local culture and I also kept my own perspective is because I’ve never been sure in which country I would eventually live and my daughter would eventually live. So I kept behaving perhaps more like an international parent than as a parent that lives and grow children in a particular place. And somehow what we argued in the book is that people—we as parents—adjust the way we do parenting to the type of society we expect our children to live in. So I was in Sweden, but I was never thinking perhaps I would stay for good there,

Matthias: And so moving on just from school, another example of the ways in which parenting has got more intensive is that now there’s a lot more supervision for children. In the United States, it’s now rare to see children just walk on their own to school. And in my own parenting, we really do adjust to this when we move back and forth between the U.S. and Europe. So when I’m in at home in Evanston, we don’t really let our kids go out on their own to the playground or to go to friends. And to some extent that’s a reaction to the environment, because nobody else is doing it. If I were to send my kids to the street, and we’re the only ones there, there’s not much for them to do. And because nobody else is doing it—and because I think by law, you’re not supposed to leave kids alone at all until age 14—it would be maybe even risky to do that. Maybe the police would pick them up if they’re called by somebody. But then maybe go to my parents house in Germany in the summer, it’s a different culture. There’s lots of kids on the streets and so we just tell the eight-year-old, “Just go out and do whatever you want and just come back when you’re done playing with your friends,” and so there’s also this quite direct feedback from what other parents do, to what other kids do, to what your own constraints are. That’s one of the examples of how the environment affects what parents do. But of course, we think that this economic dimension—which affects education first and foremost—is the most important one.

John: In terms of economics, you use economic analysis throughout the book, or at least a general economic approach to analyzing these issues. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what you assume motivates parents in terms of their incentives and also the constraints that are faced? You’ve already mentioned the constraints a little bit here.

Fabrizio: Yeah, as economists we tend to view choice as the result of there being some objectives and some constraints. So we think that parenting also obeys this general law. When people think of economics, they tend to think of decision involving financial aspects. But actually, this is not what we think is the most salient aspect of parenting decisions. So when it comes to objectives in particular, we think that the parents love their children and they want them to be happy human beings—as happy and successful as possible in the type of society where they live. So, we don’t think that only economic factors matter, but we do think that economic factors to some extent influence choice, and more so in societies where economic inequality is more pronounced. So if you’re out, for instance, in a society where where you study, how successful you are in education matters, but not tremendously so—which could be a description of the time in which we were born—well then parents would tend to be more relaxed and maybe emphasize more having interaction with other children, relaxed socialization, playing soccer, and coming home dirty as I was doing when I was a child. When instead that economic dimension becomes more salient, then we see the parents become more worried about it because something that the children do when they are young may have important effects when they grow up. So if society is very unequal and where you end up is largely a function of success you have in an educational career, then they become more obsessed. Now constraints are also very important. Some constraints are of course of financial nature so if schools are expensive, parents have to figure out if they can afford it or if they have to save or if they have to borrow in order to be able to send their children to school. But there’s also other constraints. Maybe some type of cognitive constraints so parents themselves having an education may imply that they are better at handling some situations, they have more social skills to which they can influence their children’s way of thinking, and the entire structure of the family matters. So if there is only one person in the family that works, there is a shortage of time to spend with children. If there is good institutional support like I had in Sweden, in the form of high-quality daycare, that makes it easier somehow for a family to handle, especially for families that don’t receive help from outside or from families where there is only one person earning or just one person in the family like a single-parent situation. This is all the set of constraints. And the set of objectives is love and concern for the children. How much weight is put on economic consideration largely depends on the environment where a family growsl children.

Rebecca: In your book, you talk about three different parenting styles. Can you talk a little bit about each of those styles and what kind of environments they tend to evolve in?

Matthias: So the three parenting styles we discuss, these styles have come from developmental psychology…so some archetypes that been discovered in a different field that we examine from the economic perspective. And so the three styles are the permissive parenting style where you give kids a little freedom, there’s the authoritarian parenting style where you prescribe particular choices and expect obedience from the children, and there’s the authoritative style, where you also try to influence the kids in a certain direction, but with a different method…just more based on persuasion and arguments as opposed to just expecting obedience. And so the first decision here is the one between permissive parenting where you give freedom to the kids and the two other styles which are more interventionist. And we argue that to understand why you would intervene in the first place, that there has to be some kind of disagreement. There has to be some initial disagreement about what the kids should do between the parent and the child. And of course, every parent knows that there’s tons of different areas of disagreement from using the iPad, doing the dishes, and lots of other things. But what we argue in the book is that perhaps the most important one is one that has to do with patience and valuing the future versus the present. So I think most parents would wish on the margin that their kids would think a little bit more about long-run consequences about the value of starting to know the value of not getting into trouble, whereas the kids on the margin perhaps think a bit more about enjoying the present, just having fun right now. So there’s this tension between “should I spend time investing in the future—preparing myself?”—or just enjoy this moment? And we think this tension is really there for most parents, for most children, most of the time. But what really varies is the extent to which, from the parents’ perspective, preparing for the future really is important. How high the stakes are in this decision between being more interventionist and being more relaxed. This is where economic inequality comes in because if you think—for example—of this whole dimension of, say, working hard for school, if inequality is relatively low and your future standing in society does not depend hugely on being the very best student in math in your class, well then the parents can afford to relax a little bit more. Of course there’s an upside to that too. It’s always a trade off because being interventionist might have some long-run benefits. There’s also costs, partly in terms of being less relaxed and maybe a little less fun right now, but there might also be other costs such as independence, being able to be free, also giving more room for kids to discover their own passions and really finding out what they’re excited about. So there’s this tension between intervening to prepare the kids for the future and letting go and inequality drives that basic choice. So this kind of tells us why permissive or why interventionists, and then other trade offs determine in which particular way you may want to intervene.

John: So for people who grew up in the 50s and 60s when income inequality was lower in most advanced economies, there was less pressure on kids to be successful and so forth, so parents generally adopted a less interventionist approach. And you also mentioned the same sort of thing across countries now when you compare, for example, Sweden and Switzerland.

Fabrizio: Right.

Matthias: That’s right.

Fabrizio: The level of economic inequality, but also the level of government-mandated redistribution is highly correlated with the adoption of different parenting styles. If we put a country on a line where we measure them by an increasing extent of inequality, we would have at the bottom of this line Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and also other central European countries like the Netherlands and Germany. Switzerland would be pretty much there in the in the medium to low inequality. And on the opposite extreme, we would have countries like the United States or the United Kingdom, and even more so, China, where the extent of the income inequality is high and in the case of the U.S., also the extent of our distribution is more limited. Now, when we measure—and we do this by looking at various data and various service—we try to classify parents according to their parenting style. The regularity that we find is that in countries with low inequality, parents tend to be systematically more permissive, and in countries with high inequality, parents tend to be systematically more authoritative to some extent also more authoritarian. So this is the type of pattern that we emphasize across countries and when we look somehow into this black box of the various archetypes and we see what values parents emphasize. Well, for instance, the World Values Survey is a data set that is based on a questionnaire that are posed to parents and parents are asked what values they regard as important in child rearing, and they can select out of a list of ten up to five of them. Well, the most preferred values for Scandinavian parents are independence and imagination. When you go to the United States, hard work is a much more common answer and when you go to China, as many as 90% of people think that hard work is a cardinal value in child rearing. And it’s not only Scandinavia versus U.S. and China, it looks like it’s true across the entire spectrum of countries. A bunch of countries that are in the in the middle in terms of inequality would be Italy, France, Spain, Canada, would also be in the middle of this scale. We were quite surprised because as economists when we look at differences across countries, these patterns are there when you look at some variety of factors, but they are rarely so strong as we have found in this case. Another thing that I want to add is that it’s not only true when you compare the country with another country in the same year. Because this survey has been repeated over time, we can also see how the attitudes of people—and of parents in particular—change over time as a function of the level of income inequality. And what you find is extremely interesting: that the speed at which different trends develop depends on the change in income inequality. So if a country starts from a given level of inequality and inequality grows very fast, then we see that the share of parents who are permissive actually declines faster than another country where the process of increase of income inequality has been slower. I emphasize the aspect of growing income inequality because almost in any country in the world in the period you look at, there has been increasing income inequality, but the speed of this change has been different across countries. So in the United States, the change has been much faster than say in the Netherlands or in Sweden. One could suspect that, “Well, Scandinavians are different from Americans in many other aspects and that may be why the society is organized around different principles,” but when you look at the changes within each country, it’s very hard to make this objection because cultural traits—the way more broadly we think about them—they don’t change that fast. So we think that economic change really must be really an important factor. Of course, we don’t argue that it is the only factor but we think is an important factor in the transformation of the way people do parenting.

John: When you build this case, it seems so obvious, and I had never thought of this before. And I first saw an article about your book, and I read your book and some of your papers, and you make a really compelling case for this in the book and you provide a lot of data on this and I’m really impressed. Your book provides a really nice explanation of the rise of both tiger moms and helicopter parents and I think that’s something that a lot of faculty have seen in their students. What are the implications of having this changing mix of students in terms of teaching?…in terms of how we approach teaching students?

Matthias: It’s a very interesting question because it has to do a bit with this trade off between what we call the authoritative and the authoritarian style because the authoritative style, we use one where you work a lot with trying to explain to kids the reason for why we want them to do something, the reason for why studying is a good idea, why you should care about the future, why you should apply yourself and be conscientious. Now, why would people use this approach of being authoritative as opposed to just being authoritarian like in the old days and just tell them, “Do this and don’t ask questions?” Well, we think it has exactly to do with the fact that higher education has become more important, because for the authoritarian style to work — for you to be able to say “Do this, don’t even ask why. Just follow my instructions,” two things have to be true. First of all, you have to be in the right—you have to know what’s the right thing to do for the kid—and you have to have some kind of control, you have to be there to exert that pressure. And sometimes with kids, that’s the right approach and it all makes sense. If I think of if my five year old trying to run on the street…. I can grab him and tell him, “Don’t do this” because I know what the right thing is to do and I have the control to immediately impose this decision on him without going through a long argument why it’s a good idea for you not to be run over by a car. [LAUGHTER] And nowadays, the bigger conflict is about other stuff, about getting education and kind of getting ahead in life and for that college education becomes more and more important.

John: You mentioned the shift from more authoritarian parents in earlier generations going back for centuries to more authoritative parents, where you’re more likely to invest more time in teaching students and spending more time with them and I think some of that has been mirrored in how college teaching has been changing. If we go back to when I started teaching—sometime last century—it was really common for the instructor just to stand on the stage and lecture, and now we do much more with active learning, and we also spend much more time with our students, I think—or at least in general there’s been a shift to much more time-intensive instruction—and also much more focus on explaining why we do things the way we do. I think that mirrors the change that we’ve been seeing in terms of parenting as well, because students now expect to know why they’re doing something in ways that wasn’t true when I was a student.

MATHIAS: That’s right. And if you did the authoritative things successfully by the time the kids hit college, they should understand why they’re there, what they’re trying to learn, and they should have that self motivation, which makes it a very different process from having kids that don’t want to be there where you just have to—against their will—feed them some information. So that thinking would suggest that having authoritative parenting so more kids could really understand why they’re doing this thing would actually make it easier to teach them, would make it more fun, would make it—in a way—more successful. Which goes really against this notion that you often read in newspapers that helicopter parenting creates the opposite. Because there’s also this fear that helicopter parenting creates these kids that don’t really know how to take care of themselves, that have lost their independence, and therefore are lost once they’re get into college. If you look at the data of course, those cases do exist. I’m sure there’s some parents who really do over-parent—if you want to use the term—and where the kids do have some trouble adjusting to adulthood once college comes along. But on average I don’t really think that’s true because kids really do pretty well in college, and especially the ones that come from the backgrounds for helicopter parenting or more authoritative parenting is very common, they’re very likely to complete college. When you look at differences in educational success across social groups, a lot of the difference really comes from being able to complete college as opposed to the decision to enroll in the first place. And so it’s really about these skills that you’ve acquired during childhood to apply yourself to work on your own behalf to pull through this demanding program that you’ve placed yourself in, which makes a big difference for success. And so authoritative parenting, if done right, should actually help get to that.

Fabrizio: If I may add something on this…By having changed countries so often I have seen probably more of the cross-country variation and I don’t know how teaching was done twenty years ago—I wasn’t there—but I can say something. In Sweden, there is this very strong element of independence. This is a very cardinal value in parenting. And when you see undergraduate students, you notice that they are somehow more adult in a sense. They have their own personality and it was very pleasant to interact with them in a sense. It is because they would ask questions based on some genuine motivation. It was much harder to induce them to do a lot of work. [LAUGHTER] So requests of doing this by the following week would often be ignored, but not in that confrontational way. You know. It’s kind of: “It’s too much, and then we don’t do.” So if I compare with the students I have at Yale—who are awesome students as you can expect—they have also the same genuinel desire to learn, and at the same time, I would never hear students tell me, “No this is too much, you are too demanding,” it will just not come to their mind that it would probably be something they would never want to say in front of a teacher or other students. On the less positive side, there is this obsession for grades, students spend a lot of time to talk about that. So there is a lot of interaction and you have to explain—which of course, I’m happy always to do—again, when I was in Sweden or in other countries, this was not the case. I rarely remember having a discussion with students about the way that the grades they took, and it’s because they didn’t think it was overall so important. And that’s again, part of the society that is very competitive in which students, I think they have a genuine desire to learn, but they also think this is where it’s very important that what type of signal it provides for the future.

John: I’ve also seen this a bit in my classes with international students. Korean students, for example, appear to be used to a more authoritarian type of instruction where it’s generally lecture based, and they tend to be very uncomfortable in questioning the teacher or challenging concepts. They come from a background where that’s perhaps less common. I think your model explains quite a bit here. In terms of the shift from a more authoritarian to a more authoritative parent, might this be tied to the whole demographic transition and the changing fertility across countries in terms of parental investments in children?

Matthias: So we generally think that the most important reason for more prevalent authoritative parenting—the decline of authoritarian parenting—is that the key decisions children are expected to make now take place relatively late. Think back to 200 years ago, kids would be living with their parents, there would be no school, and so kids would be under the control of their parents all the time, and they would probably also adopt the same occupation their parent was. Most children of farmers would also be in agriculture so the parents would really know what they have to know. So you would be in an environment where the parents know what the kids need to know, they can teach them directly, and they have the control, that makes being authoritarian very easy. So what has changed is that now most important decisions for kids take place outside of the home in school, later in university. So in a way kind of functioning on your own, having the right values on your own is more important. And in addition, there’s also this fact, there’s more occupational mobility, so children are relatively unlikely to do exactly the same thing as their parents were doing and that makes it valuable to have more independence and more ability to acquire knowledge on your own without being fed directly by your parents. So these are broad economic trends that are relatively independent of population. But what you’re mentioning is the population growth, I think, also plays into that because the other important factor is that the authoritative style—so the more argumentative style—is much more time intensive. It’s just much quicker to just tell the kid, “Don’t do this, don’t touch this, don’t go there,” as opposed to really explaining every time the reason for every particular decision. And so if you think about the change in family size that people used to have four, five, six kids in the family, you just wouldn’t have had the time. It would have been impossible to teach each and every kid in great detail the reasons behind every decision. Even in my own family we have three kids—which is really small by historical standards—but we certainly in a way are more authoritarian with the last child, with the third child, because we just don’t have enough time. We don’t have the same time to explain each and every step to the third one who’s competing for time with the older ones, as opposed to the first child who you can really take the time to explain everything in great detail. You would think there’s a broader economic trend, but it’s really reinforced by the decline in family size, which now means that the time that parents have available for each and every child has gone up by a lot, and so there’s more explanation based or argumentative approach of the authoritative parenting style. It’s really much more feasible than it used to be.

Rebecca: What’s the relationship of changing gender roles? So more women in the workforce in relationship to parenting styles?

Fabrizio: Our general scheme is that parents want to prepare children for the world in which they are expected to grow as adults. So we think that gender role is very influenced by these principles. So in a society where women are heavily discriminated in the labor market, that tends to create in parents the incentive to prepare women for a different type of life than in a society like the one in which we live where this is hopefully more and more gender neutral. So we think that today because the opportunity of education for instance (actually, girls take more education than boys on average. Well that fosters a motive to parents to grow boys and girls according to the same principles, but in the earlier days where the measure of success for a woman was mostly through the marriage market and through the opportunities of moving up the social ladder by marrying someone richer, well then it was a completely different situation in which different type of values that were emphasized. So somehow we think that there is an interdependence between some type of cultural prejudice in the way labor markets and institutions function, and the way parents grow their children. Even parents who may not be heavily prejudiced about gender roles in the past may have emphasized more of a different type of upbringing because that’s the way in which the society would reward them. Now of course, this is an average pattern. There are always some exceptions, parents (probably mothers) who could actually push their girls against this type of prejudice and fight. We think that there is this type of, we could call it the multiplier effect. If you have some type of institution that distorts the behavior of some people, then parenting would tend to emphasize its importance.

Matthias: And so we look at some surveys both in the United States and international data where people were asked about particular gender-based attitudes, for example, this view. You might ask people, “Do you think that the men and women have different work and they shouldn’t do each other’s? And there’s separate spheres that’s appropriate for women and men to keep.” And people who agree with those values that there’s really a strict separation between genders, they’re also much more likely to apply strict separation how they raise boys and how they raise girls, and have different parenting styles to both. Often they’re more authoritarian with the girls, trying to put them into a particular gender role. So you see very clearly a mapping from people’s views of what the role is like and whether it’s appropriate for men and women to be separate into the kind of education or the kind of parenting that they apply to their own children. Interestingly, once you take account these attitudes about gender, it doesn’t actually matter whether you’re looking at the mother or the father. So mothers who have these views are just as likely to be emphasizing different gender roles as fathers are. So it’s not really about the gender of the parents; it’s about their views about gender roles. And in the data of course, these things have changed a lot, we think to a large extent because of technological change, because nowadays, in an economy where it’s easy to run the household with very little time, we have appliances, we have also ready-made food restaurants and grocery stores, so it isn’t really necessary from an economic perspective anymore to have a strict separation of gender roles. This has over time also become reflected in parenting, which now is really much more gender equal than it used to be.

Rebecca: We talked a lot about different value systems that influence the parenting style. Do those same value systems impact the values that the children ultimately adopt?

Matthias: It’s an interesting relationship because we do think that broad technological changes have a lot to do with how these changes come about in the first place, but there’s also very clear evidence that these other immediate changes, there’s some persistence in the values that children are exposed to as children and the values that are taken to their own adulthood. So we do think technology is important, but culture and technology and economic change ultimately interact in interesting ways. Just to give one example of this, there is a study done by another economist who looks at gender attitudes based on how you were raised as a child yourself. And so the study finds that if you look at men today whose mothers were working when they were children…so go back thirty, forty years when the current adults were little and see if their moms were working, which would have been in the 50s and 60s, would have been a relatively small fraction of mothers back then. So if you look at those boys and men today, you find they will be much more likely to be married to a woman who’s in the labor force also. There seems to be some kind of transmission of values that if your own mom was working, that you find the setup of having two working parents just the normal thing, you’re much more likely to end up in that kind of family yourself. Now, this is not that you’re subject to different technology, it’s really just that you had a certain experience as a child that formed your own expectations and that goes then to express your own life choices later on.

Fabrizio: Our work is also related to Nobel Laureate James Heckman from University of Chicago. Heckman has this view—that tested also in a number of empirical studies—that there is a process of skill formation that takes different stages and it’s like our mind and our set of values is very malleable at an early stage. So when children are small, they are very much subject to the influence of parents and of other peers, then this malleability decreases with age. There is still some influence that parents and the environment—perhaps even more so the environment—have on teenagers, and then somehow the set of cognitive and non-cognitive skills becomes more or less fixed when a person reaches 16, 17 years. And that’s a way which we think—and actually we are doing currently research in this direction—that’s the way in which we think the process how these values stick with children. So some of the choices parents have made may turn out exposed to be the wrong ones because it’s not so easy to forecast entirely what will happen in the future, but this will be part of the personality and the set of skills that children have.

John: Now, with income inequality growing and with the returns to education being relatively high, that persistence from generation to generation can make income inequality worse in terms of educational investment. One of the things you talk about in your book is how investment in education is tending to magnify the gaps in income. Could you talk perhaps a little bit about that?

Fabrizio: Let me start with one remark. What we emphasize is that the nature of parenting itself can actually create additional barriers for the poor. So somehow in a society which parents are more relaxed and somehow they are more withdrawn, then children will be subject to the effect of the environment, to the effect of schools, but back in the 1960s, 1970s, segregation across different neighborhoods was much less strong. So children were exposed to more similar types of environment, even children coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Nowadays on the one hand we have more segregation at the residential level. So educated people tend to live in neighborhoods where there are other educated people, tend to marry among themselves, and in addition, parents put a lot of emphasis in trying to guide their children. As the result, the barriers for the most advantaged becomes bigger because this type of intensive parenting requires time, it requires financial resources, it requires soft skills that they may be in short supply. So there are barriers that are part of the educational process because acquiring high-quality education is, of course, expensive—that’s a traditional argument for why segregation across neighborhoods… also the fact that schools are locally funded create barriers—but there is also an additional hurdle that is imposed, which is by the changing nature of parenting. It’s somehow in a race in which the disadvantaged groups tend to be more and more disadvantaged because the demand for parents grow and it’s very hard for people who don’t have the resources to keep up.

Matthias: So the big question is, does an increase in inequality increase inequality in parenting also or does it lower inequality in parenting? What we find in the data is that the increase in inequality makes everybody try harder. So we certainly do see across the entire population that, for example, the time that parents devote to parenting, doing things like doing homework with the kids, it goes up for everybody. There’s a sense in which all different groups are subject to this general change. The question is for whom is this impact larger? You might argue that it could in fact, be reducing inequality, if for example, if the rich and well educated households felt very secure that even if they don’t try very hard their kids will do well— as a tend to in the data— and it would be then the maybe less educated or somewhat poorer households who try harder to catch up with them. And what we’ll see in the data is the opposite, that as inequality has gone up, increases in the parenting effort has been actually the strongest for the ones who start with high advantages to begin with. So if you look at time use, you see that the more educated households have increased their time devoted to parenting more than the average households. You see with spending even more clearly that the spending on parenting tasks, including spending on extracurricular activities, on private school, on tutoring, those have gone up a little bit for everybody, but much faster for the richer households. So the data is very clear that the increase in inequality has increased inequality in parenting also, I think to a large extent for the reasons Fabrizio mentions. And that rising inequality has made constraints more binding for those who have less to begin with. And this is where the concern for the evolution of inequality comes into play. Because if inequality in parenting goes up, it means for the next generation, the difference will be even larger. So if you look at parenting 45 years from now when today’s kids are going to be the parents, the differences in starting positions for that generation will be amplified compared to what we have today. So this really creates this risk of a spiral where high inequality breeds more inequality in parenting and more inequality of parenting breeds more inequality in starting conditions down the road.

John: If we’d like to see a society where everyone had more equal opportunity to rise in the income distribution, what could we do to provide more equal opportunities for all children in society in terms of changing the structure of education and so on?

Matthias: So there’s really a lot of different angles you could start but I think there’s two that are the most important ones. The first angle is the one of early childhood education because we have learned from other research—Fabrizio already mentioned Nobel Laureate Jim Heckman and his co-authors who have done a lot of work on this—we’ve looked at this research that the first three years of life are really a crucial time of skill formation. A lot of the skills that will help you later on are formed. It’s not so much cognitive skills, it’s not that you’re supposed to learn to read and write and do arithmetic from zero to four but it’s more noncognitive skills such as patience, conscientiousness, perseverance in a task, trying to trust your own ability to do things, so basic abilities which are really very useful for your education career later on. And right now, we have a huge inequality in this because some households invest tremendously in those first few years, or pay for expensive private preschools to provide those skills versus others just don’t have the same possibility. As to providing more equal and perhaps free access to high quality early education I think would be the most important single thing you could do to lower inequality. And by the way, we talked a lot about international evidence. We do see that countries that have lower inequality in parenting and then income inequality overall, such as Scandinavia or such as Netherlands, Belgium, France that do have this infrastructure. So that’s really the place to start. I think the other end of education—what happens when you finish with school—is also important. So I think one of the challenges for the United States right now is that college has become more and more the only option for success. We don’t really have a clearly defined path to success that doesn’t go through college right now. And there used to be other ways of doing this, there used to be more vocational training, for example, in high school. Other countries such as the German speaking countries have apprenticeship systems where kids can do a combined program of learning a more practical skill at a business and also getting some schooling from a state-run school to have a broader skill set at the beginning of their career without going through this one bottleneck of college, which right now has become really the one thing that everybody worries about. So improving education at the beginning and the end of the schooling career, those we think are the most promising approaches. Of course, there’s other directions you can take too, but those would be good ones to start.

Fabrizio: Actually, if I can emphasize something that Mathias has already hinted at, I think the provision of free daycare would make a huge effect. And people don’t understand this, but it would not be so expensive. Free daycare means—of course, this has to be paid out of tax money—but people can work more hours when there is daycare and that’s somehow one the miracles of Scandinavian society, and that creates tax revenue so people are going to pay for a large part of the service. So it’s not so expensive as many times that American voters perceive it. It’s feasible, it’s reasonable, and it’s also possible to provide a high quality service that satisfies and serves a very large constituency of society. So when we were in Sweden—my daughter was in preschool—we found that the quality of the service extremely good. Then we moved to London where this is provided on a private basis, and so we had to spend a lot of money, but we searched for something that was referenced to us as the absolute top quality place—or one of those—and we did not find that the quality of the service was higher. And one of the things that is important that happens in daycare—actually I presented the book yesterday here in Norway, and that was the subject of a lengthy discussion—as people are telling me, “Well, all these activities that you talk about that parents do with their small children bringing them here in a public place or another, well, to a large extent are provided in our daycare centers.” And so parents at that point, they do not feel the responsibility for that because they know they are provided. Now, this sometimes sounds a little suspicious to Americans, “Why should people not have the possibility to choose?” Of course, they can always complement that with activities of their own choice, but somehow it’s also a very strong mechanism of equalizing opportunities. Because if it turns out that instead of doing it in the public daycare, I do things in some type of private club, well that private club will only be accessible to certain people and not to other people. And so, this is a way in which if opportunities are strongly equalized, and again, not at a very high financial costs for society overall. Other types of interventions at a later age are also useful, but they are comparatively speaking more expensive. So I think that this would be something where it would be very important to open a debate in American society and understanding that this can be done without having a huge blow on the tax-cost for taxpayers.

Rebecca: It seems like it can be a really valuable opportunity to help develop a growth mindset in kids because it would happen really early on, which would give them an advantage because they wouldn’t see themselves as having a fixed limitation on skill sets or possibilities. They might troubleshoot better, they might be more imaginative in solutions, and things like that. I could see a lot of power in doing that, especially as someone who has a toddler in daycare right now. [LAUGHTER] So as a parent of a small child, I’m always wondering, where’s the trend of parenting going? Where should I be at? What should I be doing?

Fabrizio: Well in this book—some parents may find this disappointing, but I hope not too much—we don’t try to teach parents to do good parenting, but we’re trying to understand how parents behave. I think along the way, one can also learn some lessons and in many cases, we ourselves behave in a certain way because that’s the common norm and we don’t think much about. We think that economic factors first affect those norms, but perhaps, there are ways in which we can slightly deviate from the norms. And in terms of recommendation, I would say there is an element of rationality in these trends, perhaps there is also an element of fancy, and I think that probably the same results sometimes can be achieved with being intensive parents, but avoiding the excesses of stress that in the end sometimes may end up into disappointments. I heard a story of someone I don’t know personally (but it was relayed to me that someone was reading the book) of a child who did extremely well in high school and at some point after getting admission in some of the top universities, he decided to drop out from one of those places and to move to a less ambitious one because he felt so stressed after so many years of intensity in high school that in the end, this was too much. So I think that somehow taking a break every now and then is a good idea. Now, where is more generally parenting heading for the future? It’s a question that we also address in the book. We see the trend to growing inequality, it’s actually continuing, and there are also some new tendencies that we observed in the last 10 or 15 years that should perhaps be taken into account. So a lot of jobs that used to be relatively good jobs are disappearing, we expect the speed of automation for instance to increase. So somehow people perhaps should think about that, and it may not be so important which school one takes, but rather which major is chosen. Sometimes people just, like in the recent days, the debate was about parents who are cheating to entering some of the top universities [LAUGHTER] and this was something that is closely related also to what we discussed, because it shows how crazy this can get and the parents who are really willing to pay all their money and also to indulge in illegal activities. But somehow we think that the direction of technical change could be guessed better. And even the empirical evidence shows that majoring in some subject more math oriented in a good college may actually lead to a higher income than majoring in some other subjects for which the demand will be lower in a higher rated college. So I think that this is going to be important because we see many jobs that are disappearing and so there is a lot of concentration on demands in some sectors. The people who will be able to control and direct the process of further automation and generation of new technologies, I think, will have an edge. I really hope that we’ll continue to be also a culture of humanistic knowledge. Originally I started as a student majoring in history—so I have it very much in my heart—but I think that the number of jobs produced in that area will continue to shrink. So perhaps it would be better to have a few and very good historians rather than a large number of people who major in history, but then they have to take jobs that have nothing to do with what they learn through their formal education. So we think that there is a scope for looking at and maybe many times when we look at what society we live today, and we just project these towards the future, but the society which our children are going to grow is not the same in which we live today.

Matthias: So a lightly more daring thought in the same direction. When you think of the technology of, the history of technological change, you can think of what has happened in the last 30 years or so as really the replacement of manual skills, of just strength, by automation. That has really increased a lot, the return to cognitive skills such as math skills, which are now in very high demand. And so to predict the future, you have to take a stand on what skills are going to be replaced by the next wave of technological advances and which are still going to be there. Just one possibility I want to mention is that technological change may also increase or replace at least some of the more cognitive skills. We see now that some jobs in the legal profession are now being replaced by artificial intelligence or even some jobs that used to be relatively well protected—or considered well protected—are now under threat. And so from this perspective, I want to put the spotlight on the third main area of skills, which is social skills: being able to work with other people, to relate to others, to build relationships, and that’s a skill that already has gone up quite a lot over time in how important it is for expanding wages. And from my perspective, at least, I think it might be one of the skills that is the best protected from automation, at least in the short-term. So one could also make the argument that there is for safety, some argument to be made to maybe try to teach your kid not to be too hyper-competitive and just be focused on being the best in class, but also to develop those social skills of working in groups, working with others, and being social. That’s certainly something that’s nice to have in general, but I think there’s also at least some reasons to think that the economy will keep rewarding those skills over some of the others.

Fabrizio: If I can bring in a concrete example of this again, a cross-country comparison. While my daughter was in high school in Switzerland, where math skills are very heavily emphasized. So she was working very hard toward math—and I’m in Norway at this moment, I’m visiting University of Olso—so I have friends I was asking, “What are your children doing?” Actually they have the same age as my daughter, and he says, “Well, you know, you will laugh. They they have to come home and to bake some cakes.”

I said, “What are you talking about? Are you talking about school?” he said “No no no, this is considered a task to be done in school.” And at first I thought, “Okay, this is again another little piece of evidence that ignores the school children. Rather than learning they have fun,” [LAUGHTER] but it was explained to me that it’s not so easy because people have to run this project that they don’t have to quarrel along the way. And somehow this is viewed as something very formative and this is very much ingrained in Scandinavian society. People are somehow told to cooperate and I think that in in other societies the ability to cooperate is, you know, competition somehow can harm the ability to cooperate. To be clear, I’m not saying competition is all bad. To the opposite I think that sometimes I feel that Scandinavians are too averse to competition and I think that the desire to improve oneself is an important drive in the process of economic growth, but there may be excess on that.

Rebecca: I think that that gives us a lot of thought as educators to think about where our curriculum might go, what we want to emphasize as teachers, and then also just understanding our students better by understanding who their parents are. It’s been really interesting.

John: And with artificial intelligence, it’s very difficult to predict what types of jobs and what types of skills will be replaced. So perhaps one thing we should focus on is preparing students for a lifetime of learning.

Matthias: That’s right.

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

Matthias: So Fabrizio already hinted at this—that we are working on a new project along the same lines, which really has to do with the direct environment in the sense of the peers or the neighborhoods in which kids grow up in. My oldest child is 11 years old so about to turn into a teenager and I’m already now wrestling with the reality that once they become teenagers, kids really are much less dependent on their parents. It’s known from a lot of research that in early years, kids really do like their parents a lot, they do listen to them, but at some point that stops and that from teenage years on, the peer group is much more important than the direct influence of the parent. But of course, it doesn’t mean the parenting stops, but it means that parenting now works a different way. That for the older kids, really the key choices that parents have to make is choices that form what the environment is for the peer groups. I think parents think a lot about, for example, which neighborhood to move into based on how good the school is but also about what the other families are there. Are there other families? Are there other kids? Are they going to share values that are going to be a good environment for my kid to interact? There’s actually a lot of data on this. We have empirical studies that gather a lot of detailed information on what parents do. For example, do they allow the kids to only play with certain kids to try to form who their friends are allowed to be? Do they make a choice on which particular class or which particular school to go and do they give more independence to the kids to make their own choices here? And we have all this information in these same data sets on who these peers are. Are they in trouble? What are their grades? Are they going to be productive companions for these kids? We see a lot of interactions—very interesting interactions there—between what the peer group is like and how the parents interact. So I think for understanding how parenting evolves from the early years to the teenage years, really understanding how parents work to shape the peer group and influence these other influences on the children, this is a key challenge for the economics of parenting which we are trying to explore next.

John: Well we’re looking forward to seeing more of this research.

Rebecca: Yeah thank you so much for joining us today.

John: Thank you.

Matthias: Thanks for having us.

Fabrizio: It’s been a pleasure.

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

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

John: Editing assistance provided by Kim Fisher, Chris Wallace, Kelly Knight, Joseph Bandru, Jacob Alverson, Brittany Jones, and Gabriella Perez.

77. First-Generation Students

The process of transitioning from high school to college can be quite challenging, especially for first-generation college students. In this episode, Dr. Lisa Nunn joins us to explore a variety of techniques that we can use to help first-year and first-year students successfully navigate this critical period in their educational journey.

Lisa is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of San Diego, and the author of 33 Simple Strategies for Faculty: A Week-By-Week Resource for Teaching First-Year and First-Generation Students.

Show Notes

  • Dr. Lisa Nunn – Lisa Nunn’s website.
  • Nunn, Lisa. (2018). 3 Simple Strategies for Faculty: A Week-By-Week Resource for Teaching First-Year and First-Generation Students. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press
  • Dr. Nunn’s forthcoming coming book – College Belonging: How First-Year and First-Generation Students Navigate Campus Life

John: The process of transitioning from high school to college can be quite challenging, especially for first-generation college students. In this episode, we explore a variety of techniques that we can use to help students successfully navigate this critical period in their educational journey.

[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.

John: Our guest today is Dr. Lisa Nunn, an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of San Diego, and the author of 33 Simple Strategies for Faculty: A Week-By-Week Resource for Teaching First-Year and First-Generation Students. Welcome, Lisa.

Lisa: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Rebecca: We’re grateful to have you. Today’s teas are:

Lisa: I’m drinking Orange Spice.

Rebecca: Yum.

John: I’m drinking Ginger Peach Black tea,

Rebecca: I’m really boring and drinking Afternoon tea again. [LAUGHTER]

John: We’ve invited you here to discuss your book, 33 Simple Strategies for Faculty. Could you tell us a bit about the research project that you engaged in that inspired this book?

Lisa: Yes, the bigger project that this book came out of is actually a project on sense of belonging among college students. So, I interviewed students in their very first semester at the end of their first year and at the end of their second year at two different universities, trying to get a sense of how students do or don’t develop a sense of belonging on campus. And what happened was, as I was interviewing students…particularly in their very first semester…I was asking them a lot of questions about academic belonging, also questions about social belonging, but the stuff that came forward for this book was mostly on academic belonging. So I would ask them, “What’s your favorite class? And what’s that professor doing that’s working for you?” and “What’s your least favorite class? And what’s that professor doing that’s not working for you?” just to get them to talk about their experiences of whether or not they felt like they belonged academically in college, or in their particular classes. And I just found myself keeping side notes. So a student would say something great that their professor did, and I would think, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to do that in my class,” and I take a little note. And then on the flip side too, students would talk about something they found particularly frustrating and I would think, “Oh, I do that,” and it never occurred to me that you could receive it that way. I’m never going to do that again. So I had this kind of running list of do’s and don’ts and I started to share them with other faculty on my own campus and it slowly developed into this idea of every single week, we could be doing just one or two targeted things that might really make a big difference at that moment in their transition to college.

John: In general, I think it’s probably a good strategy to talk to our students more and get that type of feedback. So I’m glad you did this, and I enjoyed reading the book.

Lisa: Thank you.

John: A good deal of focus in the book is actually focused on the student voices so that when you talk about a strategy, you give some examples of students. That’s a little different than most books on teaching and learning. Could you talk a little bit about why you adopted that strategy?

Lisa: It’s partly from the way that these strategies came out of a different research project. Not entirely different, I guess. But it’s a qualitative study where student voices are the data. So to show my evidence for why I was recommending this strategy or that strategy, it just made sense to include the data itself from students. But also I really wanted to give faculty a little glimpse into what it feels like to be going through the things that first-year students are going through, and particularly first-gen students just to hear, in their own words, what the world looks like and feels like for them in the classroom.

Rebecca: I think sometimes as faculty, you might have been in that position at one point in time, but perhaps it was a while ago, right?

Lisa: It was a while ago and many of us were not first-gen students. And I really think even in my own teaching, even though I might have first-year students and I know they’re in their very first semester, in my mind I think, “Oh, but they just figure it all out by the time they’re sophomores and juniors and seniors, they’ve got it all worked out,” and you forget how painful and how critical some of these ups and downs and transitional moments are in that first semester.

John: And the ones that survived to the time they get to be juniors and seniors are ones who have figured it all out, but there’s a lot of people who get lost along the way.

Lisa: Exactly right.

John: You focus both, as you noted, on first-generation and first-year students. In what ways are their interests and needs similar and different from those of other students?

Lisa: The transition to college is a real challenge for most students. And first-gen students tend to have particular challenges, but all students are getting the hang of it. Like we just said, by the time they’re in their second year, or their third year, they’ve figured out some habits that work for them, but they’re just learning those habits in that first semester. So it’s a particularly important time to pay attention to students and their brand new experiences, and they’re just figuring out what they need as well. As for first-gen students, the definition of first-gen is that you don’t have parents who have these college experiences that they can just pass on wisdom or offer unsolicited advice when you’re having a struggle of some kind. And it’s helpful for faculty and everyone on campus to just keep in mind that reaching out or offering unsolicited advice is exactly what students need and not everyone’s getting that from their family life.

Rebecca: Why is the focus on first-generation students important to closing performance gaps that result from differences in the quality of primary and secondary background education?

Lisa: So first-generation students are likely to be from low-income backgrounds…not all of them, certainly…but this is the way economics works in the United States. If you have a college degree, you have stronger earning power. So if your parents have college degrees, you’re less likely to be in a low-income neighborhood and low-income neighborhoods tend to have mediocre at best K through 12 public education. So if you went to your neighborhood school, you were just much less likely to have been prepared for college as well as your college classmates who went to some, you know, very excellent public schools or even private schools. So first-gen students and low-income…in general…students tend to come in the college doors plenty smart to handle the work and very eager and motivated to be successful, but they just may not have had that high-quality content in their physics class or their English composition class. And it’s about content and it’s also about study skills. They may not have been practicing the same kind of learning and studying and homework habits that have been really instilled in students in higher quality, more academically rigorous schools.

John: What types of strategies can instructors use to help students who haven’t been exposed to these more effective study strategies, or who have weaker backgrounds in certain areas?

Lisa: There are several. And again, many of these are the kinds of comments that students in interviews told me that their favorite professors were doing and that I realized many of them that I don’t do, and one is to offer a study guide. I used to think that giving a study guide for the midterms and final to my students meant that I was doing their thinking for them, because I try very hard on my syllabus to have weekly headings that summarize the issue at hand and on my lecture slides I have definitions of key concepts. Key concepts are in the headings of the lecture slides, I mean, I’ve really tried to sign post it. And I just didn’t realize that a lot of first-gen students don’t have the habit…they have never developed this skill…have never had to, based on the kind of high-school experiences they had…develop the skill of sifting through mountains of information and figuring out what is the most important stuff to really focus on for an exam. So, not offering a study guide only exacerbated this difference between students in my class who had excellent K through 12 educations and those who didn’t have such an excellent K through 12 education, because they already knew how to do this. And it’s a skill that you cultivate. And so I have now committed to helping cultivate that skill. I offer a study guide for the first midterm and then we work together to learn how to create such a study guide as the future midterms move on and by the final, they’re on their own. Okay, so that’s one, study guides. Also, one of my favorite strategies from this book is the mini-midterm. It’s often a week six, week seven, maybe even week eight of the semester before they get real feedback on their work after the first midterm has been given and it takes a little while for us to grade the midterms and give them back. And it’s only then, this very late moment in the semester, when students realize that they got a D or an F or maybe even a C can be heartbreaking. And they just are learning or discovering, in that moment, that their study habits aren’t quite up to snuff. And if we give them a teeny tiny, right, mine is two questions, but it’s a two-question version of the real midterm and I give it at the end of week two or the beginning of week three and I grade it as fast as I can so that they can figure out: first what my test style is like, what my grading expectations are, and also whether or not they are taking the right notes in class or thinking about the concepts in the right way to do well. So I very explicitly have this conversation about why we have the mini-midterm and that has been a game changer for my classes. And then other ways to address some other strategies in the book…about addressing this difference in levels of preparation is students tell me that they really appreciate it when their professor, like calculus professor, says, “Calculus is hard. I know it’s hard. Hang in there,” right? “This stuff is hard.” And they really feel disheartened when we say things like, “Yeah, I know this is review for most of you from your AP chemistry class,” or whatever it is. So, changing our habits of speech just a little bit can help just motivate and validate students who are feeling a little unsure or a little unhappy with how competent they feel academically in the first weeks. I also recommend that we explain our pedagogic rationales for the things that we require or prohibit in our classes. And also just to tell students right out of the gate, what is the best way to study for your class, because every professor is different. For example, I don’t want students to give me a word-for-word definition in the blue-book exam answer…the word-for-word definition that they learned from the book or learned from my lecture slides. I want them to say it in their own words so I can see if they really mastered the content rather than memorize a definition. But different classes and different professors want different things. Sometimes it is a word-for-word definition. So anyway, just to let them know exactly what we’re looking for, and why.

John: So don’t let the test be a surprise or something where students will say, “This isn’t what I was expecting,” so that students can prepare appropriately to meet the learning objectives that you set.

Lisa: Exactly. One of the students in my study called it the “Guess what’s in the professor’s head” game. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I found that trying to make things a little more explicit does change the classroom atmosphere in general. Students are much more open to letting the faculty know where they’re struggling or each other know where they’re struggling if you set those expectations up front and say things like, “Hey, maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve actually learned something new, like totally new, and learning something new is really hard.”

Lisa: That’s exactly right.

John: And that strategy you suggested of letting students know that this is going to be difficult and it’s going to be work and you’re going to have to work through those things and that everyone has to when they’re learning it, also perhaps might help build a growth mindset and I think a number of your strategies may address that growth mindset concept. Could you talk a little bit about some ways in which we can help students develop that mindset…that they can achieve?

Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. I think that the growth mindset is a helpful way to think about things, especially helping students understand that just because it’s an intro class doesn’t mean it’s easy. You’re learning a whole new discipline, a whole new way of thinking about the world, perhaps, and it might be an intro class but it’s a little bit like learning how to play guitar or learning how to dribble a soccer ball. And it takes a lot of practice and a lot of mistakes and kind of falling flat in order to get the hang of this brand new thing, and students often have this misconception that just because it’s a 100-level class and “introduction” is in the title that it’s somehow going to be easy for them, and then they’re frustrated and confused when it’s not so easy. So just having that in our minds and in the way that we communicate what’s going on in the class can help. But also, you know, thinking about failure as this phrase “failing forward,” growing and learning based on our failures rather than seeing failure as evidence that we aren’t cut out for this kind of work. And some of that, again, I think is just faculty holding that idea in our head so that when we’re just communicating in everyday ways with students that comes out, this idea that, “Yeah, a mistake is great, that tells you where you need to focus some energy for next time.” In the book I have some explicit strategies. Late in the semester I suggest sharing a failure CV, which is kind of a fun activity. I wrote one myself. It was a little embarrassing actually, to write it myself and to put it in the book about my own life and my own failures. I tried to focus on my undergraduate days, but there are also some good ones online. Students in these interviews with me tell me how successful we seem and how smart and how accomplished and it’s wonderful for them when we admit that we have failed along the way a million times. It feels very reassuring. So a failure CV, also I recommend helping students use this tool “fifteen questions to find your life purpose.” And faculty also, I call them stories of woe, sharing some academic story of woe. Some terrible mistake or bad grade or missed assignment that happened to you as an undergraduate just to let students know that it happens to all of us, and we just pick ourselves up and move forward.

Rebecca: I was just sharing some of those stories this morning. [LAUGHTER] Some of my students, who were putting too much pressure on themselves and expecting to kind of have results immediately when it was something brand new that we were just starting, expecting that somehow they were going to catch on immediately. It certainly was, I think, reassuring for the students to hear that, “You know, I also had those moments.” [LAUGHTER]

Lisa: Exactly right. And some of us even fail the class that ended up being a foundational class for the future discipline we pursued much later on. It just happens.

Rebecca: One of the other things that happens a lot for first year students is transitioning to a new place, being away from family, or just not being in a situation where maybe more structure is employed for them, and they have to make their own structure, their own study time, their own rules about eating and taking care of themselves. Can you talk a little bit about ways that faculty can help guide and support students in those ways?

Lisa: In the book, I recommend just taking a few minutes of class time…it doesn’t have to be class time, of course — and just sharing, for example, sharing what stress management activities you do in your own life. More than one first-year student told me that they didn’t have any. They had zero stress-management techniques in their repertoires of life. And they were just realizing that they needed to learn how to take time for themselves, they needed to learn how to figure out when they need some time away from people, or when they need to be around certain I don’t know, people or activities to re-energize. They’re just figuring this out. Just spending five minutes telling what you do when you need to relieve stress, or what you do to keep sane week-by-week. I also always share with them — like meditation, for example, is something I always think about doing and I never do it, so it’s kind of an aspirational stress-management technique for me, but what I actually do is go for a walk. That’s my go to. I kind of let them know that sometimes we imagine ourselves to be these much more balanced humans than we are and that’s okay, too. Stress management and just reminding them even in just small ways, small sentences, small moments that when we get overwhelmed, we cope in sometimes very unhealthy ways. Too much alcohol, too much other kinds of substances, self-sabotage, where we postpone doing something that intimidates us until it gets to the point where there’s no way that we have enough time to really do it successfully. And these are things that all of us deal with in life that are especially acute for college students with all these new routines, and new deadlines, and new expectations.

Rebecca: I feel like some students who are at the senior level, just getting ready to transition into being a professional have that same scary moment that’s happening as well, and asking those same questions or reminding them about those same strategies can be useful at that moment in time too.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s a great point.

John: One of the things you mentioned in talking to students you discovered that quite a few students had issues where they initially created a network of friends, but then sometimes that didn’t work out so well, and you suggest that one useful thing you can do in the classroom is to help students build a wider social network. Could you talk a little bit about that, and some of the strategies you recommend to help students develop a wider network?

Lisa: I recommend an explicit interview assignment — and of course, people can modify this in ways that makes sense for their own classes — but it’s around late October, early November, I discovered that first-year students, it’s not that everyone feels unsatisfied with the friendships they’ve made, but they’re all…or most of them at least…seem to be hungry for more. And what they say to me is that they feel like they would like to reach out and make some new friends but everyone seems already kind of cliqued off into their social groups, they themselves feel cliqued off, and they don’t know how to break through those barriers. And I was really surprised to discover how common this was among students and none of them seem to indicate that they knew that other people were feeling the same way. I give examples of this in the book that people can just print out and use. So I ask them to interview one person in class, and then outside of class, they have to interview at least one more person and I recommend up to five people. And I tell them explicitly, this activity is designed…yeah, you’re going to practice you know, thinking and having conversations about a sociological issue that’s important…but it’s designed on purpose right now because we know that first-year students are feeling a little hungry for more friendships. And so choose someone that you’ve kind of had your eye on as a friend and invite them to do this interview with you and maybe you’ll end up in a study group together, or maybe you’ll be able to have dinner together that night, or I don’t know what, but maybe a friendship will bloom. So, it’s very explicit in that way, in the way that I present it. And other professors that my students told me about in interviews talk about the way that the professor strategically organizes study groups among students in the class. If you’re an early-morning study person, go to the back corner of the room, if you’re a late-night study person, go to this front corner of the room, mix and mingle, exchange phone numbers, and, you know, kind of coordinating for students this ability to network in a way that they might be too shy to do on their own.

Rebecca: Or might just not have a way to facilitate on their own. I can imagine, how would you know necessarily who is an early-morning person but if you are one, that’s who you want to meet, those are the people who have the same kind of time schedules, so that seems really strategic and such an easy thing to do.

Lisa: Exactly. When that student told me about that the first time in the interview, I thought, “Oh, right. That’s about five minutes of class on the first day,” or whenever. Easy… and it really solves a problem for students.

Rebecca: It’s funny how sometimes these things can be just so easy but so easily overlooked.

Lisa: Yeah, exactly.

John: And those types of connections can help improve colleges’ retention rates and so forth because when students have more connections with other people on campus, other students, they’re much more likely to want to be successful and to want to continue. So it can help increase the odds of students staying in longer, I would think.

Lisa: That’s exactly the goal, right? I think about all of this is connected to belonging. How do we let all the members of our community know that they belong here, they’re valued here, we want them here, and their success matters to us?

Rebecca: One of the topics that are related to that academic belonging that you mentioned at the beginning of our interview that I think about a lot is how to connect first-year students to potential mentors, and how to get them connected to role models or people besides just their peer group because they don’t necessarily have an adult on campus that they look up to or can go to for things. How do you help facilitate students finding those connections?

Lisa: Some campuses like my own have structures for first-year students. I teach a class that is entirely comprised of first-year students and I am their academic advisor until they declare a major. So some institutions have tried to structure this…even that, there are students who don’t quite gravitate toward that advisor relationship and the strategies that I recommend in the book are very interpersonal. One of the strategies is just: this week, pick five students to reach out to, maybe it’s to send a short email, or maybe it’s to approach them before or after class, and just say hi and make it clear that you know who they are and they’re on your radar. I also recommend when you talk about your office hours…or first of all to talk about your office hours and to tell students what they might expect in there…but to also personally invite students when you’re chatting with them or if you have a moment before class, just kind of wander the aisles of the desk and say hi to people and make it a habit to just invite students to come and see you in office hours to talk more about something, or to get to know each other better. All of this is connected to not just being available, but being perceived as available to students. One of my favorite strategies in the book is to not seem busy. And this is really hard, because we are very busy. But students told me in these interviews that especially before and after class, this is kind of a testing ground for some students. They want to approach and ask a question, or just even say, “Hello,” or thank you for the class and they try it out to get a sense of how you might be and can they be brave enough to come to your office hours. And when we are frantically putting our things together or, if you happen to have four minutes before class starts, trying to get that one last thing read or marked up, the sense that we are too busy for them is a message that they take home. That they take very seriously. If you can just linger and just not be doing anything and just seem calm and available to be approached with a question…even just for those three-minutes, right before class starts, it makes a big difference for students feeling like they can approach us. And I also recommend holding one of your office hours just before or just after your first-year class so that you can tell students, “I’m right here, walk with me to my office if you want that office hour right now at the end of class. Let’s continue this conversation.” We all hold office hours. We all know that students can email us, but to be perceived as available is one more dimension.

John: One issue for first-year students is that, in the past when they were in high school, they often do not see going to someone’s office as being a very positive thing. So, creating that welcoming environment could be really useful. And I know this is one I struggle with because often when students stop by, I’m going to a meeting or I’m in the middle of a meeting, but making yourself open is really useful and I try to do that by saying, “I have to leave right now, but if you stop back, I’ll be here between two and five or two and six,” or something similar, and that often works in them coming back. But it is a concern I think that many of us have that we do get stuck in a lot of meetings. I had seven hours of meetings yesterday, for example, and I had a lot of students who wanted to see me about projects and I tried to accommodate them. In some cases I’ll share my phone number and tell them they can call me later if they have other questions, but it can be challenging.

Lisa: It is challenging. I remember feeling so flattered in graduate school, the first time a professor was racing off to some other meeting and had to cut our conversation short and he said, “Can we walk and talk?” and I was like, “What does that mean?” he’s like, “I need to walk over to this meeting that’s 10 minutes away. Can you walk with me?” and I was so flattered that he was willing to continue the conversation. Our campus is much smaller, it doesn’t really take 10 minutes to walk anywhere, but I try to remember that with students and just, “I have to go, but why don’t you keep asking me? Keep asking me this question, walk with me.”

Rebecca: Or “I need to eat lunch, but you’re welcome to come sit with me.” [LAUGHTER]

John: Yes.

Lisa: Yeah.

John: You suggest that it’s really helpful to be open with students and to encourage the students to come in and talk to you, but also, it’s important to maintain boundaries. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Lisa: This is something I think a lot of us learn the hard way…I know that I did…but I am completely convinced that setting boundaries is beneficial for our students as well as ourselves. So in my institution we have to hold five hours of office hours a week. That is enough time. Now certainly I’ll make appointments if someone’s schedule is crazy, but that is just enough time. I don’t need to be available at any whimsical moment that students might need me in a panic. But also emotionally, I want my students to know that I care about them, I care deeply about their wellbeing, and for me, the way to show that most effectively…of course if they’re sharing a personal trouble, to listen compassionately…but the best I can do is guide them toward the resources that might actually offer some resolution to their struggles. And I used to take on my student’s problems as my own and carry that emotional burden around and what it did was exhaust me and it made me unhelpful to other students, or even to those same students in the end, because I was depleted and it made me unhelpful to my own family and my own friends and my own self. I was just depleted. So setting healthy boundaries with the amount of emotional care that you can or are willing to give is good. You’re not short changing anyone, you’re modeling healthy behavior. You’re also practicing self-care. You know, I am not qualified to be a mental health counselor. I don’t want the job, I don’t have the credentials for it, and it doesn’t serve anyone for me to play that role at all. I can just dial the phone and help students get their own appointment with someone who can do that.

Rebecca: I think those are always good reminders.

John: I think we all fall into that at first, especially. One of the issues that many first-generation students have is that their faculty may come from very different backgrounds, their fellow students may, and they may be in a discipline where they’re underrepresented. What are some of the things you recommend to help students get past that stereotype threat?

Lisa: One is to simply add images of scholars and researchers that you’re talking about, or reading about in your class. Just add images to your lecture slides. Students may not be able to recognize from the name of the author, what this person’s background might be or whether or not it’s a person who looks like me, for example, and it’s really helpful. So I’m in sociology and this is relatively easy for me. My syllabus is full of scholars of color and women scholars and people who present their gender in nontraditional ways, and so an image is a really powerful tool to just show off the diversity in our field. And I don’t linger on the slide, I just put up the image, I say, “Here she is, we’re reading a chapter today from her first book,” and then we just move along. And I realize that some disciplines don’t have that luxury. You might be teaching a class where almost everyone is white or almost everyone is male on your syllabus. But I hope that this suggestion even helps people who teach such classes to think of creative ways to include more current scholars of color or women into their classroom, even if you’re not reading a whole week’s worth of content on someone, you might be able to present on five minutes on exciting new work in the field. And the idea is that, especially on my campus, students of color might look around the room and or look around campus and feel like it’s a world of white faces. But that’s not true entirely for academics and presenting images in this way is a very powerful message that scholars of color and women and non-gender conforming folks have a routine everyday place in the academic world. Here they are. Even if, when you look around this classroom, it may not seem that way. So that’s one. And the other strategies that I think that speak to issues like stereotype threat are again these small gestures that faculty can make to reach out to students. Just these five people that you might send a quick email to, and just share your favorite TED Talk or a great podcast that you just listened to or whatever it is, just this idea that, “You’re on my mind, I’m thinking of you.” Even if I just got your name off my roster. It doesn’t have to be some person that you actually have already established a connection with. But to really validate that student’s presence in your class, in your department, on your campus that they matter, that we see them.

Rebecca: Those are really great suggestions and again, things that are just super easy to implement, that aren’t time consuming. They just take a little time and thought, and if we have those five hours of office hours where students aren’t actually showing up, you probably have time to do it. [LAUGHTER]

Lisa: That’s the idea.

John: You’re working on another book called College Belonging: How First-Year and First-Generation Students Navigate Campus Life. What will be some of the differences in this new book?

Lisa: The current book is just a targeted…particularly for faculty…set of ideas and strategies to implement in our interactions with students. So the College Belonging book isn’t targeted that way at all but it is about this same general issue of sense of belonging for our students. As you mentioned earlier, John, sense of belonging is associated with all kinds of positive outcomes for students: better persistence rates, better graduation rates, better overall wellbeing, and the College Belonging book is more about articulating some of the issues and dynamics around developing a sense of belonging. First, this idea that students experience academic belonging separately from social belonging, even though they’re interrelated and overlap a bit, the scholarship on belonging really tends to focus on social belonging and there’s a lot less out there on what academic belonging is and how students navigate through it. And also thinking about the institutional structures at each of the two campuses in my study that really foster and promote maybe social belonging over academic belonging or vice versa. Yeah, it’s a bigger study about belonging and what the institutional features are and the particular obstacles or kind of wide-open straightforward pathways that students experience their real differences for first-gen students compared to continuing generation students, so exploring all of those differences.

Rebecca: Wow, that sounds really exciting.

Lisa: I think it is.

Rebecca: Yeah. Sounds super interesting.

John: It does.

Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking what’s next? So that’s… it’s coming, but what’s next?

Lisa: This bigger book, it’s not written yet. So what’s coming is the next book on the larger dynamics of sense of belonging at college, and where this book 33 Simple Strategies is targeted for faculty interactions with students, the College Belonging book will have recommendations for institutions.

Rebecca: That’s great.

Lisa: I have no idea what’s going to be next next after that, so that’s good as I can get you. [LAUGHTER]

John: Writing a book is plenty.

Lisa: Thank you, it feels like it.

Rebecca: Yeah, and that’s not going to take any time or anything, so. [LAUGHTER]

Lisa: You know, I’m just going to whip that out this weekend.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: We’ll check back next week to see.

Rebecca: Get an update.

Lisa: I’ll send you a draft.

[LAUGHTER]

John: Thank you for joining us. This was really interesting.

Rebecca: Yeah, I can’t wait to see your next book and also to try some of the things that were in the book we just talked about today.

Lisa: Thank you so much. I’m glad that these ideas are useful.

Rebecca: Well, thank you. This was really great.

[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 Kim Fisher, Chris Wallace, Kelly Knight, Joseph Bandru, Jacob Alverson, Brittany Jones, and Gabriella Perez.

72. Maintaining Balance

How can faculty and students maintain a healthy lifestyle while managing their stressful workloads? In this episode, Dr. Amy Bidwell joins us to discuss strategies that faculty and students can use to create a more productive learning environment. Amy is an associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness at the State University of New York at Oswego.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: How can faculty and students maintain a healthy lifestyle while managing their stressful workloads? In this episode, we discuss strategies that faculty and students can use to create a more productive learning environment.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

John: Our guest today is Dr. Amy Bidwell, an associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness at the State University of New York at Oswego. Welcome, Amy.

Amy: Thank you, John.

John: How can faculty and students maintain a healthy lifestyle while managing their stressful workloads? In this episode, we discuss strategies that faculty and students can use to create a more productive learning environment.

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

Amy: I do not have tea this morning.

Rebecca: That’s disappointing. Are you drinking anything?

Amy: I am drinking water.

Rebecca: That sounds healthy.

Amy: It is very healthy.

John: I have pineapple ginger green tea.

Rebecca: I have my good old English Afternoon. Faculty and professional staff have regularly asked for professional development related to work-life balance. And you’ve done some workshops for us on this topic that have been wildly popular. Faculty have many demands on their time and attention…. from students and teaching to colleagues and committees to family and personal obligations. So if we’re so far out of balance, how do we get back into balance?

Amy: Well, Rebecca, that’s actually pretty interesting because I fall out of balance quite a bit and I would say that the key is that people don’t understand… they need to take time for themselves. We schedule all these things into our day, we’re constantly running around here and there, we forget to stop and smell the roses. And it’s interesting because you can actually be so much more efficient if you actually just take time to just sit back and relax and enjoy the moment and there’s actually a lot of books that I read. Jon Kabat Zinn talks all about being in the moment. We’re going from place to place. Some of us have an hour plus commute, and what are we doing during that commuting? We’re thinking about the zillions of things that we have to do. And this book is really cool and I read it 20 plus years ago, and he has since redone it, but if you actually focus on what you’re doing in that very moment… So for instance, think of all that free time we would have if we actually utilized our driving time or something as simple as our walking time. If we can just focus on that moment… what we’re doing at that moment. So if you focus on the actual act of driving, or the act of washing dishes,or walking to class, it actually frees your brain up. It’s called in brain psychology, the “agile mind.” So the agile mind is being able to go from this kind of high stress workload to quickly this resting state in our brain. And so if we as faculty, and staff, and students, and so on, can really focus on changing our brain states more efficiently, I think it really will help us just calm down and try to get in what we need for the day. Like I said, instead of us rushing to get to the next point, if we really just focus on what we’re doing at that moment. It actually makes us much more efficient.

John: And one of the things you could be doing at those moments is listening to podcasts like this one. [LAUGHTER] …..But actually taking that downtime is helpful. It lets you consolidate new information you’ve picked up, as well as just being relaxing

Amy: Right! I think our lives in general are just going 100 miles an hour all the time and that’s why we are so stressed… because we don’t give our brains a chance to relax and it’s obviously easier said than done. So again, just using that tip of listening to podcasts in the car instead of crazy music, or putting the phone away or the electronics away for just five minutes to give our brain a chance to rest. So, again, it’s easy for me to say, do this, do that, but I practice it myself. I really do. And it just takes five minutes. When was the last time you actually drove in your car with no noise? Maybe just this podcast but no noise at all; no radio, take the phone off… it will make the rest of your day that much more efficient. It really does… and it sounds kind of corny, but it’s true.

Rebecca: I don’t know the last time I did that it was freezing rain and I was really focused on not dying, but…. [LAUGHTER]

Amy: But what you were focused on something… that’s good. Next time focus on your breathing, focus on the snowflakes falling. It sounds really odd, but let me tell you, it really helps us maintain our stress levels.

Rebecca: Faculty sometimes have particular stressful times. Going up for tenure and promotion, for example, or part-time faculty who may have multiple positions and they’re commuting back and forth multiple schools and trying to balance this big workload and not having job security. What can we do when stress levels are particularly high? I think the example that you gave before was kind of that constant day-to-day stress that we can focus, but what about these like really intense moments of stress?

Amy: Well, coming from a faculty that just went through the tenure process and a faculty that has been on search committees so I’ve seen it all. And we all— just like our students—we have that up and down as the semester goes. And it’s really funny we tell our students this, to not wait until the last minute, but imagine if us as faculty didn’t wait until the last minute to do our stuff. As our semester progresses and I think I see this a lot in the tenure process. I think one thing that helped me is I looked at every year as its own entity. And I didn’t look at it as “I can kind of slack year one and two, just focus on my teaching,” and then all of a sudden it’s year five and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I really need to get this research done.” So us,as faculty, really not procrastinating ourselves, putting it into our calendar. One thing that I do that’s very helpful is on Thursdays I don’t teach and I don’t schedule any meetings and from 8 a.m. until say, 3:45—and that’s when my daughter gets off the bus—I block it off and it just says Oswego and that means research and/or grading. We don’t work efficiently as human beings by doing little bit here, 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there. And so as somebody that’s moving all over the place, and really trying to grasp that relationship between academics and scholarship and service, just taking a day out of your week in your calendar that specifically says, “Okay, today I’m going to work on my grant, next Thursday it’s going to be a grading day. The following Thursday, I’m going to have all my meetings lined up with potential collaborators.” But I really find that trying to incorporate it an hour here or an hour there, it doesn’t make you efficient because… think of it… by the time you get into your office, shut the door, turn the computer on, get done checking your text messages and all that, you’ve lost 25 minutes. And I tell people in all of the realms of areas that I’ve worked in, “You need to schedule your own time, you need to schedule your research, you need to schedule your scholarship, you need to schedule even your service. You can’t just fit it in here and there.” And I think that helps in something as simple as scheduling 10 minutes of downtime for your brain; if that’s what you need to do, put it in your calendar. I think this day and age it’s so easy because we have all these electronics, we can actually use this to our advantage. It beeps, “Okay, I need 10 minutes to myself. Everybody out of my office, I need to breathe.”

John: What about some of the issues that students face? Because they may not have as much control over the timing of the pressure and so forth?

Amy: That’s a great question John. And I started to teach a new class this past fall “Bounce onto Campus.” And the purpose of the class is just how do incoming students manage the day to day changes that occur in a college setting. And going back to your question before about how do faculty survive this whole concept of getting through their hurdles and their obstacles, students have the same things and it’s really the same techniques but for my students, for SUNY Oswego students, what I tell them is first and foremost, and I did this in my class the first week, they all had to come in with a calendar, you know, a planner— and I was actually surprised at the amount people that still use paper calendars, I’m very electronic. But they all came in and we took all their syllabi, and we wrote in all their assignments for the whole 15 weeks. Which, right there was a huge eye-opener because almost looks like they had nothing for two weeks, you know how it is… nothing for two weeks, and then your midterm exam. Well, they’re thinking “Oh, I have nothing for two weeks.” But so what we did after this is we then went in and said “Okay, now I want you to look at your day and schedule in your day… I’m going to work on my ECO 101 homework from 2–4 pm. Even though I know I don’t have an exam until October 31st, or five or six weeks down the road, I have that actually planned into my schedule.” And so my students found that extremely helpful. Another thing, there’s actually a lot of apps that you can use that will actually turn off the internet. And so I taught my students… actually they taught me “Okay, what does your evening look like? Are you in your room on your computer doing your work, and then all of a sudden, you feel the need to get on social media?” Well, these apps will turn all that off, so you can’t. And so we talked about those apps and how to utilize them and they actually use them so I think between laying out their whole schedule in their planner for 15 weeks, and then within the 15 weeks plan out their study time right in there. It actually worked really well. And then what we did also was re-evaluated it mid-semester and we looked at their mid-semester grades and we looked at the study habits and the students feedback was that they found just writing in their planner “go to library” huge. I think anyone would agree with me that the biggest no-no for college students is to go back to their dorm rooms in between classes because what do we see? We see that cozy comfy bed that’s calling out our name so you want to take a nap, and next thing you know, you slept through your library time. I would say for students, incoming students as far as stress… planning it out… you have got to plan it out.

Rebecca: In addition to time-management issues, what are some of the other struggles that students have when they’re away from home for the first time and become responsible for their own health and wellness?

Amy: Well, that’s really interesting, because this is the first time I’ve ever worked with first-year students. And what an eye-opener because I guess my experience in college was… I didn’t experience a lot of homesickness, and I was about two and a half hours away, but we have so many students that are from so far away. So a couple things. One, the biggest issue is you walk into this environment and it’s all-you-can-eat buffet, two, three times a day. And so that’s one thing that the students really struggled with. We spent a lot of time not necessarily condoning eating certain things, but planning what you’re going to eat before you go into the dining hall, knowing that you essentially can eat anything you want, you don’t have anybody hovering over you. And so I had my upperclassmen take the students to the dining hall, and we actually had discussions about, “Okay, what would your plate look like?” And so just opening up their minds about being more in tune to what they were eating… as far as the same thing when we drive and we have no idea of how we got to point A to point B because we’re focusing on so many other things. I tell them, “Be mindful when you eat. Don’t just eat anything that you can get your hands on, because it’s all you can eat.” We have a pretty intense conversation about managing the dining halls as a first-year student. They opened my eyes up to “late-night.” I wasn’t really sure what “late-night” was for the first few years I was here. “Late night”… I can explain it as like after-hours dining, I suppose. And I think the purpose of it is for people that missed dinner, but what I see is students that had dinner that want a late-night snack. It’s not necessarily the healthiest and I will be the first to say I don’t think we need to get rid of unhealthy food. I think we need to just educate people on moderation and when to eat it. So we had a nice discussion about if you’re going to go to late night for the social setting, what can you eat? And how much of it can you eat? I think the diet is the big issue for incoming first-year students. And there’s two other things. One is the social anxiety, you don’t know anyone and if you’re lucky, maybe you do know a few people from your high school, but you don’t know anyone. And so in our first-year course, it was a first-year Signature Course, we had an opportunity as a group to do some extracurricular activities and they got to know each other outside of class… that I think helped a lot to a point where towards the end of the semester, I would walk into class and I couldn’t get them to calm down. Literally, they were talking about their evenings and that has helped, I think, socially. We talked about the importance of getting out of your dorm room, getting involved with extracurricular activities more for a social way of just getting away from the studying, but to get to know people and to meet new people. And then I think the third thing, as I’ve already addressed a little bit, was so many students are surprised at the amount of workload they have in college. If I had to take a poll, I’d say 90% of my class said that either high school was way too easy or college is way too hard, but they didn’t feel like they were prepared for the workload and from what I gather it’s more the independent workload. It’s a matter of they have this exam that’s five weeks down the road and yet nothing due in between. In high school you would have assignments due every week to keep you on task, now it’s, “You have an exam in five weeks and it’s up to you to do well on it.” And so we talked about… again…going into their planner and putting in there every day or every week “Library Time: Study ECO 101,” or whatever class you have. So those tools helped them a lot, but I would say those three things, managing the dining halls and the food, finding friends, and that kind of goes along with missing their friends at home, and then managing their study time.

John: One of the things I think faculty can do for that, and you’ve mentioned ECO 101, is in every economics class, I believe, there’s weekly assignments that are due. So it’s scaffolded. And so they don’t have to worry about waiting to study. Basically, their work in most economics classes, and I think a growing number of classes in general, have some sort of scaffolding to basically ensure that students are regularly working on the material.

Amy: I agree, and I know compared to my academic experience as a student it was three exams in a whole semester and then that’s it. Whereas I feel like SUNY Oswego… as really the help of CELT and all of that… with learning how to scaffold your semester. I know I have assignments due every week. They’re usually low-stakes assignments, it could be just a two points for class participation where they, instead of me taking the time to take attendance, I will just ask them one or two questions, they write it out, and I get it back, I get the attendance for the day. I know a lot of people do Kahoot and using clickers, but that keeps students engaged, but also keeps them wanting to be prepared on a day-to-day basis.

Rebecca: I think that accountability makes a big difference.

Amy: Yes, yes. And, you know, I do grade them or I don’t grade them. And if I do grade them, it’s only worth a few points. So if they miss class, it’s not the end of the world. They can’t make it up. But the students know that when they walk into class, there’s an expectation that they’ve reviewed the notes from the previous lesson.

John: Going back to things like procrastination. One thing that behavioral economists have found is that commitment devices can be really helpful. And you mentioned that finding friends and making connections can help but that can also be used to help I think, encourage persistence towards goals, which could be any number of goals.

Amy: Yes, I definitely agree. You know, something as simple as, for instance, if you were looking at like a physical activity goal. Any brand of activity monitor, you can sync it up with a friend or you can watch a friend on the app to see how they’re doing for the day. I know I have a couple friends on my activity monitor app, which I don’t pay attention to too much, but I do know that if I’m kind of feeling a little lazy that day, that l’ll kind of click over to see what they did. And I’m like, “Oh, they have 10,000 steps in today, now I have to get moving.” So that, from a physical activity perspective, really helps me. And then I do agree something as simple as social networks… I think the social media can kind of be a downfall sometimes, but I think we can use it in a positive way. For instance, going out with a friend to the lake and taking a picture of yourself in front of the lake. That’s a good thing. You know, you’re not showing off yourself you’re showing off the fact that you’re socializing with a friend, you’re taking time to enjoy life. And then I’m also a really big fan of the different software that all sync together. So if I write it to do list down, it’ll cue me on all my devices to say, “Okay, let’s stop. Let’s take five minutes to myself. Or let’s go to the gym.” Technology, I think, gets a bad rap. I think we can really use it to our advantage by networking with each other and doing some light-hearted competition with each other with the different apps, especially the physical activity apps. But again, social networking isn’t really as bad as it seems. You know, our students… that’s how they socialize and you know, it’s okay if they want to talk about going out that night, but they’re socializing. And so maybe bringing it back more to say, you know, “I went to this event on campus, I went to this showing of a particular movie. This was my experience, next time can you come with me?”

John: … and if you have any exercise goals or study goals, agreeing to meet at a certain time for a certain while, can help encourage each person because you don’t want to let your friends down.

Amy: Yes.

John: I remember we had an associate director at the teaching center not too long ago, who often would go to the gym along with a couple of friends. And if one of them didn’t show up, pictures would show up saying, “We’re missing you.” [LAUGHTER]

Amy: [LAUGHTER] Yes, yes. Another perfect use of social media, I completely agree. In our first-year experience class, we actually did a lot of that where it was more studying. You know, we only had a class of 19 people but we realized that there were kids that were taking the same courses and then by the end of the semester they had study partners with each other… study groups… and I knew just by coming into class and overhearing conversations that so and so didn’t show up that night. And now that person hears about it the next day, and they feel almost guilty, and they respond by coming the next time. For my BOUNCE class, we took them to the gym. We showed them how to use the equipment and how to get involved with different classes. And we did it as a group because, as we know as human beings, most human beings can be motivated by others. There’s that extrinsic motivation, knowing that that person is there waiting for you, then you need to go and be there. And I think studying and exercise are two very easy examples. Exercising with a buddy and setting up study times with friends in the library or wherever.

Rebecca: It works for faculty too.

Amy: …Yes..

Rebecca: Our accessibility fellows group is meeting weekly for an hour and we’re getting tons done collaboratively, but also individually because we have that time set aside. I think early on we had a bad weather day and people ask like, “Hey, are we still meeting?” like, “Yeah, I’m here already.” You know, and everybody showed up.[LAUGHTER]

Amy: [LAUGHTER] It’s the social setting. I definitely agree that, from a faculty perspective, we have so many groups on campus. You know, something as simple as book club, the amount of people that show up for that type of stuff. I think in technology now I’m noticing many more people are using Zoom. But knowing that they’re there and seeing their face up on the screen, it gives you that feeling of collaboration. And from a faculty perspective, I think we sometimes get lost in our own little worlds, we get lost in our grading. And again, you know, going back to what we were talking about earlier with the tenure lines and how to navigate the stress related to that, another piece of advice would be, collaborating with others, but making the time to do that. And I think making it regular scheduled time, like it sounds like you guys have, which is, you know, at a certain time, every week you’re meeting at the library or at the cafe to spend two hours discussing your research, or whatever it is. I completely agree with that. I think people get stuck in their own little office and forget that we have technology… if the weather is bad, you can Zoom in or whatever. I think that helps tremendously.

Rebecca: A lot of times we think of like, faculty do this in a group or students can do this. But the class that I’m currently teaching is a travel class to the Czech Republic and my students and myself and another group of students and another faculty member who are all traveling together, are all in an app together to learn some language skills….

Amy: Oh, wow.

Rebecca: …And so there’s leaderboards and what have you, and it provides some friendly competition. And so every week when we meet as a class, I’d say like, “Oh, good job,” whoever, you know…

Amy: Right.

Rebecca: …got the leaderboard, the faculty joke a little bit about like, okay, we’ll keep our third place. [LAUGHTER]

Amy: [LAUGHTER] I think there’s so much opportunity to collaborate within the economic environment with students and faculty. We worked on a study a few years ago, or a project I would call it more less, where we had Brazilian students here. Their faculty came and worked with me and I worked with his students and my students and we all learned Portuguese together. Well, my students learned Portuguese, I just sat in the back of the classroom thinking how are they doing this, but they did an amazing job. But it was faculty and students in the same classroom from two completely different countries learning different languages and we were all equal. And it was such a great experience that I wish we actually more of that.

Rebecca: We’ve talked a lot about healthy habits and things that we can all take advantage of. What role do faculty have in helping students develop those kinds of habits?

Amy: We have a role. And one of the projects that my students did in my BOUNCE class was to find ways to incorporate physical activity and stress management skills in the classroom. And it wasn’t just my classroom, but it was if they were in another classroom, how could they tell their professor, we need five minutes. And a situation that came to my attention this year is, my daughter’s class, she’s in fifth grade, and her teacher is very much into the importance of physical activity and stress management for brain function. And so every hour, they actually have five minute brain breaks. And my thought process with faculty is if a teacher with a classroom full of 27 ten-year olds can get them to do five minutes and calm down and get right back on task, then I think a classroom of 20-25 twenty- year olds can do it as well. Some of the things that they came up with was to, even in a 55- minute class, halfway through have the instructor stop. And I did this in my class the other day, because you saw the eyes kind of getting a little lazy. And so they literally, we stood up, just walking slowly, five circles around the room… stopped… and went five in the other direction. They sat right back down, and it was like a whole different class. And so having the faculty understand that just like it’s hard for us to sit for 55 minutes or an hour and 20 minutes, to focus on one thing, it’s hard for them. And what’s wrong with actually giving them a five- or six-minute break in between. Sometimes I’ll actually have a break where I’ll say, “Go ahead. You have five minutes to check all your text messages, answer all calls, go to the bathroom.” Because I get sick of the students coming in and out of the classroom to go to the bathroom. And so I’m like, “Okay, let’s take five minutes to do this.” And then we start up again. And they’re like 100% on task. I think they respect you because you understand that they need that time. But then they perform better because they gave themselves a brain break. Just like all these activity monitors that tell us to get up and move after 50 minutes. It is so important. And there’s a lot of research to show that… it’s not a lot, it’s an enormous amount of research now… that says, physical inactivity is the new smoking. If we can get up and move for five or 10 minutes every hour we’re negating that issue of sedentary activity. And so if our faculty and staff can understand the importance of getting our students up moving, there’s so much research to support their brain health. And in fact, there’s a couple studies in New Zealand in college students and in grade school that their standardized test scores have increased substantially since they started incorporating five-minute physical activity brain breaks into their day. And what they thought is, instead of spending an hour on math, you might only get 50 minutes in of math. But that 50 minutes is so much more efficient because the brain is working so much more efficiently. And so they’ve reduced the length of time they spend on these, say, math, science, English, whatever, and they spend less time on it, but they’re more efficient. As a professor, set an alarm after 40 minutes, “Okay, let’s stop.” I don’t need an alarm, I can just gauge it for my students, their brains are starting to falter a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with taking three or four minutes, tell them to “get up, switch seats.” I did this a couple semesters ago. In the middle of the class I had everyone get up, I was in the lecture hall, everyone get up and completely sit on the opposite side of the room. It’s amazing how their attention completely changed. Just like I use the example of if you are driving to work the same route every day and all of a sudden there’s a detour and you have to go a different way, all of a sudden you’re paying attention a little bit more. And so I noticed something as simple as switching their seats, having them switch it, so it’s not you forcing something on them. But that worked actually really well, it was kind of funny too. And then the next day they all came in those new seats.

Rebecca: Oh, that’s funny.

Amy: Yeah, it was great.

John: Students do tend, once they get into a seat, they tend to stay there. But there’s a lot of other activities like clicker questions…

Amy: Yes.

John: … or other things you can do, just to break up the class and and bring their attention back to focus. This discussion also reminds me that a lot of students have been using a Pomodoro technique where you have a timer or an app that gives you 25 minutes of focused attention. And then you take five minutes off to do something else and then go back and focus again.

Amy: Yes, I had the Student Academic Success specialist come into my first-year class and they taught them that. A lot of the students already did know it but there’s actually an app… the Pomodoro app, I don’t know the exact name of it. But I actually did it myself because my problem is, most of my students’ assignments are on Blackboard. And so I’ll be at home grading my papers, and then I last about five minutes and I get distracted, and I go on and start window shopping on the internet. And so I actually use it myself and from a faculty perspective, it makes me so much more efficient. So for the students it’s great. I learned so much about the different apps, there’s also one a time management app where the students can lay out exactly where they spend all of their time. And then they notice how many hours they actually have free. I know when I start to work with people from a physical activity perspective, what is the number one reason that people don’t exercise? They don’t have time. So I actually use this app where they actually fill in where their day is, and then they realize that there’s four hours where they’re really not doing anything. Instead of spending five minutes five times a day on social media, combine that all up, walk, and there’s your physical activity for the day

John: One other strategy, going back to behavioral economics, there’s a website called Stickk.com that Dean Karlin (a friend of mine) and some other economists put together where you make a commitment to do something and you post that. You give them your credit card number and then if you don’t meet your goal, a certain amount of money is deducted. You don’t have to put money up against it, but that’s strongly recommended. And the money could go to a charity, it could go to an organization…

Rebecca: You did that, right?

John: I did that, yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: But what they actually recommend as being most effective is an anti-charity. You set a goal—they break it up into weekly segments—it could be exercising for a certain number of hours or studying a certain number of hours. It could be anything you want. They have some preset ones and then you can configure your own. You find someone who will verify that report, a weekly report, and then if you don’t meet it, money is taken out. So what they recommend is using an anti-charity where if, say you’re a liberal, money would go to the NRA if you don’t meet your goal, or to a Republican super PAC. If you’re relatively conservative, they recommend using something like the ACLU or a Democratic super PAC. And they found that that’s been fairly effective. There’s been a number of studies doing that.

Amy: That is absolutely amazing. That’s something that would work really well for me. I know there’s some apps and programs where if you check-in at a gym to exercise, I don’t know if you have to be there for a certain length of time, I don’t know exactly how it works, but you get money put back into an account. But I think any way to motivate somebody, whatever it is, I almost wonder if we could create something where you check into the library a certain number of times to study, where you meet with your study groups a certain number of times. I know in my BOUNCE class they have to set weekly goals and those goals are recorded in their online journals that I look at so I’m they’re kind of big brother, so to speak, watching over them. And the goals that these students have accomplished just knowing that I’m looking at it, that motivation helps. I remember when I first started running, I announced it on social media and it wasn’t to brag. It was to give myself that…

John: Well, it’s a commitment…it’s a commitment device… You stated it publicly.

Amy: It’s a commitment. Yes, I stated it publicly. So now I’m telling everybody out there, “I am really going to do this. I don’t care if you’re paying attention or reading this but knowing I just told the world that I’m going to exercise three times a week, now I’m going to do it.” And so… again, using social media to our advantage. And goal setting, however you do it, is huge. We do this in my BOUNCE class. We set goals every week, they have to enter this journal. I mean, in a way we’re doing that… we’re giving them points, graded points for completing their journal entry. There’s no way for me to say whether you’re doing it or not. I can’t tell if you really went to the gym those days. But I think eventually the student realizes that they’re only cheating themselves. And I tell them this all time in my class, “Don’t just write these goals out to get your five points. The point of the class is a behavior change.” And I’m thinking the students, they have appreciated this weekly goal setting so much. And I think using these different—I think you mentioned it’s called ClickIt—these different…

John: Stickk.com.

Amy: I think these different apps and technology use it in our favor. We have so much out there to use and I think we need to use it in our favor.

REBECA: The last thing I wanted to really ask you about is one of the things that I find that I end up having conversations with my students about is the fact that they actually need to sleep and eat.

Amy: Yes. We have in my BOUNCE class—like two weeks we talk about sleeping and eating. Again when we had the SASS people coming in, the Student Support Specialist… Academic Support Specialist, when they showed us these programs where you can record all of your time that you spend. What I was finding is—and what the students actually discovered—they thought they were up until one in the morning studying. No, they were up til one in the morning either on their phones or on the computer watching different movies. And so I actually get in my class, what we get involved with physiologically, what’s happening with your body, when you don’t sleep. Something as simple as that fretful cortisol hormone that is increased with lack of sleep and that causes your body to store fat. And so really, they look at their daily behavioral patterns and they start to actually schedule sleep into their calendar. And again, going back to some of those apps. There’s apps that turn off the phones and turn off the computers at a certain time, and the students are actually using it, which surprises me and then they come into class and it’s like a whole ‘nother person. It’s like, “Wow, you look so different when you actually get more than two hours of sleep.” And then after we navigate the sleep system, we discuss the importance of getting up just 10 minutes earlier and grabbing something to eat, even if it’s just a simple granola bar walking out the door. How important it is to fuel your body. I use the example of picture a fire, your metabolism is your fire. And as that nice big fire’s going throughout the day, it starts to slow down at night, and the way you have to grab that fire back up, is to throw logs on it, throw sticks on it. Same thing with your eating. When you wake up in the morning that fire has kind of died down. You need to throw some sticks on it to rev it back up. And so even if it’s, you know, 100 calorie snack here and there—I know people just sometimes hate to eat breakfast—but you cannot survive without sleep and without breakfast, whatever it is. Something…except candy. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Was there anything else that we wanted to make sure we discuss?

Amy: You know, I think overall if I wanted to just summarize everything that we chatted about from a faculty perspective and professional staff, taking time to live in the moment—I mentioned it in the very beginning—but if you could really just take five minutes every hour to just turn everything off and breathe, you will be so much more productive. And then scheduling in time chunks, very large chunks of time to get the research done, get the grading done, get the social collaboration in there, putting that into your schedule is huge. And then from a student perspective, scheduling into your planner your exams, your exams for the whole entire semester, and then putting right into your schedule time going to the library or going to the dining hall. We had people actually scheduling in lunch because they would forget to eat lunch. Scheduling in physical activity, whatever it is… planning. Just planning being present and participating. And then keeping in mind that technology can be our friend if it’s used in the right way.

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

Amy: What is next? Well, there’s lots next. For one, I am offering a program, a BOUNCE now for adults, for faculty and staff that actually focuses on the eight dimensions of wellness. And we actually—I teach you the behavior change techniques needed to encompass all of this. And then from a student perspective, you can take BOUNCE for credit in the Spring. Anyone can take it. In the Fall, it’s just first-year students. And then if you wanted to really know what’s next, it’s to take five minutes for yourself.

John: Thank you.

Rebecca: Yeah, thank you so much.

Amy: Thank you. This was enjoyable.

[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 Kim Fisher, Chris Wallace, Kelly Knight, Joseph Bandru, Jacob Alverson. Brittany Jones, and Gabriella Perez.

68. Mobile Music instruction

There are apps for just about everything but choosing when to embrace them for instruction needs to be a careful decision. In this episode, Trevor Jorgensen joins us to discuss how the decision to use mobile apps in music instruction is affected by where students are developmentally, convenience, cost, and other factors. Trevor is an Assistant Professor of Music and the Student Learning Outcomes Assessment Coordinator at SUNY Oswego.

Show Notes

Additional Resources

Transcript

John: There are apps for just about everything but choosing when to embrace them for instruction needs to be a careful decision. In this episode we consider where students are developmentally in a discipline, convenience, cost, and other factors on the choice of supporting music instruction using mobile applications.

[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.

Rebecca: Today our guest is Trevor Jorgensen, an Assistant Professor of Music and Student Learning Outcomes Assessment Coordinator at SUNY Oswego. Welcome, Trevor.

John: Welcome.

Trevor: Hey.

John: Our teas today are:

Trevor: Pure Leaf Peach Flavor tea.

John: Iced tea.

Trevor: Iced tea. Sorry. Thank you.

John: …and Rebecca.

Rebecca: I have Chai today…

John:…and I have black raspberry green tea. We’ve invited you here to talk about how you’ve been using mobile technology in applied music instruction, specifically related to performance. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Trevor: Yeah, I think one of the most important things is to decide when to use technology where it benefits as opposed to be either a substitute for something you should learn in a different way, or whether you should implement it because it’s just convenient. Sometimes when it’s convenient, though, it takes away some of the learning behind it, and I’ll get into some of that later. So I think that’s the first thing. I have to make that decision on every app that I use, or every device that I employ. So, one of the main things that I do is decide what’s best for the student and what’s best for me. And a lot of it does substitute for other things, but in the end, it can’t. For instance, if I do a collaborative piano thing with my colleague, there’s a lot of tools that we’ll talk about today that will substitute for that collaboration. Except for, I cannot phrase with the app in the the same way that I can. We can’t make decisions on a moment’s notice, like I can with another musician. We can’t have talks… at least I shouldn’t be talking to my apps… about what the best way to do something is and then make that interpretation or change colors of stuff. But what it allows me to do is, instead of having a more rehearsals with somebody that’s really busy, it allows me to rehearse by myself. And then therefore, save some time when we’re actually in the rehearsal to talk about those musical decisions as opposed to just to try to learn notes or trying to learn one anothers parts.

John: What are some of the apps that you use with instruction or performance?

Trevor: One of my favorite ones is Amazing Slow Downer, and I use this for both jazz and classical, being a saxophonist, and also a multi-reed player…I play clarinet, oboe, and bassoon. I like to use it in every circumstance I can. And it’s really a great app because even though there’s things like YouTube where you can now click over the three little dots in the corner, and you can slow down to 25%, 50% and 75% and speed it up if you so desire. This tool is just something that I always have with me and I can always use. And I’m also more familiar with it, it allows me to do multiple things. So let me give you example if I can play musical selection here. The first two are not going to be on the music slower downer, it’s going to be on Amazon Music. But I want you to listen. These are Brahms’ Clarinet Trio. I performed this with a colleague and somebody from Symphoria recently. And one of the things you’re doing as a musician is you have to interpret the history of music, and that includes listening. So if I listened to multiple recordings of something, you know, we always ask “Why are there a thousand recordings—might be overstated—but of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony?” That’s because the composer had a certain thing in mind. And then the conductor who prepares the music, and the individuals in that group have different ways of interpreting that music and every one is different. But for a lot of younger students, and sometimes myself when it’s really advanced players, I’m not exactly sure what they’re doing, either articulation wise or what they’re doing phrasing wise. And the slower downer allows me to think about what they’re doing and compare all these great artists together. So I’ll do multiple recordings on something like this Brahms’ clarinet trio in A minor and have my students listen to it. I’m going to play one of them for you, and then I’ll play another one, and then I’ll play the third one. And then the third one I’ll slow down to show you how we can listen for different articulations. You may or may not tell the difference between the three, some of them are obvious, like there’s a tempo difference between them. But as far as the phrasing and the articulation used by the cellist, and by that clarinetist, and by the pianist, is something to think about. What do I want to sound like? It’s great to imitate people, but it’s also great to make decisions between all these different things you’re, in a way, sourcing and decide what you want to do and why you’re doing those musical decisions.

Rebecca: Before we jump into listening, for our audience who maybe is not as familiar with the music terms that you’re using? Can you clarify the difference between phrasing and articulation?

Trevor: Sure. Great. So articulation is the front of the note, and thank you for your much for that. So as a saxophonist, it’s how I tongue the note, if I put an emphasis through air or through my tongue. Another word for that is “attack,” how it attacks into it. For a string player, it might be the direction—up bow or down bow—how fast they’re moving the bow. For the pianist, how they voice the chords and are there some fingers stronger than the others. A third comes out of the chord and the fifth comes out of the chord. For a chord you have multiple, you know 1-3-5s, or the seventh of the chord. And each one of those, as a pianist, when they’re putting down multiple fingers, they can decide which ones are the most important. Whether it be the melody, whether it be the bass part, whether it be the inner harmony. So, from a pianist’s point-of-view, they can listen for that, or how the touches on the piano, how much they pressurize it, or if they use pedal in this area that’s not dictated by the score exactly. So phrasing, the best way to describe it is like minute dynamics. Or just using what we normally do. We, as human beings phrase, if you like somebody you change your voice, or if you get excited like, “I have go to the bathroom,” you don’t think, “Hey, I should elevate the dynamic of my voice. I should make it sound strained, so that I show the excitement of me having to go to the bathroom.” But in music, we have to think about that. We have to think about where, based on the harmony that’s below the music, how much am I going to emphasize that note or more importantly, maybe even growth of that note, or that musical phrase. So phrasing’s how people interpret the music beyond playing the right notes in the right place, and doing the pianoforte dynamics; it’s how they’re going to go to a note and resolve a note. And not only that, they think about overall structure of a piece for phrasing and how everything fits together, if they’re amazing musicians. When we listen to amazing musicians—like the ones who found in these recordings, then what we’re going to do is interpret what they did. And then maybe in our own minds figure out why you think they did that, if that’s a choice that you like to do based on the harmony or just a different tone color they do. And that’s obviously easier to figure out when you slow down to 70% than it is when you’re listening to it at 100%. So before I play the examples, the actual artists will be in the show notes below in the description. First one is, I’m just going to name the clarinetist, Karl Leister, and this is them playing the Brahms’ Trio. And I’ll do the first 30 seconds or so, so you can hear how it sounds.

[KARL LEISTER PLAYING BRAHMS’ TRIO]

Trevor: The next example will be by the clarinetist David Shifrin, that trio that he’s in. I’ll play about the same amount of time for it.

[DAVID SHIFRIN PLAYING BRAHMS’ TRIO]

Trevor: The last one I’ll do on Amazing Slower Downer, the app. And we’ll actually play it in tempo first, since its Martin Frost as the clarinetist, playing the same piece.

[MARTIN FROST PLAYING BRAHMS’ TRIO]

Trevor: So what we’ll do now is we’ll actually slow it down to like 70% so we can actually hear a little bit better the articulations, the dynamics—as the artist gets louder, you’ll be able to hear it more individual. And we can even slow it down after that into something ridiculous like 25%, where you can actually hear the front of each note. It’s almost painstaking how slow it is, but interpreting different things, it’s interesting to see if they use a breath attack or a tongue attack, and some of them are so subtle, I’d have to listen to it 25 times without slowing it down where I can actually hear it at 25% right away. So let’s go back and do it about 70%.

[BRAHMS’ TRIO PLAYED AT 70% SPEED]

Trevor: Here’s 25%.

[BRAHMS’ TRIO PLAYED AT 25% SPEED]

Trevor: I’m just going to jump ahead a little bit so we get into the clarinetist and stuff. I’m just going to scroll ahead.

[BRAHMS’ TRIO PLAYED AT 25% SPEED]

Trevor: First of all it’s very unfair because I would never want to be heard at 25%—it’s just impossible to keep a phrase sometimes or keep a note perfectly that way—but what it does is for us is we can actually hear them the front of the note… we can hear the shape of that note even if it’s a quarter note if he—in this case it’s a he—de-crescendos or crescendos into it and we can look at the overall structure of the dynamics too. You can see if he’s actually growing on that note, if you’re taping the note as I said before… the overall picture or phrase too. I think 25% might be a little excessive, you have to find the happy medium based on the tempo of the piece. I think initially 25% for this one might have been a little painstaking at the beginning.

John: But for students, perhaps having the ability to slow it down to that level would be much more helpful than for someone with more experience?

Trevor: Right, there’s definitely that and then we’re looking into transcription later on too. There’s this great book called School for Cool: The Academic Jazz Program and the Paradox of Institutionalized Creativity by Eitan Wilf and I hope I’m pronouncing his name right. He wrote it in 2014 and he basically went to Berklee School of Music and then The New School in Manhattan. And he noticed that students were using this application even back then—and when I say back then is only five years ago, or four years ago, or three, because in the time of technology, that’s way back then—and they were actually interpreting, transcribing not only John Coltrane and getting his notes like I would have done when I was in grad school or undergrad, but also then listening to his articulation at the front of the note. So trying to make their tongue sound exactly like that slow, and then they’d be speeding it up. Also, in a real fast passage we use a fake fingering. What fake fingering is, is there’s a normal way of fingering D on saxophone which is like 123-123 fingers down and then there’s a way of playing the high D but not using the octave key so it comes out in kind of a muffled way, I could probably demonstrate it for you if you’d like.

[TREVOR PLAYS D NOTE 3 DIFFERENT WAYS]

Trevor: So you use three different fingerings for the same note, which I’d probably not do in classical, but for jazz, it adds a different color. A lot of people know certain people will play that way so that you can actually determine those notes when it’s really fast it’s hard to tell. Just that nuanced playing that you can actually interpret when you’re listening to John Coltrane, that I didn’t when I was that age of the students that he was, you know, surveying. But, slowing it down, it’s not something new. There’s another great book too, Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation by Paul Berliner who was published in 1994. He talks about how the old school players would get a vinyl record and they’d put their thumb on it and slow it down to like a third of the speed and then obviously transpose. Now they would be in the wrong key and way too low, and then they just transpose it up. So this technology, or using this technology, has been available as far as transcription. But if you did put your thumb on a record, it would probably distort the sound and the way that you can figure out articulation and you couldn’t figure out phrasing.

John: And the advantage of this is that students can preserve the pitch because all these apps maintain the pitch and you can hear the attack… just more slowly.

Trevor: This one is specifically and I’m sure a lot of things you can probably do this on YouTube. Also, a lot of my students have to in order to avoid buying a $15 app like this one is—at least when I bought it it was—they’ll find other sources, which I think is great. It doesn’t matter to me what they use as long as it does the same thing. I think on YouTube, you can do the same thing where you can loop it, and there is these three seconds or 10 seconds or whatever, and just loop it and here you can loop it. You can also save the file, save the section of the piece, call it what you want, and the next time you open up the app, it’s there. And you can also share your ideas with people. You can download stuff from things you buy on iTunes or you can use Spotify and there are other ways of importing into this app that’s really beneficial too. The nice part about this app is it can be used for classical and jazz. Most people use it mainly for jazz and transcription but I use it for everything and additionally you can actually slow your own self down which is always painful and hear that you weren’t phrasing that well or that your end of notes aren’t as tapered as they could be. And once you listen to amazing players you realize that they have control over everything. I’ve slowed myself down. I always know the differences between me and like the best person in the world, although I knew already but but it’s so evident when you slow it down to 50% and you hear the attack of your note is not as clear and not as shaped as the people that are just geniuses.

John: And you can also use that with students, though, to show them what they’re doing, right?

Trevor: Exactly. I mean, it’s a very revealing tool. So as far as students are concerned, I think it’s great tool for them but also can be somewhat depressing to hear yourself. It has to be a good balance and the student has to be at the point where we’re finding things not initially at the beginning, or maybe they’re even in their freshman or sophomore year, but at the end when they’re preparing for grad school or something like that, and it depends on the student as it does with every situation… what you can push them on and what you can’t. But, it’s just a great tool for that. So I also use the Amazing Slower Downer when I have a piece that I don’t have a—we’ll talk about Smart Music later where it is an intuitive accompaniment tool that takes away the saxophone or takes away or whatever it is you’re working on—but when it’s in pieces not in there or I don’t know the piece, I’ll find a recording of it and then I’ll play along with it. And this I can adjust a little bit of pitch if I need to and more importantly speed if I needed to get slower or I decided to take the piece at the end faster. Maybe now’s the time to talk about what the disadvantage of some technology is. I’ve got colleagues that don’t like using slower downers, not just colleagues but I’ve read articles and everything else, because you don’t have to go through the work and the persistence of doing so, and you should be able to hear it in the moment in the spot. And I think there’s something to be said for that. But I look at myself as one of the things where I get discouraged. I always think about one of my favorite reads, which is a psychologist by the name of Csikszentmihalyi and he’s got the flow theory, which is a book he published in 1990, which a lot of people are aware of. And number three of his flow theory is that there has to be a balance between the challenge and skills. For me, there wasn’t, my skills were low and my patience were also maybe lower when I was younger. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I think that’s true for most starting students. And a lot of people get discouraged when they don’t see that immediate progress.

Trevor: Yeah, that’s exactly it. So for me, I was able to use the tools that helped me a lot more. I painstakingly did it when I was my students’ age that was also because of the slower downers were $400 and I didn’t have the money. Now most students have phones but they use them for social media or actually using them as phones, or texting more likely. But now you can just download an app instead of buying a $400 machine for about $15, or you can go to YouTube and use that function or other tools that come with any kind of PC nowadays. Microsoft has their recording software and you can slow it down too. Not in such a certain way, but any of those tools are great too. Anyways I’ll slow my own recordings down of me playing along with other things. But the problem is trying to figure out that balance where I should be taking it to the tempo there I just took it or slowing it down. You just have to progress and move it forward so that you take it faster, faster each time. The thing about anything is once we do it more often, it becomes easier.

John: And the more they practice with this at a slow pace, the better they’ll be able to do it in real time as well.

Trevor: Right, and their ears develop immediately, faster and faster, and then therefore they can get to that point. I commend my colleagues and all the articles that I’ve read where you know, it’s better to do it that way. But for me, it was a wall, as it is for some of my students.

Rebecca: Sometimes it’s good to recognize when you are a beginner and that sometimes you need those training wheels just to feel like you got a little success.

Trevor: Right. That success as we all know it from pedagogy is that wields more success and it gets better and better every time. Let’s go on to a different app. Some of the obvious apps are metronome apps, every student can get a free metronome. I was excited in the mid 2000s when they dropped down to $20 as opposed to like $200, or the tuner is the same way, and then balancing that out. For me it’s I could buy a $20 tuner and put one on every one of my instruments but I always have my cell phone on me that’s what I love about it. I always have a tuner, I always have a metronome and I have no excuse, nor do my students. You know it’s a free app; you already own the phone. But there are some tuners and some metronomes that are better than others and I am not an authority, I don’t know every app that’s out there because there’s thousands. The ones that I know are the ones that I like… people have introduced to me and I’ll switch apps all the time if I find one that’s better. As far as the tuner or metronome it doesn’t really matter what my student brings in… whether she brings in the one that I prefer, like Cleartune for everyday apps, or if she brings in like TonalEnergy Tuner, but I’m going to talk about that one because it’s one that I found really interesting and it has a lot of functions on it. And it’s not only a tuner but a metronome. I use Tempo app for metronome primarily when I’m practicing but I’m getting into the TonalEnergy app for inside of it has also a metronome that I’m trying to investigate. So the app has so many different features to it, and I’ll show you and then maybe both of you can also chime in on what you think they look like, but…

John: I use the Cleartune app myself.

Trevor: Yeah, I loved that app until I saw this app. To give you a total side story, this one does analysis by waveform as it does it by another analysis and note names, too. This weekend, I judged a competition for high school students to get into all-county bands. And one of the other judges in the brass room said one of the students—and I don’t know the name of the student nor the judge—but the performance was really not great at all, where he actually pulled out his TonalEnergy Tuner to figure out what note the student was on to see if he could find out where he or she was was in the piece. That being the extreme of what the app is used for… nor do you want to use it for transcription because there are transcription apps where you plug it in and it’ll transcribe it for you. For playing our transcriptions—there’s worth to all those things—as far as actual transcriptions… a tool that you should have so that it ingrains in your memory and you have those phrases for jazz specifically. So this one here you can choose from waveform, you can do spectral harmonic analysis and note analysis. As you can see right now as we’re talking, sometimes I’m talking in tune and he gives me a happy face—it could be a she—gives me a smiley face, or if I’m really badly out of tune, there’s this little question mark with the thumb and finger or very sadness as you get way out of tune. But more importantly, as I do the waveform thing, it will record what I do.

Rebecca: I was also noticing that the color was changing as well. So, there was a lot of different identifiers to the user so if you had a certain kind of disability it’s actually providing that information in multiple ways.

Trevor: Yeah, and that’s great. And then over on the side it tells you pluses and minuses, I’m 13 cents sharp or whatever, 13.6 or flat. So, I can show the pitch, I can show the wave, and I can record it. Let’s go ahead and record it. You’ll see as we’re talking the spectrum, and then if I do with the notes, it’ll show me the notes, which ones they are, and how badly out of tune they are and we’re just talking. I could play my saxophone. But it would give you the same thing.

Rebecca: Right.

Trevor: So as far as I’m concerned, if I turn this away, and I can record it, and then go back and look at it, I’ll know that if I do nothing, or how much I need to do on the D. The D that I played for you before, nd gave you three different examples is the worse out-of-tune note on saxophone. So, I probably was sharp but this will tell me every note that I need to. You can even slow it down and stuff. You can also record your student visually and with audio. The visual thing is interesting because a lot of movement in the face will affect tuning. When I came to college, I chewed a lot, I had movements in my throat and my face and my teacher would just tell me what they were. But now I can like hold the video against them, show what their movements are, and how it’s affecting tuning and it’s, you know, just another another tool to get you there beyond just recording their facial features and hearing it.

Rebecca: It’s an interesting way to note take because it’s a visual note-taking method that you’re not just having to remember the conversation that you had with your faculty member or mentor, but that you can go back to and see again, if you’re able to record it and save it for later.

Trevor: Right. Yeah, I know, it’s great. It’s a neat tool. So, I’m starting to love this tuner and this metronome as much as the others. It does a lot of specific things where if I’m just pulling out a tuner like Cleartune, as we talked about, or Tempo, that’s more my functional as opposed to how badly I’m out of tune when I’m playing this passage. And the same thing I notice whether I’m using this app, TonalEnergy Tuner, or I’m using Amazing Slower Downer, or I’m using what we’ll talk about later, Smart Music, is that when I’m playing along with the pitch, in the case of Amazing Slower Downer, I know I can hear I’m out of tune, and then I can check it against this or if I’m playing along with Smart Music and you check it against here and see where I’m out. And I play multiple instruments so I’d like to tell you I’m perfectly in tune on every instrument but sometimes I’ll be playing A clarinet and I haven’t played that for a while where I normally do B-flat clarinet and I’m like, “Oh, that’s right. This B-flat is flat on the A but sharp on the…” you know, you have to adjust and unlearn and it allows me to do that prior to getting in there with my collaborative pianist and realizing that I’m out of tune. It’s a great tool. It’s got so many more features that I’m going to start looking into but there are funny features like… not really funny… but the band director or the the judge using it to try to figure out where they were, which hopefully we won’t have to use it very often for.

Rebecca: I wonder for a beginning student who has very little experience… maybe someone who’s not in the music program, but is learning an instrument. Have you worked with students using these kinds of apps with that population of students… like total beginners?

Trevor: Prior to teaching here at SUNY Oswego, I was teaching beginning students… so, seven to eighth in junior high program and then had fifth and sixth grade students. I haven’t used it and mainly because of physicality. Until you develop your armature, until you learn how to use the air, it’s almost impossible to use this effectively because if you don’t have the proper air you can’t make those minute adjustments. That being said, to get the initial tuning for every instrument, whether you’re in fifth grade or fourth grade, you do want to make sure the violin is in tune so students will start using that, you do want to make sure that your concert B-flat’s in tune, which only means after that all the other 11 notes are out of tune, but it’s a good reference point. And then students start to use tuners that way, and amazingly some of them like apps and stuff, and they get into and they show me different things they’re using for that I never thought. But initially, I try not… until those physical things are employed properly. It’s almost futile to actually do it all the time.

John: They need the fundamentals before you can work on tweaking.

Trevor: Right, yeah, especially for you know, with piano you don’t have to worry about tuning. Guitar, that’s got frets so it’s good to know how to tune it. You know that more…

John: You’ve never seen my piano, but… [LAUGHTER]

Trevor: Yeah, but yeah, no… We’ll talk about the next thing, Smart Music, and how it’s used more, or at least, I think more band directors in the public schools use it at elementary all the way through high school, then maybe as far as band music and material is than college professors. I use it for the solo literature, like clarinet concertos and sonatas ….but in the public schools they’re using this technology we’ll get into to not only evaluate their students—how they’re doing, to keep track of their practicing—but as a preparation tool, it’s great. And it can also be not as great for certain specific things and we’ll talk about that when we get there. The next tool—and we’re kind of focusing on my phone right now—the only app that is not available on a phone, a mobile platform that way, but is only on an iPad—is the Smart Music. As I said, we’ll get into that later. The next app I like a lot and I just got an email right before this, there’s a physics professor on campus who’s named Shashi and he’s a saxophone player. And he does exceptionally well, he’s way better of a saxophone player than I am in physics by any means. [LAUGHTER] He loves it. But he gave me an update “I used iReal Pro yesterday at an open jam session. I played these tunes” and went “Great, I’m excited.” It’s great to see that it can be used by by anyone. And as I said, he’s come miles and he loves this because for a physics professor he probably jams with people and he’s been doing a lot more of that. But initially, he’s like, “Who do I get to play with?” and if you don’t play music with somebody—it’s a social thing too… or people hear it—then you kind of like “Why am I doing this?” Even myself as a professional musician, my colleagues and I will prepare harder and more for either recordings or performances coming up then we will during the summer when there’s nothing to do. That being said, we’re preparing always for the next semester, but it’s always great to have that motivation. If I never played with anybody I probably wouldn’t continue playing, especially being a saxophone. A pianist is different, a guitarist is different, perhaps. Drummer is probably different too. I can’t imagine one person only being a drummer and doing that for the rest of life without collaborating with someone.

John: Did you tell us what iReal Pro is?

Trevor: In jazz, there’s these things called real books or fake books. Now, they’re legal. Back about 20, 30 years ago you can only buy them through illegal sources, and they were the melodies of famous popular music standards and jazz compositions, with chord changes behind them. And then you would get together with musicians and you’d play. Now back in the 70s, a guy by the name of Jamey Aebersold used professional musicians who recorded them on CDs—or back then I guess vinyl—and then gave a play along book with it. So he’s got the Jamey Aebersold play along. And what this is done is taking non-live musicians and put it into an app where you can play along with. You can see the chord changes. There are no melodies because you’d have to pay money and royalties for the melodies. But there is no royalties needed for chord changes, and so of the title of the tune and then the chord changes. It comes with no actual pieces on it until you go to the forum and then you can download thousands of pieces that are already programmed in that you can play along with. So I’m just going to pick up right now blues “Straight, No Chaser” by Thelonious Monk. Although it could be any blues until you hear the head and I’m just going to play you a little bit of how it sounds and then I’ll give you a visual description later about it.

[“Straight, No Chaser” PLAYS]

As you notice, when the music goes by, or the chord changes goes by, there’s a highlighted measure so that you know where you are, which is handy for students that are learning to improvise. Later on it’s not necessary, you could just look off a real book lead sheet and play along with it. There’s many features, one I can make the transposing instrument like I’m playing saxophone in the key of B-flat instead of C. I can see the chords transposed in front of me even though it’s playing the key of C. I can do that for any instrument. There’s like a balancing… if I’m a pianist, I can take the piano out or if I’m a drummer, I can take the drummer out. I’m not sure why a drummer would want to do that. And I can control the reverb… I can change the tempo… I can change the style—this is a jazz medium up swing—I can change it to almost anything—Latin, Gypsy jazz, trio guitar, slow swing, traditional jazz—and there’s pop and Latin stuff so I can change the beat behind. I don’t do that as much unless you’re working in the Latin situation but it’s nice to have and as I said, you can also program pieces in. So we just did a concert with this great alto saxophone player by the name of Dick Oatts down in the Village Vanguard Band—that’s where he is primarily and teaches at Temple University—a world renowned musician. And he sent us his charts which are really hard and don’t follow normal progressions. They’re really kind of tricky so I actually programmed them, or one of them, into here just so I could play along with it a little bit… hear the changes a little bit better. I mean I’ll voice them out on my saxophone like normal but it’s a really handy tool to have. And speed it up too like I can’t take it to the tempo he wants it so I’m gonna slow it down and feel good about myself and they’re not really that odd but they’re more unusual chord changes. They made sense but just needed more time to practice and I just programmed in it by…you kind of scroll up and type in F major and put a seven and you can do all the different things. It’s really interesting and you can save them and if you want and you can share them on the forum so other people can look at tunes. So this is an amazing tool. I love it for that because I can speed it up and slow it down, but there are other options. I think Aebersold things are still available online unfortunately for Aebersold ‘cause you know, he’s losing royalties and stuff on that. But then on YouTube, there’s “Learn to Play Jazz” I think if you type that in and whatever tune you want to do there’s that for the people that actually have iReal Pro copies on YouTube. You can’t slow it down, you can’t transpose it. You can adjust the balance and blend and stuff but it’s there. So my students will find those things too and use them. And I’m totally fine with that. You know, financially it makes sense. One of my favorite features is…and John, you have this app you said?

John: Yeah, I do.

Trevor: So you use this app, and have you have you looked at the tablature part of the app?

John: I haven’t been using it recently. Since we started the podcast I haven’t been playing so much music.

[LAUGHTER]

Trevor: Got ya. Give me a second here. So I’m going to show you…and do you play an instrument at all?

Rebecca: No. That’s why I was asking all those music questions.

Trevor: And please continue to do so. [LAUGHTER] In the corner of the app there’s this little thing that looks like a tablature and you can choose from multiple things. One is for guitar so you can select guitar chords. You can do piano, and the piano you can do one hand or two hands. You can do ukulele, which is a new feature and more importantly for me is the chord scale library which I use all the time. So let’s go back and add the chord scale library. So if I press play and then I pause it right away it’ll give me chords down at the bottom. So for that C7 chord I can do either dominant mixolydian chord if I scroll over. Actually for this one, there’s only one, but for a lot of times when it’s a different chord like flat 5 or something like that it’ll give you multiple options of what scaless you can use over top of it. Once you talk to a pianist—they’re not really fond of this app, because it’s not exactly like you would teach jazz piano—but if you have no skills, and you want to learn from an app, it can give you some things. It’s a really nice tool for myself and all of my students too. And as I said, our physics professor on campus uses it a lot and as do you prior to doing the podcast.

John: I used to use it more before we started this podcast.

[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Trevor, we found that students were using these tools—or when you’re using these as part of your teaching—that the students abilities have improved or that they’re playing has improved. Have you noticed a difference in the integration or?

Trevor: In some regards more about how they practice and how long they practice. But yeah, I’ve noticed an improvement. By having no one to play along with it’s difficult to improvise—you improvise in different ways—it’s a very valuable skill to be able to cut the changes… and me as a saxophone player, if I play and my colleague walks in the room they say, “Oh, you’re playing this tune” based on the solo I’m doing then I know I’m really cutting the changes. But when I don’t know a tune as well, it’s nice to have the harmonic progression so I can use my ear a little bit more than I can my mind and eventually, it’s a combination of both, I’d hope. But my students will then play along with the blues a lot more than they would if they were just doing it by themselves.

John: And much of the benefit is students can work and get up to a point where they’re ready to play with other students so that everyone can use their time more effectively when they actually do collaborate and meet at once. Rather than each person struggling just to do their own parts, they get to work out playing it together.

Trevor: Exactly, it saves so much time. In addition to that, when we think about rural areas. A lot of times you’ll be able to find a great collaborative pianist for doing your solo so it might be okay to use Smart Music—I hate to say that—or you might not have a chance to prepare so you play along with records—or you play along with, in the old days—and now you can play along with this. You know, even getting out and playing along with it at open mic night it’s just totally acceptable because it’s expensive to find musicians and especially in different places. Where in New York City I think would never see anybody using iReal Pro to play along with at a club, you know, just because…

John: …There’s a few musicians there, yeah.

Trevor: But I’ve heard of people pulling it out and it does irritate people. There is the idea that once you graduate from a jazz program—specifically, if you focus on jazz. I myself, did music education. I play jazz a lot and I also did classical clarinet, classical saxophone—but if you’re only a jazz major, or if you’re good jazz player, you’ll have like 150 to 200 tunes memorized. So you’ll call a tune, you’ll have the head, and you’ll know the chord progressions. But nowadays, a lot of the younger players are… from what I hear and what I hear from complaints from older generation people is that they’ll pull out the iReal Pro if they don’t know a tune and play along with it. And there’s pluses and minuses. Now you can actually play that tune. The minus is it’s not as ingrained as if you had to learn it and memorize it and ingrain in yourself, and that you won’t be able to interact with the high level players you’re playing with in the same way as if you did that work. So there’s, you know, again, pluses and minuses. It never should be a substitute for the ideal, but it should be a tool like you just said to get you there. Or in the cases of where there’s not a bass player to play with, at least it gives you a way to proceed until you can find one.

Rebecca: How do students respond to using these tools?

Trevor: They like them. They enjoy them. They think they’re really neat. This freshman student that came in—he was using YouTube, one of the play alongs he warmed up to it—but yet again, the disadvantage of this is all electronic and they sound electronic. So at least some of the “Learn to Play Jazz” are actually real jazz musicians. But you can alter the tempo—or you can’t—I guess you can with the 75%, 50%. I’ve never tried it, now that I think of it, on YouTube…but you know, it just it takes adjustment. You know, there’s nothing to substitute live musicians. The drummer can’t react to what phrase you just played. Nor can the keyboard voice omething different if you’re going there harmonically. But it is a tool. And yet again, a tool that’s not a substitute, but a tool that’s effective in preparing. The next tool we’ll talk about is actually on my iPad, and it’s Smart Music. Smart Music is an app which originally was on a computer and way back in the 90s when it came out it looked like the old Atari cartridges you’d buy with the machine for $2,000 and each cartridge would be like $80 or something and have one piece—Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. But nowadays it comes on an iPad and you can also get it on your computer. The computer has more features on it but obviously is not as portable as the iPad. And what it does and what it’s being used for is amazing, but also can be negative and we’ll talk about that after we talk about the positives. It has all the band music that you’ll want to play in public school and what the band director can do—including myself as a band director—is that I can say, “I want you to play Holst’s ‘First Suite,’” is which we picked here, and gives you the saxophone part but I can also push the button as you can see, and I can pick whatever instrument I’m playing. So I’m playing bassoon, it gives you the bassoon part. It has the music in front of you and then once I play along with the rest of the band without that bassoon part or that saxophone part, it has little X’s and O’s and tells me what percentage of the music I got right rhythmically and everything else. So band directors will use this to say, “I want you to record this and get it to me and then that’s your percentage on it.” Now it does have some flaws. I’ve listened to students play and myself play and it’s no way that I’m getting 60% I’m getting closer to 85 or something like that. So some advantages and it’s gotten better over the years.

Rebecca: So just to clarify, it’s like Guitar Hero video game?

Trevor: To clarify, Guitar Hero has nothing to do with guitar.

Rebecca: Right. Yeah.

Trevor: It’s more of a rhythmic pushing buttons…

John: Pattern matching, yeah.

Trevor: Pattern matching and it has something to do with the music because it’s actually, you’re hitting it rhythmically along with the song, that’s about it. But you’re right, it’s like a play along, it’s like karaoke without the part you’re on. But this karaoke, in this case, records where your notes are wrong with red and green, where you’re behind, and it tells you where you’ve missed things, and then that goes back to the band director and they can grade you accordingly. So it saves them time.

Rebecca: The visual cues are similar is really what I’m…

Trevor: Oh I see what you’re saying. Yeah, I haven’t I haven’t played a lot of Guitar Hero and I apologize. Most of my knowledge of Guitar Hero’s from South Park and we won’t talk about that. So it allows you to do all those different things and then record them. As far as soloists are concerned, that’s where I use it more. I use it more to play along with a collaborative pianist that’s not there. And it follows you. So for instance, I’m going to pick the clarinet Copland concerto that I’ve prepared for, and it’s got a piano reduction to it. It’s a very difficult piece to put together when you’re a clarinetists like me, who’s a saxophone player that also plays clarinet well. So I use it a lot of time to prepare before I meet with my collaborative pianist. And I’m going to pick an arbitrary section in the middle so you can hear the piano part. And the piano part will play and then once I play along with it—and I’m not actually going to play—it will record it, and I can play it back so I hear all my mistakes which is really nice, and also my pitch errors and stuff. And then if I am unsure of myself, I can actually set it so that it will play with the clarinet part along with me so that I can hear that part to make sure I’m rhythmically accurate with it. That comes to one of the problems with being able to play along with something that has 100% rhythmic accuracy, but you don’t. You know, our ear can pick up on things so quickly that… let me give you the example. When I was in high school, there’s this lady named Amanda and she was the first-chair alto saxophone. And Amanda would have the rhythm perfectly the first time and then me, who would after listening to her having it perfect the fifth or sixth time, so I didn’t really learn how to count properly. And by playing along with the Smart Music, where the piano is actually playing your saxophone part or clarinet part, and you’ve been listening to that. Then when it comes to actual real performances, if you play along with it all the time, then you’re relying on it so much and your rhythm goes out the window. So that’s where some technology can get in your way, specifically with rhythmic attributes, but also with other things too. But yet again, it’s a tool and if you recognize that, you know, I prepare it rhythmically with the students first, I don’t let them use Smart Music until they’re at almost the performance level. So we’re going to play a little bit of the Copland Clarinet Concerto somewhere, but 140 measures into it. I’m going to play it initially with the accompaniment but with nobody playing, and then I’m going to set it and you can hear the difference now with the clarinet part being played by a different sounding piano.

[COPLAND’S CLARINET CONCERTO PLAYS ON PIANO]

So that was just the piano alone. Now I will do it with the clarinet part being played by a secondary piano, and you’ll hear how it fits in and that’d be what I’d be playing along with if I needed the rhythmic help or I wanted to check my pitch.

[COPLAND’S CLARINET CONCERTO PLAYS ON PIANO WITH SECONDARY PIANO]

That wasn’t as obvious an example but if you knew the part you’d be able to hear there’s extra additional things added to that which should be the clarinetist. So this tool is just remarkable for that and as I said, for band directors in public school and at the university level too, it seems like an appealing thing. I just haven’t figured out a way to automate it or include it in my, you know, as part of the practicing routine for my students. And if they don’t come from it from the schools, it’s a little bit more difficult to implement. I’m not sure at the university level it’s ideal for me to implement. I’m still wrestling with that as I am with implementing any technology.

John: So how have your colleagues responded?

Trevor: One of my colleagues, Rob Auler, he uses it as much or more than I do, we always check out, “Hey man, check this app out. Do you think it works really well?” So we check out different apps and sometimes those apps apply—or in the case of Rob, a tuning app wouldn’t apply for him because, you know, somebody else tunes his piano for him—but he really loves Amazing Slower Downer. He uses the iReal Pro probably less than I do, because he could collaborate with himself in his left hand while he’s playing solo lines in his right hand. And he doesn’t use it as a tool like Smart Music because, you know, pianists are not usually playing along with other pianists, they’re the collaborators. And we’ve talked about that, too. He knows it’s not a tool that can replace a pianist. But when we work together, Rob is a consummate musician and so he learns things way faster than I do. His mother would feel the TV to see if he was practicing five hours a day when he was younger, where I was probably you know, playing out in the backyard with dirt or something. He learns things so much faster and he doesn’t want to spend time rehearsing. So for me I’ll prepare on Smart Music and I’ll prepare on these other apps and get to that point where now I don’t have to spend so much time rehearsing with him. We’ll just do it once or twice like professional musicians do and he’s always been that way. For me, it’s upped my ante and I’ve really enjoyed that. So we’ll talk about all kinds of technologies, he’s huge into it. Other colleagues, for vocal people, they prefer having a pianist collaborate with them—which makes total sense—so it’s not as prevalent and I understand that. But most of them are not against, they just don’t understand how to tie things into doing it because what they’re doing already is fine. And that’s one of my philosophies too: If something is working, and it’s not going to be any better by adding the technology, there’s no need to add it. But if it can be an efficiency, the fact that usually in history—and as I got older, I realized this—that convenience wins out. And if I look at audio recording, you know, tapes. Small tapes were horrible audio quality compared to vinyl and CD had finally came up to a very good audio quality, probably not as good as vinyl, but most people can’t hear that spectrum anyways for those people that believe it.

John: And usually it’s better the first couple times you play the vinyl. After, the needles have worn down the grooves, unless you’re reading it with a laser, the quality of vinyl degrades really quickly.

Trevor: It does. And then MP3’s everybody thought, “Oh that won’t stick,” you know, everybody kept to analog, and really, the quality doesn’t sound nearly as good. But most people are listening through cheap headsets and on phones and using it for different background thing. Most people are not audiophiles and most musicians are and they think that technology is not going to last. So unless there’s a technology that other than convenience as a musician that I think benefits my students, I don’t really buy into it too much. A lot of people have embraced it and for different reasons. I think everybody owns a tuner on their phone. Everybody has a metronome on their phone. My colleague Juan La Manna uses the digital recordings and visual recordings of Zooms and stuff like that for his conducting students to record them and give them feedback on it and he uses it to record himself on concerts and a lot of technology being used, but not the Smart Music so much outside of wind players, I think. And it’s also ingrained in the band world. Jazz musicians have always used technology as far as like play along recordings with Jamey Aebersold and later on so it’s only a natural progression to use something like iReal Pro, I think. But you know, most of my faculty enjoy technology when it’s beneficial if it doesn’t help them out, there’s no need to learn it.

Rebecca: So I always wrap up our podcast by asking, what’s next?

Trevor: One of the things I’ve held off on and my colleague Rob Auler has not is reading off of tablets for music instead of bringing paper along with them. So for him it made a lot more sense, because he can use the AirTurn Duo Bluetooth pedal, and he doesn’t have to rely on anyone to turn his page. It’ll take them a little time to practice it. You can actually write and notate things in there if you’re in the middle of rehearsal, you know, we want more piano here, or we listen to the cello or whatever. But for me as a single line instrument, it didn’t make that much more sense other than the convenience of it, which we’ve talked about, which is to not have a lot of music in your backpack. But then a few things have changed over the course of the last few weeks that made me think I need to do it for my students and myself. They should know this technology. So I went to a rock gig—I hadn’t played a rock gig for 20 years at a wedding one of my friends asked me to do—The bread, the money was pretty good so I decided to do it for the first time in a while. And most of the people were playing on that, I had this like four inch binder that the guy gave me. He wouldn’t give me his iPad, and I played there and then I did a soloist with the Syracuse Symphoria and I was there just watching the orchestra play in one of the pieces and the harpist… and harpists are one of the people that are not known for…you know, they play an antiquated instrument…. It’s a gorgeous instrument… But she was using an iPad. Ironically she was reading a hard copy book while she was waiting for her turn to play in different pieces [LAUGHTER] so I thought that was ironic but she was using an iPad and I thought, “Oh, maybe I should do this.” And also the advent of the iPad Pro, where it’s large enough. You know I tried it when Vornhagen came here when I was doing some pieces, and I wrote it and sketched it and put it on the iPad, it just wasn’t conducive to reading with low light. And then Rob mentioned something to me that I thought would be the ultimate reason why to get one. He goes, “Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody played off the score?” By that I mean piano score that has a cello and the clarinet part there and we could all take a look to see vertically what’s going on as opposed to what we normally play off, the cellist has a single line as do I. Obviously the problem behind that would…we have to like learn how to read music differently. Instead of going from one line to the other, I’d have to skip them things, but I’m a conductor so that’s not a problem. But it would actually save a lot of time in rehearsal if we got off, or more importantly, if we want to phrase something together or we’re talking about something like, “What happens there?” I’d have to go over and look over Rob’s shoulder. So that to me, outside of the convenience of it, and that I probably should get back into the 21st century and actually get playing off them so our students know how to do it. I think it’s something that my next step is going to be starting to do that. And yet again, you can edit it. You can draw on it. You can put in repeats. It just seems so much more logical to do. I put in for grant for this and at the end, they’re evaluating it and they asked me specifically, “What would you do if you didn’t get this?” and I said, “Probably use paper” other than than what Rob just mentioned to me right after that session where it’d be great to read off the score ourselves. The advantage of it is more mobility and portability. These fake books are two and a half to three inches thick and there’s three or four of them and he has them all on his iPad and I have to slug them around with me, so I have nothing against paper.

John: But it’s a whole lot easier carrying around an iPad where you can have tens of thousands of scores with you.

Trevor: It is. And a battery pack too. That’s the other thing, if you don’t have a way to charge it and stuff like that, but that nowadays that doesn’t seem like it’s a concern at all.

John: And iPads generally got 10 or 12 hours at least of battery life.

Trevor: Right.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Trevor. It’s been really interesting to hear you talk about your practice with mobile technology. And I know for me as a visual artist, it was making me think about the kinds of tools that we use as a visual artist and kind of translating the kinds of activities that you’re thinking about with students to different kinds of activities that I could do with my students and also thinking about how to use those to kind of push students just a little bit further.

Trevor: Nice. That’s great.

John: Thank you.

Trevor: Thank you, appreciate it.

[Music]

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

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

John: Editing assistance provided by Kim Fisher, Chris Wallace, Kelly Knight, Joseph Bandla, and Jacob Alverson.

49. Closing the performance gap

Sometimes, as faculty, we are quick to assume that performance gaps in our courses are due to the level of preparedness of students rather than what we do or do not do in our departments. In this episode, Dr. Angela Bauer, the chair of the Biology Department at High Point University, joins us to discuss how community building activities and growth mindset messaging combined with active learning strategies can help close the gap.

Show Notes

  • “Success for all Students: TOSS workshops” – Inside UW-Green Bay News (This includes a short video clip in which Dr. Bauer describes TOSS workshops)
  • Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.
  • Barkley, E. F., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Life Sciences Education
  • Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of personality and social psychology, 69(5), 797.
  • Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American psychologist, 52(6), 613.
  • The Teaching Lab Podcast – Angela Bauer’s new podcast series. (Coming soon to iTunes and other podcast services)

Transcript

Coming Soon!