151. Video Conferencing

Although video conferencing tools are not new, the global pandemic has resulted in a dramatic expansion in faculty use of this technology in their learning environments. In this episode, Rick McDonald joins us to discuss ways in which we can use these tools to create productive and engaging learning experiences for our students. Rick is an instructional designer at Northern Arizona University who has extensive consulting experience in higher education and in K-12.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Although video conferencing tools are not new, the global pandemic has resulted in a dramatic expansion in faculty use of this technology in their learning environments. In this episode, we focus on ways in which we can use these tools to create productive and engaging learning experiences for our students.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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Rebecca:
Our guest today is Rick McDonald, an instructional designer at Northern Arizona University, who has extensive consulting experience in higher education and in K-12. Welcome, Rick.

Rick: Hello, how are you today?

Rebecca: Great, thanks!

John: Today’s teas are:

Rick: I am a coffee drinker myself, but at least this early in the morning tea is more later in the day for me. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I have Irish breakfast tea today,

John: And I’m drinking ginger peach green tea. We came through a really challenging spring semester, where people suddenly had to move online, and we’ve gone through a really difficult summer. We want to talk a little bit about video conferencing. In general, I think everyone’s become familiar with some form of video conferencing software. Zoom has suddenly become known by pretty much all faculty, one way or another, but there’s Collaborate and other tools as well. How can faculty become more effective in using video conference tools?

Rick: Well, I think, to start, we can all just relax a little bit but teaching with the video conferencing doesn’t have to be tremendously different. There are a few things that are absolutely different, and a few things to just consider that aren’t really such huge problems. First of all, when we’re teaching on video conferencing, we really need to know the software. Some schools are using multiple kinds of software. And I would choose the one that you know best. I would, again, relax and keep a nice and slow pace when we’re teaching over video conferencing, sort of frenetic pace can be very difficult for the remote student to stay engaged with, and at the same time making the class engaging, just like you would in your regular classroom. So, when we’re teaching, we try and engage the students in the classroom. When we’re teaching with video conferencing, we need to find ways to engage those remote students as well.

John: In terms of getting comfortable, one thing I’ve recommended to a lot of people is that, if they’re new to using video conferencing, they should work with other people in their department who may also be new with that, and take turns hosting meetings, so they get to play with all the tools. And if people do that a little bit, there’ll be a whole lot more comfortable, I think, once they arrive at their classroom. Is that something you’d recommend, too?

Rick: Absolutely. And really, I would recommend that those partnerships go on past the preparation stage, if it’s possible to find a faculty member who you can either team teach with, or you can assist when they teach their class and they can assist you when you teach your class. That can be really useful because, let’s say we have a very large classroom, we’re probably going to mute the mics of the remote students so that we don’t hear every dog barking and train going by 100 times. So, as we have been muted, somebody, if they have a problem during the class, we have to have some way of knowing about it. And generally that’s going to be through the chat. So, most of these applications have a chat that can go on simultaneously. And again, in larger classes, it’s not going to be very effective to be monitoring the audio and video of all of the remote students. So, if we use the chat and say, let the students know, “Hey, if you’re simply confused, put a bunch of question marks into the chat. If you have a question, ask it in the chat.” But if you have a partner who’s working with you, and monitoring that chat, that keeps you engaged, and you focused on your teaching, but the person monitoring the chat can say, “Excuse me, Rick, you know, I really didn’t understand that last point you made, could you please go back over it?” or “I didn’t hear it,” or as a partner can say, “Somebody online didn’t hear it” or “There’s a lot of confusion online right now. Could you please go back over that point?” I think that’s really useful. And if you can’t do that with a partner, it’s useful to try thinking about rotating it as a student role. I know there’s some negative issues with that; there’s some problems in that you’re adding something to a student that may have some difficulty keeping up with the content and monitoring the chat at the same time. But, I think it is really important to have a way to monitor and check for understanding and check for technical problems while you’re teaching, and it’s difficult to do that yourself.

John: If faculty want to keep tabs on how things are going with their students, what else can they do besides monitoring the chat?

Rick: In smaller classes, you can keep an eye on the videos as well, just like you would in your regular classroom. If you have a seminar or discussion-based class that’s smaller, then you’re probably going to have enough room to see the students and keep an eye on them and scrolling through them and just visually checking for understanding. Then there are other things that we can do. We can do live polls, we can do quizzes in our LMS and other activities that will help make sure that students are getting the materials that we want.

Rebecca: I’m newer to video conferencing and have been experimenting with recording so if I needed to share something with a student that was sick, one thing that I realized, for example, in using Zoom is that the polling doesn’t show up in a recording automatically. So, there’s things that, if you don’t test it ahead of time, you might not know how to do it or how to set it up. So, I really found being able to practice with colleagues in advance really helpful, because I’ve discovered some of those stumbling blocks that I didn’t realize were going to be stumbling blocks.

Rick: Right? Well, and that’s key. The technology and where we’re going to be teaching, it might not be our own technology. It’s easier for us to practice on our own computers and our own systems in our own homes in locations where we plan on teaching. But in this case, we are probably going to be teaching in a classroom, and that classroom is going to be designed and laid out by, depending upon the school, somebody in IT or in a teaching and learning center, something like that. And we don’t know how it’s set up. We need to go in there and test it. We need to know how to change the camera if we’re going to use a document camera, for example, we need to be able to switch back and forth. We need to know how to do all those things. And that practice is beyond us becoming familiar with it. Like you were saying there, where you did a recording, I really recommend that people go to every room that they’re going to be using and record a session. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a full lecture, but test what it’s like when you’re speaking at the podium and how you need to speak to be clear, make sure that the levels are right on the microphone for your particular voice. My voice is deep and loud, and it carries very well. So, generally, people can hear me, even if I’m a bit aways from the microphone, but that’s not true of everybody. You really need to know where the mic picks up and how well it picks up. You need to know where the frame is in your video. So, if you like to move around a little bit and walk back and forth from one side of the room to the other, that is probably not going to work in this environment. So, if you want to do it, you need to know where you are in the frame, so that you stay in view for those remote students. If you tend to walk around… and this is something that we’ve been taught to do as teachers, or have learned to do… that we want to walk around and engage the class. We want to make sure that people are paying attention. And we can really do that by moving around. Unfortunately, if we’re teaching to a group of remote students, when we move around, they might not be able to hear us as well. But they’re also then staring at a blank wall or the chalkboard or the whiteboard. And that makes it a lot harder to pay attention for those remote students, and even more so for anyone watching a recorded session.

John: And all that’s good advice, not just during a time of pandemic, but before any semester because one of the worst things you can do is go into class for the first day and set the example of fumbling with the controls and not being able to get this class started well, and that negative impression can have a pretty significant impact on how students see you and your class. So, you want to have a really good strong start, however you’re starting, and working with either the classroom or your computer controls, I think is really helpful, as you said,

Rick: I think we can expect some healthy skepticism from the students too. So we want to try and alay those by being prepared. It’s difficult for people who have never done this before, didn’t plan on doing it, would never have agreed to teach using this modality in any other circumstances. I think, fortunately, most people recognize that this is a big issue today and understand why schools are doing this. We may not all agree with every step that our administrations have taken, but I think we all do agree we’d like students to be able to learn this fall. My daughter’s starting college this fall in California in an art center, and he didn’t want to wait another year to start college. Personally, I would have been super happy to take another year. I would have just taken a year off. I’d be in, like Costa Rica or somewhere far away from here, if I was eighteen, [LAUGHTER] but there’s all kinds of life circumstances. People want to keep their careers moving on and it’s also a very different world today than it was when I was in school.

John: I think it’s a very different world than any of us were in school. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Indeed. For faculty that are having to teach from home or from their offices, and they haven’t done that before, can you talk us through some ways we might want to think about setting up our workspaces to be more effective and efficient.

Rick: I think, first off, we want to try and find a room that is relatively quiet and well insulated, sound wise, or isolated. That can be difficult. When we’re teaching at home, our children are at home too. Ideally, if you’re in a lucky situation, there are other people to help keep the chaos away from the room while we’re teaching, as much as we can. Secondly, I think finding a room that is well lit is a good thing. And then go ahead and start your camera, set up the room, turn on the lights the way you think they’re going to be, and then see how it looks. In the room I’m in right now, there’s an overhead light, and if I turn that light on, it’s not actually going to light my face better, because the way the lights going to come down, it’s actually going to hit the top of my head, and then put most of my face in the shadow. So, in that case, it’s actually better for me to have the natural light coming in from the window. But, we need to sort of think those things through in a way that we haven’t before. So, it’s good to bring up any video app really, and look at it on your computer and then adjust the lighting. So, the computer itself is going to provide some lighting, but then you might need to bring in an extra lamp to put on one side or the other to sort of balance the light. The other thing you can do is, if you have a light that directional and adjustable that you might normally use for reading or something like that, if it’s bright enough, you can actually turn it away from you and face it towards the wall or towards a lightly colored object if your wall is dark, and what that’ll do is that’ll bounce the light off of the wall and onto your face, and a light like that can otherwise be too harsh, but that way it can light it and sort of balance your light, keep your face well lit. Things like that can be really useful. And then again, just making sure that your mic is going to pick you up. Generally, the mics aren’t a big problem when we’re teaching at home in our rooms. Sometimes a headset can be useful. Testing and finding what works best for you, I think, is key in just making sure that the video appears in a way that everybody can see well and clearly.

John: And this was implied in your discussion, but having a natural light is really good, but you don’t want that natural light behind you because then you get more of that shadow effect. If you have a bright sunlit window behind you, which I’ve seen in so many faculty at webinars, you just see a dark blur surrounded by this bright light and you want to arrange it so, if possible, that light is facing you. I had that problem in my office and I had to put up a blackout curtain over the window so I didn’t get washed out that way.

Rick: Right, if you can’t change where your desk is facing and the light is behind you, that’s not gonna work. Even if it’s in front of you, if the way the sun shines at certain times of the day is straight in, it’s gonna make you squint, you’re gonna end up washed out, so the details on your face will get washed out. So, then you might want to think about curtains in that case. We want to work on the lighting so that we’re clear, that people can see our faces and our mouths. That helps people understand what we’re saying, but it also helps them convey all the nonverbal communication that’s part of the way we speak, that nobody can see in this podcast. But when we’re doing our video conferencing, they can absolutely pick up all kinds of clues on whether we’re smiling, on how serious we are when we’re speaking, based upon our facial expression. And you can’t really see that if, like you said, you’re backlit, whether it’s from the window or whether it’s from where the lights are in your room. So, we really just want to straighten out the lighting as best we can right from the beginning.

Rebecca: Also thinking about time of day is key and remembering that in the fall, we’re gonna head into shorter days. So, you might have really good sunlight at the end of the day right now, that lighting is great, but it might actually be much darker. [LAUGHTER]

Rick: That’s absolutely true, especially for those of you up in New York. [LAUGHTER] It’s a little less of an issue for my friends south in Tucson or Phoenix or Corpus Christi. [LAUGHTER]

John: I noticed behind you there’s a painting and some artwork on the wall, but there’s nothing that’s really distracting, that’s taking the attention away from you. Is that something perhaps that faculty should also do? Not have something really distracting in the background?

Rick: Absolutely. Anybody doing any video conferencing, whether it’s for anything that besides your friends, it’s not only going to matter because it’s distracting, but you might have things that… I’m looking around this room and right now I think everything… over the past four months, we have made sure that everything behind us is non-controversial as well. Because you may have artwork in your home that’s beautiful and wonderful, but we don’t necessarily want to begin religious discussion at the beginning of our computer science class, or something like that, right? So, we want to just keep everything nice and clean and neat.

Rebecca: Like my bland gray walls behind me. [LAUGHTER]

Rick: Yeah, exactly. The bland gray wall works really well. [LAUGHTER] So does a nice piece of artwork, I think is perfectly fine… and really any artwork is fine. I don’t mean to be too prudish on these things, but especially if we’re teaching 18 to 22 year olds, sometimes they can be a little bit more easily distracted by things like that. Well, actually, really anybody… You see something that’s gonna upset you, it’s gonna upset you. So let’s think about that and just make sure that the room is welcoming, and, and ready for you to focus on your coursework and not on the room.

John: In a lot of ways, the easiest environment to teach in that sort of framework is when you’re in a room where you get to control all that, to control the sound and so forth. Many colleges are going to be using a system in which there is some type of a hyflex structure, without much flexibility in terms of how students choose to engage, where some students will be present in the classroom in reduced numbers and spread out across the room, while other people will be participating online synchronously. And some other people might only be available asynchronously because of other issues, maybe because of healthcare issues, maybe because they’re back at home taking care of relatives, or they themselves are perhaps in quarantine somewhere, and may not be able to always participate at the same time. in that environment. What are some of the challenges that faculty might face in trying to engage in say, active learning type activities, which require some interaction among the students in person, among the students online, and perhaps even between the online and the face-to-face students?

Rick: Let’s take that last example first. From a teaching standpoint, that’s ideal. We’re mixing our in-class students with the remote students. It’s helping us build community. And it’s great. And that can work really well. But, we need to think about the environment. So, if we do one person locally with one or a few students remotely, then the local student needs to have a computer, or perhaps they could do it through their telephone. And we probably want them to have a headset on because, if everybody in the classroom has a computer open, and is communicating with people from off site, we’re going to just sort of have a bit of chaos in all the sound coming from the speakers. But, if we can find a way to do that, if the room is suitable, or if there’s easy ways to break students out, that’s sort of the ideal. Otherwise, I think we’re looking at building breakout sessions within the remote students so that the remote students and… you mentioned Collaborate earlier… students can make their own Collaborates and then work together there and then come back to the central Collaborate that the class is in and we can do sessions like that and then have them present the results of their group breakout. They can communicate that back. That’s another way of doing it. And then the local students can obviously just meet in groups within the room.

In the LMS, we may find that the group tool is something we need to use for these video classes, though, because some schools are not actually doing the work of dividing the section up. So, if I’m going to have a third of the class come on Monday, a third of the class come on Wednesday, and a third of the class come on Friday, I’m going to need some way to decide that. And since most of the LMS tools do have groups, I can either randomly assign students or I could put signup sheets for the days. And then I could also use that group rule to do breakouts, whether they’re asynchronous or synchronous, it will help to have them set up. And so I can, again, either do it randomly or through sign up. And then there’s all kinds of group activities that people can do once we get into that asynchronous realm. In the synchronous realm, they’re meeting, they’re speaking, they’re coming up with a plan and then they’re reporting it back to the group and the asynchronous it might be different. They might meet, come up with something, and then post their work to the LMS. for everyone to review.

Asynchronous environments can still be very interactive and active through discussions, through group work online. There’s lots of different tools that you can use for that. And we can also engage the students with polling. There’s Kahoots!, I’m not sure everybody’s familiar with those. But in, Kahoots!, there are ways of doing polls and you don’t necessarily have to have your institution on board. So, if your institution doesn’t have a polling system, or it’s not built in… like Collaborate has a built-in polling system… I believe Zoom does as well. But, if you can do some kind of polling that can help the students stay engaged. You can also do little quizzes in a similar way with the polling… and just sort of checking for understanding, I think those are great ways of helping students stay engaged.

John: And in terms of Kahoot!s, you can do it synchronously for the people who are in the room and remote, and then you can have some discussion of their questions after you go through them. But, you can then set it up so that you can share the quiz online so that students, at least, would have the option of participating at asynchronously as well. They wouldn’t have the same real-time discussion capabilities of the students who were there synchronously, but at least they would have the same type of retrieval practice as an exercise with Kahoot!.

Rick: When you talk about the recorded version of your video conference or your streamed lecture. That is not an ideal way to learn or to teach, to watch a recorded session of a bunch of other people. People are going to tend to zone out and not be able to follow everything that happens. They’re going to be distracted by the other things going on and there isn’t going to be anything pulling them back in. Because when you say, “Okay, everybody do this poll…” well, on the recorded version, and they’re gonna do it whenever later, they may not pause it, they may not even notice that you told them to do something right away. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t think people should record their classes. I absolutely think we should. But, I think if we have a substantial number of students who are not able to attend live, then we are much better off with a very strong online learning component. At least in my opinion. A lot of these ideas that sort of flex idea came because people read work by Brian Beatty from San Francisco State where he coined the term HyFlex. When I was researching this when I started at NAU, I found that there is HyFlex, but there’s also been other people who’ve done very similar types of teaching, calling it different types of things, but it hasn’t been widely used. But, when you look at what they did, if you read the articles and research around this, which is relatively scant. But, what there is pretty much shows that all of the previous experiments with this involve having somebody there to assist the faculty member, whether it was a partner or a learning assistant or an educational technologist, somebody was there helping. And then the other thing that they really all did is build extremely good and strong online components. And in the San Francisco State one, they didn’t necessarily have to show up in person at all, they could do it entirely through the learning management system. And in my ideal world, schools would give faculty options so we would be able to teach one day a week live, and we would stream that for anybody who wanted it and everybody would have, say, one live session. And then in my ideal world, there would be an online component for the other half of the course for that week. And that would, I think, give students more actual flexibility in learning, but it would also, because the strong online component is so important, it would give them real incentive to create that strong online component.

John: And that would also have advantage if schools have to shut down at some point because if they do shut down, the face-to-face component will go away. And having that ready would make the transition a lot smoother, I think.

Rick: Absolutely. And if you are counting on everybody showing up every week, in the middle of a giant pandemic, you’re probably going to be disappointed. So, if you’re hoping to pass out papers, the one day a week that the students come to class, I think you’re going to find yourself with a lot of headaches. So, I think having your materials online… that’s the whole thing with an online learning course or a video conferencing course. And we didn’t really get into my background with that. I ran, for 13 years, a video conferencing system at a community college here. We’re the second largest county in the country and more rural than the largest county. And so at one point, we were teaching students over video conferencing who were living at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. So, those students, they’d have to hike out 12 miles or take a helicopter and then drive for four hours to get to our main campus. So, that was why it made so much sense for us and why we had a video conferencing program that went on to 2015. And that’s why it was like that. It was because there was this real reason to do it. But, when I was managing it, I would tell faculty, we have to build online components. And the reason is, the plan that had been made by the academic leadership was… well, we had this complicated system of faxing papers and collecting things through fax, we were already building online components. We started with WebCT and I said if we use WebCT for this we can do low-stakes testing through WebCT. We can distribute papers. When the students lose those papers, we don’t have to worry about finding a secretary or an administrative assistant, or another professor who’s at the other campus to run and print it out. And in the cases where we were working in even more remote areas, we didn’t have those types of resources. So, we really needed to use the online component. And that’s even more true if your students are going to end up staying at home or if somebody gets exposed and has to self isolate for a few weeks, they’re not going to be in person. So, having that online component really is going to make your life easier. And as you said, right now, when all these plans were being made, our state looked fine. But our state now is one of the highest rates of infection in the world. So, I don’t know what it’ll be like in a month. Nobody does.

Rebecca: I didn’t want to follow up a little bit on this conversation. We’ve talked a lot about what it’s like for faculty in planning, but not really entirely about the student side of remote learning, like what their systems might need to be like or what kinds of rules we might have in place? Or what kinds of expectations we have about participation in terms of a synchronous video component. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Rick: I think one advantage we have that this is happening in 2020 is that, if we’re looking at engaging in something that’s primarily video and audio, our telephones really today can do a lot of that, and even answering short polls we can do on our phones. So, the students do have that possibility. But, ultimately, a computer is a little bit more effective. And one of the things I am worried about, actually, is access to that technology for some students who may normally rely on computer labs at our schools. And when we’re thinking about it as faculty members, it’s tricky for those of us in instructional design and educational technology, who have been doing this our entire careers to remember that not everybody has all the tools that we do. And so I’m really hoping that schools are either making socially distanced labs available, or ideally having equipment that is available for checkout for their lower-income students who may not have all the equipment. And I think the other problem that we’re going to have for students is going to be quiet learning environments. A lot of students live with multiple people living in the same room. A lot of students live in environments that are a little bit noisier, and we’re gonna have to adjust to that and figure out, based upon the size of our class, like I mentioned earlier, do we need to mute them? How are we going to check for their understanding if they’re muted? Are we going to have all the video available? You mentioned what the students have at home. What is their internet connection? Do they have a strong enough internet connection? It probably needs to be at least in the megabit realm for this to work at all. And I think the other problem is that sometimes students are going to be on shared connections. And what I found in the spring, that we had switched from the telephone company, because I was able to get a much higher bandwidth to the cable company, which generally has been great. I’m working at home, my partner works at home and that really hasn’t been a problem. But I tell you what, when my two daughters were both participating in Zoom conferences, my spouse was on a Zoom conference, and I was on a Zoom conference, we were not all doing video, it just didn’t work. And so we had to mute some of those sections. And really, some students may not even want their video on. And so I think we’re gonna have to be open and accomodating for those types of questions that students might have. Because they may be a privacy issue. It may be a technology issue, and if they don’t have their video on, I don’t think we need to spend a whole bunch of time talking to them about their video and why isn’t it on, whether it should be on. I really feel like there’s so many different reasons that are valid for the camera to be off, that we should probably let some students participate without video feeds.

John: And the same argument can be made for audio because if they’re in a noisy environment, they may not be able to even speak without a lot of background noise. It’s one thing to invite students to turn on their video and audio if they can, but we probably shouldn’t require it.

Rick: I think you’re right. I think it’s also one of the real key differences between that built video conferencing environment that was pretty popular a good 10 to 20 years ago. Those rooms were purpose built. Every single room was purpose built, whether it was built for somebody teaching or whether it was built for the student receiving the mat. rials. Everybody went into a room that was, ideally sound isolated, that had a good mic setup. And that’s just not going to be the case when everybody’s at home.

John: We always end with the question: “What’s next?”

Rick: I think what’s next, globally… what a lot of us in instructional technology and instructional design really hope is that this fall is gonna go better than last spring. Because I can’t tell you how many, what I personally think are bogus, articles came out saying, “Look, it proves that distance learning doesn’t work.” No, it proves that distance learning needs preparation, and you can’t do it with a day’s notice. So, hopefully this fall, people will have much better experiences. I really hope people contact all the resources that are available at their schools. If they have instructional designers, those people can really help you build that online component. There are people who have been working in video at your school. I know there’s a number of people at Northern Arizona University with extensive experience. Reach out to those people, they can really help you. They can make sure that the room is the way you need it to be. I would say really reach out. But, as far as what’s next, I hope that what’s next is that people say, Wow, building an online component really made my life easier. And that they’ll start building online components all the time every year. And I’ve been pushing that to the point of obnoxiousness…. sorry, folks who worked with me… for decades now, that it’s more work that first semester you set it up, but every subsequent semester, using your learning management system, even for your in-person classes, is going to help. And now we’ve seen that it helps if there’s a global pandemic, but we can also see that it could help if there was a massive forest fire that went through your town, and everybody had to evacuate and you didn’t want to call this semester a loss. And there have been some, more in K-12, but some experiences where that really did happen. People were able to do it, and it’s also really critical. I don’t know how much you guys talk about K-12. But, that’s an environment, too, where preparing for emergencies is easier to see now. But, also where college students may sometimes forget things, 12-year olds and 13-year olds forget things a lot. And so having the work online for them can really help them. So, I’m really hopeful. That’s what I think is next. What I hope is next is that we have a much better experience this fall under such trying circumstances.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for your insights and some thoughts about preparing for the land of video moving forward.

Rick: Thank you so much.

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

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

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148. Active Learning: 6 Feet of Separation

During the fall 2020 semester, many faculty will be working in a classroom environment in which they will be in a classroom using a video conferencing tool to work simultaneously with a mix of remote students online and masked and physically distanced face-to-face students. There are significant challenges in using active learning techniques in this environment. In this episode, Dr. Derek Bruff joins us to explore some active learning strategies that may work under these very unusual circumstances.

Derek is the Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a Principal Senior Lecturer in the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics. He is the author of Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments, as well as his most recent book on Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching. Derek is also a host of the Leading Lines podcast.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: During the fall 2020 semester, many faculty will be working in a classroom environment in which they will be in a classroom using a video conferencing tool to work simultaneously with a mix of remote students online and masked and physically distanced face-to-face students. There are significant challenges in using active learning techniques in this environment. In this episode, we explore some active learning strategies that may work under these very unusual circumstances.

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

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

John: …and

Rebecca: , a graphic designer.

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

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John: Our guest today is Dr. Derek Bruff. Derek is the Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a Principal Senior Lecturer in the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics. He is the author of Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments, as well as his most recent book on Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching, which we talked about in an earlier podcast. Derek is also a host of the Leading Lines podcast. Welcome back, Derek.

Derek: Thanks. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to be back on the podcast. And I just want to say I’ve been very impressed at the work you two have been doing these past several months. I used to say Leading Lines comes out on the first and third Monday of every month. And now I say Leading Lines comes out when it comes out. [LAUGHTER] And so, keeping up the schedule that you guys have had with this podcast and bringing in so many great guests and having so many great interviews, it’s just been a really rich resource for me. And as someone who can’t keep up a regular podcasting schedule right now, I’m just very impressed at what you guys have been doing.

Rebecca: It’s all John.

John: We’ve gotten a lot of help from so many people, such as you, who have agreed to join us and share their thoughts in a really challenging time. And it’s been a really great resource for our faculty too, who are faced with all this uncertainty about the fall.

Rebecca: Me too, because I’m not teaching until the fall. I haven’t taught this spring. [LAUGHTER]

Derek: Now’s a good time to be on sabbatical.

Rebecca: So, today’s teas are. Are you drinking tea, Derek?

Derek: No, I have some dark roast coffee.

Rebecca: Caffeine. [LAUGHTER]

Derek: Yeah.

John: And I have ginger peach green tea today.

Rebecca: I have a summer berry green tea. See, I’m mixing it up, John.

John: That’s a new one.

Rebecca: I gotcha. I gotcha.

Derek: Yeah, sounds lovely.

Rebecca: Actually, you’d be very happy to know, John, that last time I was in Epcot. I got it. [LAUGHTER]

John: We’re recording this in July. It’ll be released probably in early August. And there’s a lot of uncertainty about the fall. Right now, probably most colleges and universities in the country, with a few notable exceptions, have announced that they’re planning to bring students back to campus for face-to-face instruction with reduced seating, with some students coming in remotely (typically through Zoom or some other video conference app), and you recently released a blog post that discuss options for maintaining active learning in this environment where some students will be there in the classroom, spread out to make it hard for them to be in contact with each other, as well as online with a video conference. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that sort of framework in terms of what possibilities there are for people to interact.

Derek: Sure. I wrote this blog post because I’ve been getting so many questions from my faculty at Vanderbilt, trying to imagine what the fall semester will be like. And I gave a presentation based on the blog post at a Vanderbilt faculty town hall the other week, and one of my slides said, “No one has ever done this before.” And I think that’s really important. So, what I’m imagining that a number of faculty will face this fall, and again, different campuses are making different decisions… and even within a single campus, there’s going to be a lot of different configurations… some faculty will be teaching fully online, some faculty will not… and so this is kind of what we’re trying to imagine is that if I’m teaching a class this fall and I’m back on campus, I’m in a classroom, I have some students there in the room with me, but because of social distancing requirements, they’re six feet apart from each other. Maybe we’re all wearing masks, maybe I have a face shield instead of a mask. There’s going to be some variability here. But some students will not be able to come to the classroom, either because the social distancing requirements mean that you can’t hold as many students in the classroom, or maybe they are unable to travel back to get on campus. A lot of our international students are not planning to come back on campus this fall for a variety of reasons. Or maybe you have a student who’s in quarantine, right? They’ve been exposed to COVID and they’re in quarantine for 14 days, and so they can’t come to the classroom. A lot of us teaching this fall. I don’t know how many, but a lot of us, are likely to have these classes where some of the students are in the classroom, but physically distanced and masked, and some students are participating at the same time, but virtually, perhaps through video conferencing tool like Zoom. And you may have some students who actually can’t do either of those. If they’re 12 time zones away, they may have to participate in your class asynchronously in some fashion. That’s a whole ‘nother level of challenge. In my blog post, I just focused on those first two groups of students, the in-person but physically distanced, and then the virtual students may be participating via Zoom. And I’ve been really careful in my terminology of how I describe this, and so I’m calling this a hybrid classroom, because hybrid is sufficiently generic [LAUGHTER] that it would apply to a situation like this. Hybrid typically means some combination of face-to-face and online activities. It’s not quite hyflex. So there’s this term you may have heard, hyflex, which I think means something more specific, where students really have a choice to participate in person, synchronously online, asynchronously online, and they may actually shift from those modalities over the length of the semester. The flex in Hyflex is the kind of student choice and the student autonomy piece and I’m not expecting we’re gonna have a lot of student autonomy this fall. We have some, certainly. Students are electing to be remote-only students or on-campus students, but it doesn’t feel like it’s quite hyflex in terms of the classic model there. That said, though, the folks who teach in a hyflex environment have developed teaching strategies that can work when you have students participating in the classroom and students participating online at the same time. That said, they haven’t had to deal with the physical distancing and the masks. That’s the part that really is novel, and I think it’s going to be important that we as instructors give ourselves a little bit of grace, knowing that literally no one has taught under these conditions in the past, this is new for us, it’s new for our colleagues at other institutions, it’s new for our students. This is going to be really weird and really challenging for them. And frankly, there are a lot who would argue that it might be easier to just teach fully online; that trying to kind of juggle the constraints in this kind of classroom is going to be really challenging for a lot of faculty. And I’ve talked to a lot of faculty who are like, I would just rather teach fully online this fall. And so I don’t want to speak too much into that choice. There’s a lot of factors that go into university decisions about kind of bringing folks back to campus this fall. Our work at the Center for Teaching, we’re trying to help faculty teach as well as they can in whatever conditions they find themselves. We don’t usually get to pick those conditions, right? And so, I just wanted to try to be helpful and so I wrote the blog posts because using technology to foster active learning in the classroom, that’s my jam. That’s what I’ve been writing about and speaking about for a decade and a half now. I wrote my book on teaching with classroom response systems back in 2009…. clickers and polling software… we have tools, actually. This classroom setup sounds really hard, and it will be hard. And there’s stuff about it that I can’t predict in terms of how hard it will be. But we do have some tools and technologies that can help foster more active learning in these types of environments. And so that’s what I wanted to lay out for my faculty colleagues, who couldn’t imagine how this could work at all. And I could see a few ways actually… a few tools that could make it functional. And so I wanted to share those strategies.

John: Before we talk about the specific strategies, maybe we could talk about some of the mechanics. One of the things you suggest is that you’re assuming that the people who are in the classroom will be able to see and hear the people speaking from outside over Zoom or some other videoconference tool, but what about voice going from the classroom to remote participants. Since the in-class students won’t be able to use their own microphones (to avoid possible feedback effects), how will students who are participating remotely be able to hear what other students say in the classroom?

Derek: Right? And that’s where I don’t know that there’s going to be a good answer to that. The audio piece is one of the more challenging pieces of this classroom environment… the students in the classroom getting to hear each other when they’re sitting far apart and wearing masks… but, even more so, the students who are participating virtually. How can they hear the students in the classroom? Presumably, the instructor will be running Zoom off of the classroom computer or their laptop, and they’ll have a webcam and a microphone. If I’m close to my computer when I’m running Zoom, people on the Zoom call can hear me. So, having the virtual students hear the instructor seems fairly straightforward, but the students in the classroom, they’re not going to come anywhere near that microphone. Now we have a few classrooms at Vanderbilt that have some ceiling mounted microphones that are going to help with that, and that will have some capability to pick up the student voices in the room. But, I’m anticipating that’s going to be a real challenge, actually. And so, again, I don’t have a silver bullet, but it does speak to the use of something like a backchannel tool. So like a text chat in a Zoom room or using a third party tool like Twitter, or GroupMe, or Slack, or Discord… a place where you can have a text conversation with all of your students during class. This is often called the backchannel. The front channel, it’s kind of you at the front of the room talking and having conversations with your students. But the backchannel is the text chat that kind of supplements that. And I’ve been doing stuff with backchannel for years. It’s a really interesting way to build community in the classroom, to give voices to more students to kind of create an on-the-fly closed captioning almost or documentation of the discussion that’s happening. It can be really powerful to have a good backchannel. It can also be really challenging. I think a lot of instructors who’ve dabbled with this have realized that when they are at the front of the room leading class, they don’t have the bandwidth to also pay attention to the text chat and see what’s happening there. And so what I’ve recommended is what I learned from Steve Gilbert and Steve Ehrmann years ago, doing webinars to have someone called the “voice of the chat.” Designate someone, maybe it’s a teaching assistant if you’ve got one of those, but it could be a student in the room, and it could rotate among students over time. Their job is to pay attention to the text chat, the backchannel, and then you as the instructor every so often, you would pause and turn it over to the voice of the chat and say, “What’s been happening in the chat? What are the questions that are emerging there? What are some ideas or comments that are really valuable?” Maybe the voice of the chat is someone on your Zoom call, one of your virtual students, because everyone will be able to hear that student. But that way the students who are in the room and the students who are participating virtually can engage in conversation during class, but in the text chat, and then you have these moments where you pull that conversation from the back channel to the front channel, using the voice of the chat. I’ve done this in a lot of online activities, and it works really well. [LAUGHTER] When I’m going to do an online webinar of some sort, I want to have a voice of the chat, someone who can play that role. And so this is actually a pretty proven technique. And I think it’s going to be fairly practical for our classes this fall. I’m glad you asked about this because class discussion. as we think of it in the generic sense, may be the hardest thing to do in this hybrid environment. For me to stand at the front of the room and show them how PowerPoint slides and lecture to my students, that’ll be relatively easy. That’s also something that you could do without students in the room, right? If you’re just gonna lecture then maybe that’s a pre-recorded something that you share with your students. That doesn’t have to be a live interaction of some sort. But the class discussion, the kind of student-to-student piece is going to be really challenging. And so back channel is one way to try to foster some of that in the classroom.

John: So, the students in the room would be encouraged to bring a mobile device to participate in the text chat and to avoid the feedback loop that would result if they were participating in the video chat using audio. That sounds like a really effective solution.

Rebecca: I think one of the other things that you had some interesting ideas about too was group work. One of the reasons why being in class could be appealing to someone is the idea of being able to collaborate or work on something together. But again, same problem as discussions.

Derek: Right. Yeah. So here’s where I’ve done this a couple of times, just because it was fun in my regular classes, is to use a Google sheet as a way to structure groups and their work and their reporting out. And so, years ago, in my stats course, we had an infographics project. So they had to do some data visualization. And so to get them ready for that, I had them look at some sample infographics. And I invited them to essentially crowdsource the rubric that we would use for the infographics they created. I set up a Google sheet that had across the top, it was kind of levels of quality from poor, acceptable, good, to excellent, and each row was blank. And the idea was that the students would work in small groups, they would look at these sample infographics and they would start to identify what are the components of a really good infographic, and each group would pick a different row on the Google spreadsheet and start to flesh out that component and how you would assess it from kind of poor to excellent. I think I had 100 students in the room when I was doing this. And they were working in groups of two or three, and there were all of these anonymous aardvarks all over the Google sheet, adding their ideas for the rubric and it was a little chaotic, but what I wanted from them was more than just a polling question, this wasn’t a multiple choice question. I wanted them to produce something. It was free response, but not just free response, it was a kind of structured free response. And so the Google sheet was a really nice tool for doing this. And so this is what I’m imagining doing thi fall. You can do this in a fully online, kind of a Zoom session, class. Or if you’ve got this kind of hybrid situation, imagine giving your students three questions to discuss in their small groups. You set up a Google sheet, put those questions at the top, one in each column, share that Google sheet with your students, and then send them off to do their small group discussion. As students in the room…. hopefully, this is part of the unknown… if you have two or three students in the classroom, six feet apart from each other wearing masks, will they be able to have a useful discussion as a small group? I hope so. Again, that’s part of the reason for being in the same place at the same time is to have that kind of student-to-student interaction. I don’t know that I would try groups of size six this fall, I might do groups of size two or size three. And the idea is, they would work in small groups. Meanwhile, on Zoom, your students are probably in breakout rooms, again in groups of size two or three, and they’re talking about the questions that you’ve given them, and they are reporting out, each group on a different row of the Google spreadsheet. Now this does a few things. One is you can monitor the Google spreadsheet as students are putting their responses in there. And that allows you to get a sense of how fast they’re moving through the work, when they’re starting to wrap up…. Oh, most of the students have answered questions one and two, but they’re really slowing down on question three. This is helpful information. You can also start to preview their responses and see what ideas are they bringing to the conversation, and that’ll set you up for whatever you do after the group work, to have a sense of what they’re saying. But, I’m also imagining, it’s a nice structured way for the groups to report out, to share, maybe even to focus. It may be that in the classroom, it’s hard for students to hear each other a little bit. And so you could even imagine, if we’ve got three people in our group and three questions, that each of us will draft a response to one question, and then we’ll rotate and revise each other’s drafts. And you can do that right there in the Google doc. This will take some creativity, it may take a little more coordination than you’re used to needing to do for in-class group work. But it’s also nice that, in this case, the Google sheet as a reporting structure would be the same structure for both your in-person and your online students. And so that simplifies things a little bit. And so, I can imagine that kind of technique working pretty well. Again, there’s a bit of an unknown about the students in the classroom and how well they’ll be able to hear each other. But, that would enable a form of group work that I think would be pretty functional. And it wouldn’t have to be a Google sheet. There’s lots of other online collaborative tools that you could use to have students report out in some fashion. There’s these kind of Whiteboard apps where you’ve kind of put sticky notes all over the board. So it could be something more like that. Or maybe they create a PowerPoint or a Google slides, each group has a different slide where they’re gonna put their answers, they’re gonna put their deliverable of some sort. Again, this is not maybe how we want to do group work, but I think it would be functional in the settings that we’re looking at this fall.

Rebecca: I think one thing that you mentioned in your article, which I also strongly advocate for is if you’re going to use some group work techniques, if you establish something that’s consistent so that you don’t have so much startup cost every time you do group work, that that might help too, for that consistency, and then you might get better responses I would imagine over the course of the semester when there’s less cost in terms of figuring out how to do the thing.

Derek: Absolutely. The first couple of times you do it, it’ll be awkward and hard and slow. But after your students have done it a few times, then it’ll be a lot easier to just kind of slide into this mode with your students.

John: You mentioned the use of polling. And when we moved to remote instruction, I continued that using Zoom, but we were completely remote. The way I did it, and I think this was something you recommended, something Erik Mazur had done, is you poll students with challenging questions, and then you have them work in small groups. In Zoom, that’s pretty easy. You send them into breakout rooms with groups of two (or maybe three, if you have an odd number of students.) How would you do that same type of thing in a classroom setting where you want people to engage in active discussions? Might that be a little challenging in the physical room where everyone can hear everyone else, given that they’re spread equidistant apart somehow?

Derek: Yeah. And so you know, I can imagine doing a polling question, having all of your students respond using the same polling tool. And again, this would assume that your in-person students have a device with them that they’re going to use to participate. Now it may be hard for them to do that via Zoom. You’d have to make sure everyone in the room had their microphones turned off and their audio muted because otherwise you’d have too much audio feedback. But if the students in the room were also in Zoom, but kind of silenced and muted, they could participate in the Zoom polling questions. Or you could go to another tool like TopHat or Poll Everywhere, something that lives outside of Zoom and do all of your polling there in parallel to your Zoom session. Either way, this does not seem to be the semester where you want to put a laptop ban in your classroom, we’re gonna need those tools. And you guys know, I’ve been advocating for years for effective intentional use of digital devices in the classroom. [LAUGHTER] So, we’re gonna need it, we’re not gonna have a choice. But now, let’s say you want to have your students turn to their neighbor and chat about the question. Again, in a normal classroom situation, that’s one of the easiest things you can do to build some active learning into your classroom. Give them a good hard question, have them answer it via the poll, then turn to their neighbor and talk it out together, see if they can put their heads together and get the right answer, and then maybe do a second round on the poll and see where things have shifted. It’s a great pedagogical structure. In the hybrid classroom, the turn to your neighbor and chat is going to be challenging, and so you could try to send your online students to breakout rooms and have them talk there and your in-person students pair up and talk to each other six feet apart. Again, until we do some more testing, I don’t know how practical that’s going to be in the classroom, I’m hopeful that it’ll kind of work. It may be that, what in a normal classroom, you might have them turn to their neighbor and talk for 60 seconds, and then move on, that may be too hard to do. And so if you’re going to have them do group work, you’re going to have them spend 10 minutes doing group work because they’re moving to a Google sheet or they’re doing something kind of bigger and more structured. The kind of quick informal pair work may be too challenging. One option that someone suggested to me that I thought was kind of interesting, though, was to have your students in the room, if you have paired them up with your virtual students, you can have the student in the room pull out their phone, put in their earbuds, and FaceTime with their virtual student partner to talk about the question. Again, the first time you do it, there’s a matching problem there, there’s logistics, there’s audio to figure out. The third or fourth time you do it, this may be a lot more fluid and an easier way to have students chat about the question at hand. It also has the added benefit of connecting your virtual students with your in-person students in more intentional ways. And so that could be really helpful for social presence and things like that. Again, a lot of this is going to be trial and error this fall and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work.

John: Since you won’t necessarily have the same number of students online or remote, and it may be difficult to do that pairing, the pairing could work no matter where the other student was. If you’re in a lecture hall that seats 400, and you’ve got 100 people there or 80 people there, they might call someone 100 feet away… 200 feet away…

Derek: Sure. [LAUGHTER]

John: …which could work in the same way as if they were calling someone remotely.

Derek: Yeah. Right. [LAUGHTER] I’m in the southwest corner of the room and my partner is in the northeast corner. Sure. That could work.

Rebecca: We’re far away.

Derek: Right. I want to circle back to this question of why aren’t we just teaching online to begin with? And I think that’s a legitimate question. And I think it’s something that faculty and administrators have to really struggle with. What’s the value pedagogically of classrooms like this? Because a lot of it’s going to be really hard and awkward and, shall we say, sub-optimal. These are not the ways that we want to foster active learning and, like I said, the folks who aren’t fostering active learning, the folks who were just kind of, as the literature says, practicing continuous exposition by the teacher…. That, actually, is going to work no matter what you do this fall. If you’re fully online, if you’re hybrid, if you’re just going to do that, I would argue that that kind of instruction can work just fine online. And maybe that’s not a reason to have people in the room. So, why would you have people in the room? What is the kind of value added there? And one piece, I think, is that we’re all in this together, that this is challenging. I think we’re going to find some students this fall, who don’t want to be in the classroom, taking a health risk of some sort, encountering their instructors or fellow peers, and they’re going to really embrace the online option. I think you’re going to have some students who don’t want to have to stay where they are this fall, they need to come back to campus where they have reliable internet access and laptops that they can access and a library that they can access. We have a lot of students who, when they’re home, are not in conditions that are really conducive to teaching and learning. And so for some students, they’re going to actually welcome the chance to be back on campus and to be a part of that learning community again. And this is hard to talk about, because I think a lot of faculty have very strong reactions and opinions about what the fall is, and being required to teach online or being required to teach in person. But, I just want to put it out there, that I think our students are going to come at this from different perspectives. And so for some students that chance to come into class and awkwardly communicate a little bit with some peers may actually help them feel like they’re more engaged and more part of the learning community. I would also argue that, if we look at not just the individual class session, which may have this weird hybrid, physically distanced quality to it, but if you look at the semester, this fall, a lot of universities are announcing different calendars for the fall, they’re starting later, or they’re starting earlier. They’re finishing by Thanksgiving, they’re not doing fall breaks. We don’t really know what’s going to come this fall. And there’s pretty good odds that at some point, some campuses may need to pivot back fully online. And so if you think about designing a course for this fall, where you’ll have some virtual students, you may have students in vastly different time zones, you may have to pack the whole thing up and move it online at some point during the fall semester. Maybe you’re not assigned to teach the course online, but it’s still, I think, helpful to think about it as an online course, if you could design the course to really function well as a fully online course, and then treat your face-to-face component as a kind of add on, as a supplement, almost like a recitation section. So, there’s a little bit of this in a big lecture hall where you don’t have a lot of kind of student-faculty interaction, anyway. The recitation section is the kind of smaller space where you get to actually engage with peers more and talk about the stuff. And so if you’ve got a course that functions well, so that your assignments are online, a lot of your course communication is online, your key learning activities are online, but the face-to-face components, in this weird hybrid modality, are useful to that and supplemental to that, but if you had to give them up the course wouldn’t fall apart. I think that’s the way to think about this fall: as kind of online first, and then using the face to face to enhance what you can of the learning experience. Build the learning community, have that social interaction, give students a chance to practice and reflect on what they’re learning That’s still super useful. The other way to think about it, I would say, is maybe you’re not willing to kind of think about your entire course moving online right now. But, are there some key elements of your course that you can go ahead and move online at the start of the semester, so that if you have to move the rest of it online later, you’re in a better position. So, I think it was on your podcast that Jessamyn Neuhaus talked about having to learn how to do online assignment submission this spring; that she’d actually never gotten around to learning how to do that, which is fine. It was fine to have paper assignment submission up until the spring but then it became a requirement to do online. So this fall, make sure that you know how to use the assignment submission tool in your course management system and go ahead and plan on having students submit assignments that way. Make sure that you’ve got a good communication pathway with your students using email or the course management system or another tool like Slack or GroupMe, something where you can connect with students, maybe more informally. Go ahead and start using those tools from the beginning, so that if you do have to pivot fully online this fall, you’ve already got some essential components there.

John: That’s basically the approach we taken with our workshops here, and we’ve tried to help sell that to faculty, because it’s a bit of a lift for people who’ve only taught face to face before, by saying anything you create now is going to be something that you can use as a basis for future semesters of your course; that if you have these elements there, you can do a more flipped environment in your classroom, you can use your classroom for more active learning activities, and to the extent to which it results in more possibilities for active learning in the future, I think that’s going to be helpful.

Derek: Yeah, and I’ll add, we’ve been running an Online Course Design Institute at my teaching center all summer… every two weeks, all summer. We’re up over 300 participants in it at this point. A lot of faculty this spring figured out that online wasn’t necessarily as terrible as they thought it might be. They were able to connect with their students in meaningful ways and continue teaching in spite of the circumstance. And so we had a lot of faculty who woke up to some of the possibilities of online teaching this spring and then we’ve been working with faculty. he’ll spend two weeks with us in a pretty intensive institute, learning how to teach online, and a lot of them have a big shift in their opinion about online instruction over the course of those two weeks. They were initially skeptical that it could work nearly as well as face-to-face instruction. and they end the institute thinking, “Okay, this could be pretty exciting, actually, I see a lot of potential here.” And so that’s the other thing that I would suggest, that faculty keep an open mind about really the potential of online teaching. A really well designed online course can work just as well, sometimes even better, than a really well designed face-to-face course. And so it’s okay to kind of lean into that. And to let that be a bigger part of your kind of teaching toolbox this fall.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that you mentioned a little bit earlier in our conversation is like, why are you in person in the first place? What motivates being in person, I think you’re right about the social connection. even seeing other people who are also dedicating time to learning a particular thing could be useful, even if they’re not interacting with each other, and just in the same space at the same time. But also just if you’re there for equipment or other reasons, there might be ways of teaching using a lot of online techniques with the opportunity to have access to tools that they might not have otherwise. And it might be down to like access to a laptop or higher end technology or something that is in a lab or… I teach in a design studio, so some of the more expensive software, faster computers or things like that. So, we’re thinking through the ways that, maybe we don’t really need to be teaching so much, like there could be a lot of learning happening in the classroom at that time and not necessarily a lot of teaching… maybe some coaching and some interactions. But those interactions might actually be happening virtually,

Derek: Right. And you can imagine more of a kind of flipped model where some of the heavy lifting in terms of the teaching, the first exposure to the content is going to happen fully online through pre-recorded lectures or videos of some sort or other resources. And then that class time, as awkward as it is, is still an important part of having students apply things, practice things, get some feedback from someone else. That’s going to be a good model for the fall, I think.

John: Going back to something else you said earlier, the issue of the students who can’t be physically present during class time, there’s also the related issue of students who may not be able to be present virtually during class time if they become ill, or are remote and have limited computer access or bandwidth, or are in a different time zone. Would you recommend that faculty also start thinking about what types of asynchronous activities they can use to provide equivalent learning experiences for those students?

Derek: Yeah, that’s a good question. And again, I think this is the other thing that we’ve seen our faculty, most of our faculty don’t teach online. Our school of nursing has a really robust online program, but outside of that school, most of our faculty don’t have a ton of experience teaching online. So this has been kind of new territory for them. And one of the takeaways that many of them have from our Online Course Design Institute is realizing that you can do a lot of really valuable learning asynchronously online. For a lot of faculty this spring, online meant they had Zoom sessions with their students that essentially replicated what they would have done in the classroom face to face. But if you look at the last 20 years of online higher education, most of that work in higher ed has been asynchronous online learning. You build your course to work well asynchronously. And it’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve had the video conferencing technology that would make a synchronous online component something that you could really lean into in an online course And so thinking about some of your major learning activities and assignments and assessments, not just being online, but being asynchronous online, that’s a really good model to think about. I think one of the impulses is to say, “Well, I’m going to teach in this weird hybrid modality this fall, I’m going to have students in the room, I’m going to have students on Zoom at the same time, some of my students can’t make it during that time, so we’re going to record the Zoom session, and they can watch it later.” And that’s better than nothing, certainly, but watching someone else participate in class is not nearly as effective as participating in class yourself. And so I wouldn’t want faculty to just do that. That’s fine to do. But, I would want them to add something else intentionally to help those asynchronous students engage with the material. And it could be as simple as saying, “I want you to watch this Zoom session. And here are three questions I want you to answer by the end of that 50 minutes.” It could be a different set of questions than the students in the classroom are given to discuss… something a little more active to help them draw out some learning from those recordings. But again, it’s also fine to say, you know what, for this piece of learning, for this module, for this unit, the core learning is going to happen online asynchronously first. And for those who can attend the synchronous session, either in person or via Zoom we’ll do this supplemental piece. And so that’s okay, too. I just keep giving lots of options here. And I’m hoping that helpful. Faculty are gonna have to figure out what’s going to work for them and their students and their comfort zone. I also think faculty are going to have to learn to do new things this fall. During my town hall, I said, “This is going to be an exceptional semester. And so we are going to make some exceptional teaching choices. And that’s okay.” I think for most of us, 2020 has been suboptimal. There’s been massive disappointments in lots of ways and life has gotten harder in so many ways. And yet, we can either stay in bed and not try, or we can get out and try to make it a little bit better somehow. It’s this growth mindset. I think we need to approach the fall semester with a growth mindset to say: “This is gonna be hard. This is gonna be challenging. I’m gonna have to learn some new skills as a teacher. I may have to learn some new technologies. I’m going to try to do that in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me.” Don’t try to take on too much, too fast. But you’ll have to take on some new stuff this fall. And whether that’s active learning with technology in a hybrid classroom, or that’s designing an online course, or using some part of your course management system that you’ve never touched before, but might actually be helpful this fall, we’re all going to be stretching out of our comfort zones this fall. And that’s okay. It’s going to be hard work, but I think if we collaborate and lean on each other a little bit, we’ll be fine.

Rebecca: And it won’t be perfect. And that’ll be fine, too.

Derek: Right. It’s never perfect the first time out.

John: But with all these new tools, it can improve teaching effectiveness in the future. And that’s something we keep reminding people, that, yes, this is a challenge, but you’re learning a lot of new tools that have value beyond this. It’s not just for this one-time emergency, that this could result in some significant improvements in the effectiveness of your teaching later, even though it will be tough.

Derek: Yes, so one of the tools that we’ve been showing people this summer in our online course design institute is a social annotation tool like Hypothesis or Perusall. And it’s mostly our humanities faculty, but they love it. They are just over the moon with what they can do with these social annotation tools. And most of them just haven’t seen it before. It wasn’t on their radar. And it’s super useful in an online course. But, a lot of them are saying, “Oh, I’m just gonna make this a regular part of my courses going forward no matter how I’m teaching, because having students engaged with the text this way, where they’re annotating collaboratively and discussing it in the sidebar, that’s just a really useful learning process that I want to build into all of my courses no matter how I teach them.” So, we’re finding lots of things that we didn’t know were there that we’re going to make use of in 2021, and 21-22. These are going to be permanent parts of our teaching toolbox.

John: In our course redesign workshop for faculty, we included some samples and documents with Hypothesis, and people have been really impressed by the ability to engage and share and give feedback to each other. And I think we’ve got quite a few people who plan to be using it this fall. It’s a great tool. One of the things you recommend in this document is the use of a fishbowl technique. Could you talk a little bit about how that might work in this sort of hybrid environment.

Derek: Sure. And this is a technique that’s been in the literature for a long time, a way to foster discussion in the classroom. And someone mentioned this as a possibility for the hybrid classroom. And I was like, “Oh, yes, actually, that’s a perfect match.” The fishbowl technique classically works like this. You have a small group of students who have a discussion about whatever the topic is. They’re in the fishbowl. The rest of the students are observing from the outside and they’re quiet during the discussion. They’re taking notes, they’re observing. And then after the discussion, you then ask something of the observers, ask them to summarize what they heard or reflect on what they heard. And it can be really helpful if everyone in the fishbowl is advocating for one point of view. And then the folks who are observing have to then kind of summarize that, even if they don’t agree with it. It can really foster intentional listening. There’s lots of things you could do with the fishbowl, but when I thought about the audio context of these hybrid classrooms this fall, having some of your virtual students be in the fishbowl is totally practical. They’re the ones that are going to be easiest to hear across the entire class. You can have five or six students on Zoom, be the fishbowl, have the conversation, the rest of your virtual students and all of your in-person students are then the observers. They’re listening. They’re taking notes. They’re summarizing. I think that’s gonna work really well, actually. And as I’ve shared that idea with a number of faculty here, they’ve been excited to say, “Oh, yeah, that actually fits this context quite well as a structure for discussion.” And especially on some campuses, the virtual students and the face-to-face students are going to flip flop from day to day, there’ll be some students who come to class on Mondays and they do virtual on Wednesdays and the rest of the students are vice versa. And so you could have most of your students have an opportunity to be in the fishbowl at one point or another with this technique. And that way, you get to have some of the richness of that student-to-student discussion. It wouldn’t involve everyone at the same time. But, if you’re really intentional about what you ask the observing students to do with the discussion, I think it can be really productive. Because frankly, if you’ve got 40 students in the classroom, it’s hard to hear from all of them, anyway. You’re only going to hear from five to eight students in a typical discussion. This just centers them in a way and then guides the other students to participate well, in that type of small-group discussion.

Rebecca: I think what you’re pointing out here is the different ways people can participate in speaking isn’t the only way to participate.

Derek: Yeah, or like collaborative notetaking. This is something that a lot of faculty do as a matter of course, anyway, is have students have some shared document where some of the students in the classroom are taking notes on the class discussion. So their role in the discussion is different. They are not there to participate verbally, they are there to do the note taking piece. And that’s an important role. And that would work just fine in this hybrid classroom as well. And so part of this is thinking intentionally about how you want different groups of students to participate in the learning activities, and it’s okay to give them different roles and guide them to different ways to be meaningful participants.

John: You did mention collaborative note taking, wondering how that might be structured in a class of three or four or 500 students. Would it be reasonable perhaps to do that within your LMS using a groups tool to create that, having a shared google doc or something where you share it with a copy link?

Derek: I think if you’ve got 400 students in your class, that’s just a very different teaching context, and it is something about moving online. So I would say that having 75 students in a classroom and 300 students in the classroom, pedagogically, you’re going to use very similar techniques. If you want to foster active learning, then you’re going to have a lot of think-pair-share, a lot of peer instruction, you’ll have some polling. Anything over 50 is going to kind of look the same, pedagogically at least. Some of the logistics change when you have hundreds of students in the room. But, the kind of pedagogical moves that you’re making, I think are somewhat similar. Once you move online, I think there’s a much bigger difference between 50 students online and 300 students online. And so there’s almost a bit of the kind of MOOC mania that may be useful here. Right. So when we had massively open online courses that had thousands of students, there’s less difference between 300 students and 1000 students. And so we might even look to the MOOCs to see what are some techniques that work well at that kind of scale. And that’s where I think having an asynchronously design course makes a lot of sense. If you’ve got 400 students in the course getting them all together on Zoom is going to be a technical nightmare anyway. Let’s just make this course work well as an asynchronous course. The other piece that I would say that if you’ve got a big class and this gets to your point about collaborative note taking or other group structures that you might use, is that social presence is going to be really challenging. When you’ve got that many students, it’s going to be hard for students to feel connected. In the physical classroom, if you’ve got 400 students, at the very least, a given student has the five or six students they sit near every day to form a bit of a local learning community. And even if you don’t ask them to talk to their neighbor about something, they’re still going to talk to each other after class. And so there’s a bit of social presence, social identity, that comes just by virtue of the seating arrangements. In the online class, you’re not going to have that to fall back on. And I would advise instructors that have big classes to really think intentionally about permanent small groups, and to build in some learning activities and maybe even some assessment activities that leverage those permanent small groups. If you put students in groups of five or six students each and they’re going to meet with that same group every week, doing something useful during the semester, they’re gonna feel connected to the course a lot more than if they didn’t have that small group to lean on. We’ve seen this even in our Online Course Design Institute where we have 70 or 75 faculty participate over a two-week period, but we put them all in cohorts of size five or six. And you really get to know your cohort members, and what their courses are, what they’re teaching. And so that would be my recommendation for the bigger classes. And it could be collaborative notetaking. It could be every time you do a small group activity in class, you send them to the same groups so that they begin to develop working relationships with those group members, those are going to be really important for online classes that are large.

John: And you can always create Zoom rooms that have the same groups that you have within your LMS. So that way, the same students would be working together in both environments, synchronously and asynchronously.

Derek: Yeah, absolutely. You will have to learn how to do that. And again, we’re all going to be learning new tools this fall. I totally know that’s a thing you can do. I don’t know how to do that myself yet, but I would have to figure it out.

John: I haven’t done it yet, either. But I am preparing for one of those large classes in the fall. There’s a lot of questions I still have. One of the things I’ve been wondering about is perhaps the use of peer evaluation. I had done some of that earlier, but we had another tool that was specific for that. I’m not quite sure how well that will work within the LMS. And it’s a little scary at this point. But it’s something I am going to explore.

Derek: Yeah.

Rebecca: That’s something when I’ve taken a MOOC, even if I don’t feel overly connected to other people, there’s still some sort of peer evaluation piece where you feel like you’re getting peer-to-peer feedback, at least, even if it’s anonymous feedback, essentially, because you don’t know those individuals. And that can be effective in at least feeling like you’re learning with other people who are also learning. It’s not as effective as some other things, but it still does it a little.

Derek: Yeah, it does.

Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking what’s next? [LAUGHTER] …and I don’t know, John seems to have me asking that question more frequently, because it feels really stressful to ask someone that right now. [LAUGHTER]

Derek: Well, I keep making the joke that it feels like March 97th. [LAUGHTER] Like, this has just been one long March. There was life before March, and now there’s life now… and time and space have no meaning anymore. So, next is a little ambiguous. What’s next? August…. August is next, right? [LAUGHTER] I can predict that. I think we’re going to have an August this year. [LAUGHTER] It’s really hard to kind of look beyond that. I would say, we’re focusing at my center on getting our faculty ready for the start of the fall semester. And what’s going to happen in the first three weeks of this fall semester, like, we don’t have that figured out yet. We don’t know what kind of programming we’re going to offer. We don’t know what kind of responsiveness we’re going to need. It’s been a lot this summer just to kind of do what we’re doing. And so it’s really hard to look very far out. I will say that, among many other complexities in the year 2020, it’s an election year in the United States, and more generally, we have a lot of protests that happened across the United States and across the world earlier this spring. There’s a lot of hard conversations that people are having right now, whether they’re pandemic related or not. And I don’t think that’s going to go away. I’ve been in triage mode all summer, trying to get faculty ready to teach online or hybrid. And so its been hard to think about all the things that may be challenging about this fall semester, but I do think the hard conversations that we need to have with our students and to help our students have productive hard conversations. That’s something that we’re going to spend at least a little time on in my teaching center in August, trying to help faculty get ready for what will likely be a contentious semester, regardless of the kind of modalities, the online, the hybrid, all that kind of stuff. Just the kinds of conversations that we want to have our students are going to be really challenging this fall. And so I think getting ready to do that well, it’s going to be an important component of what’s next for us.

Rebecca: And I don’t think any of us will be bored. There will be an August, and we will not be bored. [LAUGHTER]

Derek: Yes, those seem like certainties.

John: Well, thank you. It’s been wonderful talking to you and, we really appreciated the blog post as well as all the very many resources that you share on your website.

Rebecca: Yeah, thank you so much.

Derek: You’re quite welcome. We have a great team at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching and I’m glad to be the Director and to get to share all the great work that my staff do all the time. So, thanks for that.

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

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

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99. HyFlex Courses

The traditional college model of full-time face-to-face class attendance does not work well for people with difficult work schedules, those that live at a distance from campus, or who face other barriers to attending classes on campus. In this episode, Judith Littlejohn joins us to examine how the HyFlex course modality can break down these barriers and allow more people to realize their potential.

Judie is an instructional designer and historian from Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. She is a 2014 recipient of a State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service and a 2015 recipient of a State University of New York FACT2 Award for Excellence in Instruction. Judie chaired a committee that established procedures for HyFlex courses at Genesee Community College.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: The traditional college model of full-time face-to-face class attendance does not work well for people with difficult work schedules, those that live at a distance from campus, or who face other barriers to attending classes on campus. In this episode, we examine how the HyFlex course modality can break down these barriers and allow more people to realize their potential.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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John: Today our guest is Judith Littlejohn. Judie is an instructional designer and historian from Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. She is a 2014 recipient of a State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service and a 2015 recipient of a State University of New York FACT2 Award for Excellence in Instruction. Judie chaired a committee that established procedures for HyFlex courses at Genesee Community College. Welcome, Judie.

Judie: Thank you.

Rebecca:Today our teas are:

Judie: Mine is a blueberry green tea.

John: I have Tea Forte black currant tea.

Rebecca: I have Prince of Wales tea.

John: We invited you here to talk about HyFlex courses. But first, perhaps you could define what a HyFlex course is.

Judie: A HyFlex course is a regularly scheduled course in which all the content is provided online so that students can choose to participate in the classroom live, or they can video conference into the live class, or they can participate asynchronously online. So, students can also choose every week or during each class time which way they’re going to participate. So, if a student regularly attends class, and then has a medical appointment, and has to miss class, they can catch up later on online. Or if somebody has to travel in this class, they can participate online. Or if somebody registers, planning to take the course online but then decide they’d rather be in the classroom, they can change their mind and come to class. So, it’s literally highly flexible, in that the student has full choice of exactly how they’re going to participate from course session to course session.

Rebecca: Sounds to me like if you’re going to have something that’s that flexible for students, then there’s a lot of planning that needs to go up front on the part of the faculty. Can you talk a little bit about what the requirements are for a class like that, and what some of the things are that a faculty member might need to think about to have a good experience across all those different options?

Judie: So that’s exactly the most difficult part, I think of a HyFlex course, is just the amount of preparation the faculty member needs. So literally, you have to create the entire online course, so that you can think of it as two course preps really, because you have your full face-to-face course and your full online course. And it’s key that before the course even opens, you have the entire course schedule all fully developed so that the students can look ahead and see, week to week, or if you’re meeting two or three times a week from one class session to the next, exactly what’s going to happen in the classroom, or how they would have an equivalent learning experience online if they chose to be online. So it’s tons of work. And then on top of that you have to be comfortable with the equipment. So you have to have students video conferencing into your live classroom, you have to manage those remote participants; you have to be able to include them in what’s going on. So if you’re having a debate, you need some virtual attendees to be able to participate in a debate or in small group work. And you just need to be able to manage all that… respond to questions from virtual participants, and pay attention to your face-to-face students too. And make sure that the students in the classroom and the virtual participants can all see each other.

Rebecca: Why would I want to do this?

Judie: So, it is a lot of work. But the faculty who do it say that the students get a lot out of it, because they do have that freedom to choose how they’re going to participate. The way our college is set up, we have our main campus in Batavia. And then we have six, we call them campus centers. So they’re like little satellite campuses in our region. And we have a four-county service area; it’s about the size of the State of Delaware. From one corner of our service area to the other is almost a two-hour drive. So if you think about how spread out our students are, if they’re in our area, and then the size of some of our programs, or how complex some of the equipment and materials are in the programs, we can’t offer every course at all those campus centers. So many times the students will be driving over an hour, just to get to our main campus to take a one-hour class. And it just doesn’t make sense. So we struggle with enrollments in some of these programs. But if we offer the courses this way (HyFlex), the students can stay where they are and still participate in the class. Some of these rural, remote areas don’t have very good wifi access. So the students can just drive to their nearest campus center and participate from there. So it does help with student access to the courses. And just with work schedules, family life schedules, it helps people stay in college, even if work and family are disrupting what time of day they can participate.

John: You mentioned the ability to go to other campus centers, would there be separate meeting rooms where students might meet in or would they have to do it on their own from some location on the campus center, if it’s not offered at that site,

Judie: Well, there’s a mix of that type of thing. So if you’re at a campus center with an empty classroom, you could go in and watch it from there if the staff help you get set up for that. If you have your own laptop and headset, you could participate from just about anywhere. It’s funny that you mentioned that because currently, the Dean of Distributed Learning is working with the Campus Center’s Associate Deans on a grant project where they would come up with funding for eight or 10 little workstations, like semi-private workstations, at each of the campus centers so students could participate in this type of course in the future,

Rebecca: Especially because of high speed internet and things, it would be really important if you’re going to participate synchronously remotely, that all students necessarily have that available to them at their homes.

Judie: Yeah, exactly. So, these workstations would be excellent for them.

John: What sort of software are you using for doing the live streaming in the remote sessions?

Judie: Right now we have a small group that is using WebEx who had been using it historically for other purposes. But the college as a whole uses Zoom. So Zoom has been working out really well. There’s a Zoom learning tool integration with Blackboard. And so we can have it set up right in the course so it’s seamless for the students to access it. We also use the Ensemble video server, and there is a Zoom to Ensemble link. So they call it ingestion. So when you record in Zoom to the cloud, then ensemble will ingest your video and publish it for you. So it’s right there in your Ensemble library ready to pull into Blackboard into your class. There’s an additional step where you have to trigger the captioning, and then go back through and double check the captions. But other than that, it’s pretty seamless.

Rebecca: How many classes have you offered in HyFlex method so far? And can you give us a sense as to how they’re working or what’s unique or really exciting about some of those classes,

Judie: Just off the top of my head right now I’d say we have about a dozen running. So right now our Computer Information Systems and Computer Networking, people use HyFlex in their program. And we also have Paralegal Studies offering all of their courses this way, so that they can extend their reach. Paralegal in particular, had trouble with those students who lived about an hour from campus and weren’t able to make the drive to all the classes. The way this all came about was: our Provost… her name’s Kate Schiefen, and she’s our Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs… she came up with this idea last fall to really kind of get our hands around HyFlex, because faculty were trying to do it independently, and they didn’t have much guidance or support. So we put a team together to come up with guidelines or requirements for what has to be present each course and what you need in each classroom that’s going to offer courses this way. What are the expectations? Where are the definitions? We looked at it holistically because we need our registrar to be able to schedule these courses with the meaningful code, so that when we report to SUNY what types of classes we have, they’re coded correctly. Everything from that to how the courses are posted on the website in the schedule so that students understand what kind of course they’re getting into, and what kind of equipment they need, and what the student expectation is. We looked at everything from top to bottom, how it affected the whole college and all the different offices… So like our success coaches, and how do they explain the course to the students that they’re advising… and put together a big manual, it’s a 43-page guidebook, that should be referenced in your show notes, I think, for anyone who wants to take a look at that. And we do have condensed versions for people, so they don’t have to read all of that.

John: I thought the 43 page was the simplified version. [LAUGHTER]

Judie: So yeah, we have the whole process the faculty member has to go through to make sure that their course meets the online course quality standards and all accessibility standards, and has all the content and schedules that they need… and then how we have the room setup with the microphones and the carpeting and soundproofing and things like that, and how the messages get out to the students. At this point, we use Banner as our student information system. And so we have it set up so that once a student registers for a HyFlex course, then within 24 hours, they receive an email that explains “You just registered for a HyFlex course that means…” …you know, and then this explanation. So the student knows that they should have a headset or a webcam and a microphone. And if they choose to participate remotely or of course they’re welcome to come on campus. So a lot of different things are going on right now. In our college in Batavia, we’re working on getting two rooms a year upgraded to be labeled HyFlex classrooms. So that carpeting is coming in, different furniture, desks on wheels, so that people can form into small groups easier… just more useful and versatile learning spaces are being created. So that’s helpful. And in the meantime, we have to train the faculty and make sure that they’re comfortable and come up with their whole timeline of development. Because on our campus, I’m the instructional designer, but I’m the only one. So I can’t really develop a dozen HyFlex courses at a time. But I can work with the faculty who are developing their own materials. So we have a couple different timelines depending on if you already have a fully developed online course that’s already been through all the different review processes or if you’ve never taught online at all. So there’s a big spectrum of faculty that are interested in teaching in the HyFlex modality but have different levels of experience with all the technology. So you might be looking at a year and a half, like three semesters of development, before you finally have your HyFlex course. Or you could start developing today and have it ready in the spring if you’ve already been teaching online and are comfortable with that.

John: And it sounds like the pathway is from online teaching to this rather than primarily from face-to-face to HyFlex…where it would be an easier pathway. Is that correct?

Judie: Absolutely, that’s an easier pathway. And we see it, we can see it in the courses that we have running now. Because there’s a couple of faculty members who have been teaching online historically, who are very student focused and very aware of the importance of active learning, and are used to working with students that they’re not seeing right in front of them. And their courses are fine, they had them set up, they had their schedules ready, a nd we really didn’t have much of a problem. We have other faculty who have never taught online before and are unfamiliar with active learning, and really unfamiliar with some of the changes in learning theory that have come out over the last 20 years…

John: or more.

Judie: Yeah…. That’s a struggle. They’re sort of unaware of the deficiencies in their courses. And it’s hard to help them understand how much better the students would do if they could change some of their faculty-focused materials into student-centered active learning projects or activities.

Rebecca: I can imagine that no matter whether it’s a HyFlex, or just moving to online, anytime you’re changing, and now you’re re-looking at the class as a whole, we don’t always do that. This forces us to have to look at it and a lot of faculty don’t have training necessarily in teaching. And so maybe someone that’s been teaching for a long time, now they’re like, “Oh, we’re having some assistance in moving into something, someone else is taking a look at it, I need to get familiar.” So there’s a lift of having to get from familiar with learning science, then getting familiar with a new modality, whether it’s online or face-to-face, it really could be either. And then on top of that layering in an idea of HyFlex, which they’ve never experienced as a student.

Judie: Yeah, and some of these particular people probably have never taken an online course either. So they have very limited exposure to much of this, they may have strong opinions about it, but they don’t really have any personal experience of it. So that can be a little challenging.

Rebecca: I can imagine it being a really exciting experience, trying to set something like this up, but also like a real brain puzzle in some ways. As someone who doesn’t really teach online, I teach mostly in person, I can imagine the complexity of that. And when I’m teaching in person, and I don’t have people also online or in other places that I’m also having to worry about, we can easily make a decision in class, “Oh, we’re all struggling with this, we’re going to pause in what we already have planned…”

Judie: Right.

Rebecca: …to do this other thing. So I can imagine that that ends up being much more of a challenge, or that flexibility in that way becomes a challenge in a HyFlex course.

Judie: Right. So part of what we encourage and what we’ve seen, especially in paralegal, the faculty do is start the semester before they want to be in HyFlex. And they’ll be in there face-to-face classrooms and they’ll say, “Okay, next week, how about if half a dozen of you stay home and try to log in and join the class from home.” And so they’ve practiced incrementally week to week, got used to seeing themselves on camera, hearing their voice in the video, and managing the students that are accessing the course remotely. And other faculty have been practicing just using Zoom as just a recording tool to make small informational videos. So they’re getting more familiar with the Zoom software and recording and all of that. So I think all those little steps that people take, before they start the HyFlex helps a lot too. And they’re always invited to stop in to watch a live HyFlex course and see how the instructor is managing. And frankly, part of what our team recommended at the end of our work was that, particularly, new HyFlex instructors have some sort of technical person in the room with them for the first few weeks until they feel confident that they can manage this on their own. Unfortunately, that recommendation requires funding that we don’t have at this time. But that is the hope, that one day faculty would not have to worry about that layer of the technical aspect and know that there’s somebody in there to support them

John: …until they get comfortable themselves.

Judie: Right now, when they start it up we’ll try to walk by or they know who they can call. But it’s a little bit different when somebody’s standing right there and can help them.

Rebecca: It just provides this whole layer… like anxiety just goes away… someone else will solve this problem and I can just deal with the other things that come up in the first day of class that aren’t technical issues.

Judie: rRight.

John: One can only wish. [LAUGHTER] But, going back to Rebecca’s point, I think one of the difficulties for people, especially those transitioning from face-to-face to a HyFlex format is that in face-to-face classes, you’re used to be able to adjust on the fly so that if students are stuck, you can stretch something out; if they’re able to pick something up more quickly, you could accelerate some things. But those teaching online are already used to a structured format where the tasks for the week are set in advance; students know where they’re going to be. So it seems like that would be a more natural transition. But I could see some problems in adjusting the first time you’re doing this in terms of coming to class expecting to have a whole class period worth of activities, and students either get stuck on something and you’re not able to finish it in that class period, or students just breezed right through it, they picked things up really quickly and they’re ready to move on or to leave. Have people had many issues with that.

Judie: These are courses people have taught before. So it’s not like they’re going through this material with students for the first time. So they know where the stumbling blocks are for the students. And they’re pretty prepared, they’d schedule in extra time for those content parts that students need extra time with. And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with having a scheduled course and with your online component and then decide to make a change and then post that in the online part of the course for the people who aren’t attending right on the spot. So I think that may not be as much of an issue as it may seem.

John: If people are having trouble with it in face-to-face classes, it’s likely it’s also a bit of a stumbling block for the online classes so that alignment between the two might make it easier to identify those issues and adjust the pacing, particularly for future iterations of the course, too.

Judie: I teach online, and I can see when students are struggling with something and I can send out a clarifying announcement or add some additional content or extend a deadline. And there’s no reason you couldn’t do the same thing in a HyFlex course,

John: Are some courses better suited to HyFlex, and others. How do faculty decide if HyFlex is right for their courses,

Judie: it all just comes back to the learning outcomes. If you have some sort of a course, where students can do a lot of independent work that might be ideal for HyFlex, if you want students to work in small groups a lot, there’s really no problem with that in HyFlex either. I would say big challenges would be if you had wet labs and things like that, that are difficult nuts to crack in the online only format too. And some courses, honestly, I think don’t need to be HyFlex. There’s nothing wrong with just offering them 100% online, if students are just engaging with the material and kind of doing independent work. But really the beauty of HyFlex is that the students can be 100% asynchronous, but still be part of that community and they can see the class and they can feel like they’re part of the group and they can interact with the students. It’s just so important that all that is built in correctly from the start, that the student-to-student engagement is all built in. Because I think that when we tell students, if we advertise that you can take the course from wherever you are anytime of the day and have an equivalent learning experience, and then when they get into that experience, they’re not feeling engaged, and they’re not communicating with the other students. I just think that we can do a lot to recruit students. But really, it’s once they’re in the course and having that experience, that’s what’s going to retain our students and help them be successful and stay with the program. So it’s just a matter of ensuring that all those pieces are built in so that the students aren’t isolated and they’re not passive learners. One of the pitfalls that I think people fall into is they think that all I have to do is lecture and we’re going to throw that video in the class. And then that’s good enough, the students can watch my lecture, and they’re going to know what they need to know. And we’ll move on. And that’s just a huge issue, because that’s just passive learning on the part of the student and they’re not engaged and they may have it on and be washing the dishes or doing other activities and it’s just not a good learning experience for students. There has to be that attachment, that engagement, has to be built in to make sure that students are successful and feel like they’re part of the learning community.

John: It’s’s also a requirement for federal funding too, that there’ll be some degree of interactivity in the classes.

Judie: And we use the OSCQR rubric, that’s the Open SUNY course quality rubric that OLC, the Online Learning Consortium has also adopted. And it’s one of the requirements in OSCQR too, that the students have active learning and student-to-student interaction.

John: One practical thing that you touched on a bit earlier, but I think might be worth emphasizing a bit, is that with demographic shifts, which have lowered the number of college-age students in many areas, particularly in community colleges, this provides a way of offering courses where there may not be enough students face-to-face or online for the courses to carry. And it provides a way of maintaining a larger variety of courses that might not work at any one of the campus centers.

Judie: Yeah, that’s exactly right. For years, we’ve had what we call video linked courses. So you could be in the main campus and link it to one of the campus centers where they might have six or seven students. And we may have six or seven students in ours, but together, it’s enough to have the course run. And so that works pretty well. And in some instances, I think faculty have thought maybe they would turn a course into a HyFlex course, and then decided that really all they need is a video linked course, so that their students don’t have to drive to campus but they’re all participating at the same time. And that’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong with a video linked course. And some people think that they may want to offer their course HyFlex, because they want to record their lectures and have them all in the course. And basically all they really want is lecture capture to have as a resource to subsidize what the students are already doing. And there’s nothing wrong with that either. It’s just not a HyFlex course.

John: But this type, of course, would seem to benefit a lot of students who might not be able to take the other formats…

Judie: Exactly.

John: …the students who have more challenging schedules, people doing shift work, or who are taking care of ill parents or relatives, or who just can’t have a regular schedule. Are there other students who might benefit besides those who can’t meet synchronous times regularly?

Judie: Well, the students who are not in the area, really. We do have online learners from all over the place. Occasionally, we’ll have an international student who has to go back home for a time for whatever reason, and you know, that would be excellent for a student like that, who’s starting off on campus, and then having to move elsewhere geographically later on. But yeah, it is good for what we call, in air quotes, are truly distant learners, then they can participate in a HyFlex course just like they would in any other online course.

John: Or even sometimes distance students, those who are in the National Guard and may get called away for a few weeks, or who might travel a lot for work.

Rebecca: There probably are some challenges that do arise. Have you had any experiences where there’s maybe not enough synchronous students to do synchronous activities? Like too many students maybe have decided to just be online or be asynchronous? So what about that inconsistency there? One week, there might be a lot of people synchronous. And then another week, nobody’s there.

Judie: You’re absolutely right. A couple years ago, I was helping out a new adjunct who was trying this out for the first time, and he only had one student in the room when I was in there helping them get started. And then a second student came in and all the rest of them were online. So in that kind of situation, it would be tough to do a group project in the classroom. And I think that could be problematic. And you’d have to, depending on what you’re using, like Zoom has a groups tool. So if they’re all tuned in at the same time, you can easily put all your virtual students in small groups with each other. The tougher problem, I think would be when you want to do the group projects, and then all of your students decide to be asynchronous, because that can be a little bit trickier. And you need a little bit more time. So one of our recommendations was to schedule a HyFlex courses that only meet once a week, or twice a week at the most. Because if you think about what you have to do as the asynchronous student, so if you have a monday, wednesday course, on Monday night, they’ve got to try to watch that recording and do all that work. So Tuesday, do whatever reading and prep to get ready for the Wednesday course, it would be tough to try to fit in a small group asynchronous project too. And I also think that with HyFlex, it’s kind of like a catch 22, because you need to schedule the course. Typically, our cap is 32, because we have 32 desks in a room. So now you’re scheduling for 32. And you only have three, and you still have this big empty classroom and maybe another class could have been scheduled at that time. But the minute you try to move it into a smaller location, what if all 32 show up? You always have to be ready to have the 32 students, regardless of how many show up.

John: In economics, we call that a peak-load problem… that you have to be able to meet the peak demand period.

Rebecca: HyFlex is just more resource intensive in general, because you have to support all those things all at once. Right?

Judie: Yeah, absolutely. I think it is resource intensive. And I don’t think it’s for every faculty member. But the people who’ve been doing it for the last couple of years really seem to enjoy it. And so I know the Director of our Paralegal Program is just thrilled that now she has a course that last year at this time was in danger of being cancelled from low enrollment. And now she’s got 25 students in it, and it’s HyFlex. And that’s exactly what she was going for. And as she grows more comfortable with it and adds more resources and other materials to the online part of the course, the course becomes more robust each time she does it.

Rebecca: Do faculty get additional resources if they’re doing a HyFlex class, because now they have to be constantly checking their online version of their class as well as the in-person? You kind of mentioned that it’s almost like having two preps? How was that accommodated for faculty?

Judie: I think it is two preps, honestly, and how faculty are accommodated or compensated for it is something that’s always under discussion between our faculty and our union and the administration. Currently, there’s no additional compensation for a HyFlex course… down the road, hopefully some of that can change. But right now, it’s just considered one course.

John: Could you give us an example of some private projects or activities that might be done in classes, where students are getting the same learning objectives in different formats?

Judie: Well, one of our team members, her name is Karen Wicka, and she teaches criminal justice. And she has not taught HyFlex yet, but she’s preparing right now to do so in the spring. And she’s already been working on her schedule. And she said that she does a lot of debates in their criminal justice classes. And she sees now in the face-to-face class that she has students who struggle with the debate because they’re really not comfortable speaking in front of their classmates and having all the attention on them. So now in her face-to-face class, she’ll say “The debate is Thursday, and you have to be prepared, and if you do not come to class on Thursday, then before we meet again next Tuesday, you have to turn in an essay…” and she gives you the parameters of the essay, which would be the alternative assignment. And she said she would easily transfer that to the HyFlex course so that the students who are participating synchronously virtually or in the class room would all be having the debate and the asynchronous online students would be writing the essay.

John: So it has some aspects of universal design to it, that you’re providing multiple formats and multiple means of people demonstrating their competency on these particular skills.

Judie: Exactly. And the students in the HyFlex, they’ll be able to look ahead and say, “Gee, there’s a debate, two months from now, I don’t need to get stressed out about it, I can choose to stay online that week and write the essay,” or “Gee, that’s an essay, I’m not comfortable writing the essay, I’m much more articulate. So I’m going to go to the class and I’ll participate in the debate.”

Rebecca: I can imagine that that would motivate some students to just make choices like ”Oh, I really want to be in class for this,” whatever it’s going to be or that I’m going to schedule my life around this particular couple of times when I want to be in class, and then also make choices about “I would really like to avoid that.”

Judie: Exactly. That’s why I think that schedule at the beginning is so important, so that students can make those choices and make those plans.

Rebecca: I can imagine that with all the time and energy that would need to go into the HyFlex course the thing that would draw faculty in the first place is probably the rewarding experience of students having such a positive experience or having positive outcomes. Is that what you think motivates most of the faculty? Or is there something else also.

Judie: I think that has a big part of it, because we see students who we know they want to come to class, and they can’t because of different life situations. So definitely the faculty want to see the students be able to be successful, no matter what kind of format you have to teach the course in. And honestly, I do think that declining enrollment has something to do with it also, because we are trying to find more ways to reach more students. And we’re trying to reach out to adults who want to change their careers or have never been able to finish college in the past. And this could be a way that they could continue working their full-time jobs and still participate in courses. Some people honestly like the technology, and they just want to try all different things. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of different motivating factors. But definitely, the faculty generally have the students’ best interest at heart and they want to do whatever they can to help the students be successful and meet their goals.

Rebecca: Of course, embedded in my question, was the assumption that students are responding positively. [LAUGHTER] Can you talk a little bit about how students are actually responding.

Judie: Yeah, the students… they are happy to be able to have the choice. And students have commented on different things like some have said, “I thought I would just stay in the classroom. But as I got comfortable with the learning materials and the format, then it was easier for me to stay home and just tune in virtually.” And where we live in western New York, especially in the spring semester where it’s, you know, January, February, March, the weather’s so bad that it’s great for students to be able to stay in a safe location, and not have to drive to campus. And those students particularly are happy to have that choice. So if we wake up in the morning, and there’s a whiteout or something, and in being in such a big region, we can have a whiteout in one county and have a sunny day in another county, then they’re still expected to come to school. So the students don’t have to take those risks of driving in bad weather. But, yeah, they have responded favorably. We’ve also had students who thought they would stay online and then saw what was going on in the classroom and really felt like they wanted to be there and be able to participate live with the group. So they came to campus more often than they had planned. So I think it works both ways. But they definitely like the choice. There were surveys that I read in one of the articles that are mentioned in the resources list, where students were more satisfied with the class, just knowing there were those options, whether they took advantage of them or not. So the students definitely are pleased with that.

Rebecca: I can imagine that for students who are a little bit tentative about returning to school, or going to school for the first time as an adult maybe, that online learning can be really intimidating. So, getting to know your faculty in person and having some exchanges with students, I could understand that first student you’re discussing, like the idea that I have an experience in class, and now I feel comfortable being online, or those that felt really confident that they could be online and maybe it just wasn’t a format that they were familiar with. They could go in person, get some feedback, or get some help where they feel stuck, get un-stuck and then go back online.

Judie: Right. Yeah, I think that’s good …that flexibility.

John: In several of our recent podcasts, including those by Linda Nilson on specifications grading and on self-regulated learning, and the podcast with Sarah Rose Cavanagh, where she was talking about the role of emotions, a concept that’s come up quite a bit is the notion that students tend to learn more when they have a greater degree of autonomy, and this type of class environment seems to provide that. And that’s very consistent with what you were just saying, I think.

Judie: Well, I think any of us, as humans, we like to know we have options, because things happen. You just may not feel well one day and not feel up to the drive. And then now you know, you don’t have that pressure to make the drive no matter what, you can still stay home and earn the A where you would have been penalized, otherwise, if you didn’t show up to class,

John: As part of the planning for the HyFlex courses, what types of support are being provided by the college?

Judie: Well, we have a team that works together with the faculty, we have myself as the instructional designer, and we do have a person who is an accessibility technologist, and that helps a lot. We have media, our media department, and our librarians will help out with any resources that we need. And our computer services people will also work with faculty, if they need particular software, things like that. Our media people will work with the faculty one-on-one in the classroom that they’re going to use. So they have some mandatory training before the class starts. And we already said that they become familiar with Zoom ahead of time, but we will activate it, you know, fire it up in the room prior to the course starting so they are used to where they should stand and what the cameras are picking up and what the students will see from their view. We also have a group of faculty who are really interested in sharing ideas and supporting each other. So that is our HyFlex Users Group, which is the “HUG.” [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: That’s cute.

Judie: So, yeah, I think that’s cute. But they that way they can talk about what’s working well and particularly the nuances in the different classrooms. If you’re sharing the same room and you know that this particular microphone isn’t working very well or whatever, or picking up too many student noises, then that’s the kind of information you can readily share with each other. So it’s good. It’s nice that there’s some faculty like cross-departmentally working together to solve some of the technical problems and to support each other as they try to do this, because it is a lot to take on. But I think they find it rewarding in the end.

John: Very good. Well, this has been fascinating. And I think this is something that probably more and more colleges would adopt and it seems like you’re probably a little ahead of the curve on this as compared to many other campuses.

Judie: Well, the articles… some of the research that I read has come out… It’s Brian Beatty, who wrote, I thin, what we think of as the seminal article about HyFlex, and they came out in 2014. And he was doing it before then. And some of the research that he refers to was even earlier than that. So I think it’s probably been around a good 15 to 20 years, but is really starting to take off now as the technology becomes more readily available. And students have this equipment, you know, you can Zoom from your phone, they don’t need that much of a setup, if they’re comfortable with the devices that we have now. But yeah, I think it’s great. I’m glad that it’s an option. I like seeing that we have full programs going this way so that a student doesn’t just start off in an introductory course. And then they’re left high and dry when they can’t access the rest of the courses to finish their program. So the commitment, I think by these program directors to do their full program HyFlex is just great, so that the students know when they come in the door that they can really finish the entire program and be successful. So I think our next thing is to get some of the general education requirements online because the programs that are online now are AAS programs. So they’re applied associates where students are preparing for the workforce. But I think if we can get some transfer programs and general electives in the HyFlex format that could be helpful.

Rebecca: Yeah, it sounds like an exciting time and some interesting things getting developed. I can imagine that, from your seat, it can be kind of interesting seeing the different kinds of classes evolving, and what’s working and what’s not working.

Judie: That is interesting. Sometimes as an instructional designer, you can get bogged down in watching somebody’s video or you start reading these articles like ”Oh, I didn’t know that about…. Well, wait a minute, what am I supposed to be working on here?” [LAUGHTER] But we’ve seen it over the years with online… and so many courses and programs are online and I think that’s wonderful because you have access from wherever you are. But for the students who really want more of the community experience in the classroom, I think HyFlex is a good choice for them.

John: I think that one thing that makes it easier from the faculty side is that there are so many workshops online and so many meetings that are being run through Zoom or other systems, that faculty are just necessarily getting more used to that type of interaction. So that should make the transition a little bit easier for many people.

Rebecca: …or even that type of flexibility, like attending a department meeting virtually is becoming a thing.

John: We’ve done that many times. We had a member who is in Pennsylvania for much of last year and so she came in through Zoom. We’ve also used it for all of our workshops here that where nearly every workshop is available through Zoom. And we have a lot of faculty attending remotely. So that familiarity is growing.

Judie: Yeah, I think it’s good. And I think as far as administration goes, or while you’re planning, looking ahead to course scheduling and program scheduling, you just have to think about who are your adult learners? They’re you and me, they’re your neighbor and your brother, and they can’t drop everything and run to the classroom and sit there from 10 to 2, or 8 to 11 or whatever it is. They have to be able to have that flexibility if they’re going to stay with the program and finish it. So I think it’s great.

Rebecca: Well, we always wrap up by asking, “Well, what’s next?”

Judie: What’s next in the world of HyFlex?.

John: …or in general for you.

Rebecca: …for you.

Judie: For me, we’ve got a lot of different projects going on in our area. We have an Accessibility STARS program, we call it. We’re trying to create different modules to help faculty and staff be able to create accessible digital content from the start instead of trying to retrofit everything for accessibility later on. So that’s exciting. We have that about a third of the way completed right now. And I think that’ll be a good program. We’re also working a lot on open pedagogy projects and trying to get some of our faculty working with students online to develop their e-portfolios and different things like that through the SUNY Creative Grant.

John: The IITG grant.

Judie: Yeah, that is based at SUNY Oneonta. So that’s exciting too. I know you guys are working on that also.

John: We now have 10 faculty members who’ve joined into that.

Judie: Yeah, that’s great. And SUNY Geneseo is also involved.

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

Judie: Thanks for having me and thanks for sharing tea.

John: Thank you, Judie. It’s always great having you here. We’ll have to get you back for some future podcasts too.

Judie: Sure….

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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.