48. The Culture of EdTech

As faculty, we engage with education technology as it relates to our classes but rarely consider the larger EdTech ecosystem. Dr. Rolin Moe,  the director of Academic Innovation and an Assistant Professor at Seattle Pacific University, joins us to discuss the politics, economics, and culture of EdTech.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: As faculty, we engage with education technology as it relates to our classes, but rarely consider the larger EdTech ecosystem. In this episode we examine the politics, economics and culture of EdTech.

[Music]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[Music]

Rebecca: Our guest today is Dr. Rolin Moe, the Director of Academic Innovation and an Assistant Professor at Seattle Pacific University. Welcome, Rolin.

Rolin: Thanks for having me.

John: We’re glad to have you here. Our teas today are…Rolin, are you drinking tea?

Rolin: I am John.

Rebecca: Yes!

Rolin: I am having the Maui Up Country blend that I picked up on a on a vacation that I had brought for the office, and we ran out. So I am drinking the wonderful Keurig inspired Celestial green tea today. But I am joining you guys over there. [LAUGHTER] What are you guys having?

Rebecca: I think it’s a green tea day. I’m having black raspberry green tea.

John: …and I have a ginger peach green tea.

Rolin: Excellent.

Rebecca: We’re all in sync without planning, so that’s nice.

John: We invited you here to talk a little bit about your April 2017 EDUCAUSE Review article (which has created a little bit of a stir) where you were talking about the growth of educational technology in higher ed. What types of EdTech in particular were you talking about?

Rolin: So, John that’s a good question… and a little bit of preface on the article itself. I wrote that with George Veletsianos, who is Canada Research Chair in Innovation and a Professor of Education and Innovation at Royal Roads University in British Columbia. We started this project in 2013 at a time when MOOCs had just come into conceptualization. Laura Pappano noted that the year before had been the “Year of the MOOC.” John Hennessy at Stanford said that the MOOCs were going to be a “tsunami that was going to wash away higher education as we knew it.” Clay Shirky compared higher education to a rotting tree that was in need of a lightning strike and this was going to change it… and so, this very optimistic (to the point of Pollyanna) thought on educational technology. And George and I both, as people who are scholars and practitioners in educational technology, were a little taken aback by this. The promises that were being related to educational technology didn’t match the literature. The history of educational technology didn’t match the present and the future track of these innovations, based on their previous experiences (kind of Silicon Valley startups) was not a positive one. As I mentioned, we started writing this in 2013 and the landscape kept changing. Ownership would change, or business models would pivot, and we had to rethink what we were doing. So we kind of, instead, came back to this more systematic review of what is educational technology, or EdTech, and we thought of it in socio-cultural terms as a phenomenon. So, thinking about that, it’s not necessarily a product that we are providing critique for but it’s more of the idea that by bringing products in, whether they be cloud based softwares, learning management systems, apps, learning technologies interoperability, or LTI, or outsourcing it to a third-party vendor, whatever that vendor may be. That approach cannot be thought of as altruistic in and of itself, but it is built in society that is usually, at best, tangential to education, but often completely separate… being brought in for profit bearing reasons, whereas our institutions, by and large, are education-bearing institutions that are looking to gain enough profit to continue operation. So, what EdTech are we looking at? We really want to be creating a more critical consumer of all EdTech. And you can definitely see that today in privacy issues that are coming out with Facebook and algorithmic issues that are happening with Twitter, and discussions of what constitutes free speech or hate speech on these platforms. When we wrote, we were much more thinking about the technology that’s getting into schools, but even there, some of the things that are happening in K-12: the data from these students is not necessarily protected, whether it’s getting hacked and sold to other places or if the companies themselves have connections to other products and other vendors. So, it’s a really meta piece to be thinking about. I don’t necessarily have an axe to grind with any particular software. That’s why we were very software agnostic when we were writing the piece. We just really want to be much more conscious of how we’re using technology in our teaching practice and what is happening because of the technology we’re bringing into our classrooms.

Rebecca: Thanks for laying down that groundwork. I think that foundation is gonna give us a good ground for discussion today and will help our listeners know exactly where we’re starting.

John: A lot of these things, where people were really optimistic about the introduction of MOOCs and so forth, we’ve seen all this before. Television was going to do the same thing. Before that radio was, if we go back further, printed books were going to have this big impact. So, these are issues that have been around for a long time. But, you focus on several issues that, perhaps, are more pressing now. One of the things you talked a little bit about is how colleges have been pressured by economic circumstances, by rising tuition costs and pressure to keep costs lower, to rely more on these external vendors. Could you talk a little bit more about that aspect?

Rolin: Absolutely. I need to preface here again, John, I appreciate you bringing up television. Because there’s a time that a lot of institutions invested in broadcast studios, with the idea being that we were going to be able to amplify education and we’re going to be able to have closed-circuit educational opportunities at senior centers and satellite campuses. And so you have in many land-grant colleges these forgotten studios, that in some cases are now being turned into teaching and learning centers where you have a green screen and you can show what you’re doing in Canvas, or Desire to Learn, or Blackboard, or whatever the system is that you may use… Moodle, I don’t want to leave anybody out. But, to think about my experience as an educator, I have a connection to this particular podcast. I cut my teeth as an educator in my first career, which was in film, at Duke University’s Talent Identification Program where I got to know John Kane, who has been kind of very foundational in how I think about teaching and learning. So John, thank you for that, and it’s wonderful to be on your show. We’ve seen all of this before and we failed to learn our lessons in education. So, we didn’t get out of television what we thought… what we thought we’d get out of radio we didn’t get. It’s important to look back and see “Well, what didn’t happen that we expected to happen? What did we plan for? What was the consequence? What were the unintended benefits? and what were the unintended pitfalls?” The problem, or the big difference today, is a lot of the technology is being looked at from an efficiency standpoint. So, television and radio and even if you go back, like you mentioned with the printed books, you go back to correspondence courses and using the Penny Post in order to be able to give keyboarding instruction for secretarial jobs. So, those technologies were based on much more inclusivity in education. You had a technology that made education available for more, and you had an opportunity to get away from geographic distance as what was keeping people from school. With digital technology what we’re seeing now is almost an inverse relationship that “Yes, we have this opportunity and we sell it.” So, the MOOCs were sold as an opportunity to democratize education for everybody. But, this is really framed in a cost-cutting perspective. That we’re going to bring in technology to keep costs down. That’s very important, costs in education, and higher education especially have skyrocketed, and to think about how we can be looking at this. But it’s disingenuous to say that our digital technologies are going to democratize education for all when we want to use them to save money more so than grant access. We have to look at both critically. We have to put the same research behind both. Moreover, what’s happening when our use of technology is in the gaining of data analytics that could be used, at best, in our spaces, but at worst by third-party vendors that we’ve signed contracts with that we don’t truly understand where they’re going or where they’re taking these things. So, I started with your question and went in a lot of different directions I’m realizing. But, I think it’s important to do that historical review and think about all those places because there’s a desire there, with what education’s supposed to be, if you want to think about Enlightenment-based thinking on education. But, we are at a different point now than we were with what someone like Soren Nipper would have called generations of technology. The first generation being radio, the second television, the third digital. This fourth kind, of web 2.0, has a much greater economic impact, both on the institutions as well as the whole purpose of education. That’s something that we don’t see a lot of in the literature and something that compelled George and I to write this article.

Rebecca: I’m hearing you talk about the the desire for more access but then also these rising costs. If we’re using EdTech, are students actually just getting more access? or are we just making things more expensive at the cost of actual learning?

Rolin: Yes. [LAUGHTER] It’s difficult because in some cases there is an upcharge on taking the course online. And there’s good reason for that because in order to teach a course online, if I’m an administrator, I now have to think about a faculty member who’s going to be working through that course. I have to think about any licensing that I need for contents. So, making sure that my reserves in the library can be easily flown into my LMS and that I have the rights for reproduction in that space. I have to think about instructional design, I have to think about information technology. I have this much larger infrastructure that’s involved, depending on what I’m doing: if I’m going to be using an anti-plagiarism software; if I’m going to be using an online proctoring software, a special grader, a video library of contents. There are four or five different buckets of LTI and those are the general ones, not anything discipline-specific. So, that brings this cost up. At the same time, if you think about Moore’s law, and as technology is increasing and the capacity to do things continues to increase, traditionally we have seen costs go down in this model. That hasn’t happened with education. So you have a space where students are presented in media and, I would say in a lot of cases by schools themselves, that this online efficiency opportunity to engage is going to bring your cost down, but then your cost is becoming more, because the cost on the institution is more. All of that is to say, at some point, if you’re gonna be selling both cost savings and access, that’s not a recipe for success. In many cases, we have the access, but it’s not to people, it’s not to a high impact educational experience that you have come to think with a stereotypical higher education space. I think of the Sally Struthers ITT Tech, you know, where you can do the courses in your pajamas. So we’re giving access in real time to curriculum and to materials, are we necessarily giving it to really engaging learning activities? In some cases, yes… but I don’t think the literature would say that those brightest cases of access are meeting that romanticized version of what it means to be a student in higher education. In many cases the most successful institutions in creating access and bringing costs down are the ones where faculty have been replaced by kind of quasi-administrators who work as admissions support specialists, tutors, retention specialists, program developers, and fundraisers. Kind of doing all of that from an office space, and that looks remarkably different from what we see in cinema, as somebody who works in film studies… what we see in cinema as that college experience. So, we’re gonna have to rectify what it is we think college is supposed to be with what it is we’re selling it as.

John: Might some of that be that, with new technologies… giving an example from economics… when steam engines were first introduced, we didn’t see any real improvements in productivity for decades after that. When the internet was first introduced and people shifted businesses to that, it’s taken decades before we’ve seen much of an increase in productivity. Is part of it that we try to use the new tools in the same way that we traditionally taught and we haven’t learned how to use it more efficiently, or is it something inherent in the shift to more digital media that limits the interaction between the instructor and student and may limit learning somehow.

Rolin: John, thank you for bringing that point up. If you think about professional development technology, the stereotypical overhead projector that is used to present material is then replaced by the PowerPoint…and what was interesting is, in some cases, the first uses of PowerPoint in classrooms (because of bandwidth issues) were printouts of PowerPoint slides that were then put onto overhead transparency. So what we see in many cases today what constitutes online learning is the lecture based approach the “sage-on-the-stage” model of teaching where we’re using our learning management system to do what we’ve traditionally done, and it’s what I would call a mediocre middle. It both misses the point of improving education and also misses the point of utilizing the technology, but it’s what we do. My fear is that there has been a financial success in doing things in this way, or at least creating a media culture that equates formal education to the lecture. So you think about a TED talk, or you think about a Coursera lecture… this idea that it is a faculty members responsibility to share their wisdom as the person who’s speaking through it. A podcast is another space, we’re people who are talking in a space. Now that doesn’t mean there’s not a space for podcasts and there’s not a space for lecture, but it’s easy to package that content and put it into a learning space that you’re hoping to monetize. For learning to be effective online and bring down costs, probably requires a pretty seismic shift in how we think about business as normal. Some of the early critiques of online education were that it would turn us into a fordist space, where it was gonna be the assembly line production. That was gonna get away from a faculty member as kind of an auteur, somebody who has the course from its implementation to its full assessment. With online that’s almost impossible to do for the sanity of anybody. So, in some cases, that model is going to need to change in order to be successful. We haven’t figured out what that looks like yet and the human capital costs of doing it right so far outweigh the benefits that you get from allowing students to be able to take classes from a distance and increasing your enrollment, hopefully through online. We haven’t figured out how to weigh the human labor that goes into that. And I think some of it is also we haven’t changed… I’m gonna get radical here, the expectation of what it means to be a professor is still the same as it was 50, 60 years ago, but what we consider is knowledge has changed pretty significantly with Ernest Boyer’s thoughts on scholarship. What it expects to be a faculty member… so the expectations of teaching at even teaching heavy institutions have gone up but the expectations on scholarship or service have not changed. So instead of it being a triangle of scholarship teaching and service it’s this odd triangle that is morphed into a parallelogram with no extra time given to these spaces. So, we’re gonna have to think about our governance structures and our infrastructure if we’re going to be successful. There’s an article in The New York Times this week we’re recording this in mid-September talking about what the next financial bubble may be, and it points to student loans that the cost of education has gone up fourfold over the last 30 years, outpacing everything, including healthcare… and the student loan debt has over the last five years, overtaking credit card debt. It’s the largest amount of debt that exists in any industry. That cannot keep up. Y et costs continue to rise. So another thing; in the next 7 years, that traditional college age, students 18 to 22, is going to decrease in 2025 because of demographic shifts. So, there’s a lot that’s going on at this point, and John, you mentioned the steam engine and how it took decades… Well, we keep saying we’re the Wild West and we only have years until we get to the cliff, and many people would say we’re already past that point; we’re at the point of no return. I like to be a little more optimistic than that.

Rebecca: I’m gonna go back to a little bit of discussion about access. Some of the things that I hear you describing is that the technology is allowing us to have access to information or the distribution of information. Which is why the lectures, the podcasts, et cetera are easy to package and deliver the access to that information. But, what I’m not hearing is access to learning or the access to becoming a scholar, or a way of thinking or being in the world. And I wonder if some of the movements in OER or the open education resources are trying to push the envelope or push the technology and access more in that direction, or if it’s really still emphasizing the ability to just deliver information.

Rolin: Rebecca, you bring up a really great point. And I’ll touch on OER because it’s a fascinating case study in this space, but if you look at the history of distance education with technology, the focus was on bringing people together… that the content operability was not the key point… but it was being able to bring people from disparate geographies or cultures or climates together to learn. And so it is based in constructivism and constructionism and social learning theory and activity theory and all of the wonderful progressive learning theory that is moving teaching and learning today. And the technology that is predominantly used stands much more didactic, maybe behaviorist, in approach because it’s easier to measure that than it is to measure the much more engaging work that happens when you bring people together. So I had an opportunity (I’ll try and not give away any disclosing information on this), but I had an opportunity to work with a group on a MOOC in after the first wave of MOOCs—this was 2013–2014. They were on a major platform and they had created a course, and it was not a traditional STEM course; this was an arts-based course that they had created. And the platform came to them at the end and said, here’s what happened in your class and had this ream of analytics and they said “Well, wait a second. We had a Facebook group, we had meetups, we had a lot of people create artifacts. Where does that fit into this?” And the platform just kind of shrugged their shoulders and said, I don’t know. We can tell you how long someone watched the video and they were saying, “That’s not what’s important to us. What’s important is what were the conversations that were happening and how is that gonna relate to where they’re going further.” We’re in a time of measurement today, yet our measurement structures are much more basic than our capabilities with technology. And so we’re engineering the technology to perfect those measurement techniques. We can’t do much more with bringing people together and engaging more progressive emergent learning theory with technology. I think what George and I were arguing is the technology, as it stands today, doesn’t feed that because that’s not what’s getting the clicks, that’s not what’s moving the needle, whatever metaphor that you want to use in that space. MOOCs are a fascinating space to look at this because the MOOC acronym actually comes from an experiment in social connectivist learning from 2008 with George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier and the great Canadian contingent. And then Sebastian Thrun didn’t even talk about it when he became the father of the MOOC in 2011. He was looking at a bold experiment in distributed learning at Stanford. It was a New York Times reporter Tamar Lewin who made the link between what George Siemens had done and what Sebastian Thrun had done and called it a MOOC. And it kind of stuck and that’s where we went with that. So it’s very interesting to look at the hype versus the research and why the hype is what’s pushing the cart when in academia we like to say it’s the research that does. Now you mentioned OER. I want to focus on that because this is a really fascinating space that in the last couple years you’ve seen this remarkable push on open educational resources, open textbooks, and I am a longtime advocate of open education… been attending the open ed conferences that David Wiley has been putting on since 2013. I ran the unconference there last year. So I’m advocate for what they’re doing. But it is interesting to think about their success and what their advertising is. Their paramount success is really focused in textbooks. So while you have the opportunity to edit a textbook and you have the opportunity for a faculty member to build artifacts of knowledge with students and cross collaboration, that’s not what’s moving the conversation today. What’s moving the conversation are these static textbooks that bring costs down for students. And I like to be the voice that’s saying, don’t forget about these places, because I worry that we’ll see something, and you can even see a little bit of it happening now with publishers who are wanting to open wash or green wash or astroturf what open is and say, “Oh, you know, here we are over here at Pearson or McGraw Hill and this is our contribution to the space.” When you look under the hood it looks remarkably different, but if the focus remains on this static text book in that adoption, it’s easy for that to co-opt. So, to answer the question in a more broad sense, I think in general we have research that’s telling us one thing and we have marketing and public relations and cultural ideology that’s saying something else. I don’t want to say we’ve done a poor job, but the two are very incongruent right now and usually it’s that media PR machine that’s pushing things and we’re playing catch-up and it’s easy to lose track of the research in that.

Rebecca: As a public institution like we are, obviously access as in all people should have access to the information is really important, but I always get concerned about the people who are generating the technology pushing it in the wrong direction and people who value everybody having education and learning not being able to push the envelope or push the technology in the direction that we want to push it in. They’re kind of butting heads in some ways.

Rolin: I would absolutely agree with that. And accessibility, it’s really wonderful to see accessibility being brought forward in terms not only of contents but also of learners, and so the stigmatism of having learning disability or an emotional or physical or some need to engage with content, that now is going to be supplemented by an institution. And that we are designing with that in mind. We’re designing a universal access and UDL that we’re engaging in this space, and that’s a really wonderful change that has happened in higher education. When people talk about the cost of higher education, it’s important to note that things like that are bringing the cost up, and I don’t think any of us would want to get rid of any of those pieces. The problem, of course, becomes “What is the historical understanding of this place?” and “What is our institutional objective and our institutional memory versus these changes that are happening in how we think about teaching and learning?” And I’ve done as much as I can locally at Seattle Pacific University to start conversations and meet people where they are and I think we’ve had some some pretty remarkable success in rethinking some of our structures, but we’re a private liberal arts institution not dealing with the state bureaucracies, not dealing with a state system, not dealing with tens of thousands of students, and it becomes difficult to navigate all of that. Bureaucracy is the least worst tool that we have in order to work with that. But it’s also a great straw man or easy fall guy for any problems that come up, and too often problems continue to exist rather than being tackled because it’s tough to think about what the benefit would be going forward.

John: In your article, you talked a bit about the increasing reliance on private vendors, outsourcing tasks from institutions to vendors on the grounds that that opens things up to the free market in some way, but when we look at the provision of most of these platforms, it’s a fairly unstable market. We’re seeing so much concentration in the market where many small publishers have disappeared, and many of the innovative educational technology providers have been bought up by other large firms. We’ve seen many providers disappear.

Rolin: I’m glad you bring that up, John, because if you think back… and John, you and I have a background in K-12 and it’s really fascinating to think about this from a K-12 perspective because in the 60s and 70s, the heyday of educational film, it was the job of the media resource specialists at a K-12 library to work with faculty to be able to understand how these pieces fit together, and so they were working with Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book and Disney and ABC and NBC and the different content providers of the time, who were making educational titles. It’s a fascinating, fascinating time. The computing craze in the 1980s came at the same time as a recession. And the idea being for people to think about how this was all going to fit together. When this was created the idea was that that role was going to be vital, and the change that happened was we got rid of the media resource specialist and believed it will be up to institutions and collaborations to grow this, to make this go further. Educational film died because it became less expensive to make it and the belief was more and more people would make it. What we instead make are lectures and YouTube videos, and there’s value to both but the great expectation that we had on what these contents could be is gone and we’ve lost that. And so there’s an opportunity… I think that if you think about learning as this contextualized and locally defined space… there’s an opportunity to be able to create these contents. But there’s a lot of risk that goes into that. There’s a lot of quality control that we we didn’t necessarily expect. And there are a lot of other costs that came in and so we output to these third-party vendors, hoping that we hit pay dirt with somebody. In many cases those companies are folding regularly or they’re being absorbed into others, the learning management system ANGEL, which was a rather popular system in the early 2000s and early part of this decade got bought out by Blackboard, and a lot of the people who liked ANGEL liked it for the reasons that it wasn’t Blackboard. But to think about, in that perspective, it’s almost impossible today for institutions to take this on their own. There’s just not a return on investment that works for that, so that means you either have to create these partnerships across institutions that historically have been at war with one another, or you invest in the promises of third-party vendor, either a small one that’s telling you what you want but may not be around in a month, or a large one that you have a lot of trust issues… best-case scenario, trust issues on the kind of service you’re going to receive; worst-case scenario, what does it look like what’s happening to your data, what’s happening to your analytics, what’s happening to the ownership of what you’re producing.

John: Going back to ANGEL a little bit, we used to use ANGEL here and in many ways I loved it; it had some really nice features that Blackboard is a ways away from getting. It had automated agents and so forth, but ANGEL was actually created at Indiana University. And one of the problems they had was that in the 2007 recession, state support for Indiana University was cut significantly and they owned this big cash cow that they could sell off… and so we lost a fairly viable provider in large part because we see in general a decline in federal and state support for higher ed and it puts institutions in a difficult bind where they often outsource more and more.

Rolin: Absolutely and ANGEL is a good example of that. You can go into the 60s with Plato. It was a Midwest State school that was doing Plato. I think about Quest Atlantis was another great thing that gets mentioned in all sorts of progressive educational research that was funded by grants and the funding dried up and there was no way to sustain it. The MEK Corporation, the people who created Oregon Trail and super munchers and that educational software, where is that today? And I work in educational film, I think about it from that perspective. How have we lost those film providers and now we just think that content will fit in for what was historically this really rich and vibrant place to engage, but we’ve lost it on the software side and the teaching and learning side, and we’re outsourcing so much of what we already do to the free market. Certainly there is benefit to that, but at what cost? And I don’t think there’s been enough analysis of what that cost has been.

Rebecca: So, you’re really bringing up the idea that EdTech is not neutral and that there’s competing goals. So, technology companies are obviously trying to make money and then we’re trying to have students learn, ideally. How do we help those things become more aligned? What needs to happen so that we’re not at odds but that we actually find alignment and essentially make the world better which, in theory or in PR, is what’s being said?

Rolin: I think for the first piece, Rebecca, is understanding that EdTech is not neutral, and once we have that foundation, that we understand what we’re using and what it relates to, we can be much more thoughtful about how we use it. So, I am a faculty member but I am primarily an administrator and I use our learning management system here on campus. I could go off the grid; I could try and do something completely different, but it’s important to show support of what we’re doing with an understanding of how that works, and so we have our LTI, whether it’s anti-plagiarism software or proctoring software and all these pieces, and as a scholar I can have criticism of that. So, as a practitioner, how do I help my students understand what they’re getting into with this and making informed decisions about that space. So, I think it really comes into this idea of understanding the learning environment and what my job is: to control… to create pathways for students to be able to learn and to scaffold that and to fill knowledge gaps and help people expand their zones of proximal development, to go Vygotsky on us. I need to cede some of the “management control” that goes into: “Well, we use this, and this is what’s going on.” But, let people make thoughtful decisions about what’s happening with the technology that they’re using. My son in K-12 can opt out of state standardized testing and that’s a decision that’s made as a family. Dealing with college students, we don’t give them the same rights to opt out of some of the technologies that are being used. So, I think about the proctoring technology that was out of Rutgers that was running in the background on computers using retinal scans to engage people and that’s just what you get when you sign up and there’s no informed decision or consent. There’s not even a Terms of Service that you have to read through and then click a button that you don’t actually end up reading. Can we have more of these conversations? Can we be more informed? Because, if we have that information, we’ll be much more thoughtful in the decisions we make on what vendors we choose. The vendors will then have to respond to that market in making software that is more open or more transparent in its use and the application of its data. People have to make a profit. Education has to make a profit. We can marry those pieces together and have a somewhat vibrant marketplace that is serving the learning of students. I think the issue is, right now for EdTech, the student is the customer, not the buyer, and so there’s a gap there that if we have students much more involved in all aspects of that and involved in those conversations, that becomes part of learning experience. I think that that could see some more direct improvements than just generally saying, “well, we’re thinking about this and we’ll continue to think about this going forward.”

Rebecca: I think one of the things I’m sorry I was gonna pick up on the threat of audience but okay

John: You mentioned keeping students in the zone of proximal development. One concern with standard lecture based teaching is that students are pretty much forced to move along at one pace. What’s your reaction to adaptive learning? Is that something that could help, or are there some limitations that we should be concerned with there?

Rolin: I mentioned Plato earlier, the first personalized learning network—basically adaptive learning. I think that there’s a wonderful opportunity for adaptive learning platforms and for being able to bring in competency-based education into spaces. Thomas Edison University has an amazing program that is built on the idea of competency-based education. Alternative pathways and moving away from “seat time…” there’s definitely viability for that. It just has to be thoughtfully executed… and what is the purpose of the learning that is happening in that space? So, if I think about a School of Health Sciences, I think about nursing… if I’m going to get a degree in nursing, there are really specific things that I need to do. I need to pass very specific exams that are proctored in very specific ways that expect me to maneuver in very specific fashions. The seat time is important for that, and that space there needs to model what I’m going to be getting into in an industry. So, I can’t be an intrepid change agent saying, “No, this needs to be social learning theory,” it needs to be what takes off in nursing. No, nursing students need to be able to be successful in the expectations of their field. There are the places that adaptive learning can fit into that. You see it in foreign language in many cases and the supplements that are happening there. Keyboard instruction is another one where that comes in. So, how could we use the best of that to be getting into other spaces. I think some things that we could explore there, as we rethink disciplines and what works for economics or film studies or education. I think there’s some places with that critical thinking… that soft skills, 21st century learner stuff… where the adaptive learning could come in…. so, misinformation, media literacy, fake news… big hot topic and I wrote an article in 2017 that got a lot of attention (not all positive) saying that fake news wasn’t the problem; it’s not what’s ended up resulting in Brexit or the results of the 2016 election. But it was a small part of a landscape that had been neglected and was suffering from blight for a long time because of how we teach this stuff. And I wonder if thinking about digital literacy, which we’re all expected to incorporate into our classrooms, if that could be served by an adaptive learning platform that engaged content, theory, criticism and evocative video to be able to move somebody on a pathway. That’s a place where all of us could come together because there’s no discipline that owns information literacy. It’s built out of information literacy in libraries. But librarians often are the most flexible in thinking about how their craft is going to change. Places like that, critical thinking, the stuff that we’re all told needs to be imparted to our students, but it’s just kind of this hooray concept of “Oh yeah, let’s have this.” Maybe those are the places to really focus on the successes of that and then the research can help define how economics could engage adaptive learning or film studies or education or cell biology.

Rebecca: One of the things that you said earlier is that students aren’t the audience of or aren’t the buyers of the technology. And I wanted to shift that a little bit to thinking about audience and who things are designed to and I think you’re right in that tech companies are selling to administrators who are the ones that are doing the buying and the purchasing who are trying to facilitate certain things, keep cost down, et cetera. How do we shift that conversation so that tech companies start to see the end users who are really students and faculty as the audience of their marketing, of their conversations, and actually shift things so that they focus on the research around learning and improve learning rather than just facilitating something?

Rolin: The key part of what you said, Rebecca, you kept going back to learning, and I think that’s what’s missing in these vendor conversations. We have this idea of what learning is and if I’m a vendor and have mounds of data I can point to achievement and I can point to the things that I measure in my platform that lead to that achievement, and for most instructors that’s not evidence of learning. That might be a small part of it but there’s a much larger picture. And we do a poor job of amplifying that research. That research doesn’t play well in mainstream media, so how do we do a better job of sharing that research. What constitutes learning? What makes learning happen? I love going to YouTube and looking up “do-it-yourself how to fold a fitted sheet,” ‘cause I don’t do a good job of folding a fitted sheet. And I’ve tried numerous times and I still struggle, so that video isn’t the piece that I need to be able to move me there. Now, there are other pieces, potentially making something for dinner that I would be able to replicate in that space, but replication again is not learning. So, even an understanding of: What is learning? What does that mean? How do we define what it is to have learned something? What it is to be a learner? “Lifelong learner” is a commodified term at this point when it really should be a state of being for, I would say, pretty much anybody. How do we engage those conversations? That’s a really complex question. In terms of an institution, how do we bring more student voices into these spaces? and not in a placating fashion of, “Well, we now have a student sitting on this committee.” But to really understand how that student can canvass and caucus with their peers to be able to provide us information. In the same way that if I’m serving on a faculty committee so that I’m meeting my service requirements, but if I’m getting something out of that and I’m giving back that’s a wonderful experience. A student serving on a committee… how can we provide them what they need for their CV or for their graduation in a way that what we’re asking from them they can provide us? …and not just sitting there and saying we’re listening to what they’re providing but often not doing that. So, more student voices in those decision-making processes… more research that’s going to be shown to the vendors… and I think we need to be more thoughtful about those vendor conversations. One thing we do here at Seattle Pacific University, we actually have… with our faculty… we provide entry points for vendor assessment when we do test demos. What are some of the things that faculty who are very interested in being part of these conversations but are coming in the middle of it… what’s happened so far and what are questions they can ask we’ll be able to draw out their expertise and what we need from the vendor? The more of that that we do, the better. I know the California State University systems doing something similar on automating a great deal of the pre-production that goes into assessing vendors so that the stakeholders who are asked these questions have that information in a repository and can access it very easily to make an informed decision, rather than it being brought down from higher administrators… lots of information that’s tough to digest in a small period of time.

John: What do you see as some of the most promising areas where EdTech has some potential?

Rolin: Excellent. My wife loves to say it’s very easy to show why you’re against something, but you get into this business to be for something. Get in education to really share the diffusion of knowledge and help people rise to heights they didn’t know were possible. Fall in love with things they don’t yet know exist as Dr. Gary Stager would say. So, what are some of the positive things that are happening? I really think there’s a chance for a revolution in multimedia. Here’s this podcast that is happening in an interdisciplinary fashion in SUNY Oswego bringing in a faculty member from a completely different perspective who serves an administrator having this conversation. More and more of this is happening. Before we went on the air, John, you were talking about editing your two channels and making sure the sound was right and all of these skills that were picked up that don’t come when you get your PhD in economics. So, as these pieces are coming in how do we value that and so you see more administrations and more governance bodies that are providing value to that. We were talking, Rebecca, about open education. The University of British Columbia now will recognize the editing of OER materials as part of promotion, tenure, and review for their School of Education. That’s a phenomenal change that has happened in how we think about the role of the faculty member as a distributor and conveyor of knowledge. I think people are being more thoughtful at this in this day and age. But, you did ask specifically about technology, so I need to pivot back there for a second. I love some of the stuff that’s happening in virtual and augmented reality. Some of the really interesting research that’s happening there. I like the drop-in classes that are happening around special interest topics that often, in many cases, are informal or non-formal learning spaces. Museums putting on areas where you can come in and learn in a certain time. Kind of a gap between a human experience and the MOOC but you’re kind of doing both at the same time. I think that the opportunities that we have with free and ubiquitous devices… and I don’t mean free as in cost but I mean free as in access to… and especially in the West with broadband capabilities, what’s going on with video and how we can better engage that and as more people learn about nonlinear editing and cinematography and camera and sound. What are some of the resources we’re gonna build there? Opportunities for students to share their knowledge is the main thing that comes forward for me. WordPress, which runs, what, a quarter of websites in the world is getting incorporated more and more into courses. You think about the WordPress camps. There’s a great thing happening in New York City coming up on managing the web and how you can work with students to be able to be creators and owners of the knowledge that they’ve created and what the implications are in that space. It is kind of a tough time to be bullish on technology if you think about Facebook and Google and Apple and Amazon and antitrust that’s going on in all of those spaces. And so a lot of the stuff that I’ve mentioned here is somewhat renegade, somewhat guerrilla even. So where are those opportunities to engage with environments through online? It comes back to community in that space. How do you find and foster that in your networked identity. There are opportunities and more and more that’s going to be happening. I think that we’re in this storm and after this there will be, not a calm, but there will be an opportunity to look at what’s been broken and how can we build and improve going forward, and I think that we’re getting to that point sooner rather than later.

Rebecca: We generally wrap up by asking what’s next. You talked a little bit about what’s next in EdTech, but what’s next for you?

Rolin: What we’re doing at Seattle Pacific University around academic innovation; we have been offering seed grants to faculty for the innovations that they see as necessary, whether that’s in a classroom, in a department, in a college across the entire campus working out in the community. We provided 45 of those over a two-year period, so almost a third of our faculty directly affected by those and it was very powerful, so we’re taking that a step further and engaging at a school or college level and finding innovations that we can then potentially put into day-to-day operations. So, one of the things we’re thinking about actually are adaptive courses. What would it look like for a course in nonlinear video editing to be almost entirely online. And you think about that with lynda.com. I can go to lynda.com and take a tutorial in using Final Cut or Adobe Premiere. What am I getting out of being in a higher education institution that I can’t get off of Lynda? That’s what we’re exploring: what does it look like to have that scaffolding and support that’s directed toward a greater understanding of knowledge? Other things are definitely around social justice. We are seeing at Seattle Pacific an increase in first-generation and historically underrepresented students who are coming in with the same scores as their peers but, once they get here, we’re seeing a discrepancy between where we would expect them to score and where they are scoring. And we have statistically significant research showing that that is the first-generation student demographic. So, what are some pieces we can put into play to be able to help them with their success? Because it’s not a matter of not being able to do it; it’s a matter of the structure and the culture is not befitting them. So, we have a program called the Bio Core Scholars where we are working with tutoring and mentorship on research, community, and knowledge gaps to be able to move these students. We’re in our fifth year of this program, we’re looking at expanding it. But we have brought the students up a full standard deviation in their scores, and we had an 86 percent success rate in graduating people to pre-professional health programs, which is just a remarkable number. Personally, I’m really big on what we can do with educational video. What are some of the things instead of it just being a lecture? I love Skunk Bear on NPR, taking a topic and in three minutes doing an entertaining, evocative dive into that topic, but again, that’s Oliver Gaycken would call “decontextualized curiosity.” How do we take that and actually put it towards learning? So, I’m looking at what does it look like to have lecture mixed with a very product based assessment mixed with more evocative filmmaking to move people into learning? How does that all go forward? It’s a very exciting time to be in higher education, even with all of the things that are looming on the horizon.

Rebecca: Certainly doesn’t sound like you’re gonna be bored any time soon.

Rolin: Not at all.

John: Thank you for joining us. We look forward to hearing more about this.

Rolin: John, Rebecca, thank you guys for having me.

Rebecca: Thank you.

[MUSIC]

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

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

43. Social media

Have you ever considered using social media in your courses but have fears of things going awry? Social media can provide rich opportunities for learning and public discourse. In this episode, Brian Moritz, an Assistant Professor of Digital Media Production and Online Journalism at SUNY Oswego, joins us to explore ways of using social media that engage students and discuss policies and procedures you can use to protect student privacy and provide a safe and supportive learning environment.

Transcript

John: Have you ever considered using social media in your courses but have fears of things going awry? Social media can provide rich opportunities for learning and public discourse. In this episode, we will explore ways of using social media that engage students and discuss policies and procedures you can use to protect student privacy and provide a safe and supportive learning environment.

[Music]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[Music]

Rebecca: Today our guest is Dr. Brian Moritz, Assistant Professor of Digital Media Production and Online Journalism at SUNY Oswego. Welcome, Brian.

Brian: Thank you guys for having me.

John: Tody our teas are:

Brian: I have Earl Grey. Twinings Earl Grey.

Rebecca: Excellent. I’m going with my standard Twinings English afternoon tea.

John: …and mine is Irish breakfast from the same company.

Rebecca: It’s a Twinings afternoon.

Brian: You should get a sponsorship deal out of this.

John: I know. We should.

Rebecca: That hasn’t been the first time that’s been suggested.

We invited you here today to talk a little bit about using social media to enhance or augment learning. Can you talk a little bit about what social media platforms you think work best for learning and why?

Brian: Yeah, I think it’s a fascinating topic, one I’m really interested in… and I think… a couple different angles here… one, I think it really depends on your discipline and it really depends on the types of classes you’re teaching. I teach in our journalism and our broadcast units. They are very outward-facing… very naturally fit social media… something like Twitter. I’ll talk a lot about how I use Twitter in class… that’s a natural for me to use in my classes because that’s what our students are going to have to use when they get out in the job market. They’re going to be expected to have some kind of fluency in using Twitter and using social media as reporters… as media members. But, I think you can also broaden out our definition of social media. I mean it’s something I think we in Communication Studies think about a lot is “What is a social media platform? Is YouTube considered a social media platform? Is something like Medium or blogging software? How does that fit into the social media?”

It really does depend, I think, on the course material… on how you are going to be having your students using it. I tend to mostly use Twitter in terms of teaching for a couple of reasons: Number one… if you’re going into journalism… if you’re going into broadcasting… if you’re going into media… a presence on Twitter and use of Twitter is critical… for the profession… for starting out. Especially for my news writing classes or my journalism classes, Twitter is very newscentric and journalism-centric in a lot of ways. But, I tend to use that a lot. I’ve experimented with some of the other platforms in my skills classes. I’ve experimented with using Facebook a little bit… a little bit with Instagram and Snapchat. With those platforms, I try to let the students drive that because those are the most popular ones I found with my students.

Every semester I asked in these classes: “What social platforms are you on?” …just trying to figure out where our students are. What I found is very interesting. Most of them are on Facebook, but they don’t really use Facebook. That’s where their parents and grandparents are. They don’t want any part of that… and it’s also kind of the first one you start out at. I think you’re 13, allegedly, when you can legally start on Facebook, so that’s where you start but then you move off of it. Some of them are on Twitter; some of them are not. That kind of varies from year to year. But, the most popular ones are Snapchat and Instagram, and we talk about why that is… and we talk about how we can use those both personally and professionally… and a lot of times, how I choose to use the platforms is really trying to understand where media and where journalism are headed via the use of this platform. It’s not necessarily about using the specific platform (like tips for increasing your Twitter following or getting more likes on this Instagram story or whatever). It’s a lot more thinking how audience members are using these platforms to get news… and to follow what’s going on… and to react and interact with journalists… and what the students have to know and should know on a bigger picture level than just the actual skills involved with a specific platform.

Rebecca: It sounds to me like it’s really important for a faculty member to be aware of where the professionals in their discipline are. Because, whether or not it’s popular with students, if it’s popular with the professionals in the discipline that’s what we would want to train our students to go towards.

Brian: Absolutely. Well, absolutely with a caveat on that. Ithink it’s very important to know what actual skills journalists are going to use. Journalists don’t use Pinterest professionally on a wide scale. I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about introducing Pinterest into my courses just because that hasn’t taken off in my discipline the way it might let’s say…

Rebecca: …in design

Brian: …in design [LAUGHTER] …and in photography. Yeah… graphic design something like that, where you would probably really benefit much more from a Pinterest board and using Pinterest than using Twitter or anything like that. But I also do think it’s important. Our students are young, and again speaking from a journalistic point of view I don’t use Snapchat. I’m sure I have an account, but I’ve deleted the app several times. It’s inscrutable to me. I cannot figure that app out to save my life. But, my students are on that, and they’re using that, and I think it’s important for them to figure out “Okay, now, how are you gonna use this app?” This app isn’t necessarily widely used in journalism, especially at smaller papers, but a lot of that is because it’s old people like me who are in charge, and they may not get Snapchat and you, as students, you kind of intuitively get that… So, I tell them… it’s one of my big rah-rah speeches in my classes… but you get to design what this is gonna look like… what journalism on these platforms is going to look like… You know how you use it… and I think that’s empowering for students but also important for them to not just “This is what I need to get a job, but this is how I can build a portfolio and help create a new generation.

John: In terms of Snapchat, though, I would think that couldn’t work very well in this area, simply because of its ephemeral nature… that nothing there is kept very long.

Brian: That is true, but I do think one of the things that Snapchat has done… and there’s a whole other discussion on the economics and how long they’re gonna last, but if you go on the discover tab, where you will have media companies who will have Snapchat stories. ESPN is doing some really interesting things in the sports world, where they’re reinventing Sports Center. The 30-minute highlights show that a lot of us grew up watching is now reimagined as a two-minute Snapchat story on that discover tab. Well, that’s really interesting. How much do you watch that? What can you do on the platform like that? So, yes there’s definitely, I think in all social media, there’s always this balance of the ephemeral nature of it versus… and of course with something like Snapchat… where for listeners who don’t know, the content disappears as soon as it’s viewed or, I think, within 24 hours.

John: With some things, but even the stories, I think, are only kept for a limited period.

Brian: Right, and the same with Instagram. So, I was actually just reading a piece in the Nieman reports about how I believe it was the Cincinnati Enquirer is using Instagram stories and that’s really interesting. But again, that’s a new paradigm you’re bringing up… that it disappears after a while. it’s not like a story in the daily paper that you can read days on end. So it is interesting, and these are things that we have to think about when we’re using this as a pedagogical tool… the permanence of it… the empowerment of it… what the audience is for it… where it’s going… and I think this is what makes it both frustrating and exciting to teach the stuff and use this stuff. Because it’s not set in stone and it does change really quickly. I can remember live streaming… So, your Facebook live and before that before that Periscope, Meerkat (may it rest in peace)… a Twitter live video which is folded in with Periscope. When I started at Oswego, my first semester was fall of 2014, and live-streaming didn’t exist. Periscope and Meerkat, if they existed, they were like in private beta they weren’t out there. It was 2015 that they were first introduced at SXSW, and by April that year we’re figuring out how to get this into our curriculum and in our classes. It can move that fast.

John: Yeah. Before that, I think there was Livestream and Ustream. but Meerkat took over that whole market followed quickly by Periscope and others.

Brian: Right. When I say live stream I mean like the mobile live start where you can do it on your phone and immediately broadcast it out on Twitter or Facebook… whereas Ustream was a little bit more… I want to say… un-user friendly… but Facebook Live you literally click your screen twice and you’re there.

Rebecca: What about platforms that are a little more old-school for professional stuff like LinkedIn?

Brian: I don’t talk much about LinkedIn in my classes. I probably should, but I don’t. It is incredibly valuable for students to have as they’re entering the job market. LinkedIn is where you put your resume… it’s where you put links to your websites… and to your portfolios… and to the work you do… and you can create a really good network. I think it’s very valuable for job search. It’s very valuable for that. I don’t teach that as much [as] a skill to have in reporting and publishing. I guess I kind of focus a lot of my teaching on straight journalism practices and what you would do day-to-day in your job rather than the getting a job on LinkedIn I think most of our students… most of mine… anecdotally at least… they’re on LinkedIn, and they know they need to be on LinkedIn. They’re real professional place in their professional space.

Rebecca: Can you talk about some examples of how faculty can effectively use social media as a teaching tool?

Brian: Yeah… and again, it directly probably relates to the courses you’re teaching… your teaching outcomes… you’re learning outcomes… and the discipline that you are in. Somebody in organic chemistry is going to have a very different use case for social media than I am. The nature of what we do is different. But, I do think using social media as a tool can be effective for anybody going into a media profession, I think. It can be valuable for anything as a promotional tool. I can differentiate between writing courses and the more lecture courses that I teach, because they’re very different in terms of outcomes… in terms of what students have to do. In the skills-based courses, I have my students do a lot of stories… cover events… cover games… different things like that. Everything they write, every story they write, is published publicly online. We’ve used medium, which is a blogging platform. It’s a very simple, very straightforward WYSIWYG blogging program. Everything is published…not behind a password… not behind a protective thing… it’s online. One of the reasons we do that is we want our students to get used to “You’re a journalist. You’re a broadcaster. You’re in the media. You put your work out there.” That’s what we do… and I think that that’s valuable. I use social media as a way to: You publish a story… now you get used to you’d tweet out that link. It’s a basic journalism practice now… to get students in that habit… I write something I publish it I send it out to followers.

One thing that I do… I teach media law is one of my standing lecture classes which is not a skills course, unlike a lot of the other stuff I’m talking about, which is very skills based and hands-on experience. This is a traditional lecture law course. One thing that I do that I’ve found interesting, and with some success, is before an exam I will hold twitter office hours. What I do is… the night before the exam, let’s say the exam is on a Monday, and I tell the students this ahead of time. From 8:30 to 9:00 p.m., the night before the exam, I will be on Twitter. Everything else is closed… answer any and all questions you have about the coming exam… just rapid fire… fire away. Sometimes I have more questions than others, but there’s usually a pretty good collection of students asking questions… lurking (which means passively taking part in the conversation you’re watching it without taking part in it)… and I retweet every answer with a comment and they can follow along with a class hashtag so BRC 319 in this case. You can follow that even if you’re not on Twitter. You don’t have to follow me to do that. You can kind of watch at a distance. I found that to be incredibly useful. It’s 30 minutes and then, at the end of it, I send out five questions; three of them are actual questions so they can prepare one, and there’s two that are thrown in there and then at nine o’clock I say “Okay, the store is closed. Good luck on the exam tomorrow. No more questions.” I find that to be really useful and fun and helpful for students, I think. It’s not like a blackboard discussion forum where it’s so asynchronous that you can get lost in a thread… and when did I post this? …and you forget to go back to check it… or you don’t have alerts setup or something like that… because it’s a half hour, it’s more rapid paced. There’s a little bit of energy to it.

One of the important things I think the social media can do, is it can help connect with students in a better way and a little more personal way in an environment where maybe they’re a little more comfortable. We all have our loves and hates with Blackboard… but it is not the most inviting welcoming environment… I found at least; whereas Twitter, especially when you’re going back and forth with somebody, it can be it can be a little bit more personal, and that’s a fun cool way to use it in a class that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to using traditional social media.

Rebecca: Have you had people other than yourself chimed in to those conversations?

Brian: Alumni will check in and start either taunting me or taunting the students or like remembering past questions or something like that… and it’s usually very obvious that they’re having fun with the students and very obvious that they’re having fun with me. But, for the most part, it’s mostly the students who check in and there is a decent amount of engagement beyond just clicking into the actual social media aspect of it.

John: Have you had any cases where there have been people trolling the students in the class? and how do you deal with that?

Brian: That’s a really important question. It’s very important to say, in everything that I do with social media in a class, I am a straight cisgendered white male. I’ve got all the privilege. What I can do on social media is not the same experience that an LGBTQ person can do… or a person of color… or person from another minority group could be able to do… and I absolutely acknowledge that. I’ve had a limited experience with trolling, but it has happened. There was one time, speaking of a live-streaming… this was a few years ago and we were doing a unit in my online journalism course on Periscope. What I had the students do was get up out of class and go walk around campus using Periscope… basically just kind of wander around… get used to talking to your phone. This was a few years ago when students weren’t necessarily as naturally comfortable with it as they might be now… So, get used to the app… get used to how you can do it… get used to what you can do… you can watch different feeds on Periscope and so I was bouncing around… I went to one student… and normally they have like two people watching… three people watching… maybe they get up to six… and a young woman in my class had hundreds of people watching… and all of a sudden you can see the comments on the bottom of the screen… and I can start seeing comments come in about her and about her appearance… and it was typical gross online male behavior… and she shut it down… like she was interacting with them and she did not seem to be upset about it… she was kind of tossing it off as though whatever… and ignoring them and then she shut it down and then went away… and I’ve thought about that a lot… and that I didn’t react in a way that I should have reacted… which is then to jump in as the professor and say “This is a student… this is student doing an assignment. Knock it off. Stop it. This is inappropriate.”

If I see any trolling, I would report it to the social media platform. I made sure to talk with the student afterwards to make sure that she was okay… and she was… But, it’s something I think about… even reporting it. There’s a controversy going around on Twitter these days of what you report doesn’t necessarily get the person in trouble. There’s certain alt-right tweets now that are not polite society… I’ll tread lightly… but the person isn’t banned or doesn’t get in trouble for them… but I do think about it a lot. I think about it when I have a lot of young women in class or people of color in class. There are some ways that I’ve tried to scale back the use of social media in class… just in a way to limit any potential trolling and limit any potential negative impact that my students could come with. Because again, I think it can be really easy for someone of my status and my stature and the privilege that I bring to the classroom to think “Yeah, it’s important. You need to know Twitter… and the trolls… just ignore them” and blah blah blah blah blah blah. but it’s also important I think for us to recognize the dark side of Twitter… and the dark side of social media… and there’s plenty of dark side. That doesn’t negate its usefulness to students or its usefulness for pedagogy or a research community. But, I think it’s something we always need to be aware of and always ready to jump in. What it comes down to is keeping the students’ health and safety… and mental health… physical health… safety… well-being… all of that…number one. Everything else falls below that.

Rebecca: That raises some questions about privacy issues. Some students maybe already have a private Twitter account that they’re using and maybe have a persona established that your class assignment might not fit in with it. It could be a student who’s undocumented who really needs to protect themselves… or there’s a wide variety of circumstances. Maybe it’s personal safety. How do you handle those situations if you’re really focusing on social media as a way to communicate out and establish this larger community when we certainly know that there are people who need to be protected in those environments?

John: …abusive partners and so forth.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Brian: Absolutely… and that’s something, again, it has to be at the forefront when you think about these platforms. So, speaking kind of individually, and how I do it, they can create a Twitter account specifically for a class that they’re taking. So, it might be you know JohnSmith319 (the course is JLM 319) and that’s fine. I tell them you can create your own account for this site for this class. You don’t need to tell me your own personal Twitter account. It’s one of the reasons why I really only use Twitter… because it is easier to create a professional accounts on that… and it’s one thing that I’ve struggled with. Because, as I said earlier, I want them to think about using Instagram and using Snapchat as journalism tools. I think that’s really important for them. I think it’s really interesting for us as a news industry. I don’t want to follow them on in those platforms… and they don’t want me following them… and I don’t want that… like from privacy… just to don’t want your professor seeing what you’re up to and I don’t want to see that… and I do take that very seriously. So, it can come down to “Create your own accounts for this site.” I’m always open and I try to tell my students this and this conversation is making me realize I probably need to be more explicit about it. So, thank you for that. But, I do think it’s important to say “I don’t need to know any details, but if there’s a situation… domestic abuse… some sort of issue like that… obviously, don’t have to tell me you’re undocumented… but, if there’s something that’s going to prevent you from comfortably using your identity, I’m open to having a conversation and want to have a conversation with that.” ‘Cause at the end of the day, student safety is much more important than “Hey, you did this Twitter assignment well.” But, I do think that it’s important to navigate. it’s important to negotiate that. The online world can be a really scary place for people who don’t look like me, to be blunt.

Rebecca: I think the other challenge can also be maybe they’re comfortable telling you that they need to have a special circumstance set up, but then what did they tell the rest of the class, or how do you protect an identity to the rest of the class or that circumstance, when they’re involved in this really public discussion?

Brian: On Twitter, you can create lists, and I try to create lists of everyone’s Twitter handle on class, so that people can follow each other and interact with each other. But, if [a] person has a special instance that they need to create a more anonymous Twitter handle for class, that’ll just go on the list, no questions asked. I don’t bring it up. I don’t necessarily call them out on it. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve never had this come up, but it’s good to think about, and it’s good to kind of have in mind. The larger point would always be as a professor, and this gets in a wider pedagogy… the idea of flexibility and the idea that to be student safety student centric is first… and that’s got to be first and foremost in our decisions and in what we do… and I think there’s just some level of compassion and empathy that has to go into what we do in all these decisions… and I think social media and using it fits right into that.

Rebecca: I think sometimes our own privilege prevents us or blinds us from thinking through all the potential circumstances like you mentioned before. I know that the first time I really started thinking about this sort of thing was when a student didn’t want to publish basically a little biography assignment in my web design course. They didn’t want their information in a public realm like that and I hadn’t really considered that before. Well, what does it mean? Well, if you don’t make it live, then you don’t know how that process works. like how do I make sure that they can do all of those things?

Brian: So, what did you do in that situation?

Rebecca: I made a special circumstance. But what I do now, more so, is make sure that there’s a… not so much a policy, but it’s kind of a policy. I put in my syllabus… about being civil in the classroom… what that means… what the expectations are… and also bringing forward some of the issues that people might experience that people might not be aware of… and just putting that out there. A person might have this circumstance or that circumstance or this other circumstance and we need to protect everybody and we all need to have a safe place to learn. So, I write it in the syllabus and I also talk about it in a way that I never had done before.

Brian: I do think acknowledging it like that I think is such an important good dialogue to have with students. Because you’re right. It forces us as professors, but it also forces students, to confront their own privilege. That builds empathy… that builds understanding of “Oh, I see. I’ve never thought of it that way.” Well, of course you didn’t. Your experience is very different. But now we see the world through different lenses… and that’s good…and I think that that’s a really good way of looking at it and of thinking about these things.

Rebecca: Can you talk about a moment when you’ve used social media with your students where you’ve seen a big moment of learning? I was remembering some of what we had talked about previously about interacting with speakers who have come to campus or other things.

Brian: What I have seen is, I teach a sports writing course so I have a lot of guest speakers come in from the industry that I know from my career and it is always wonderful when you see a student after they come in several weeks later and they’re working on a story or they’re working on a final project or something like that, and they connect with a person that they had talked to. They came into the class, they tweet at them, or they ask them a question and there’s this connection and interaction. I do love seeing that because it shows they’re paying attention when they guest speaker was in, which is always a roll the dice, but it does show, I think, one of the things that benefits especially from a journalism standpoint that social media can do it’s that connection which is for the audience but with sources and so now I can get in touch with this person who writes for The New Yorker or who writes for ESPN even though I’m a college student at Oswego I can still do this, I can still connect with them. I’ve moved away from using Twitter a lot that’s more auxiliary than central in the course. One of the assignments that I have my students do in my online journalism course is a social media scavenger hunt. I give them a list of eight to ten things and they have to create a story only on social media. It started on Twitter, I’m branching that out because it’s a much more visual story so it can be an Instagram thing. But I had one student, and it’s my first year teaching it, and it’s a Tuesday Thursday class, so what are they an hour 15, an hour 20? They have to complete this whole 10 item checklist in an hour 20 which is quite a deal because you got to go to the lake, go across campus and do all this stuff, it’s a big thing. What the student did was, and I still hold this up as the standard, they didn’t just go through and get a photo of this, photo of a student, photo of a professor, photo of the lake, photo of academic excellence, or whatever. He actually thought through and crafted together an entire narrative to the whole story and so when he presented it later it wasn’t just this collection of individual tweets structured on those shot sheets, he had told a story about it. I found that to be just really enlightening, wonderful for me, but enlightening because I hadn’t thought of it even in the way that he did. So it was wonderful to see a student take this and create an actual story and use this as a storytelling medium.

John: One of the things we often encourage faculty to do is to use social media to develop personal learning networks where we encourage people to follow influential people in the disciplines on Twitter or on Medium, or on their blogs, or other sources, and I would think in journalism, as you’ve mentioned, that could be really useful. Might that be more generally applicable though across many disciplines?

Brian: Oh I will defer to you guys on the other disciplines. But I do see that coming from a conference, I was just at the AAMC conference in Washington, and that includes journalism broadcast and communication studies and a whole lot of different disciplines. I do see incredible value in that from a scholarly perspective, so it’s not just more journalists weeding out the news or tweeting out reaction to what Trump said or something like that. We’re talking about when you have a network, and I’ve been lucky. I’ve developed a lot of friends who study online news, online journalism, sports communication, and from a scholarly perspective. What’s really great is you see reaction to news events from that scholarly perspective in real-time in social media. So it’s not just this thing happened and reacting to it now we can kind of understand it from a framing Theory perspective, from a uses and gratification point of view, or a sociology of news this is why it happens. And I do think it is incredibly important and useful for faculty in all disciplines. You can use social media to connect, to see what people are working on. There’s a movement about more public scholarship, more open scholarship, in progress scholarship, what you’re working on now. It does help me stay on top of the field a little bit and keep current a little bit instead of waiting for the next journal to come out every two months, or something else to see what people are talking about; it informs my current research. I’ve lost track of the number of study ideas that have come about because somebody says something on Twitter, somebody responds, I respond, and we go back and forth for like five minutes. Somebody says we should do a study on this, and we’re like, yeah let’s do it. And you connect and sometimes it works out sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I think that can be incredibly useful and I’m sure across disciplines you can still do that where you’re talking to people and it’s kind of like, at its best, then we’ve talked a lot about social media at its worst. But at its best, it can be like that hotel lobby at the conference, after everyone’s done and everyone’s kind of hanging around talking, and it’s the social hour. But now you have this, without having to spend your travel budget. You can do it you can keep up and talk through ideas and see what people are working on.

John: One of the things I’ve seen the last four or five years, is that a lot of conferences will have apps where for each session they’ll have not just a conference hashtag but they’ll also embed the specific session so that people can see in real time what’s happening in other sessions. I’ve been at sessions where I heard about something really cool happening another session where I’ve just snuck out the back and walked into another session because sounded much more interesting. You can’t always tell from this short abstract to what’s going to happen in a session and that ability to see in real time what’s going on, and to share that globally, where once you get access to that you can then see who the presenters were. Generally more and more conferences will have the Twitter usernames of the people who are presenting and then you can send them a tweet or contact them through email and ask for copies of the papers, so it does give you a lot more options for connections.

Rebecca: I was going to say, it’s really interesting that a lot of those conversations happen in private before right but now it’s public discourse that’s happening. And so it’s interesting to me to expose our students to that and invite our students into those conversations that we’re having with our colleagues so that they’re not just having conversations with us or their faculty at the particular institution that they’re at, but now they’re having conversations with faculty at multiple institutions and scholars or practitioners in the field which I think it can be really powerful especially if those individuals are willing to engage with your students as well.

Brian: Right. And John, getting at your point, the conference I was at I was had a session yesterday, and it was a panel discussion and I streamed it on my Facebook page, I should have done it on Twitter to get a bigger audience but I did it on Facebook. It was specifically requested, I had friends of mine from other institutions who weren’t at the conference, who knew this panel was going on, and say would somebody stream it? And I did. I think that’s incredibly useful especially at the conference set up because we’ve all been to conferences and they’re great and they’re fun but how many times does it feel like, to you guys, that the research presented just dies in the room? Not in a bad way, but like you present and you have a discussion, but doesn’t always travel beyond those walls or it doesn’t have an audience beyond who’s in the room. And whether you’re streaming it through a live stream or you somebody’s live tweeting it using a conference hashtag, something like that. I think that especially when we look at the rising travel costs and rising conference costs, and Rebecca, you make a great point about bringing our students into these discussions as well. They get experience they get to see the work we’re doing as scholars and they get introduced to these ideas, again this is social media at its best. That democratization of information that’s not just, hey I got accepted to this conference and I have the travel budget, I can go and hear these big ideas, now everybody can hear those big ideas and build on them.

Rebecca: Such as the democracy of ideas, either it’s providing this access or a secret handshake into the community, if it’s a discipline that you don’t know that much about or how to get into it, platforms like this can allow a doorway in for someone who might not otherwise have access.

John: And this isn’t just restricted to traditional research. I have several musician friends who when they’re in the process of writing in new songs will sometimes livestream a recording of it and get some feedback from people immediately which you wouldn’t hear otherwise until they released the final product a year or two later often, it can be a lot of fun.

Rebecca: How do you see social media use in the classroom impacting the relationship between students and faculty?

Brian: That’s a really interesting question and a really good one. Again, I come at this like most straight white cisgender male. I have seen really nothing but positive impact on it. I think it helps when you’re active on social media, now it should say, my Twitter is much more professional place, so I do a lot more journalism, a lot more sports talk stuff there, so my students follow me, I follow my students, especially for class and that happens. The other platforms, Instagram and Facebook, I do not friend students. If students friend me and I know them from several classes, and especially if they’re juniors or seniors, sometimes I will friend them while they are still in school after they graduate it will go back and forth. I never friend a student, I never send a friend request to a student on Facebook or Instagram. I think that’s crossing a line that I’m not comfortable crossing and I don’t think they would be comfortable crossing as well. But I do think not just being on social media but being active and being willing to have a conversation with students, this is very similar to the ideas that were in the small teaching book from last year. The five minutes before class, where you talk to students about the weekend or about the movies that are out or music or the game over the weekend or whatever and just make them comfortable, get them in a setting for learning I think that that extends well on social media. And I think that I’ve been lucky with the students I’ve had, but I also do feel like it does help build that connection and build that rapport with them. I’ll post pictures a decent amount of stuff about my daughter on Twitter. I do that because I’m that annoying proud dad who thinks his daughter is amazing and weeds out stuff about her all the time. But I also do think I’ve thought about this professionally and I think it is important, I teach a sports writing class, that’s a lot of guys in that class that’s a lot of men in that class and I do think it’s important that they see a man who’s into sports who loves sports a lot of these traditional masculine ideals, playing with his daughter talking about musical theater, talking about these non sports things, I feel like that’s an important part of what I can bring to the table and I think that can help build relationships and show students that just because you’re into sports doesn’t mean you have to absorb this toxic masculinity that we see in sports a lot. I have developed good relationships with students through Twitter and then that carries over. I will say, I haven’t thought about this you analytically, but I do believe the students that I get along with well on social media are the ones I get along with well in person. I don’t know, there’s not a lot of the online disinhibition effect, where students are gun shy is class but are outspoken on social media, but if you allow yourself to be active and be open on social media, it doesn’t have to be all personal stuff either, you don’t have to post pictures of your kid. But if you post pictures, post the stuff you’re working on or the stuff you’re interested in. I think that that’s just a natural bridge to students. Anything that helps them see us as people and not as this professor-type person in front of the room was in charge of their grades, but we’re people as well. That’s what creates a good relationship. I think used properly, always the caveat, but used properly, I think social media can help do that.

Rebecca: It’s kind of interesting over the last few episodes that theme has bubbled up unintentionally; the idea of demonstrating your humanness as a faculty member in a wide variety of contexts, but that students are able to learn better when they can see you as a person, and you’re a person that makes mistakes, that you experiment etc., and you also learn.

Brian: Right, exactly. There’s a certain transparency to it too. I’m not hiding behind the curtain of what I’m doing, this is what we’re working on, this is what we’re gonna be talking about in class today, get ready for it. Or something like that.

John: Do you want to talk a little bit about the meme war?

Rebecca: I was surprised that when we asked what you do in your classes you skipped over it you didn’t mention it.

Brian: You save something for the end of the podcast, I figured. The meme war is an all credit to this idea goes to my good friend, Dr. Nick Koberstein, who teaches at Keuka College in the Finger Lakes. Our kids were Montessori classmates, that’s how we got to know each other, and we follow each other on Twitter. I saw him doing this and I thought it was a really fun idea and so I co-opted it myself. If you go to Twitter and search for Moritz meme war you will see this. So, it starts from the premise of by the last week of the semester everyone’s kind of miserable, right? Especially, I found the fall semester, there’s no real break. Like November’s just a slog, you get the Thanksgiving and then you come back and there’s like a week before classes, the weather’s starting to turn and Christmas is in sight but it’s just that time of semester where everyone’s ready to end it, and so I always tell my students, okay so what’s your motivation level right, what’s your confidence level how you feelin, and everyone’s kind of like what’s your stress level? Everyone’s like, 14 a scale of 10, and so I introduced this Moritz meme war it’s just the thing I do on Twitter to have fun. The rules of Moritz meme war are, they have one week the last week of classes, in each semester, and they have to post two memes to Twitter with Moritz meme war. One of them has to be at least somewhat tangentially related to the course material ideally, it is something straight out of the course, but there’s a lot of leeway. The other one is wild card, literally that’s all I tell them, wild card. And they have to post two memes to Twitter with that hashtag. And again, they can use a professional account, they don’t have to use a personal account. If they’re not on Twitter and don’t want to do it they can email it to me and I will post them with the hashtag as well so it breaks that barrier if you’re not involved with it. Any student who does that gets three points on their lowest grade at the semester. That’s the carrot at the end of the stick; you post it you get three points. I do this across all three of my classes. The one tweet that gets the most engagement; the most retweets, the most likes, that person gets five points on it, to kind of encourage a little more creativity and give it a little more stakes. You can look at it, I mean it is a lot of fun. They use that wild card too, I think as the kids would say, drag me a little bit. There’s a lot of mocking my love of the Avett Brothers on there. Apparently I talk about them a lot and they mention that. They bring up verbal tics I have in class that I didn’t realize I have or I didn’t realize that they noticed or something like that. At the end of the day it’s really something just to ease the tension, like it’s that last week, it’s finals, everyone is stressed out. Hey, you get an extra credit and you get to have a little fun on it. And Nick and I, Dr. Koberstein, the creator of meme wars, we actually presented a paper on this at the Blended Learning Conference at Bryn Mawr Pennsylvania, from our College, earlier this year, back in May and we talked about it, we’re actually considering writing a journal article about it. The kind of hook on it, and I did hear at the conference I was just at, about some research about this, that 10-week,10 to 12 week part of the semester, there is a noticeable drop in student engagement, in student motivations. I think Nick called it the third quarter drop off. Or, like, you’re excited at the beginning, you kind of plateau, and then you get around like the middle of November in the fog or with craters like that and so this is a way to combat that. We can overthink it a lot, again it’s a way to have a little bit of fun, it’s a way to engage with them, it’s a way to let them have some fun. They’ve been with me 14 weeks at this point you can have some fun with it. And one of the interesting things that I found on this, is I did it in one of my classes, you know, it’s just one of those classes that was really kind of quiet. We’ve all had that right? For some reason there wasn’t a lot of back-and-forth in the class. It was a quiet group. It was frustrating to me. We did the meme war and that class just took to that like a duck to water. I mean they were all over it. And so what I started thinking of is that in a way this presented this idea of latent engagement, which is a term I just made up. they were into the course they were just quiet or there wasn’t that one or two students who brought the class out of its shell and led them in discussion, but they were super into the material and I found that to be an interesting thing and again, we get back to this idea of privilege. I don’t know if a woman of color could do a meme war in class where they invite students to have a wild card, that’s just asking for trouble that straight white guy, me, doesn’t have to think about, and I acknowledge that. But it has been fun and not only do I have current students doing that but alumni will chime in, where was this when I was taking the course? Oh, can we have an alumni division on it? And they’ll post and my friends will get in on the act as well. Having them see me as a person and having that freedom to engage and freedom to talk about things, and then it’s not just very serious course material. This might be self serving on my part, I like to think it’s a good recognition on my part that, hey, this is a really stressful time for you guys, and I see that and I understand that, and yes, you still have your project to do and I’m not compromising on the work you have to do or on your deadline on this but, hey, I see that this is a hell week for you guys and that you’re probably not sleeping a lot ,and that you’re probably not eating well, or probably not exercising, you’re at your breaking point, let’s throw a little fun at this part of the semester.

Rebecca: So we always wrap up our podcast by asking, what are you gonna do next?

Brian: What am I going to do next? Why I should probably get started on my syllabi for the Fall since the semester is starting. In general, what I’m doing next is, research wise, I’m very interested in the website, The Athletic, which is a sports news website, which is an only subscription model; no advertising on it, and there’s no free access, you have to pay to read stories on that and so I’m working on several studies with that. In terms of looking at social media, I am very interested in what Instagram is going to become and turned into as a social platform. It was bought by Facebook several years ago so it’s copying a lot of what snapchat does and doing a lot of that. But the use of the story feature and Instagram, the use of this very visual medium, and it again, kind of getting back to what we were talking about at the start, it’s where our students and our recent graduates are. That’s the social media that they’re using. In news and in journalism we talk and think a lot about Twitter. Only about 20% of the internet population in the u.s. is on Twitter. It’s an incredibly small number when you compare it to other social media, and I just think, for me, where social media is going is what you see with our students when we talked about this earlier the “ephemeralness” of it, the visual nature of it. I’m fascinated with seeing what Instagram is becoming, how news organizations are using it, how students are using it. Are they using it to get news and to get information? I’m really interested in seeing and developing using Instagram more for news and seeing what can be done with that platform.

Rebecca: Well thank you. We’re glad that you’re able to join us to talk social media.

Brian: Thank you guys for having me this was fantastic.

John: Oh thank you. One other thing I’d like to add, as an addendum is, in terms of keeping up with professional development things, we do have the Oswego CELT Twitter feed which is good for keeping track of our releases of podcasts as well as providing live streams for most of our workshops.

Brian: Mm-hmm I’ve watched a few of them through your Twitter feed.

Rebecca: At least we have an audience of one. [Laughter]

[MUSIC]

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

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts, and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Theme music by Michael Gary Brewer. Editing assistance from Nicky Radford.

42. Flipping the classroom

Flipping the classroom is one way to dedicate class time to active learning. In theory it sounds great, but how do you flip a classroom without flopping? In this episode, Dr. Dominick Casadonte, a Chemistry Professor at Texas Tech University, joins us to discuss research and best practices related to flipped classrooms.

Show Notes

  • Camtasia
  • Mediasite
  • Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2014). Flipped learning: Gateway to student engagement. International Society for Technology in Education.
  • Sams, A., & Bergmann, J. (2013). Flip your students’ learning. Educational leadership, 70(6), 16-20.
  • Bowen, J. A. (2011). Rethinking technology outside the classroom. Journal of Music History Pedagogy, 2(1), 43-59.
  • Bowen, J. A. (2014). The Teaching Naked Cycle: Technology Is a Tool, but Psychology Is the New Pedagogy. Liberal Education, 100(2), n2.
  • Bowen, J. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your classroom will improve student learning (ed.). Jossey-Bass
  • Belford, R. E., Stoltzfus, M., & Houseknecht, J. B. (2015). ConfChem Conference on Flipped Classroom: Spring 2014 ConfChem Virtual Poster Session. Journal of Chemical Education, 92(9), 1582-1583.
  • Stoltzfus, J. R., & Libarkin, J. (2016). Does the room matter? Active learning in traditional and enhanced lecture spaces. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15(4), ar68.
  • Stoltzfus, Matthew (2016). Engaging Students in the Flipped Classroom (video)
  • Coats, H. J. (2016). A study on the effect of lecture length in the flipped classroom (Doctoral dissertation).
  • Casadonte, D. J. (2016). “The Effectiveness of Course Flipping in General Chemistry – Does It Work?” ACS Symposium Series, “The Flipped Classroom”, December 2016 (Book Chapter) The Flipped Classroom Volume 2: Results from Practice, Chapter 2, pp 19–37, Chapter DOI: 10.1021/bk-2016-1228.ch002, ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 1228, ISBN13:9780841231627eISBN:9780841231610,
  • POGIL.org

Transcript

Rebecca: Flipping the classroom is one way to dedicate class time to active learning. In theory it sounds great, but how do you flip a classroom without flopping? In this episode we discuss research and best practices.

[Music]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[Music]

John: Our guest today is dr. Dominick Casadonte, a chemistry professor at Texas Tech University. Dr. Casadonte is recognized as a global leader in flipped learning by the Flipped Learning Global Initiative.
Welcome.

Dominick: Thank you very much.

Rebecca: Today our teas are:

Dominick: Well, my usual afternoon beverage is an iced green tea with three pumps of raspberry, but since I’m getting over a cold, today I’m drinking a hot green tea with vanilla, lavender, and honey.

Rebecca: That sounds really nice. Finally, a tea drinker.

[LAUGHTER]

John: I’m drinking Irish Breakfast tea.

Rebecca: …and I’m drinking chai today.

John: You’re recognized as a an expert on flipping the classroom, and you’ve been doing it for a while. Could you tell us a little bit about what a flipped classroom is?

Dominick: Sure. The usual paradigm, if you think about it with regard to teaching, is lecture, homework, lecture, homework, lecture, homework, tests, lecture, homework, lecture, homework, and so on… and the problem with that format is that it’s not conducive to deep learning… with the exception of maybe very bright students or very bright asynchronous learners. Trying to keep up with a lecturer is often difficult. A student, for example, may not have gotten down everything that they wanted to write down… they may not have gotten it down correctly… or it might be fragmented… or perhaps they just didn’t understand well enough to write it down in a meaningful way, or a way that’s meaningful for them. Then they try to go home and they try to do homework, but since they didn’t really understand the lecture in the first place, the homework is again difficult and they might only be able to work part of it. So then, the very next day, there’s a new lecture and a new topic. The normal sort of didactic approach to education often leads to what I’ll call fragmented learning, in the sense that there isn’t enough time in class to practice many of the active learning strategies that work so well because faculty are so concerned with getting the lecture done. In the flipped model, on the other hand, we flip the homework-lecture-homework paradigm so that the students’ homework is to watch a lecture online. Now it can either be PowerPoint or a video and different people use different techniques. It can be done on Camtasia, it can be done through Mediasite, it can be done through a variety of different platforms. It could be done on YouTube for example. So, they’ll watch usually a video or a lecture online before they come to class, and then they may or may not do online homework prior to coming to class as a part of the pre-class experience. Then, once in class, time can be spent, for example, checking the students knowledge… clearing up muddy points or any misconceptions they might have… working advanced problems. But now, in this particular case, class becomes more of a discussion and you can use a lot of the active learning strategies that really engage the students in learning the material. By flipping the classroom, we freed up time to really engage and interact with our students and it helps with their learning in significant ways which I can talk about later.

John: So, in a traditional class, you tell students what the content is in class, and they come in with very different backgrounds and some of them are able to pick it up, others get lost along the way, and then they’re sent out to do homework… where students seem to have the most difficulty on homework or tests… and we’re pretty much leaving them alone to do that. But, here in the classroom, you’re able to work with them and help them through some of the issues.

Dominick: Right… and so, for example, in the classroom with homework, now they have a mentor who can help them work through the more difficult problems to help guide them along. There are models of the flipped classroom where there are peer mentors in the class who can help and walk around and mill around as well. So, there are opportunities for group work. There are opportunities for group discussion. You can engage the topics in a much deeper way than you can by just simply lecturing at students. So, it’s a very very non-passive way of teaching.

Rebecca: What prompted you to get into a flipped classroom model?

Dominick: Desperation, I would say. [LAUGHTER] I first started teaching an online class in the fall of 2007 as part of a multidisciplinary science master’s program of which I was a part here at Texas Tech… and getting everyone on the same platform at the same time, my thinking was that lecturing to them live online was a waste of time, basically. The question that motivated me was the same one that motivated John Bergmann and Aaron Sams around the same time at the high school level up in Colorado. Namely, what could I do to use my classroom time more effectively? What could I do to use my online time more effectively? …and I thought, “Well, let’s take the lecture out of the classroom.” So, I pre-recorded my lectures. I had the students watch the lectures before we got together in the online environment, and then we spent the majority of our time having discussion and working problems…. and these were teachers at the time and they were very very enthusiastic about the ability to actually discuss the material that they were trying to learn… and so then I thought “Well, hmm, if that works really well on an online format why don’t I try it face to face?” …and so then, starting in 2008, I adopted this to my general chemistry class. The following summer, a high school teacher that I had as part of a workshop said “Oh, I see you’re flipping your class” and I said “Flipping, what’s that?” ‘Cause at the time, there were a lot of different terms for flipping. It was called: time-shifted instruction, reverse instruction, blended instruction, all sorts of things. Flipping is a term that’s really sort of stuck.

So, I started out of a sense again of “How can I engage my students more effectively in the classroom?” and once I realized that it worked swimmingly in the online environment and then I said “Well, okay, will this work in the face-to-face?” …and it worked even better there. By that point, there are pockets of people around the country who are doing this, and they used all sorts of interesting terms. Jose Bowen at SMU, who’s an art professor, used the term “naked teaching” because it can be unsettling when you walk into a classroom and not have the comfort of your lecture notes to be able to project or read to the students. So, very often I will walk into the classroom and say “What are we going to talk about today? or “What would you like to talk about today?” You can’t do that unless you feel comfortable about the subject material and you have some expertise, but it’s a great way, in the long run, to really, really impact students.

Rebecca: You mentioned both doing this in an online environment and also in the classroom. Is there a difference between your experience in both?

Dominick: Yes, it’s so much easier face-to-face. To be able to walk around to gauge what’s going on in the classroom, their level of understanding, and how learning is happening. The power of direct peer-to-peer contact should never be underestimated, I think. Now, in the online format, my focus was more on the development of a learning community working on a particular topic, rather than in peer-to-peer mentoring and things like that. So, they’re very different approaches, but you do develop a sense of community in both, I think.

John: Now, with your online classes are they synchronous or asynchronous?

Dominick: My online classes are synchronous, in the sense that everybody meets in one place at one time. We have various software programs that allow us all to be in the same place. Yeah, so they’re all together at one point, and that’s kind of interesting because I have people from all over the country who are taking these classes. They’ve never actually physically met, at least for the first class that I teach. It’s interesting trying to, in the discussions, get a sense of the personalities of the people who were providing discussion.

John: Are they participating in video formats or is it just audio or text?

Dominick: I’ve done both. I’ve done video and audio and depending on the bandwidth and the number of students in the class both can work well.

John: How large are your classes?

Dominick: Well, my online class had 24 students in it. So, a fairly large, I think, from an online perspective class. It wasn’t one of these very very large classes like you might see at MIT, for example, but 24 is a good class in terms of bandwidth… trying to get everybody in the same room at the same time… and my face-to-face classes… they’ve ranged anywhere from a low of 25 to a high of 150.

Rebecca: You mentioned two different techniques that you use both in online versus in person. So, online you mentioned community formation and then in person you mentioned peer to peer. Can you expand upon each of those?

Dominick: Yeah, my first adage for teaching is know your audience, and in the face-to-face environment I was working largely with in-service teachers who were trying to develop a more significant content knowledge of chemistry, and so there the idea was the development of a supportive community where these teachers could bring their ideas to the table in terms of not only the content that I was teaching them, but also how they could then apply that content in their own classroom settings… and in that regard they were able to help teach each other techniques that they could use in the classrooms based on what they were learning in terms of the content. There really was a community focus, sharing knowledge as opposed to just gaining knowledge. In the face-to-face classroom, it’s more a sense of the students trying to understand the content at a deep level. There I found that it is true that when you teach something you really hopefully really understand it and so peer-to-peer mentoring is much more effective there. So, we tend to work in groups… we tend to work with dyads… two people working next to each other… and then sometimes I will just have people go to the board… but once again it was in that context of community because I think it’s very important, if you’re going to do flipping, and do it well, that it’s an active, encouraging, engaging classroom experience. If my students go to the board, whether they get the problem right or wrong, the class gets into a habit very very quickly of applauding the student for their attempt… whether or not it’s right or wrong… and then we debrief. We talk about what works… what doesn’t work… So, it really is both peer to peer and community building there as well. But, the emphasis is more on the individual in the face-to-face classroom, I think.

Rebecca: It sounds to me a little bit like the choices that you’re making online and in-person aren’t necessarily because of the medium, but rather who’s in those particular classes. Am I hearing that correctly?

Dominick: That’s right, and one of the nice things about flipping is that it is such a rich environment in which to work. As I mentioned earlier, the pre-class videos can be video lectures, they can be audio lectures (if that’s appropriate), they can be PowerPoint presentations, they can be any number of things. In the in-class experience, it’s an active learning environment. so you tailor it to the people in the classroom. For example, if you’re trying to teach in a flipped environment of the class of 24, there you can do all sorts of things that promote individual learning in ways that it’s a little bit more difficult to do in a class of 300, for example. But, I have a good friend, Matt Stoltzfus at Ohio State, for example, who routinely flips like general chemistry class of 600 students, and he’s able to give them as close to a personal learning experience as one can, I think. The point that I’m trying to make is that the flipped environment is a very rich one and it allows you to tailor the learning experience to your class specifically.

John: Do you create your own videos or do you use ones created by other people?

Dominick: I actually create my own videos. I have my own recording studio in my office… I have a Mediasite setup…. I have a video camera… I have a document camera… and I have a wonderful microphone…. and so every couple of years or so I re-record all of my videos. Now, I do use a mixture of other formats. So, for example I do have post-video homework that the students have to do online before they show up to class… and that’s done using an online learning platform that we have here at Texas Tech through a national distributor. The advanced problems that we work in class come both from the textbook that we use and also from problems that I develop. So, it’s sort of a hybrid. But, the pre-lecture videos I actually produce…… and one of the things that studies have shown is that students develop a certain sense of identity with regard to the person teaching the class. Some people, when they’re starting to flip, might want to just use Khan Academy videos, for example, or things like that. But the studies show that the class wants to see folks on the videos (or your voiceovers if you’re using PowerPoint with voiceover)… they want to see the professor who’s teaching the class, because that’s their professor… and so they develop ownership, if you will. Plus if you’re using other media, for example a Khan Academy, they may not be teaching it exactly the same way that you want to teach it, and so then you have to either reteach or undo. There’s a quality control issue there. So, it’s just easier, if you’re gonna do flipping, to make your own videos… and there are so many different ways of doing that now that there’s really no excuse.

Rebecca: That had been my experience as well when I’ve done videos in my classes. The students really liked the quirkiness or knowing that it’s the same person that they had in their classroom and if you try to slip in something else occasionally they really didn’t like it.

Dominick: …and a lot of people have a perfectionist tendency and really want their videos to be really super perfect. Well, once again, studies have shown that that’s not really what students want. They want to see the foibles. They want to see you as you are. If they know that you’re going to say “um” or “uh” in the classroom then if you don’t say “um” or “uh” in your videos, then they’re gonna say “Is that a robot teaching the class that looks like my professor?” So, it’s okay to be human when you’re doing the pre-lecture videos. But, I think one of the things that often hangs up people when they’re starting to do flipping is this notion that it has to be perfect, and it really doesn’t.

Rebecca: I think they really appreciate when you make mistakes and things, too. I know that my students did when I do like a coding mistake, I’m like “Whoops, I made a mistake..” and go back and fix it and explain what I did and why it was wrong. We all make those kinds of slips and errors and things and we would do it live. So, it’s kind of nice to do it in videos, too.

John: It makes you seem more human by doing that.

Dominick: One of the nice things about them seeing you make mistakes is that it gives them permission to make mistakes. They don’t have to be perfect. I’ve had experience with students in classrooms where they come in and they’re intimidated… they’re shy… they’re just afraid that they can’t master the materials. So, seeing somebody make a mistake who is an expert gives them permission to make mistakes… and one of the things that that really does is it empowers them to learn, because at the end of the day when somebody’s trying to learn they’re going to make mistakes and I give my class permission to make mistakes. In fact, I tell them you have permission to make mistakes while you’re learning. After you’ve learned something, that’s a little different. If you’re an engineer, for example, and you’re building a bridge, I don’t want you making mistakes. But while you’re learning… absolutely, make mistakes. Part of education is this movement from novice to expert and in that process one makes mistakes. So, I told my class “You have the right to make mistakes” and I use an example. So, let’s say you’re a five-year-old and you’re trying to learn how to ice-skate you fall down, what does a five-year-old do? They laugh, they brush themselves off, they might giggle a little bit, they get up and then they just skate some more. Now, imagine you’re an eighteen year old and you’re learning to ice skate and you fall down. Most of the time, people stand up and say “Did anybody see me?” and they worry about what people are gonna think, instead of just getting up, laughing, and moving on. So, what often happens is the 18-year old never learns to ice skate, whereas the five year old, who’s willing to make mistakes, learns. So, I tell them it’s okay to make mistakes while they’re trying to learn… and also it’s about empowering students to be able to have confidence in themselves… and we talk about this a lot. We did a study of what motivates students in the flipped environment, and part of it is the confidence… the autonomy… that they develop in the flipped environment. When they really think they’ve got and they really understand, there’s a certain level of “Geez, I understand this. I can understand the next thing…” and so on and so forth. That sense of confidence really improves their educational experience.

John: How long are your videos? Do you tend to have very long ones or do you chunk them up into smaller chunks? and what would you recommend in terms of video length?

Dominick: We did a study a few years ago on the optimum length for flip videos, and it came about because our book dealers: McGraw-Hill, Prentice-Hall, Cengage… those are the top three that we have here at Texas Tech… were telling us that they were creating videos and they’re creating these five to seven-minute videos… and I said why are you making five to seven-minute videos?” and they said “Well, everybody knows that the Millennial generation has a five- to seven-minute attention span and so they want five to seven minute videos.” I said: “But, what is best for learning and improving learning outcomes? I don’t care what their preference is. What’s best for them to learn?” He said “Well, we don’t know.” I said “Well, do you have any data or evidence that shows the five- to seven-minute videos are really great for learning?” and they said “No, but we would be interested if someone would do a study and tell us.” So, I had a graduate student who embarked on a study of lecture video length. We set up essentially short video people… those are people to watch five to seven-minute videos… and we did this with master videos, so each video was probably 40 minutes to an hour long. We put stop signs in the video and when they hit a stop sign they would stop. They would work some online homework and then they could pick up again… or they could go off and do something else. but the short videos were five to seven minutes and then we had a long view group, as it were. We allowed them to decide which videos they wanted to do and not surprisingly, 62% decided to do short videos. So, I have no problem with the book dealers’ notion that Millennials prefer shorter videos. But, then we let the semester go on and we didn’t force them to stay into one group or the other. We let them move and we watched their video habits. We weren’t video stalking them, but we could watch their lecture habits using the Mediasite analytics down to the millisecond.

What we found was that 60% of that short video group switched to the long video length, which is very surprising to us, and we did also a variety of assessments. We looked at online homework grades. We looked at quiz grades. We looked at exam grades. We looked at final exam grades. We looked at the American Chemical Society standardized tests that we give as a pre-post and what we found was that there was a subgroup of the long-view group that watched the video as a long video, but then they stopped at specific points to either have a snack with a friend, go to the bathroom, whatever they needed to do… and we called them the long pause people. It turned out that in every assessment that required global understanding… so final exams, ACS exam individual exams… the long-pause viewers actually scored one standard deviation higher than the short viewers. In fact, the short viewers had the worst learning outcomes of all three groups. Then we gave them Likert scale questionnaires, and we also gave them open-ended questions, and we said “Why did you make the switch? What do you find?” and they said “Well, it just got too fragmented to look at these short videos and we couldn’t take what we saw in video A and connect it to video B and so on and so forth, especially if several hours had gone by, because we then had to go back and watch video A again to remember what we forgot. But, if we did the long videos we were able to just put it all together.” Also in that we found that the best optimum video time. So, what constitutes a short video versus a long video for Millennials is 20 minutes or less is short, 30 minutes or more is long. So, 20 to 30 minutes is the sweet spot for video length. That’s what the study showed us and we’ve just submitted that for publication.

Rebecca: Have you adjusted how you’re teaching based on that information?

Dominick: Yes, my videos are roughly in the range of 30 to 40 minutes, but I tell my students “Take the time you need. Take breaks. It’s going to help your learning outcomes.” I also share with them the results of our studies, because I think if you’re going to, in my case if you’re gonna be a scientist, you should be data-driven. So we want our students to know that we’re not just telling them this because it’s something anecdotal, but rather it comes from data that we’ve collected.

John: Have you thought about controlling for self selection and randomly putting students in groups? Because one concern I’d have with that is that it could be the case that those students who select the short videos might have done less well no matter which group they were in or vice versa… although you do have switchers in there.

Dominick: Yeah, I’ve actually been very lucky in my studies that I teach our honors general chemistry sections… and so I look at the SAT scores… I look at their previous class performance… and it’s a very very, as much one can have, a homogeneous group. So there’s really not much of a selection bias, I think, as far as the study goes.

Rebecca: You’ve also done some research on the flipped classroom approach in general, not just the video length. Can you share some of your findings?

Dominick: Sure. We found out a lot about the flipped environment over the past 10 years or so. As I mentioned a minute ago, I’ve been very lucky in that I tend to teach very bright students. I did a five-year longitudinal study on the effect of flipping which has been published in American Chemical Society monograph and we found that the average exam grade increased by 9.2 percent over that five-year period, and that the largest gains in learning came during summative assessments (for example during final exams and externally developed independently normed exams like our ACS exam). We also have done work on what motivates students to do well in the flipped classroom and we just recently presented at the biennial conference on chemistry education regarding the effectiveness of peer mentoring during the flipped classroom. The results there were very astounding to me. It shouldn’t have been because peer-led team learning has been around for more than 15 years, but nonetheless, in trying to tweak the classroom, the addition of the peer mentor took what was already much better than had been before and improved it dramatically. I’ll give you an example. On the American Chemical Society end-of-term exam, without the peer mentor present… So, I give my students incentives if they score above the 95th percentile on that exam, and it’s a challenging exam, they get an automatic “A” in my class. They don’t have to take the final because this exam is normed against thousands of students around the country in a variety of different university settings. Pre-flipping, I had zero to one student scoring above the 95th percentile; post-flipping the average was roughly nine. So, it increased tremendously. With the presence of the peer mentor, the number went from 9 to 34 and so almost a six-fold increase in the number of students scoring above the 95th percentile. The only difference being, since I used to run the discussion sections that I subsequently allowed the peer mentor to do, that was really the only difference in the environment as far as I could see in terms of controlling for the different factors, except for the obvious one of different students. But she did this in the fall of 2016 and the fall of 2017 and there were 34 in one in the fall of 2017, 33 in the fall of 2016. The percentages of the class actually increased. This is kind of reproducible, if you will. So, we’ve looked at a variety of different things, and with regard to motivation we looked at that from self-determinacy theory and found essentially three things that really sort of motivate people: one is autonomy, second is pace, and the third is responsibility.

In the flipped environment, this sense of autonomy… the sense that “Oh yeah, I am really learning something” is very important to the students. The pace, the fact that they could watch the videos in their pajamas, for example, was very important to the students as a motivating factor… and responsibility, the fact that they had to take responsibility for their own education as opposed to being sort of spoon fed in a lecture format was something that motivated them as well. That student just graduated in December, so we’re now preparing that for publication. So, we looked at a variety of different aspects of flipping.

Rebecca: Can you clarify about your peer mentor model? The students are watching videos outside of class, and then they’re coming to a class with you, and then also recitation session with another student?

Dominick: They watch a pre-lecture video. They do online homework. We have a class discussion… work problems… and then there’s a separate recitation section… and historically I have done all of that. I had a very bright student who really wanted some teaching experience and she said “Would you let me run your recitation?” and I, like many faculty perhaps, don’t really want to give up control of my classroom environment. So, it took a lot of cajoling on her part to get me to do that…. and I said “Well, let’s look at it and see what happens.” She took over the recitations and… talk about a motivated young lady… she would provide review sheets for them… she would do all sorts of things that I would do, but the way she would do it, I think, spoke to the students so much more effectively than I was able to do. I think that’s one of the real reasons why their scores went up.

Rebecca: She knew how to meet them where they were at in a way that, as we become more of an expert in our field, we lose touch with that.

Dominick: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So, one of the things that I’ll be interested in following is that there was a recent study that Prentice-Hall published about the Millennials versus the Gen Z students… and one of the things they noticed is that, while there was about a sixty or so percent “like” amongst the Millennials for using computers and computerization and video and things like that, that number was almost half for the gen Z population. It’s almost as though it’s such a normal part of their life, the gen Z population, that there’s nothing special… there’s nothing unique about it… there’s no value-added to doing videos… it’s the sort of normal expectation. So, I’ll be very curious to see how this sort of flipped environment works over the next 10 to 15 years when the expectation is that they’ll be seeing videos at some point either prior or post classroom experience.

Rebecca: …definitely an interesting question.

John: You’ve organized several symposium on flipped classrooms. What are some of the biggest takeaways from those symposia when you bring people from many different disciplines together? Are the results pretty similar across disciplines or do they vary substantially?

Dominick: Well, I think the first thing that struck me with regard to these symposia is how diverse the flipped environment really can be. Since active learning occurs during the classroom time, there’s almost as many different active learning strategies as there are teachers, and so no two flipped classrooms are the same… and that’s the first thing that I learned. The other thing that I learned is that you have to be committed to flip. You can’t do it half-baked. If you try to do flipping, there was one example of a professor who said “Well, all this is is what we’ve always done. You tell the students to read the material before they come to class and then we have a discussion.” So, he said “Okay, I’m going to ‘flip my classroom’ and just have them read the textbook before they come to class and then we’ll have a discussion.” He found very quickly that the students weren’t reading the textbook, so there was very little discussion going on, which frustrated the professor and frustrated the classroom and set up more of an adversarial relationship.. and it was the worst teaching experience he ever had and he said “I’m never going to flip my classroom again.” So, one of the takeaway messages, and this was reported at one of the symposia, is that if you’re really going to flip your classroom, you’re in for a dime, you’re in for a dollar. You do it as well as you can and be very concerned about what you’re putting in and what you’re expecting to get out or it can be a very very bad experience. Now, I will say this, that almost everybody when they get up on board the flipped bandwagon, especially if you’re using technology prior to classroom, it’s hard at first. That’s the other real take-home message. It takes a lot of time to flip your class the first time. But, once you do it, it actually is much more enjoyable. It’s actually easier, I think, than the regular didactic approach. Those are some of the take-home messages.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit more about some of the other challenges faculty might face if they’re doing it for the first time?

Dominick: Sure, yeah. The first and biggest challenge that people have is time. Don’t decide you’re gonna flip your classroom two weeks before the start of a semester. It can be the most horrible experience you’ve ever had as a teacher, because students have an expectation that each lecture is going to be there for them. As we all have various things come up or university requirements… meetings… things like that… and you may find yourself at 3 o’clock in the morning trying to record a video for dispersal at 8 o’clock in the morning. So, don’t wait till the last minute. That’s the biggest sort of thing. That’s one of the reasons why people are sometimes a little bit risk-averse with regard to flipping their classroom.

Other things that have come up: saying “Oh, I can just use Khan Academy videos or videos that are on the web” …and they haven’t previewed them, for example, and then they find that the students have a very different concept of the material than the professor has and then you end up spending a lot of time: “Well, which one do we believe? Do we believe the video that you showed us? or do we believe what you’re telling us?” and so it can create an environment which doesn’t propagate trust in the learning experience. Other issues are: online homework versus homework that you put together for the students… what are you gonna do during class time? how are you gonna fill that time. If you’re not familiar with active learning strategies, that can be very daunting. For example, you walk into a classroom and the students have already watched a video… they’ve done some homework… So, what’s your value added? If you’re not used to active learning strategies, that can be very difficult the first time that you’re doing it…. and then do I need to change my assessment strategy based on the fact that now I’m using a different kind of pedagogy? So, there are a lot of different moving parts and I think putting all those moving parts together can somewhat be inhibitory for people who are trying to flip for the first time.

John: What types of active learning strategies do you use? You’ve mentioned some group work on problems, but could you give a few examples of types of activities you use during the class sections?

Dominick: Sure, there’s group work first of all. I send students to the board. I’ll pass out file cards, for example, and ask the students to put down one thing that was unclear in the video or something that they really would like to learn about in addition to the video. So, it’s not just muddy points, but it’s also how do we expand and extend. Because in my case it’s an honors class and I want to give them a little bit more than the normal amount of material and experience, and so those are some of the things that we do. We have to make molecules and structures and do all sorts of things, and so I use human atoms. I have volunteers come up to the front of the class and they have to then make molecules. They have to develop particular structures. They have to show how they bond, how they vibrate, how they move. What they do. So, they have to actually sort of insert themselves into the molecular dynamic, if you will. They’re trying to understand that, as an atom won’t understand its environment. The first couple of times, students aren’t used to that level of kinesthetic learning, but once they get it, then I usually have a fair number of students who are willing to volunteer and come up. Because, while they’re doing that, we’re also discussing, and I’m asking the class: “Okay, so why is it that this particular atom won’t bond here? What’s wrong with this?” and so it’s a real discussion… but now using human beings as the models rather than just making stick figures or things like that.

So, I try to move students through a variety of different learning environments that engage them not only visually, auditorily, but also tactilely. and kinesthetically, and that’s somewhat unusual, I think, in chemistry classes. Because, once again, most people don’t think of chemistry as a visceral activity in many cases.

Rebecca: Actually, it sounds like a lot of fun.

Dominick: Well, and it is, and I’ll tell you I walk into my class the very first day and they’re all very respectful, because Texas students typically are very respectful and they’re honors students. So, they really want to make a good impression. I usually start my class laughing, telling them this is the last time this class will be quiet. A noisy class is a learning class, a quiet class can be a sleeping class, I don’t know. So, yeah, my class is always very, very engaging, I hope.

Rebecca: Have you ever had the moment when you’ve asked your students “What do you want to talk about today?” and then not have anything they want to talk about?

Dominick: Yes, I think every faculty member has that “Oh, my gosh” moment. I always come prepared with questions, so if they don’t have anything to talk about, then I’ll ask them “Well, what did you think about this particular part of the video?” or “Did you really understand this?” or “Let’s take this concept and move it farther” because one of the things I never do in my classroom is just do a rehash of my video. I figure they’ve watched the video. So, I might say “Well, okay, you saw this but how could we apply this in this other setting?” …and then if they really didn’t understand it, then I’ll be able to tell in a heartbeat whether or not there are real questions because they really don’t have a good sense of understanding… and then I can go back and say “Okay, at what point is this breaking down for you? How did this not work?” Silence kind of tells me that there is usually a breakdown somewhere… and so I try to address what that breakdown is and try to correct it. So, that’s what I meant earlier when I say one of the things I do during my class is try to clear up misconceptions… try to address muddy points… and just make sure that they really understand the lecture part as well. That can take anywhere from five minutes to 45 minutes. My classes are an hour and a half long. Depending on how difficult a lecture was… on what their level of understanding is… So, I want them to have deep understanding of the content and so if they’re coming in silent then I worry that that depth is not there.

John: When they see the videos, you have them take tests. Are the tests the same for each student? or do you vary the questions? Is there some randomization there?

Dominick: Well, no. So, we give departmental exams, so the exams are the same for every student, basically. I know many universities have a format and they can vary the numbers that are put in, for example, but no, my students really… they’re fairly separated when it comes to the exam, so I don’t really feel the need to give each one a separate numerical set of calculations.

John: …and it sounds like many of your students are honor students where that might be less of an issue.

Dominick: Right, and we have an honors code through the Honors College, and I tell them the first lecture if you’re cheating you’re out of here. If you’re cheating you’re out of the University… and I’ve had the unfortunate occasion to have students suspended from universities… not at Texas Tech, but at other places I’ve been… and so they understand that I’m very serious about that.

John: On those tests, do they have multiple attempts or just a single take on the test?

Dominick: Well, my tests are usually set up so that they’re half multiple choice, half free response. Because at the end of the day, I tell my students “Qe don’t live in a multiple-choice world… A. agree, B disagree… you know, we don’t… and so I need to know how you’re thinking. While multiple choice exams are expedient in terms of grading, they don’t let me know what you know. So, I give them both because some students like multiple choice exams. They think they’re really good at them. Some students really want the free response. So, it’s a mixture of both. I try to give them a rich assessment environment as much as possible.

Rebecca: So, to follow up on what John was asking, are your homework assignments kind of a multiple attempt to help learning? or is it a one attempt kind of thing?

Dominick: It’s a one attempt. Yeah. Now, what I do allow them to do after they’ve provided their answer, is that I’ll allow the question to be open so they can go back and review it, especially if the answer is wrong…. and I allow them to do that to help them review for the exams as well.

John: So, they can go back and retake it, but only the first attempt counts towards their grade?

Dominick: Right. So, they have to think about what they’re putting in there before they put it in. Because in some cases, I’ve heard stories of students who put a wrong answer in purposefully and then the online learning environment gives them hints or tells them how to work a problem just like that… and then they go back and they have another problem with just different numbers but they’ve already been coached essentially in terms of how to answer the problem. Once again, perhaps it’s because I think you have to do things right eventually at the end of the day, I really want them to get it right… and these are… once again… they’re relatively straightforward pre-class questions. Their designed as just-in-time or warm-up questions. They’re not multifaceted. The questions we’re getting in the class are really challenging problems. They’re challenging problems using an honors book. So, hopefully they differentiate between those.

John: Are they graded on the problems they do in class as well?

Dominick: They’re not. Because part of that environment, once again, is to have groups… have community… have a mentoring process… and so, the ultimate goal in that whole process is the solution of the problem. So, I’ve already tested them in the online learning environment. I’ll test them on the exams. I’ll test them on quizzes. But, in the class I want the process of how to solve the problem come forth and not the grade be the most important thing.

Rebecca: So, we always end or wrap up our podcast with the question: what are you gonna work on next?

Dominick: Well, I have a pretty active and diverse chemical education research group and with regard to flipping, specifically, I mentioned that I had a recent PhD who looked at motivation in the classroom and what we found there were there were basically three reasons that motivates students to want to do well: autonomy, pace, and responsibility. Through the flipped environment they learn how to develop confidence in their ability to learn, and secondly they liked that the class is largely self-paced and they get to watch the videos in their pajamas if they want to, for example… and finally they really appreciate the fact that they are responsible for their own learning. So, we’re going to be looking at the role of metacognitive intervention as an autonomy motivator in the flipped classroom. That is to say, if we help them think about how they’re thinking during the early parts of the flipped classroom, do they proceed to confidence in their ability to learn that much faster… and we’ll also be looking at how the flipped classroom, especially with community building activities and community building learning strategies can improve the learning outcomes among historically underrepresented communities in the sciences… though especially communities where the notion of family and community is so important in their lives… that are not necessarily in the classroom. So, those are the two areas that we’re going to be moving into with regard to flipping… and I have a number of other projects that are not related to flipping as well. So, it’s a very diverse group of questions that we’re trying to answer, but once again I think that the flipped environment is a very value-added environment for both the students and the faculty… and so I think it’s a mature pedagogy in the sense that we talk about process oriented guided inquiry learning (POGIL) being mature and peer led team learning activities (PLTL) as mature pedagogy. Service learning is another mature pedagogy that has matured over the last 20 years or so… and I think it’s now safe to say that flipping is a mature pedagogy. In fact, at the biennial conference on chemistry education, there was a wonderful paper doing a meta-analysis on flipping and the presenter showed that in terms of looking.. I think he looked at 18 or 19 different papers on the flipped environment… and he found that, in general, there’s about a 30% improvement in student learning outcomes and it’s even better in organic chemistry than general chemistry (which was surprising to me). But, nonetheless it really does improve learning for students and that, in the final analysis, is what we’re trying to do.

Rebecca: It sounds like some really interesting projects. We’ll be looking forward to finding out what you find out.

Dominick: Thank you.

John: Well, thank you. this has been fascinating.

Rebecca: Yeah, thanks so much for spending some time with us today.

Dominick: Thanks, I’m gonna have another sip of tea. Thank you.

Rebecca: Thank you
[MUSIC]

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

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

37. Evidence is Trending

Faculty are increasingly looking to research on teaching and learning to make informed decisions about their practice as a teacher and the policies their institutions put into place. In today’s episode, Michelle Miller joins us to discuss recent research that will likely shape the future of higher education.

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

Show Notes

Rebecca: Faculty are increasingly looking to research on teaching and learning to make informed decisions about their practice as a teacher and the policies their institutions put into place. In today’s episode we talk to a cognitive psychologist about recent research that will likely shape the future of higher education.
[Music]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[Music]

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

Michelle: Hi, I’m so glad to be here.

Rebecca: Thanks for joining us.
Today’s teas are:

Michelle: I’m drinking a fresh peppermint infused tea, and it’s my favorite afternoon pick-me-up.

Rebecca: …and it looks like it’s in a really wonderfully designed teapot.

Michelle: Well, thank you… and this is a thrift store find… one of my favorite things to do. Yeah, so I’m enjoying it.

John: I have Twinings Blackcurrant Breeze.

Rebecca: …and I’m drinking chai today.

Michelle: Pretty rough.

John: We invited you here to talk a little bit about things that you’ve been observing in terms of what’s catching on in higher education in terms of new and interesting innovations in teaching.

Michelle: Right, that’s one of things that I really had the luxury of being able to step back and look at over this last semester and over this last spring when I was on sabbatical… One of the really neat things about my book Minds Online, especially now that it’s been out for a few years, is that it does open up all these opportunities to speak with really engaged faculty and others, such as: instructional designers, librarians, academic leadership, educational technology coordinators… all these individuals around the country who are really, really involved in these issues. It’s a great opportunity to see how these trends, how these ideas, how these innovations are rolling out, and these can be some things that have been around for quite some time and just continue to rock along and even pickup steam, and some newer things that are on the horizon.

John: You’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling. You just got back from China recently, I believe.

Michelle: I sure did. It was a short visit and I do hope to go back, both to keep getting involved in educational innovations there and, hopefully, as a tourist as well. So, I was not there for very long but I had the opportunity to speak at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which is a really dynamic institution that’s been around for about a hundred years. For a while in its history it specialized in things like engineering education polytechnic, but now it’s really a selective comprehensive university with very vibrant graduate and undergraduate programs that are really very relatable for those of us in the United States working in similar contexts. My invitation was to be one of the featured speakers at the Future Education, Future Learning Conference, which was a very interdisciplinary gathering of doctoral students, faculty, even others from the community, who were all interested in the intersection of things like technology, online learning, MOOCs even, and educational research (including research into the brain and cognitive psychology), and bringing all of those together… and it was a multilingual conference. I do not speak Chinese but much of the conference was in both English and Chinese and so I was also able to really absorb a lot of these new ideas. So yes, that was a real highlight of my sabbatical semester and one that I’m going to be thinking about for quite some time.

I should say that part of what tied in there as well is that Minds Online, I’ve just learned, is going to be translated into Chinese and that’s going to come out in May 2019. So, I also got to meet with some of the people who were involved in the translation… start to put together some promotional materials such as videos and things like that.

Rebecca: Cool.

John: Excellent.

Rebecca: So, you’ve had a good opportunity, as you’ve been traveling, to almost do a scavenger hunt of what faculty are doing with evidence-based practices related to your book. Can you share some of what you’ve found or heard?

Michelle: This theme of evidence-based practice, and really tying into the findings that have been coming out of cognitive psychology for quite some time, that really is one of the exciting trends and things that I was really excited to see and hear for so many different quarters I visited in different institutions… and so I would say definitely, this is a trend that is continuing and is increasing. There really does continue to be a lot of wonderful interest and wonderful activity around these real cognitively informed approaches to teaching, and what I think we could call scientifically based and evidence-based strategies. One form this has taken is Josh Eyler’s new book, called How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching. This is a brand new book by a faculty development professional, and a person coming out of the humanities, actually, who’s weaving together even from his humanities background everything from evolutionary biology to classical research in early childhood education to the latest brain-based research. He’s weaving this together into this new book for faculty. So, that’s one of the things that I’ve noticed and then there’s the issue which i think is another great illustration of best-known practice which is the testing effect and retrieval practice.

John: One of the nice things is how so many branches of research are converging… testing in the classroom, brain-based research, and so forth, are all finding those same basic effects. It’s nice to see such robust results, which we don’t always see in all research in all disciplines.

Rebecca: …and just breaking down the silos in general. The things are all related and finding out what those relationships are… exploring those relationships… is really important and it’s nice to see that it’s starting to open up.

John: We should also note that when you visited here, we had a reading group and we had faculty working on trying to apply some of these concepts, and they’re still doing that… and they still keep making references back to your visit. So, it’s had quite a big impact on our campus.

Michelle: This wasn’t true, I don’t think, when I first entered the teaching profession… and even to the extent when I first started getting interested in applied work in course redesign and in faculty professional development. you would get kind of this pushback or just strange looks when you said “Oh, how about we bring in something from cognitive psychology” and now that is just highly normalized and something that people are really speaking across the curriculum… and taking it and running with it in a lasting ongoing way, not just as a “Oh, well that was an interesting idea. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing” but really people making some deep changes as you mentioned. This theme of breaking down silos… I mean I think if there’s kind of one umbrella trend that all of these things fits under it’s that breakdown of boundaries. So, that’s one that I keep coming back to, I know, in my work.

So, the idea of retrieval practice, drilling down on that one key finding which goes back a very long ways in cognitive psychology. I think of that as such a good example of what we’re talking about here… about how this very detailed effect in cognition and yet it does have these applications across disciplinary silos. Now when I go to conferences and I say “Okay, raise your hand. How many people have ever heard of retrieval practice? How many people have ever heard of the testing effect? How many people have heard of the book Make it Stick (which really places this phenomena at its center)?” and I’m seeing more hands raising.

With retrieval practice, by the way, we’re talking about that principle that taking a test on something, that retrieving something from memory actively, has this huge impact on future memorability of that information. As its proponents like to say, tests are not neutral from a memory or from a learning standpoint… and while some of the research has focused on very kind of stripped-down laboratory style tasks like memorizing words pairs, there are also some other research projects showing that it does flow out to more realistic learning situations.

So, more people simply know about this, and that’s really the first hurdle, oftentimes, with getting this involved disciplinary sometimes jargon riddled research out there to practitioners and getting it into their hands. So, people heard of it and they’re starting to build this into their teaching. As I’ve traveled around I love to hear some of the specific examples and to see it as well crop up in scholarship of teaching and learning.

Just recently, for example, I ran across and really got into the work of Bruce Kirchhoff who is at University of North Carolina – Greensboro and his area is botany and plant identification. He has actually put together some different really technology-based apps and tools that students and teachers can use in something like a botany course to rehearse and review plant identification. He says in one of his articles, for example, that there just isn’t time in class to really adequately master plant identification. It’s just too complex of a perceptual and cognitive and memory test to do that. So, he really built in from the get-go very specific principles drawn from cognitive psychology… so, the testing effect is in there… there’s different varieties of quizzing and it all is about just getting students to retrieve and identify example after example. It brings in also principles such as interleaving, which we could return to in a little bit, but has to do with the sequencing of different examples… their spacing… So, that’s even planned out exactly how and when students encounter different things that they’re studying. It’s really wonderful. So, for example he and his colleagues put out a scholarship of teaching and learning article talking about how this approach was used effectively in veterinary medicine students who have to learn to identify poisonous plants that they’ll see around their practice. This is something that can be time-consuming and very tough, but they have some good data showing that this technology enhanced cognitively based approach really does work. That’s one example. Coincidentally, I’ve seen some other work in the literature, also on plant identification, where the instructors tagged plants in an arboretum… they went around and tagged them with QR codes… that students can walk up to a plant in the real environment with an iPad… hold the iPad over it… and it would immediately start producing quiz questions that were are specific to exactly the plants they were looking at.
So, those are some of the exciting things that people are taking and running with now that this principle is out there.

Rebecca: What I really love about the two stories that you just shared was the faculty are really designing their curriculum and designing the learning experiences with the students in mind… and what students need and when they need it. So, not only is it employing these cognitive science principles, but it’s actually applying design principles as well. It’s really designing for a user experience and thinking about the idea that if I need to identify a plant, being able to identify it in this situation in which I would need to identify it in makes it much more dynamic I think for a student… but also really meets them where they’re at and where they need it.

John: …and there’s so many apps out there now that will do the plant identification just from imagery without the QR code, that I can see it taking it one step further where they can do it in the wild without having that… so they can build it in for plants that are in the region without needing to encode that specifically for the application.

Michelle: I think you’re absolutely right once we put the technology in the hands of faculties who, as I said, they’re the one to know: “Where are my students at? Where are the weak points? Where are the gaps that they really need to bridge?” and that’s where their creativity is giving rise to all these new applications… and sometimes these can be low-tech as well… or also things that we can put in a face-to-face environment… and I’d like to to share just some experiences that I’ve had with this over the last few semesters.

In addition to trying to teach online with a lot of technology, I also have in my teaching rotation a small required course in research methods in psychology which can be a real stumbling block… the big challenge course… it’s kind of a gateway course to continued progress in our major. So, in this research methods course, some of the things that I’ve done around assessment and testing to really try again to stretch that retrieval practice idea… to make assessments really a more dynamic part of the course and more central part of the course… to move away from that idea that tests are just this kind of every now and again this panic mode opportunity for me to kind of measure in sorts of students and judge them… to make good on that idea that tests are part of learning. So, here’s some of the things that I try to do. For one thing, I took time out of the class almost every single class meeting as part of the routine to have students first of all generate quiz questions out of their textbook. So, we do have a certain amount of foundational material in that course as well as a project and a whole lot of other stuff is going on. So they need to get that foundational stuff.

Every Tuesday they would come in and they knew their routine: you get index cards and you crack your textbook and you generate for me three quiz questions. Everybody does it. I’m not policing whether you read the chapter or not. It’s active… they’re generating it… and also that makes it something like frequent quizzing. That’s a great practical advantage for me since I’m not writing everything. They would turn those in and I would select some of my favorites I would turn those into a traditional looking paper quiz and hand that out on Thursday. I said “Hey, take this like a realistic quiz.” I had explained to them that quizzes can really boost their learning, so that was the justification for spending time on it and then I said: “You know what? I’m not going to grade it either. You take it home because this is a learning experience for you. It’s a learning activity.” so we did that every single week as those students got into that routine.

The second thing that I did to really re-envision how assessment testing and quizzing worked in this particular course, was something inspired by different kinds of group testing and exam wrapper activities I’ve seen, particularly coming out of the STEM field, where there’s been a lot of innovation in this area. What I would do is… we had these high stakes exams at a few points during the semester. But, the class day after the exam, we didn’t do the traditional “Let’s go over the exam.” [LAUGHTER] That’s kind of deadly dull, and it just tends to generate a lot of pushback from students… and as we know from the research, simply reviewing… passing your eyes over the information… is not going to do much to advance your learning. So, what I would do is… I would photocopy all those exams, so it has a secure copy. They were not graded. I would not look at this before we did this… and I would pass everybody’s exams back to them along with a blank copy of that same exam. I assigned them to small groups and I said “Okay, here’s your job. Go back over this exam, fill it out as perfectly as you can as a group, and to make it interesting I said I will grade that exam as well, the one you do with your group, and anything you get over 90% gets added to everybody’s grade. This time it was open book, it was open Google, it was everything except you can’t ask me questions. So, you have each other and that’s where these great conversations started to happen. The things that we always want students to say. So, I would eavesdrop and hear students say “Oh, well you know what, I think on this question she was really talking about validity because reliability is this other thing…” and they’d have a deep conversation about it. I’m still kind of going back through the numbers to see what are the impacts of learning? Are there any trends that I can identify? But, I will say this: in the semesters that I did this, I didn’t have a single question ever come back to me along the lines of “Well, this question was unclear. I didn’t understand it. I think I was graded unfairly.” it really did shut all that down and again extended the learning that I feel students got out of that. Now it meant a big sacrifice of class time, but I feel strongly enough about these principles that I’m always going to do this in one form or another anytime I can can in face-to-face classes.

Rebecca: This sounds really familiar, John.

John: I’ve just done the same, or something remarkably similar, this semester, in my econometrics class which is very similar to the psych research methods class. I actually picked it up following a discussion with Doug McKee. He actually was doing it this semester too. He had a podcast episode on it. It sounded so exciting, I did something… a little bit different. I actually graded it but I didn’t give it back to them because I wanted to see what they had the most trouble with, and then I was going to have them only answer the ones in a group that they struggled with… and it turned out that that was pretty much all them anyway. So, it’s very similar to what you did except I gave them a weighted average of their original grade and the group grade and all except one person improved and the one person’s score went down by two points because the group grade was just slightly lower… but he did extremely well and he wasn’t that confident. The benefits to them of that peer explanation and explaining was just tremendous and it was so much more fun for them and for me and, as you said, it just completely wiped out all those things like “Well, that was tricky” because when they hear their peers explaining it to them the students were much more likely to respond by saying “Oh yeah, I remember that now” and it was a wonderful experience and I’m gonna do that everywhere I can.

In fact. I was talking about it with my TA just this morning here at Duke and we’re planning to do something like that in our classes here at TIP this summer, which i think is somewhat familiar to you from earlier in your academic career.

Michelle: That is right we do have this connection. I was among, not the very first year, but I believe the second cohort of Talent Identification Program students who came in, I guess you would call it now, middle school (back then, it was called junior high) and what a life-transforming experience. We’ve had even more opportunities to talk about the development of all these educational ideas through that experience.

John: That two-stage exam is wonderful and it’s so much more positive… because it didn’t really take, in my class, much more time, because I would have spent most of that class period going over the exam and problems they had. But the students who did well would have been bored and not paying much attention to it; the students who did poorly would just be depressed and upset that they did so poorly… and here, they were actively processing the information and it was so positive.

Michelle: That’s a big shift. We really have to step back and acknowledge that, I think. that is a huge shift in how we look at assessment, and how we think about the use of class time… and it’s not just “Oh my gosh, I have to use every minute to put such content in front of the students.” Just the fact that more of us are making that leap, I think, really is evidence this progress is happening… and we see also a lot of raised consciousness around issues such as learning styles. That’s another one that, when I go out and speak to faculty audiences, 10 years ago you would get these shocked looks or even very indignant commentary when you say “Ok, this idea of learning styles, in the sense that say there are visual learners, auditory learners, what I call sensory learning styles (VAK is another name it sometimes goes by). The idea that that just holds no water from a cognitive point of view…” People were not good with that, and now when I mentioned that at a conference, I get the knowing nods and even a few groans… people like “Oh, yeah. we get that. Now, K-12, which I want to acknowledge it’s not my area, but I’m constantly reminded by people across the spectrum that it’s a very different story in K-12. So, setting that aside… but this is what I’m seeing… that faculty are realizing… they’re saying “Oh, this is what the evidence says…” and maybe they even take the time to look at some of the really great thinkers and writers who put together the facts on this. They say “You know what? I’m not going to take my limited time and resources and spend that on this matching to styles when the styles can’t even be accurately diagnosed and are of no use in a learning situation. So, that’s another area of real progress.

Rebecca: What I am hearing is not just progress here in terms of cognitive science, but a real shift towards really thinking about how students learn and designing for that rather than something that would sound more like a penalty for grade like “Oh, did you achieve? Yes or no…” but, rather here’s an opportunity if you didn’t achieve to now actually learn it… and recognize that you haven’t learned it, even though it might seem really familiar.

John: Going back to that point about learning styles. It is spreading in colleges. I wish it was true at all the departments at our institution, but it’s getting there gradually… and whenever people bring it up, we generally remind them that there’s a whole body of research on this and I’ll send them references but what’s really troubling is in my classes the last couple years now, I’ve been using this metacognitive cafe discussion forum to focus on student learning… and one of the week’s discussions is on learning styles and generally about 95 percent of the students who are freshmen or sophomores (typically) come in with a strong belief in learning styles… where they’ve been tested multiple times in elementary or middle school… they’ve been told what their learning styles are… they’ve been told they can only learn that way… It discourages them from trying to learn in other ways and it does a lot of damage… and I hope we eventually reach out further so that it just goes away throughout the educational system.

Rebecca: You’ve worked in your classes, Michelle, haven’t you to help students understand the science of learning and use that to help students understand the methods and things that you’re doing>

Michelle: Yes, I have. I’ve done this in a couple of different ways. Now, partly, I get a little bit of a free pass in some of my teaching because I’m teaching the introduction to psychology or I’m teaching research methods where I just happen to sneak in as the research example will be some work on say attention or distraction or the testing effect. So, I get to do it in those ways covertly. I’ve also had the chance, although it’s not on my current teaching rotation… I’ve had the chance to also take it on as in freestanding courses. As many institutions are doing these days… it’s another trend… and what Northern Arizona University, where I work, has different kinds of freshmen or first-year student offering for courses they can take, not in a specific disciplinary area, but that really crossed some different areas of the student success or even wellbeing. So, I taught a class for awhile called Maximizing Brain Power that was about a lot of these different topics. Not just the kind of very generic study skills tip… “get a good night’s sleep…” that kind of thing… but really some again more evidence-based things that we can tell students and you can really kind of market it… and I think that we do sometimes have to play marketers to say “Hey, I’m going to give you some inside information here. This is sort of gonna be your secret weapon. So, let me tell you what the research has found.”

So, those are some of the things that I share with students… as well as when the right moment arises, say after an exam or before their first round of small stakes assessments, where they’re taking a lot of quizzes… to really explain the difference between this and high stakes or standardized tests they may have taken in the past. So, I do it on a continuing basis. I try to weave it into the disciplinary aspect and I do it in these free-standing ways as well… and I think here’s another area where I’m seeing this take hold in some different places… which is to have these free-standing resources that also just live outside of a traditional class that people can even incorporate into their courses… if say cognitive psychology or learning science isn’t their area… that they can bring in, because faculty really do care about these things. We just don’t always have the means to bring them in in as many ways as we would like.

John: …and your Attention Matters project was an example of that wasn’t it? Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Michelle: Oh, I’d love to… and you know this connects to what it seems to be kind of an evergreen topic in the teaching and learning community these days, which is the role of distracted students… and I know this past year there just have been these one op-ed versus another. There’s been some really good blog posts by some people I really like to follow in the teaching and learning community such as Kevin Gannon talking about “Okay, do you have laptops in the classroom? and what happens when you do?” and so I don’t think that this is just a fad that’s going away. This is something that the people do continue to care about, and this is where the attention matters project comes in.

This was something that we conceptualized and put together a couple years ago at Northern Arizona University with myself, and primarily I collaborated with a wonderful instructional designer who also teaches a great deal… John Doherty. So, how this came about is I was seeing all the information on distraction… I’m really getting into this as a cognitive psychologist and going “Wow, students need to know that if they’re texting five friends and watching a video in their class. It’s not going to happen for them.” I was really concerned about “What can I actually do to change students minds?” So, my way of doing this was to go around giving guests presentations in every classes where people would let me burn an hour of their class time… and not a very scalable model… and John Doherty respectfully sat through one my presentations on this and then he approached me and said “Look, you know, we could make a module and put this online… and it could be an open access within the institution module, so that anybody at my school can just click in and they’re signed up. We could put this together. We could use some really great instructional design principles and we could just see what happens… and I bet more people would take that if it were done in that format. We did this with no resources. We just were passionate about the project and that’s what we did. We had no grant backing or anything. We got behind it. So, what this is is about a one- to two-hour module that, it’s a lot like a MOOC in that it there’s not a whole lot of interaction or feedback, but there are discussion forums and it’s very self-paced in that way… so one- to two-hour mini MOOCs that really puts at the forefront demonstrations and activities… so we don’t try to convince students about problems with distraction and multitasking… we don’t try to address that just by laying a bunch of research articles on them… I think that’s great if this were a psychology course, but it’s not. So, we come at it by linking them out to videos, for example, that we were able to choose, that we feel really demonstrate in some memorable ways what gets by us when we aren’t paying attention… and we also give students some research-based tips on how to set a behavioral plan and stick to it… because just like with so many areas of life, just knowing that something is bad for you is not enough to really change your behavior and get you not to do that thing. so we have students talking about their own plans and what they do when, say, they’re having a boring moment in class, or they’re really really tempted to go online while they’re doing homework at home. What kinds of resolutions can they set or what kind of conditions can make that that will help them accomplish that. Things like the software blockers… you set a timer on your computer and it can lock you out of problematic sites… or we learned about a great app called Pocket Points where you actually earn spendable coupon points for keeping your phone off during certain hours. This is students talking to students about things that really concern them and really concern us all because I think a lot of us struggle with that.

So, we try to do that… and the bigger frame for this as well is this is, I feel, a life skill for the 21st century… thinking about how technology is going to be an asset to you and not detract from what you accomplish in your life. What a great time to be reflecting on that, when you’re in this early college career. so that’s what we try to do with the project…and we’ve had over a thousand students come through. They oftentimes earn extra credit. Our faculty are great about offering small amounts of extra credit for completing this and we’re just starting to roll out some research showing some of the impacts… and showing it in a bigger way just how you can go about setting up something like this.

Rebecca: I like that the focus seems to be on helping students with a life skill rather than using technology is just a blame or an excuse. We’re in control of our own behaviors and taking ownership over our behaviors is important rather than just kind of object blaming.

Michelle: So, looking at future trends, I would like to see more faculty looking at it in the way that you just described, Rebecca, as this is a life skill and it’s something that we collaborate on with our students… not lay down the law… because, after all, students are in online environments where we’re not there policing that and they do need to go out into work environments and further study and things like that. So, that’s what I feel is the best value. For faculty who are looking at this, if they don’t want to do… or don’t have the means to do something really formal like our Attention Matters approach, just thinking about it ahead of time… I think nobody can afford to ignore this issue anymore and whether you go the route of “No tech in my classroom” or “We’re going to use the technology in my classroom“ or something in between… just reading over, in a very mindful way, not just the opinion pieces, but hopefully also a bit of the research, I think, can help faculty as they go in to deal with this… and really to look at it in another way, just to be honest, we also have to consider how much of this is driven by our egos as teachers and how much of it is driven by a real concern for student learning and those student life skills. I think that’s where we can really take this on effectively and make some progress when we are de-emphasizing that ego aspect and making sure that it really is about the students.

John: We should note there’s a really nice chapter in this book called Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology that deals with these types of issues. It was one of the chapters that got our faculty particularly interested in these issues… on to what extent technology should be used in the classroom… and to what extent it serves as a distraction.

Michelle: I think that really speaks to another thing which I think is an enduring trend… which is the emphasis on really supporting the whole student in success and what we’ve come to call academic persistence… kind of a big umbrella term that has to do with, not just succeeding in a given class, but also being retained… coming back after the first year. As many leaders in higher education point out, this is as a financial issue. As someone pointed out, it does cost a lot less to hang on to the students you have instead of recruiting more students to replace ones who are lost. This is, of course, yet another really big shift in mindset of our own, because after all we did used to measure our success by “Hey, I flunked this many students out of this course” or” Look at how many people have to switch into different majors…our major is so challenging…”

So, we really have turned that thinking around and this does include faculty now. I think that we did used to see those silos. We had that very narrow view of “I’m here to convey content. I’m here to be an expert in this discipline, and that’s what I’m gonna do…” and sure, we want to think about things like do students have learning skills? Do they have metacognition? Are they happy and socially connected at the school? Are they likely to be retained so that we can have this robust university environment?

We had people for that, right? It used to be somebody else’s job… student services or upper administration. They were the ones who heard about that and now I think on both sides we really are changing our vision. More and more forward-thinking faculty are saying “You know what? Besides being a disciplinary expert, I want to become at least conversant with learning science. I want to become at least conversant with the science of academic persistence…” There is a robust early literature on this and that’s something that we’ve been working on at NAU over this past year as well… kind of an exciting newer project that I like very much. We’ve started to engage faculty in a new faculty development program called Persistence Scholars and this is there to really speak to people’s academic and evidence-based side, as well as get them to engage in some perspective-taking around things like the challenges that students face and what it is like to be a student at our institution. We do some really selected readings in the area we look at things like mindset… belongingness… these are really hot areas in that science of persistence… in that emerging field. But, we have to look at it in a really integrated way.

It’s easy for people to say just go to a workshop on mindset and that’s a nice concept, but we wanted to think about it in this bigger picture… really know what are some of the strengths of that and why? Where do these concepts come from? What’s the evidence? That’s something that I think is another real trend and I think as well we will see more academic leaders and people in staff and support roles all over universities needing to know more about learning science. There are still some misconceptions that persist, as we’ve talked about. We’re making progress in getting rid of some of these myths around learning, but I will say… I’m not gonna name any names… but, every now and again I will hear from somebody who says “Oh well, we need to match student learning styles” or “Digital natives think differently, don’t you know?” and I have to wonder whether that’s a great thing. I mean, these are oftentimes individuals that have the power to set the agenda for learning all over a campus. Faculty need to be in the retention arena and I think that leaders need to be in the learning science arena. The boundaries is breaking down and it’s about time.

Rebecca: One of the things that I thought was really exciting with the reading groups that we’ve been having on our campus… that we started with your book, but then we’ve read Make it Stick and Small Teaching since… is that a lot of administrators in a lot of different kinds of roles engaged with us in those reading groups, it wasn’t just faculty. There was a mix of faculty, staff, and some administrators, and I think that that was really exciting. For people who don’t have the luxury of being in your persistence scholar program, what would you recommend they read to get started to learn more about the science of persistence?

Michelle: I really, even after working with this for quite some time, I loved the core text that we have in that program, which is Completing College by Vincent Tinto. It’s just got a great combination of passionate and very direct writing style. So, there’s no ambiguity, there’s not a whole lot of “on the one hand this and on the other hand that.” It’s got an absolutely stellar research base, which faculty of course appreciate… and it has a great deal of concrete examples. So, in that book they talk about “okay, what does it mean to give really good support to first semester college students? What does that look like?” and they’ll go out and they’ll cite very specific “Here’s a school and here’s what they’re doing… here’s what their program looks like… here’s another example that looks very different but gets at the same thing.” So, that’s one of the things that really speak to our faculty… that they really appreciated and enjoyed.

I think that as well we tested good feedback about work that’s come out of the David Yeager and his research group on belongingness and lay theories, and lay theories is maybe a counterintuitive term for kind of a body of ideas about what students believe about academic success and why some people are successful and others are not and how those beliefs can be changed sometimes through relatively simple interventions and when it happens we see great effects such as the narrowing of achievement gaps among students who have more privilege or less privileged backgrounds… and that’s something that, philosophically, many faculty really really care about but they’ve never had the chance to really learn “Okay, how can I actually address something like that with what I’m doing in my classroom, and how can I really know that the things that I’m choosing do have that great evidence base…”

John: …and I think that whole issue is more important now and is very much a social justice issue because, with the rate of increase we’ve seen in college cost inflation, people who start college and don’t finish it are saddled with an awfully high burden of debt. The rate of return to a college degree is the highest that we’ve ever seen and college graduates end up not only getting paid a lot more but they end up with more comfortable jobs and so forth… and if we really want to move people out of poverty and try to reduce income inequality, getting more people into higher education and successfully completing higher education is a really important issue. I’m glad to see that your institution is doing this so heavily and I know a lot of SUNY schools have been hiring Student Success specialists. At our institution they’ve been very actively involved in the reading group, so that message is spreading and I think some of them started with your book and then moved to each of the others. So, they are working with students in trying to help the students who are struggling the most with evidence-based practices …and I think that’s becoming more and more common and it’s a wonderful thing.

Rebecca: So, I really liked Michelle that you were talking about faculty getting involved in retention and this idea of helping students develop persistence skills, and also administrators learning more about evidence-based practices. There’s these grassroots movements happening in both of these areas. Can you talk about some of the other grassroots movements that are working toward, or efforts that faculty are making to engage students and capture their attention and their excitement for education?

Michelle: Right, and here I think a neat thing to think about too is just it’s the big ambitious projects… the big textbook replacement projects or the artificial intelligence informed adaptive learning systems… those are the things that get a lot of the press and end up in The Chronicle of Higher Education that we read about… But, outside of that, there is this very vibrant community and grassroots led scene of developing different technologies and approaches. So, it really goes back for a while. I mean, the MERLOT database that I do talk about in Minds Online has been trove for years of well hidden gems that take on one thing in a discipline and come at it from a way that’s not just great from a subject-matter perspective but brings up the new creative approaches. In the MERLOT database, for example, there’s a great tutorial on statistical significance and the interrelationship between statistical significance and issues like simple sizes. You know, that’s a tough one for students, but it has a little animation involving a horse and a rider that really turns it into something that’s very visual… that’s very tangible… and it really actually tying into analogies, which is a well-known cognitive process that can support the advancement of learning something new. There is something on fluid pressures in the body that was treated for nursing students by nurses, and it’s got an analogy of a soaker hose that this is really fun and is actually interactive. So, those are the kinds of things. The PhET project, P-h-E-T which comes out of University of Colorado, that has been around for a while… again, faculty-led and a way to have these very useful interactive simulations for concepts in physics and chemistry. So, that’s one. CogLab, that’s an auxiliary product that I’ve used for some time in like hundred psychology courses that simulates very famous experimental paradigms which are notoriously difficult to describe on stage for cognitive psychology students. That started out many years ago as a project that very much has this flavor of “We have this need in our classroom. We need something interactive. There’s nothing out there. Let’s see what we can build.” It has since then picked up and turned into a commercial product, but that’s the type of thing that I’m seeing out there.

Another thing that you’ll definitely hear about if you’re circulating and hearing about the latest project is virtual reality for education. So, with this it seems like, unlike just a few years ago, almost everywhere you visit you’re going to hear that “Oh, we’ve just set up a facility. We’re trying out some new things.” This is something that I also heard about when I was talking to people when I was over in China. So, this is an international phenomenon. It’s going to pick up steam and definitely go some places.

What also strikes me about that is just how many different projects there are. Just when you’re worried that you’re going to be scooped because somebody else is going to get there first with their virtual reality project you realize you’re doing very very different things. So, I’ve seen, for example, it used in a medical application to increase empathy among medical students… and I took a six or seven minute demonstration that just was really heart-rending, simulating the patient experience with a particular set of sensory disorders… and at Northern Arizona University we have a lab that is just going full-steam in coming up with educational applications such as interactive organic chemistry tutorial that is is just fascinating. We actually completed a pilot project and are planning to gear up a much larger study next semester looking at the impacts of this. So, this is really taking off for sure.

But, I think there are some caveats here. We still really need some basic research on this… not just what should we be setting up and what the impacts are but how does this even work? In particular, what I would like to research in the future, or at least see some research on, is what kinds of students… what sort of student profile… really gets the most out of virtual reality for education. Because amidst all the very breathless press that’s going on about this now and all the excitement, we do have to remember this is a very, very labor intensive type of resource to set up. You’re not just going to go home and throw something together for the next week. It takes a team to build these things and to complete them as well. If you have, say, a 300 student chemistry course (which is not atypical at all… these large courses), you’re not going to just have all of them spend hours and hours and hours doing this even with a fairly large facility. It’s a very hands-on thing to guide them through this process, to provide the tech support, and everything else.

So, I think really knowing how we can best target our efforts in this area, so that we can build the absolute best, with the resources we have, and maybe even target and ask the students who are most likely to benefit. I think those are some of the things that we just need to know about this. So, it’s exciting for somebody like me who’s in the research area. I see this as a wonderful open opportunity… but those are some of the real crossroads we’re at with virtual reality right now.

Rebecca: I can imagine there’s a big weighing that would have to happen in terms of expense and time and resources needed to startup versus what that might be saving in the long run. I can imagine if it’s a safety thing that you want to do a virtual reality experience, like saving people’s lives and making sure that they’re not going to be in danger as they practice particular skills, could be a really good investment in these… spending the resources to make that investment… or if it’s a lot of travel that would just be way too expensive to bring a bunch of students to a particular location… but you could virtually… it seems like it would be worth the start-up costs and those are just two ideas off the top of my head where it would make sense to bend all of that resource and time.

John: …and equipment will get cheaper. Right now, it’s really expensive for computers that have sufficient speed and graphics processing capability and the headsets are expensive, but they will come down in price, but as you said, it’s still one person typically and one device… so it doesn’t scale quite as well as a lot of other tools or at least not at this stage.

Rebecca: From what I remember, Michelle, you wrote a blog post about [a] virtual reality experience that you had. Can you share that experience, and maybe what stuck with you from that experience?

Michelle: Right, so I had the opportunity, just as I was getting to collaborate with our incredible team at the immersive virtual reality lab at NAU… one of the things I was treated to was about an hour and a half in the virtual reality setup that they have to explore some of the things that they had… Giovanni Castillo, by the way, is creative director of the lab and he’s the one who was so patient with me through all this. We tried a couple of different things and of course there’s such a huge variety of different things that you can do.
There’s a few things out there like driving simulators that are kind of educational… they’re kind of an entertainment… but he was just trying to give me, first of all, just a view of those… and I had to reject a few of them… I will say, initially, because I am one of the individuals who tends to be prone to motion sickness. So, that limits what I can personally do in VR and that is yet another thing that we’re gonna have to figure out. At least informally, what we hear is that women in particular tend to experience more of this. So, I needed, first of all, to go to a very low motion VR. I wasn’t gonna be whizzing through these environments. That was not going to happen for me. So, we did something that probably sounds incredibly simplistic, but it just touched me to my core… which is getting to play with Google Earth. You can spin the globe and either just pick a place at random or what Giovanni told me is… “You know, I’ve observed that when people do this, when we have an opportunity to interact with Google Earth, they all either go to where they grew up or they’ll go to someplace that they have visited recently or they plan to visit. So, I went to a place that is very special to me and maybe it doesn’t fit into either one of those categories neatly, but it’s my daughter’s University… her school… and I should say that this is also a different thing for me because my daughter goes to school in Frankfort, Germany… an institute that is connected to a Museum. So, I had only been to part of the physical facility… the museum itself… and it was a long time ago… and part of it was closer to the holiday. So, this is my opportunity to go there and explore what it looks like all over… and so, that was an emotional experience for me. It was a sensory experience… it was a social one… because we were talking the whole time… and he’s asking me questions and what kinds of exhibits do they have here… and what’s this part of it. So, that was wonderful. it really did give me a feel for alright, what is it actually like to be in this sort of environment?

I’m not a gamer. I don’t have that same background that many of our students have. So, it got me up to speed on that… and it did show me how just exploring something that is relatively simple can really acquire a whole new dimension in this kind of immersive environment. Now the postscript that I talked about in that blog post was what happened when I actually visited there earlier in the year. So, I had this very strange experience that human beings have never had before… which is from this… I don’t know whether to call it deja vu or what… of going to the settings and walking around the same environment and seeing the same lighting and all that sort of stuff that was there in that virtual reality environment… but this time, of course, with real human beings in it and the changes… the little subtle changes that take place over time, and so forth.

So, how does it translate into learning? What’s it going to do for our students? I just think that time is going to tell. It won’t take too long, but I think that these are things we need to know. But, sometimes just getting in and being able to explore something like this can really put you back in touch with the things you love about educational technology.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that I’m hearing in your voice is the excitement of experimenting and trying something… and that’s, I think, encouragement for faculty in general… is to just put yourself out there and try something out even if you don’t have something specific in mind with what you might do with it. Experiencing it might give you some insight later on. it might take some time to have an idea of what you might do with it, but having that experience, you understand it better… it could be really useful.

John: …and that’s something that could be experienced on a fairly low budget with just your smartphone and a pair of Google cardboard or something similar. Basically, it’s a seven to twelve dollar addition to your phone and you can have that experience… because there’s a lot of 3D videos and 3D images out there on Google Earth as well as on YouTube. So, you can experience other parts of the world and cultures before visiting… and I could see that being useful in quite a few disciplines.

Rebecca: So, we always wrap up with asking what are you going to do next?

Michelle: I continue to be really excited about getting the word out about cognitive principles and how we can flow those in to teaching face-to-face with technology… everything else in between. So, that’s what I continue to be excited about… leveraging cognitive principles with technology and with just rethinking our teaching techniques. I’m going to be speaking at the Magna Teaching with Technology Conference in October, and so I’m continuing to develop some of these themes… and I’m very excited to be able to do that. I’m right now also… we’re in the early stages of another really exciting project that has to do with what we will call neuromyth… So, that may be a term that you’ve turn across in some of your reading. It’s something that we touched on a few times, I think, in our conversation today… the misconceptions that people have about teaching and learning and how those can potentially impact the choices we make in our teaching. So, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with this amazing international group of researchers who’s headed up by Dr. Kristen Betts of Drexel University… and I won’t say too much more about it other than we have a very robust crop of survey responses that have come in from, not just instructors, but also instructional designers and administrators from around the world. So, we’re going to be breaking those survey results down and coming up with some results to roll out probably early in the academic year and we’ll be speaking about that at the Accelerate conference, most likely in November. That’s put out by the Online Learning Consortium. So, we’re right in the midst of that project and it’s going to be so interesting to see what has the progress been? What neuromyths are still out there and how can they be addressed by different professional development experiences. We’re continuing to work on the Persistence Scholars Program on academic persistence. So, we’ll be recruiting another cohort of willing faculty to take that on in the fall at Northern Arizona University. I am going to be continuing to collaborate and really work with and hear from John and his research group with respect to the metacognitive material that they’re flowing into foundational coursework and ways to get students up to speed with a lot of critical metacognitive knowledge. So, we’re going to work on that too… and I like to keep up my blog and work on shall we say longer writing project but we’ll have to stay tuned for that.

Rebecca: Sounds like you need to plan some sleep in there too.

[LAUGHTER]

John: Well, it’s wonderful talking to you, and you’ve given us a lot of great things to reflect on and to share with people.

Rebecca: Yeah. Thank you for being so generous with your time.

John: Thank you.

Michelle: Oh, thank you. Thanks so much. It’s a pleasure, an absolute pleasure. Thank you.

[MUSIC]

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

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts, and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Theme music by Michael Gary Brewer. Editing assistance from Nicky Radford.

34. Flex courses

Working towards a degree for some students can be a struggle as they balance full-time work, families and coursework. In this episode, Marela Fiacco, a Healthcare Management Instructor and Curriculum Coordinator at SUNY Canton joins us to explore options that give students greater access to courses and co-curricular activities. Dr. Fiacco is the first instructor at her institution to teach a flex course, a modality in which students may participate either in person or remotely.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Working towards a degree for some students can be a struggle as they balance full-time work, families and coursework. In this episode we’ll explore options that give students greater access to courses and co-curricular activities.

[Music]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[Music]

Rebecca: Today our guest is Marela Fiacco. Marela is a Healthcare Management Instructor and Curriculum Coordinator for the Healthcare Management Program at SUNY Canton. She is also the first instructor in this program to teach a flex course. Welcome Marela.

Marela: Thank you, thank you for having me.

John: We’re happy to have you here. Are you drinking tea?

Marela: I’m drinking water.

Rebecca: It’s a nice, healthy choice.

John: Our teas today are…

Rebecca: I’m drinking English afternoon tea… again.

John: And I have Harry and David’s Bing Cherry Black Tea.

Marela: Oh, that sounds yummy.

John: It really is. It’s hard to find– you have to go to a Harry and David store or order from them online, but it’s a Republic of Tea tea that’s custom made for them.

You were the first instructor at your institution and one of the first in SUNY, I believe, to teach a flex course. Could you tell us a little bit about what a flex course is?

Marela: Certainly, at SUNY Canton we received a grant from SUNY system, I believe, and this is by our Dean of Instructional Technologies and the idea was born to create what we called at the time, probably about this time last year, we called it a converged modality classroom delivery. We can call it a flex class or a converged modality. To us at the time, it was a mix of face-to-face and an online class, so we have students in a face-to-face class and students in an online class. Students in an online class can watch the video live or they can watch a recording later. Face-to-face students, if they are not in attendance, could watch a recording later. It’s really a mix, and when you say a flex course that’s what it is. It provides flexibility.

John: A flex course, then, is a combination of a face-to-face and an online class. Are students free to choose the modality, or are they enrolled in one section or the other?

Marela: Since this was a pilot, it was really difficult for students to understand and determine when they were first registering for a class. We have since gotten a little bit better and created two different sections and they understand what it is and they understand what they’re signing up for. At the time, we just provided a face-to-face and an online section. Those students who were purely online and couldn’t come to class physically, they chose an online version. Little did they know that they were going to be in a converged class, or a flex course, but at the very beginning I had a video done where I was explaining what it is and should they choose not to participate they could have picked a different section… but, this was just something added that they could benefit from. It wasn’t anything that we were taking away from their online experience.

John: So, if they were in the online course, could they attend face-to-face classes?

Marela: They absolutely had an opportunity to participate in a face-to-face class if they chose to do that. But, I think, for the health care management program, we advertised it as a hundred percent online program, and so most of our online students choose online because of the convenience. But we also do have students on campus and commuters who come to class face-to-face.

Rebecca: What was it like teaching a flex class?

Marela: Quite frankly, it was a lot of prep work at the very beginning. Well, first I thought: “How am I gonna do this? I’ve never done anything like this. It’s going to be a lot of work and then I thought “Well I have to start from somewhere.” I taught this class both online and face-to-face in the past, so that helped. We teach in Blackboard. I took the online class and just really took a hard look at it, and thought to myself “How do I make this class more user-friendly for both groups. I modified my online class. I of course added both on converged modality. We have videos for each lecture capture, so each time I’m in class and I’m lecturing I am using those to upload into those weekly modules for those online students to watch and for livestream. The thing I really wanted to achieve is I didn’t want to have it separate. The face-to-face students, I think they had more work than anybody else. They were asked to participate in discussion posts online together with online students. So, for them, it was almost a hybrid. They were supposed to upload assignments in Blackboard and also discussed whatever topic it is… whatever questions that we had for those weeks in Blackboard.

I also created a group assignment that I think was a bit of a challenge for all of us, because I intentionally picked the groups and they didn’t have any say in that and I picked online students and face-to-face students, and provided him with links in Blackboard Collaborate to get together and work on their assignment. That was a challenge for all of us.

John: From your perspective, are you compensated for teaching two courses or is it treated as if it’s one course, in terms of your workload.

Marela: I did get an extra that an adjunct would be paid or that a faculty member would be paid for teaching an extra course, because of the workload. Because this was a pilot because we capped both of the sections at 15 students normally our caps are at 30. So, I did get an additional pay last semester for teaching this converged modality or flex class. Moving forward, I don’t think that they’re actually doing that with other faculty.

John: To get things started, it often helps to give a stipend to encourage people to experiment. In the future, would the combined sections be capped at the same level as a single section would have been?

Marela: They are capped at 30 and it’s just one section.

John: …and then students are free to either attend in person or online. That’s what I was thinking..

Marela: Yeah.

John: …because that’s what I’ve generally heard about flex courses. I just haven’t seen many examples of them in practice yet.

Rebecca: What was one of the biggest challenges you had as an instructor? and what might you do differently next time you teach a class like this?

Marela: One of the biggest challenges was technology, to be honest. Just working out the kinks… because this was new for all of us, including the online support staff. You come in and the camera is not working… or the sound’s not working… videos not working. We might be missing a livestream or we might be missing a recording. It was the technical difficulties that were really the hardest. I struggled with attendance in the face-to-face class, because now students are thinking: “This is super flexible, I don’t have to show up.” So, I struggled with the balance between allowing them to have flexibility and the fact that you signed up for this class. So, you want to provide students that flexibility if there is a snowstorm and we lose power and whatever it might be and if they’re traveling a distance. So that was kind of the fine line, but I think each instructor determines their own attendance policy, so every one of us will approach it differently, I suppose.

John: Did you use any tools such as polling or quizzing in class where students had to participate either virtually or physically?

Marela: No, not this time. Just because the technology was new and I think next time I do it I definitely would want to do that. But at the same time, that is another hard one, because the online students, the reason that they take online classes is for convenience. Most of them are working professionals. In my program, 85% of the students are working professionals. The classes… let’s say nine o’clock in the morning… well, they can’t exactly participate live. They do appreciate the recording later at night working on their homework or whatever it might be.

John: So, for online students synchronous attendance isn’t required? It’s an option but not required?

Marela: Correct.

John: What would you say would be the major advantages that students get from this sort of offering?

Marela: I think the greatest advantage for online students specifically is the lecture capture. If there are any misunderstandings about the assignments, whatever it might be they, they actually get a lecture instead of being self taught if, you think about a purely online class. Another thing too, is it provided greater connectivity with students. I really can’t stress that enough, that it really gave me an opportunity to connect with the online students… one that I wouldn’t have otherwise… because it often feels disconnected from the campus. With this grant, it wasn’t just the converged modality, it was also to connect with online students. We invested money in live streaming our Excellence in Leadership lectures and speakers so that we can bring online students and have them participate in different things on campus. We really wanted to create that connection and that’s one thing that they really appreciated the most… that was their feedback. They want to see us, that we exist… we’re here… and that we care enough that we want to do this for them. So, I think that was one thing that they really appreciated the most.

John: It created more sense of instructor presence and more of a connection to the institution.

MAREA: Yes, and they feel a sense of community… they feel a sense of belonging.

Rebecca: Did you find that a lot of the students took advantage of some of the extra things that the college invested in, so they could take advantage of those extracurricular opportunities?

Marela: They did. They really did… and we were really pleased with that… and actually the Dean of Students, myself, the Assistant to the Provost, and the Dean of Instructional Technologies we are presenting at the CIT conference and we are reporting our findings, not just on academic side but also the extracurricular and non-academic piece of it… and what is it that students took part in, what they enjoyed the most, what is it that we should continue doing for our online students. We have a large population, and let’s face it, we are all looking to online to look outside of local and geographic area because our enrollments here are really declining because of the graduation rates in high schools. We are all looking for ways to connect with online students on different levels to make them feel part of our campus and our community.

Rebecca: The extracurricular piece seems like it’s one of the most powerful additions to this particular opportunity because I think you’re right that the students, when they’re taking a class online and they’re not coming to campus, they miss out on a lot of that intellectual development from these other points of view that we don’t always offer just in the class… having the opportunity to get involved just seems like it would be really exciting for some students.

Marela: It is. It is. It’s very exciting for them. Actually we have had, for instance, one time we had a CEO of one of the local hospitals come and speak… particularly to the networking and career goals and things like that… and the students were very interested… and actually emailing and asking when is the live stream going on? Usually, these are in the evenings… part of our Excellence in Leadership series. They really wanted to take part in that… listen and understand their career options. or whatever it might be. So, those are some of the things of value to them. Actually, I was just talking to the President the other day… we had our scholarly activities, where students come and faculty come… present their poster presentations… and present their research and such… and I was just talking to him and I said: “You know, it would be great to involve our online students in these scholarly activities a little bit more, not only our engineering students and nursing students who are here on campus, but because our online students are getting involved a lot and some of them are lobbying. They’re involved in so many different activities… in their own communities and some of them do research, so it would be really great for them to present… to have their posters there and have them on Skype or somehow live streaming, where they can be present or invest in bringing them here or whatever it might be.

John: For the synchronous sessions what are you using as a platform for live streaming the classes? are you using interactive video?

Marela: We were using Panopto. This was purchased by our online programs. So they were using Panopto, which is embedded in Blackboard and then that’s how we’re doing that.

John: We use that here too. We have it in pretty much all of the classrooms and we have a site license for it. It works really well. The only limitation I could see for it in this context, and I’ve experienced the same thing, is it doesn’t work as well for two-way communication. The remote students who are viewing synchronously only have the option of typing in little text messages. They’re not able to interact in real time other than with text.

Marela: That is correct, and we are looking at different ways to fix that. I don’t know if they were able to accomplish that this semester, but you’re absolutely right. Students would have to type in their question. I would have to come back to the computer to check every now and then to see if there are messages there.

John: Because when it pops up, it’s only there for a few seconds, so it’s really hard to see unless you check on the screen itself.

Marela: That’s correct.

John: Just a thought… it might work better if you use something like Google Hangouts or Zoom or something similar for real-time sessions where students who are viewing in real time could actually communicate with voice without having that barrier. We used Panopto for many years here for our workshops with remote participants, and it wasn’t quite the same experience. We switched over a few of the workshops about a year and a half ago, and we switched all of them in the past year to using Zoom and it’s been a much better experience for people who are participating from other cities, countries or just from their offices even.

Rebecca: It’s a better experience for the person doing the presentation or teaching as well, because then you can see what the students are doing. You can see who those other participants are, when they might have questions, if they’re bored, or whatever, just like you can students in the class.

John: Just having those recordings can be useful. We have a lot of ESL students, students who are foreign who sometimes struggle with English, and having the ability to go back and replay parts of the course or look things up while they’re watching it and pausing, or slowing it down to half speed sometimes, is something they find really helpful, and in Panopto you can go back and look to see what portions of the video people were watching, and it’s also could be useful to see “well, maybe I need to explain this a little bit better, next time” if you see that there’s areas where students were going back more often.

Marela: Exactly.

Rebecca: If someone wanted to pursue a flex class what advice would you give them?

Marela: Be flexible.

[LAUGHTER]

John: I think that’s good advice with any form of teaching.

Marela: Really… be flexible. Actually, at the beginning of this semester, the Dean asked me to do a bit of a SWOT analysis for the instructors who are teaching it this semester… and I said: “Be ready to have technical difficulties. Be ready to laugh it off and not get caught up in it. Be ready for students to not show up. Be ready for multiple things.” So really, be flexible and allow for it to take its own course, I suppose… and just try to be as accommodating with students as possible. They don’t always understand it. They like it and I just keep going back to this connection with students. Just keep that in mind. It’s worth it. It does take a little bit more work outside of class and you have to be ready to be there a little bit early to get set up and stay after the class is over to make sure it’s all uploaded. Make sure that you give a lot of instructions. Revisit your attendance policy, those types of things, but really be flexible for a flex class.

John: You mentioned that you started with your online course and then you thought carefully about how to restructure it to work in this environment. What were some of the things that you did more of? Some things that you trimmed back? How would you characterize the main changes you made so that things would work better in this environment?

Marela: To be honest with you, I did not alter the online course as much as I thought I would have to. The biggest change was capturing the lectures. The one thing that was challenging was the discussions. The online students were not participating, so they are participating afterwards when the discussion post is due. Face-to-face students may be having a discussion in class. My biggest worry was how do I now capture that and make it fair because they are participating, there is a classroom participation. So, I then additionally was asking my face-to-face students to almost hold on to those discussions. Go back after class… go into the blackboard… and post those, and write about it. So, I had to think about the grading policy actually the most… and make sure that they receive credit for their thoughts and discussions in addition to what they were providing in class. The assignments I altered a little bit more. I wanted him to know that I valued their patience with the group assignment and so I gave more weight to that assignment… and I know some of them really saw a benefit to it. There was a student or two who complained about it, but I said: “Well, think of it this way…. If you are in the real world and you have to work with a facility that’s hundred miles away and you still have to connect and you’re working on this project. There is logic behind my madness, and why I’m asking you to do this.” That was one of the things. But, in terms of the material, the content what was being taught wasn’t anything different. I would say probably the assessment piece was a bit different and then capturing the lectures for students.

Rebecca: I’ve been thinking this whole time as you’ve been talking about what the classroom experience is like versus an online experience and so I was thinking about my own classes…. thinking about: “Well, how would I change a hands-on activity that’s in class so that people could participate in a different time and space, and then make sure that everyone can come back together and see what the results were and share out.” One of the kinds of activities that I do a lot in my web design classes is little code examples where they’re practicing putting code into play… and I guess what I’ve discovered is, over the course of this semester, I started doing things in a more flexible way because I realized that my mix of students was a lot more diverse than I had been in the past. I had students from different majors that I hadn’t had in the past before and to accommodate that I started giving out little exercises… giving some time in class… giving some tips out in a lecture… that I could easily have shared out to online students and then having students finish the exercise for homework, taking the tips into place, and then coming back and going over the example or going over the results the following class period. I think that over time I ended up having to implement something that was flex-like just because my students were a lot more different from one another than they had been in the past… and so, although it wasn’t because they were in different places, I think this strategy might work in other scenarios.

John: …and actually I’ve done a couple of things over the last five or six years too, partly because of the availability of things like Panopto. I teach a class in the fall with generally 360 to 420 students in it, and it’s always offered on Tuesday-Thursday and we have this Thursday Thanksgiving holiday, and a lot of the buses leave late afternoon on Tuesday and often there aren’t a lot of students in class… and a lot of classes on campus end up being canceled effectively or not covering anything substantive on that day… and I never wanted to miss that class. So, what I’ve been doing is in my class we use clicker questions, but now that over the last several years over half of the students use mobile apps for it, they don’t have to physically be there. So, each Tuesday before Thanksgiving when I have class I may have half or two-thirds of my students sometimes even three-quarters of them not physically present but I’ve had up to 150 students who’ve been watching the video stream on Panopto and participating in the clicker quizzes all through the class. They don’t have to miss the class… and I’ve had students who are on vacation… I’ve had students on cruises… I had students participating on that Tuesday class while they were on a family vacation in Florida, for example.

Rebecca: Or on the bus somewhere…

John: …and it’s worked pretty well… and actually, more generally, I have students who are at various sports events in my other classes, where they’re going to be away traveling on a bus or they’re going to be out of town and if they tell me in advance, if it’s not a class that I regularly livestream, I’ll just click the little button in Panopto to set up the live stream, especially in classes we they have clicker options… and they can participate and even though some of them use a physical radio frequency clicker, they have the option of getting two weeks of free use of the app version of it. So, that allows them to participate from wherever they are, and it’s essentially a mini version of the Flex course. Going back to Rebecca’s comment, the other case where I did something very similar, in some ways to yours, is I taught a COIL course which was jointly offered with an instructor in Mexico. My class was an online class, her class was a face-to-face class, but we had some common components where they were working in groups. Most of their work was done asynchronously. But they worked in small groups synchronously with each other and there was a lot of benefits from that… and the students really enjoyed that community, especially the cross-cultural community where they were working with students from another country. There’s a lot of advantage of this modality that makes our offerings more available to a wider range of students who wouldn’t otherwise be as much a part of the college communities. I think it’s great.

Rebecca: I’m appreciating your advice to be more flexible. As you were talking I was thinking like “What else could I do that would be more flexible in general.”

John: That’s really good advice.

Marela: Thank you.

John: How many classes are now being offered? Your’s was the first class… that was in the fall wasn’t it?

Marela: That was in the fall, yes. Right now we have, I believe, two classes from the School of Business and Liberal Arts. One is a finance course, the other one is economics… and we also have classes in the criminal justice and law enforcement leadership from the School of Health and Sciences and they are using the classroom… and interestingly enough I think some instructors are using the technology in the classroom similar to some of the things that you described… whether it’s clicker, whether it’s using it for different group projects and things like that. My class was just Intro to Healthcare Management, it wasn’t anything super exciting.

John: …as opposed to economics, yes. [LAUGHTER] My students might disagree with that.

Marela: As I was going through the semester, I thought to myself that perhaps greater value in this type of delivery lies in courses such as finance and math and economics where students may struggle with the concept. They really need to pay attention and they really need to be tuned in to the videos and watching it and rewinding it and whatever they have to do to get it and to understand the concept. I think, for them, it may be a little bit more of value versus teaching yourself some concepts that may not be as abstract or as hard to understand. I think even toward the end of the semester it was thinking there are so many things that I would do differently… provided that we might alter the technology and have it where students can be interacting and asking questions. I really wanted that classroom interaction to be better, or to foster more of it, rather than just online students watching it later and listening to other students having a discussion… and then I was thinking “well, how can they participate?” So, there are a lot of ideas. Of course, everything in hindsight is different… some of the things that you might do differently and have them build more of a connection, I suppose, between the face-to-face and online students.

John: But, having your group projects, I think, is a good way of doing that because then it does provide those connections for both groups of students.

Marela: Yeah, they really enjoyed that and I think they learned a lot from each other. Online students are professionals, non-traditional students. About 80-85% of them are already working in the field. A majority of the students on campus are first-time freshmen. I think it was a great way for them to bridge, not only the age gap, but also the knowledge and skills type of gap so students here could learn from the online students.

John: …and we’re moving into a world where people will often be working with people locally but also be working with people remotely, and this type of experience is good preparation for those future work skills.

Marela: Absolutely.

Rebecca: I think the more we emphasize that for students the more adaptable they are and the more likely that they are to appreciate the platform or the methods.

Marela: Yes, you almost need their buy-in and because there are other sections of the same course being offered, you have to sell it to them: “What’s in it for you in this class?” and so, if they really appreciate what they can get out of it, they might be more willing to participate and be vested in that class.

John: How are your colleagues responding? Do they generally enjoy this format or is there opposition to it? What’s the general reaction to this modality?

Marela: I think you’ll hear a mix of both.

[LAUGHTER]

Some of us are more technologically challenged than others and some of the facultyu members when they hear the technology and when they hear what it’s like and all of the little things that can go wrong, they shy away from it and are probably unwilling to try it. Some are embracing it and saying “This is awesome, I can do all these different things with my students now.” You will have the early adopters and then…

John: Yeah, even those people who are reluctant to try new technology often drive their vehicles. They’re not riding a horse. So people come around eventually.

Marela: Yes.

Rebecca: So, we usually wrap up our interviews by asking: “What’s next?” What’s next for you?

Marela: I would like to do a converged modality or a flex class model in some of my upper-level courses and try to get our other faculty in the program to use this modality… especially, for instance, healthcare finance courses where we use simulation. I think those would be some of the things that I would like to experiment with and try that and see how students respond to it and whether we have a good response.

Rebecca: I can imagine a flex class at a lower level being quite different from a flex class at an upper level so it’ll be interesting to see how your experiments go and how that experience for you and for the students might be a bit different.

Marela: I believe that it would be different, and yes, I just don’t know how until I do it.

[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It was really interesting and definitely got both of our heads buzzing about ideas for our own classes I think.

John: Yes.

Marela: Thank you so much for having me.

[MUSIC]

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

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

30. Adaptive Learning

Do your students arrive in your classes with diverse educational backgrounds? Does a one-size-fits-all instructional strategy leave some students struggling and others bored? Charles Dziuban joins us in this episode to discuss how adaptive learning systems can help provide all of our students with a personalized educational path that is based on their own individual needs.

Show Notes

In order of appearance:

Transcript

Coming soon!

27. Teaching big

You might think you have a heavy course load. Imagine being the instructor of record for approximately 5,000 students in a semester. In this episode, Dr. Kristina Mitchell, a faculty member and director of the online education program for the Political Science Department at Texas Tech, joins us again to discuss the design, organization, and management of high-enrollment online introductory political science courses.

Show Notes

  • Mitchell, Kristina M.W., and Robert Posteraro, MD. “Making Arrangements: Best Practice for Organizing Tools in Online Courses.” (manuscript)
  • Mitchell, Kristina M.W., and Whitney Ross Manzo (2018). “The Purpose & Perception of Learning Objectives.” Journal of Political Science Education (forthcoming)
  • Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) at Texas Tech University
  • 2×2 Course Development Matrix
    Low engagment and low customization is like a MOOC style course. High engagement but low customization is akin to an Upper division course using ready-made content. Low engagement but high customization is what the introductory online political science courses at Texas Tech are like. High engagement and high customization would be an upper division course where the university writes their own content.

Transcript

John: You might think you have a heavy course load. Imagine being the instructor of record for approximately 5,000 students in a semester . In today’s episode, we’ll focus on one extreme teaching scenario.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

John: Our guest today is Kristina Mitchell, a faculty member and director of the online education program for the Political Science Department at Texas Tech. At Texas Tech, she is the instructor of record for over five thousand students each semester. Welcome back, Kristina.

Kristina: Thank you.

Rebecca: Today our teas are…

John: Black raspberry green tea.

Rebecca: Kristina, what are you drinking?

Kristina: I’ve got my usual Diet Coke.

Rebecca: And I am drinking English Afternoon tea.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about this class of approximately 5000 students?

Kristina: Sure, we have two courses: we have Introduction to American government and then we have Introduction to Texas Government… both of which are required by our Higher Education Coordinating Board here in Texas. And it gives the students the opportunity to learn about our basic political system, and we throw in a little bit of political science theory, and it makes sure that our students leave their public university degree knowing something about how their government works and how they could participate in their government if they chose.

Rebecca: How is it 5,000 students large? [LAUGHTER]

Kristina: The State of Texas does require each of our students to take both of these before they can graduate with a public university degree, and with a large university like Texas Tech, we’re at about 35-36,000 students right now. What that means is that these massive freshman classes all need to get these two courses out of the way and it ends up being about 5,000 of our students every semester needing to take the two courses.

John: How do you manage a class so large… in terms of structure? What type of support do you have in terms of TA’s, co-instructors, or other assistants?

Kristina: We operate under what I call the “umbrella method.” So as an Economist (I’m a trained Economist), I definitely subscribe to David Ricardo’s idea about specializing and trading. So, rather than having each professor as an island where they’re handling every aspect of their 200 or 250 person course, instead we decided to specialize the roles that we needed, so that each person is handling one task for all of the students. So, I am at the little peak of the umbrella and I handle the course content. I make sure that we work with the publisher to get the students their materials and that it’s all delivered appropriately and I work with the various institutions on campus that need reporting data, assessment data, enrollment information. I have a co-instructor who handles the more day-to-day tasks of: students emailing… asking about course policies… asking for exceptions to course policies… questions about the content itself. He handles all of that for all the 5,000 students. We have two course assistants who just handle the mechanics of the course. So again, they get a lot of student emails as well. They deal with the settings in our learning management system… which we use Blackboard. So when a due date needs to be set or changed, they deal with that. And then we have TA’s, we supervise about 24 TA’s, each of them doing grading for the written work. It was really important for us that our students not only be doing multiple choice exams… we wanted to make sure that their they’re doing written work… because that’s, in my opinion, a better way to evaluate student learning. So each of the TA’s is grading one of the sections of the online course. So again, we’ve specialized out each task to make sure that one person isn’t required to do publisher and assessment and emails and content and grading for one section. It’s a lot more efficient, we think, to do it in a more specialized way.

John: Is it one large section or does it consist of multiple smaller sections?

Kristina: It’s multiple smaller sections. A lot of that is because we asked our students to do discussion questions with each other and it’s a little bit overwhelming to ask them to discuss with 2,500 other students. [Laughter] So, it ends up being usually 12 to 14 sections of each of the course. So 12 to 14 American Government, 12 to 14 Texas Government.

Rebecca: What’s the difference between how you teach your class and a MOOC?

Kristina: Yes. So, “MOOC” is definitely a dirty word these days. MOOCs really rose in popularity a few years ago. The idea was to create these just huge open online sections that would let anyone enroll and complete content as they pleased and either get credit or not, depending on how the course was set up. So we distinguish ourselves from a MOOC… first of all, because it’s not an open course. You have to be a student enrolled at the University to take this course, but also we don’t consider ourselves to be massive because we separate these courses into smaller sections, manageable chunks that our TA’s can grade. We also place a lot of value on the interactions that students have… so students interacting with each other (and often that’s done via discussion boards)…. students interacting with the content (and that’s done at their own pace asynchronously as they go through their course content)… and students interacting with the instructor… and that’s both to ask the instructor questions either on the course content or about the course mechanics… but also to provide feedback so that the instructor can take that information and then decide what to do with it. So, as we receive feedback, some of the feedback is, “your class is too hard” and we usually don’t really do much to address that… but if there are specific things: “the content is confusing, things are worded in different ways” then we can interact back with the content and the students to make sure that we are addressing these issues as they come along.

Rebecca: With such a complicated umbrella structure, how does the student know what person to communicate with?

Kristina: Well, sometimes they don’t, and we do have a really good system for navigating students to where they need to be… but we just try to include at the beginning of the semester both on their landing page (their home page when they enter in) and tell them, “Here’s the people that you can contact and here are the kinds of questions that they can help you with…” …and we also try to make sure to include a welcome video at the beginning that we ask students to watch… but give them an idea of how does this course work… who are you going to encounter… who you’re going to talk to… and what’s the most efficient way to get you through this course. I think a lot of times with these introductory mandatory courses, the students and the professor are at opposing goals. The student wants to get through this course as quickly as possible so they can check the box on their degree plan and move on. The professor wants the student to learn something about the discipline that they’ve devoted their lives to. So, I spent a lot of hours writing this content that matters to me a lot and and we tried to tailor the content to where we are. We’re in west Texas and when we talk about international trade, we talk about cotton because that’s what’s grown out here. So, I’m so passionate about the subject and if we aren’t aware that the student and the professor are at opposing goals, then it can lead to frustration for all of us. The students are frustrated because they think I’m asking too much and I’m frustrated because I don’t think they care enough.

So what we try to do is just make sure that we have a set of things that we want our students to accomplish, and some of those are content related: “Who’s your representative? Who are you going to contact if you have a problem?” …that’s something I want my students to know… how you go about registering to vote…. that’s something I want my students to know… political science concepts broadly about what influences judicial behavior… those are the things I want my students know. But I also value them learning things like meeting deadlines, and emailing professionally, and managing their own time, and that’s something that an online course is really uniquely situated to teach. So, we designed the course, knowing we want our students to learn some things. They may not want to engage with the content more than we require, so we give them a way to check the box… get it through their degree plan… while still making sure that they’re learning those concepts that are important to us.

John: What types of activities would students engage in each week in this course?

Kristina: It’s a very typical online course in the sense that the students are asked to do some readings and do some quizzes and write some short answer assignments. The one thing we’ve found to be most successful after doing this for 5 or 6 years… what we found to be most successful is chunking the content… and that’s a really popular phrase in online instructional design these days…. making the content into small manageable pieces. So I’m a millennial, I have to admit, and my attention span is about the attention span of a goldfish. So, I understand what it’s like to not want to watch a 25-minute video of someone lecturing to me. So, we really tried to take the concepts and distill them into manageable chunks. A 5-minute video talking about campaign financing rather than a 25-minute lecture… and at the end of the day, it facilitates that goal of getting the students to know what we need them to know without asking them to engage more than they’re willing to engage for a course that they just view as a checkbox.

Rebecca: I know that you wrote a paper on best practices for online courses. Can you summarize some of the key best practices that you’ve implemented in this class?

Kristina: Absolutely. The work that I’ve been doing on best practices… it really does stem from working with people who are trying to help us make our courses better. And I think a big problem in online education and instructional design is that it’s very new… and a lot of times when we think about what are the best practices, most of the evidence is just based on anecdote and experience. And so there’s something extremely useful about sitting down… I mean that’s what you’re doing with me right now… sitting down and listening to what I’ve done and what’s been successful for me…. and then, hopefully, listeners can take what they think will be helpful to them and apply it to their own experience. But I hesitate to say that just taking what has been a good experience for me, because it’s worked in my situation, could then be said to be a best practice for everyone else; that because our umbrella model is working really well for us, it is therefore the best practice. So what I’ve been doing with some co-authors is taking apart these ideas of best practices and empirically testing them to see whether they hold up to a quasi-experimental design.

The most recent work I have (that’s under review) looks at the organization of tools in a learning management system. So my co-author was teaching an online course and was told by his learning management system professionals that he wasn’t allowed to change the order of tools. So, the syllabus, the calendar, the grades– these sorts of things, he was supposed to leave them in a certain order because it was the best practice and he thought, “I don’t believe that… I don’t believe that that’s really a best practice…” So we tested it. We looked at when you manipulate the order, does it change the way students feel about their course? And does it change their performance? And we found it doesn’t and this is initial findings, of course, we do want to see these replicated before we were to say there is no best practice. But I think what most of my research is finding, when it comes to best practices in the order in which students experience content or the kinds of verbs we use when we describe what they’re going to do, it may not always be transferable across courses, across institutions so we need to be careful when we’re saying, “this is the best practice” as opposed to, “this is a practice that worked well for me and take what you will from that.”

John: Have you done any other research on best practices in terms of testing? With that large enrollment, you’ve got some nice possibilities of doing some randomized controlled experiments.

Kristina: Absolutely, and I think my IRB is getting tired of my requests to explore these differences in pedagogical practices. One paper that was recently accepted at the Journal of Political Science Education (and should be published this summer) looks at learning objectives. We’re often told as faculty members that we need to write learning objectives in a certain way. Bloom’s taxonomy, I’m sure you’ve heard of this, where we’re asked to use certain verbs to describe what we want our students to learn…. and my co-author, Whitney Manzo, who’s at Meredith College in Raleigh… we really wanted to dig into this. We argue that learning objectives are only useful to the extent that we all have a higher education community share an understanding of their purpose… of their definition… and to the extent that they help students learn better… learn more… perform better. And as we did interviews and surveys with students, faculty members, and assessment professionals, we found that there’s simply not a shared definition, and not a shared perception of why we have learning objectives…. and using learning objectives that are written and presented in a different way in a classroom didn’t seem to change the way the students perceive them or how they performed in the course. So, it’s not that my research is trying to say that, it doesn’t matter, it’s a free-for-all, you can do whatever you want. I think what my takeaway is… that we should be able to place a little bit more trust in our faculty members to know the nuances of their own classrooms… their own situations… their own institutions… and be able to listen to faculty members more in saying how they think something like Bloom’s taxonomy… or learning objectives.. or ordering of tools in an online course…. listening to faculty tell us what they think is the most useful in their situation.

Rebecca: In classes this large, cheating is likely to come up as a concern, I would imagine. A wide variety of web-based services have appeared to help facilitate academic dishonesty, including sites to facilitate plagiarism. What challenges have you had dealing with academic honesty and what tools have you implemented in your classes?

Kristina: Academic dishonesty is absolutely rampant and not only in an online course, I observe academic dishonesty in face-to-face courses as well. But sometimes, online courses just make it that much easier to get away with cheating. There are lots of tools that we’ve used, Turnitin.com and other plagiarism detection softwares. Sometimes I feel like your own eyes and experience as a faculty member are just as good, if not better, than these detection services because students have learned how to trick them. Students have learned that if you use a thesaurus and change the words, then the Turnitin won’t catch it.

John: And there’s even some websites that will do that automatically… where you can submit a paper and it will automatically change some of the words for you.

Kristina: Oh great… yeah, exactly. So it’s making it much easier to get away with cheating. Sometimes, if I just see a sentence that’s suspicious…with 5,000 students, I’ve seen the Wikipedia page on supply-side economics hundreds of time…. because now I’ve seen the words from it, either in those words or slightly altered in so many of my students writing. I think some level of academic dishonesty is inevitable whether we’re in a face-to-face course or not…. and in some ways, online courses make it easier for me to catch academic dishonesty. So in a written paper where a student hands me ten pages printed out from a printer, it’s a lot more effort for me to Google a sentence that looks suspicious than it would be if I just copied and pasted it out of the learning management system. So maybe it’s facilitated dishonesty, but it’s also made it easier for me to catch.

John: It’s a continuing arms race to some extent.

Kristina: [LAUGHTER] It is.

John: One thing I ran across a couple of years ago is that you can change individual letters, do a global search and replace with a different character set and that will defeat SafeAssign, Turnitin, and most of the other automatic detection services. But one of the clues there is that you end up with a plagiarism rating of zero percent, which is something you never see because of bibliography graphic references and similar things, it was interesting. I had one student do that in two different papers in two of my classes.

Kristina: Yes, the students are definitely ingenious in how they can come up with ways to cheat the system. Sometimes I think that if they would put as much work into their coursework as they did in trying to cheat, they would actually end up doing a lot better.

John: [LAUGHTER] Yes.

Rebecca: What steps have you taken to keep your graders and co-teachers and everybody in your big umbrella on the same page so that students have somewhat of a consistent experience?

Kristina: I think that this inter-rater reliability is always going to be a problem and it’s a problem no matter what. If we were to do this face to face and we had an instructor with a TA handling an individual section of 200 or 250 students and teaching it in a lecture hall, the content would be different… the expectations would be different… the tests would be different… the papers would be different… everything about the course would be different. So moving to this umbrella method has allowed us to ensure some consistency across sections. Now we still certainly allow faculty members who want to teach this course face-to-face to do so and it’s an academic freedom issue in that if they don’t want to use these materials, they certainly don’t have to. But it is nice for us to be able to generate some comparable assessment data that we can see are things changing over time and, if so, is that because the students are changing ?or is it because something about our course is changing? The ways that we try to ensure some consistency… what we can’t control… we do trainings with our graders… and we got this idea from the AP program where they essentially have retreats, where they sit around training these AP scorers on how to be consistent with these rubrics. So that’s one thing that we’ve done in trying to ensure that the graders are grading consistently. We also just monitor throughout. So, not only do I look at the general averages… are some graders scoring more or less strictly… but also spot-checking assignments and trying to do a systematic sample where we check every certain assignment to see if it’s consistent with what I would expect and what we train them to do at the beginning. And if we notice inconsistency it’s not punitive… we don’t threaten to fire TA’s who aren’t grading consistently… but it does give us an opportunity to say, “Hey, I think you’re grading these a little bit too harshly” or “a little bit too generously” or “I think you’re focusing on the wrong aspects of this assignment, you should be focusing on something different.”

Rebecca: One of the other things that you’ve presented on is online accessibility. We’re certainly working on that here. I’m working with faculty and other colleagues in other departments on some accessibility policies and things like that. How have you encouraged this to happen in your program and in your courses?

Kristina: It’s always difficult to tell faculty what they have to do. I don’t know if you’ve had much success going to a faculty member’s office and saying, “Guess what, you have to do this now” and them being like, “Great! I’m in, I want to do it.” I haven’t had a whole lot of success at that approach. Some of what I’ve been doing with my online course…. it’s kind of just accepting that this is how it is and this is what we have to do and so there’s no sense in trying to fight it. We’ve got to make our courses accessible to students with disabilities and there’s no reason to imagine that we wouldn’t want to do so. So we just make sure that all of our videos either have captions or transcripts. We make sure that all of our content that might not be easily accessible for a student with a disability to have an alternative method of accessing it if they need it. We try to avoid time limits on multiple choice questions because of students who might need extra time to complete their work. And so we just, in general, try to avoid the time limits altogether and make it equally accessible for all students, whether they have a disability or not. In terms of trying to encourage other faculty members in my department, who are either designing upper-division online courses or graduate-level online courses, making it less of a burden… providing resources and options for faculty… that’s been really successful. So if you just tell a faculty member you need to make your course accessible, that’s kind of an overwhelming request. There’s a lot to accessibility. So what we try to do is provide resources, ideas, support, ways to still do the same kind of content without running into accessibility problems. That’s been really successful… and taking just a more step-by-step approach. We know that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires everything to be compliant, but what we hope to always show is a good faith effort. So, whether we’ve achieved it perfectly every time or not, I guarantee if somebody combed through every course I’ve ever done, they’re gonna find something that’s not quite in compliance… but we’re making a good-faith effort and anytime a student brings to us an issue that they’re having, we work with the Student Disabilities Office to rectify it as quickly and as completely as possible.

John: With the umbrella framework for the course, it would seem that at least for these two courses, you have more control because you’re the one designing all the materials. So, you have at least some control over all the sections in terms of having the common materials compliant.

Kristina: Exactly, and it also helps that our Students with Disabilities Office, because of this umbrella model, knows exactly who they can call if there’s an issue that a student’s having. They know they can call me at any time, they know that I will always make a good-faith effort to keep things in compliance.

John: Do you teach any upper-level or graduate courses there?

Kristina: Yes I do, and others in our department also teach upper-division and graduate courses. What I envision when designing these courses is a political scientists favorite thing, which is a two-by-two matrix.

[LAUGHTER]

We love our two-by-two matrices and I’m happy to draw out this two-by-two matrix so that you guys can have it in your supplementary materials. But when I think about the purpose of the course and the customization of the course… so we can have a course that’s intended to be very in-depth and a deeper understanding and engagement with content (which we would want in a graduate-level course or upper division) versus something that, as I mentioned with our lower division courses., we’re seeking some basic understanding and some basic behaviors to help students learn what we want them to know, while they’re able to still satisfy those requirements. And so that’s one dimension. We can also think about the dimension of: “How customized do we want our content to be. So do we want to use something that’s sort of off-the-shelf or canned?” Or do we want to use something that we’ve written every word… we’ve written all of the quiz questions… all of the readings. And so I think every online class can kind of be placed somewhere in this 2×2 matrix. When we’re doing our introductory courses, we’re looking at maybe a lower level of student engagement but we still have a really high level of customization. So, as I mentioned, we’re in West Texas, I make sure we talk about cotton disputes when we talk about international agreements and international negotiations. In our graduate level courses, we move over to the to the high level of engagement, to the in-depth understanding… and then depending on what the faculty member wants, we can either do a fully customized version of a course where we write most or all of the content. Or we can use some existing resources… and there are publishing companies out there that have a lot of content that’s really good and that’s really ready to be used and it’s really highly interactive and engaging. So, we try to establish what’s the purpose of our course and what is our content that we want to create versus we want to use existing content… and then where does this course fit in. And after we’ve placed it in that matrix, then we can decide how to move forward in designing the course.

Rebecca: Do you work with instructional designers as you’re designing these courses or is that the function that you provide?

Kristina: It’s somewhere in the middle. So I’ve worked with our instructional designers here at Texas Tech and they are very supportive. They have a great way to make sure that they’re providing the level of help that you want and need. There are plenty of faculty members (and I’ve worked with them) who want to assign some readings and then have a final exam and call it an online course. And our instructional designers exist because we all know that that’s not going to work. SACSCOC is going to shut us down if that’s what our online courses look like. And so when I worked with instructional designers, usually once they see where we are in our course development… the fact that we’ve developed a lot of courses before… they provide us a high level overview… they give us some suggestions… compliance issues… and they let us go on our way. But when we have faculty members that have less experience, they are a lot more hands-on. Now I’m not sure they really liked all my learning objectives research… I don’t think they liked that research very much… but they’ve definitely been supportive and interested in hearing what it is that we’re doing here in Political Science.

John: Well they may not like it, but it could become part of their future dissemination that if you find significant results, it can help them improve all the courses there and more broadly.

Kristina: Absolutely.

John: Now you’ve received, I think, an internal grant for “engaging students in global governance and communication, hosting a lecture series and sponsoring in-depth, archival, and undergraduate research as a part of the university’s quality enhancement plan.” Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Kristina: Sure, so our quality enhancement plan, that’s QEP, it’s a part of SACSCOC program. The goal is to identify a way to enhance student experience and then dig in and make the student experience at our university better. So our QEP plan is about communicating in a global society and our Center for Global Communication offered a grant to programs that were willing to engage in something that would touch a lot of students and would encourage engagement with this global communication. So we have several levels of engagement that our students can participate in. In our introductory course, the students are asked to watch a lecture about communicating in a global society, about having relationships with those who are different than you — from a different country or background. And all of the students who take these introductory courses are exposed to that content, so that’s a great way that… even though maybe it’s in that lower level of engagement in the 2×2 matrix, it’s reaching a lot of students. But we also sponsor a lecture series and this is where we’ve brought in, typically political scientists, but generally social scientists have all been considered to speak as part of our lecture series. And so we’ve had people talk about terrorism and how social media can facilitate terrorist recruitment. We’ve had people talk about presidential travel as a form of global communication. So, when President Trump goes to Saudi Arabia first, as his first international visit, what kind of communication does that send to the world? This lecture series invites our students to come in and get a little bit more in-depth experience with global communication and that’s the way our online students can feel like they’re not just isolated at home… that they’re not participating in a university experience. We invite our online students and we usually get two to four hundred students at each of these events… so they’re wildly successful. In addition, after the lecture series, we’ve offered students an opportunity to participate in undergraduate research and we’re even able to sponsor two of our students to attend a national social science conference under the supervision of a faculty member to present their own research or at least be exposed to other research, related to global communication. As political scientists, we’re very well situated to expose students to the idea of global communication and as a large online program that can reach a lot of students, it also helps us to get the message out about the fact that this is an important part of their education.

Rebecca: Sounds great! It’s a really unique case study.

John: It seems like you’re reaching quite a few students who might not be reached by traditional educational programs.

Kristina: Yeah, I think that this kind of program might be new and different right now, but this is where education is going to be going, as we have the need to educate more and more students, college isn’t something that’s only for wealthy upper-class men and and women. It’s for everyone now… and we’re going to try to meet students where they are. Online education is where the future is and when we see students who are non-traditional trying to come back and get degrees… they have full-time jobs… they have families… they’re not able to go to class like a traditional 18- or 19-year old student is going to be able to attend classes during the day. I really think that this could be a potential equalizer for students. Not only in accessing content and getting degrees, but in learning some of these really valuable skills in how to interact in an increasingly online world.

John: And the rate of return to a college degree is the highest we’ve ever observed. We’re seeing not a lot of jobs out there and not a lot of job growth for people with high school degrees and high school dropouts. We need to do more to get more people to college and certainly the approach you’re taking there is a very efficient way of bringing education to a large number of people.

Rebecca: Well thanks so much for joining us Kristina, it was nice to have you back and it’s always nice to hear what you’re working on.

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.

25. Service learning

Applied learning at the graduate level generally takes the form of traditional research projects, but other models can be successful. Linley Melhem, the Director of the International Teaching Assistant Program at Texas Tech University, joins us to discuss how service learning can challenge graduate students academically while building the capacity of an organization or department to take on a project or tackle a problem. The particular project discussed in this episode involves small teams of graduate students working with faculty and instructional designers to assist language faculty in transitioning existing face-to-face courses to a hybrid format.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Applied learning at the graduate level generally takes the form of traditional research projects, but other models can be successful. In this episode, we’ll explore how service learning can challenge graduate students academically while building the capacity of an organization or department to take on a project or tackle a problem.

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.

Today our guest is Linley Melhem, the Director of the International Teaching Assistant Program at Texas Tech University. Her background is in applied linguistics and teaching English as a second language. Welcome, Linley.

Linley: Thank you so much for having me.

John: Today, our teas are…

Linley: I am drinking a beverage that starts with “T,” but it’s Turkish coffee.

Rebecca: Alright.

John: Okay.

Rebecca: I like how you answered that. I’m with you.

John: That works.

Linley: I know, I know it’s important. I know it’s been an issue on your podcast in the past so I tried to meet you halfway.

Rebecca: We appreciate it.

John: So… your tea, Rebecca.

Rebecca: My tea today is Paris tea.

John: My tea is pomegranate green tea.

Rebecca: Although the Turkish coffee does sound good.

Linley: Well, it’s delicious.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about the Masters level applied linguistics course that you co-teach?

Linley: Yes, this semester at Texas Tech, we are offering a course called “Technology in Teaching Second Languages.” We have a group of about 15 masters-level applied linguistics students that are taking this course, and the applied linguistics program focuses on developing pedagogical skills for teaching a second or a foreign language. And this course specifically is looking at how we can integrate technology into that process. The course has been offered for some time, but this is the first semester that we’ve offered it as a service-learning course, and the course has always had some type of applied component and probably would have satisfied the service-learning requirements even beforehand, but we’ve just officially transitioned it into that space. And basically what we have going on in the course is these graduate students working in teams, and each of them have been assigned to a faculty member in our department who teaches a lower-level foreign language course… and they are helping develop some online tools and materials with those faculty members to help them transition those lower-level foreign language courses into a hybrid model. As our graduate students are learning about how to use computer assisted language learning, they’re directly applying that to projects with faculty in our department.

John: Were the faculty originally teaching face-to-face classes or online classes? …the classes that are being converted to the hybrid format.

Linley: Yes, those classes have traditionally been fully face-to-face and in the next year or so, we’re looking at moving them to a hybrid model. Most of those classes are five-hour courses, meeting daily five days a week and we’re looking at transitioning to three hours face-to-face a week, and then two hours online.

John: What prompted the change to a hybrid format?

Linley: Well, I think, like many institutions, the administration is the first to see: “Hey, we think there may be some benefit here not only to making these courses more flexible for students but also there are some other administrative advantages just logistically to that model.” These courses can be really effective and students often have a very positive experience with them. So, in this case, the administration is encouraging all of these basic level language courses to be moved to that format.

John: There was a major study not too long ago that indicated that hybrid classes outperformed both face-to-face and online classes. We can include a link to that in the show notes.

Linley: I’m honestly new to this as well. I’m just learning more and more about the benefits of these types of courses and some of the amazing advantages that they offer especially in the language learning environment and I think that lots of language teachers specifically are resistant to this type of of learning because they feel that while all learning… I think for many teachers… feel deeply relational… language learning especially feels very relational… that you’re creating a culture in your classroom that you’re oftentimes your students’ only connection to the sociolinguistic world that you’re introducing them to… and so there’s a lot of hesitation to remove any of that face-to-face time… and there’s an amazing body of literature that shows that there’s a lot we can do that’s highly effective in an online platform.

John: What are some of the changes that are being implemented in the hybrid format?

Linley: It will look a little bit different for every language in our case, because it depends a little bit on the text that different languages are using. So for instance, in the Spanish classroom, where they have already been using hybrid courses for some time at our institution, there is a wealth of options in terms of materials that publishers make available to instructors, whereas in some other languages like in Arabic, there are not quite so many materials available. So exactly what those changes look like will be slightly different for each language and of course, there’s some choice there for each instructor about exactly what they want to do. But we’re looking at making sure that our instructors are comfortable implementing a flipped model for these hybrid courses so that students are coming into class having already reviewed material that they can use in communicative activities in that face-to-face environment. And I think that’s what’s really exciting about a second language classroom or a foreign language classroom…. that we are always looking to increase the interactivity between students, so when we have the majority of rote-learning that is necessary for vocabulary building and things like that… when that’s taking place outside of the classroom, we can preserve a culture or a feel in the classroom that’s highly interactive from the first minute to the last, every time students show up in that face-to-face environment.

John: What type of assistance are your students providing to those instructors?

Linley: Some of the content in the course that they’re taking is introducing them to specific technology mediums that may be useful for language teaching and language learning. And then they are also working directly with the instructional designers that are available to all faculty in our e-learning program. That’s sort of a unique component… that some of what they’re doing is just introducing faculty to resources that already existed for them but that faculty weren’t sure how to access or maybe they felt they didn’t have time to work with those instructional designers. So, some of what our students are doing in this class… they’re sitting down with faculty, and the lingo that we’re using in this environment is that these teams of students are working with a client. So they’re referring to their community partner who is a faculty member, as a client. So they sit down with their client, and they say, “what are your concerns about moving to a hybrid model? What do you feel like you can do? What do you feel like you can’t do? What would you like to see accomplished by the end of this semester?” And each of those projects look slightly different, which is really exciting and lots of fun, but also certainly challenging because there are lots of different things in the works, but these students are meeting with those instructional designers… and then, in many of the courses, what they’re doing for the faculty is saying, “okay, let me take your existing syllabus and let’s transition this into modules that could be used in a hybrid course and let’s figure out what aspects of your content could be moved to an online format and what needs to stay face-to-face.”

Rebecca: Can you give a couple of examples of some specific things that the students are doing or the specific deliverables for reference?

Linley: Yes, for instance, our students right now, they actually have a case study that’s due on Saturday. So, I’m looking forward to reading those in full, but I’ve just started to look over some of them. So, the chapter that they read and their textbook was about listening comprehension, and some of what they worked on were designing listening comprehension activities using some sort of computer assisted language learning technology. So, for instance I believe students that were working on an Arabic course, they were taking some content that was based around learning terminology related to the weather, and so they took a video that was available online that was a weather forecast in Arabic… and so they developed audio recordings of the instructor who is describing this terminology in Arabic so that the students can get an ear for it in that simplified format before they then went and listened to an authentic weather forecast. So, material created for native Arabic speakers… not necessarily for Arabic learners… and then the students designed a quiz where the language learning students would be asked to identify which of the vocabulary that they had already learned were present in that weather forecast. So this would be a listening activity where they were listening for vocabulary that they had already learned the meaning of in an authentic setting. So that would be an example of an activity that an instructor could have students complete before they come to class where they did something interactive talking about the weather… they would first maybe do a listening activity like that online.

Rebecca: You can see how valuable it is to have these masters level students helping fill some of those gaps for your faculty just because it takes a long time to sift through the materials, find good examples, so that they have those good authentic experiences.

John: Has that eased the transition for some of the faculty who might have been apprehensive about moving to a hybrid format? Does the support that your grad students are providing make it a bit easier for them?

Linley: I think it has. I think also because faculty many times feel “oh, just by the nature of being a little bit older than the graduate students or even the students that I’m teaching. I’m inherently at a disadvantage. I’m not familiar with this type of technology.” But, we we know that actually graduates, and many undergraduate students, even if they’re interacting with technology on a regular basis… they may not be so savvy for using it for educational purposes. So, I think even that… lowering that barrier a little bit to show that actually these graduate students are having to learn how to use this technology as well so it can be done. So just watching someone else learn in front of them makes the whole thing a little bit more approachable and then certainly having some support, even just in someone else saying, “hey, I’m already dedicating some time, so I’ve developed a few activities.” And I think oftentimes instructors see that kind of gets the wheels turning to them and they say well I can do that, that’s not that complicated and I could replicate the same style of activity for number of content areas and so it makes the whole process much more approachable.

Rebecca: Sounds like a really sneaky way to do professional development to me.

Linley: Yes, that’s a really exciting thing… and that is one of the great benefits of service learning in general is that our graduate students are developing some wonderful skills in working with a client. So they are essentially material designers for a client and they are required to communicate with the client, to organize their schedules, and coordinate time. And one of the first things that we did in class was even talk about how to have a meeting with someone and how to deal with faculty that may have a lot of resistance to developing these types of materials or have great concern. And even some professional communication techniques about how to approach those meetings. So there are so many wonderful things happening at the same time.

Rebecca: Sounds really great… it also sounds like there’s a lot of moving parts. Having taught classes where there’s a lot of clients in the past, I know that that can be really complicated to manage and oversee. Do you have some strategies that you’re using to help everyone stay organized and to keep yourself organized. What’s your role in this project?

Linley: Yes, so as I mentioned this is the first time that we’re offering the course in exactly this format. So you’re hearing a very live perspective on how we’re figuring out how to manage this. But one advantage of the course is that I am co-teaching this course with Dr. Stephanie Borst and she has taught this course for years and has had great success with a number of different practical projects that they’ve taken on. I have been working on developing service-learning courses in our department, so that’s how I became involved when we decided to move it to a full service-learning model. And the advantage is that because there are two of us, that we can manage some of these projects. There are a lot of moving parts. We also probably would not have had so many students… we have 15 students in this course… we probably would not have taken on so many if there weren’t two of us. But, in this way we can serve a greater number of faculty members. But I think one thing that has been crucial is helping students develop an action plan at the beginning of this semester that they continually update. And because they’re all using a relatively standard format for an action plan… we provided a template but actually all the groups ended up developing a slightly different format, but because the format is mostly similar, we can sit down in class– and our class is actually a hybrid model as well, so we’re only meeting half-time face-to-face and then the rest of the time online. So when we do sit down face-to-face with our with our students, we can look at their action plans and get a sense of where they’re at and how they’re moving forward. And so having the ability to get a really quick snapshot of how they’re progressing I think has been key to providing feedback to them and helping them manage their relationships with their clients.

Rebecca: Is your action plan format something you’d be willing to share with our listeners?

Linley: Oh yeah, certainly.

John: Okay, we can put that in the show notes.

Rebecca: I think sometimes starting projects like this can be really challenging because you don’t quite have an idea of how to get organized and seeing models of how to stay organized is always really helpful.

John: And that relate back to the teachers making a transition to teaching hybrid, that there’s this big psychological barrier to trying something new but once they get started it’s not so bad… but you have to get through that initial thing. And it sounds like what you’re doing there is making it a little bit easier in the same way that this document perhaps might help other people thinking of doing the same thing.

Linley: Well we certainly hope so.

John: How have the faculty been reacting in terms of the tools they’re seeing. Do they see the usefulness of some of these online tools? And what are some examples of the online tools that might be used? You mentioned the project in terms of the weather reports and so forth, but are there any particular online learning approaches that you’re using that the faculty might not have considered before?

Linley: Yes, we started from a very theoretical standpoint in this course so we’re just now getting into some of the nitty-gritty of the actual tools that can be used in this environment. The faculty are reacting well. I think they are encouraged that they are receiving some support and getting some help and just because these students are kind of helping them get started, and even introducing them to (like I mentioned) some of the tools that already existed for faculty through instructional designers at our university, they’re saying “oh, okay there actually are templates to help me throughout this process, I can even online find something like a course design plan that helps me develop my material into a set of modules.” And it’s not that different from developing a syllabus, which most of them have done in the past. And so then they’re seeing some things like students may be introducing something. Most faculty are familiar with a discussion board for instance in an online course. However, they’re not sure how students will be able to practice maybe speaking in the target language, and then may see something like Flip Grid where students could essentially post a video of themselves and they say “oh, okay… so students can do speaking practice outside of the classroom…” that’s not something that we would lose in using a hybrid model.

Rebecca: VoiceThread would be another really great tool if you haven’t explored that one yet.

Linley: So I recently heard about that on other podcasts but I have yet to check it out myself.

John: FlipGrid is very similar, I believe, to Voicethread.

John: Yeah, I was thinking something like VoiceThread or FlipGrid would be a really good online approach. Have they done any other direct interactions online — with other native speakers, for example?

Linley: Well that’s an interesting idea because that is actually something that many faculty members are already facilitating in their face-to-face courses. They are connecting learners to native speakers in various countries across the world, but that’s typically on a at-choice basis, so maybe for extra credit or just for students that are highly motivated. So I think instructors are seeing that they’re actually already using some techniques that could be more fully integrated into a hybrid course in a way that would be really beneficial for all students. So, there are some really interesting literature about the benefits of that type of approach. Obviously you run into issues especially because we’re talking about at this level, lower-level language courses, so these are students that would really be struggling to communicate at a very basic level. But there are some opportunities for them to connect to native speakers in the countries that speak those languages that are really exciting and that tend to really motivate students to learn and engage in more extensive language learning like study abroad.

John: One of the things we do in SUNY is… we have something called COIL which is Cooperative Online International Learning program. Where courses in the U.S. pair up with courses in other countries. In the U.S. most of the course end up being taught in English because most SUNY students don’t have as much of a background in foreign languages, but many of the partner schools are doing it primarily to help the students acquire English skills. And I was thinking if you were doing some upper-level courses something similar could work in the other direction; where if you had more advanced language students working with students on projects dealing with culture or cross-cultural comparisons… might be an interesting sort of pairing.

Linley: That would be phenomenal.

Rebecca: So it’s really unusual to hear about service learning at the Masters level and you mentioned that this was the first semester that you were doing the service-learning component with this course. Can you talk a little bit about that decision and what motivated you to use this particular methodology?

Linley: Yes, as I mentioned I had the opportunity to participate in a service-learning fellowship about a year ago. And I was initially looking at developing some service-learning courses in our department for undergraduate students. And honestly the idea came about as I was listening to my colleagues discuss some of their concerns about implementing a hybrid model in their courses, and so I knew that this technology in teaching second language course existed and I knew that many actually of the teaching assistants in those foreign language classes were enrolled in the applied linguistics program. And so many of them took that course and I thought well, we have this group of students that’s developing this knowledge… we have these faculty members who are needing some support and this type of knowledge… why couldn’t we just put these together. And so there were obvious gains, like you mentioned Rebecca, in terms of the professional development… for the Master’s level students to get some practical experience, so it seemed like a no-brainer to try and put those together.

Rebecca: Related to that in terms of a professional skill for graduate students… I can imagine that it would be really easy for their clients to want this project to just get bigger and bigger and bigger and have crazy scope creep.How are you making sure that these projects don’t get too big?

Linley: That’s exactly right, and we are facing that issue… and part of the problem is that because the faculty are not familiar with exactly what’s involved in transitioning to a hybrid model, they don’t sometimes know what they’re asking for or how time-consuming certain tasks would be for the graduate students. I think that is one of the great outcomes of the course… that the students are having to learn how to negotiate that with a client. These are our faculty members in our department they are clients but the students are having to say, “Wow, that sounds like a great idea. I think what we could definitely do for you this semester might look a little bit more like this which is a bit more narrow in scope, our goal would be to provide something that’s really helpful to you but we may not be able to accomplish all of that this semester…” which is challenging in terms of professional communication. But I think one of the really important aspects of that is making sure that our students know how much we expect of them in terms of that they are well-informed about how much time they should be spending on this type of task, and that is something that we’re having to continually negotiate. And we have had some students take on too much and they have had to go back and say “okay, we may not be able to do quite that much….” or they’ve met with an e-learning course designer who’s accustomed to working with faculty on a really tight deadline and so they said “okay, why don’t you go work on this piece let’s meet again next week,” and you have this big chunk of work done and the students aren’t only doing the service-learning project, they also have coursework related to this course and so they’ve had to say to the instructional designer: “Actually, could we meet in two weeks instead?” So they’re figuring out some of those professional communication and time management issues in managing the scope of their own projects, which has been highly beneficial. But there has there has been a lot of back-and-forth negotiation and that is something that my co-instructor and I are observing and as we look at those action plans that’s something we’re talking about… are you biting off more than you can chew? And how can we figure out how to integrate what you’re already doing in the course into the deliverables for your client to make sure that we’re not overwhelming our students with too much.

Rebecca: I can imagine that in this situation having a co-teacher could be really helpful to bounce ideas off of each other, but that also is another layer of complexity. I’m wondering how you’re also managing that… to make sure that your collaboration with Stephanie is also running smoothly?

Linley: Yes. So she’s at a disadvantage because she’s not here to see the results so I’ll speak for both of us. But I think it’s going quite smoothly, I wasn’t sure what that would look like initially. We’ve never worked together in this capacity before and I’ve never co-taught a course before, so I had no idea what that would look like. However, because this is a hybrid course and a lot of what we do face-to-face is more in a workshop type setting, I think the co-instructor model works quite well because we’re not really lecturing to the students or there’s not a concern about making sure that we’re on the same page because she and I can have lots of those discussions between the two of us as we prepare content that will be put online… things like that… developing rubrics… those kinds of issues. So I would say, one issue for instance that came up is even ensuring that we’re both interpreting a rubrics that we’re using the same way because we take turns may be grading certain types of assignments, so wanting to be consistent in the implementation of those rubrics. But because a lot of that communication is happening via email or over Blackboard, then we can see how the other person is responding to those types of issues and so anything where it seems like we’re not on the same page, it’s been pretty simple to iron out, outside of that face-to-face environment. But it’s honestly been much smoother than I thought it might be. Stephanie is fantastic to work with but I really thought “I’m not sure what this will look like,” but it’s been easier than I thought it might be it.

Rebecca: Sounds to me like it in some ways you end up learning a lot more about your colleagues and how they grade and what they value by co-teaching with them and then at the same time in this particular situation you’ve got two people to put out fires.

Linley: Exactly, and I think that at first maybe the students weren’t sure what to make of having two instructors… that they weren’t sure whom to go with with concerns and things like that. But as I mentioned, if we’re having these conversations over email then they just copy both of us and whoever responds first then the students I think seem to like that model because they probably tend to get a response a bit quicker than if it were just one of us. And then also I do think we develop our own areas of focus, so I am more leaning towards management of the service-learning project and Stephanie is most familiar with the content of the course. So while we both speak into both of those things we kind of have our areas of expertise.

JONE: How many students are working with each instructor? How big are the groups?

Linley: So the groups are different sizes, our smallest is two people… so, actually we have two groups of two that are working in different environments. I will say one other unique thing about this course of that our group of students is highly diverse. So we have lots of international students in the applied linguistics program, so they speak lots of different languages. That’s a great advantage because as they work on the materials for these different foreign language classes, they may have a great deal of knowledge about that language. That’s also kind of spoken to how we divided those groups up. We do have a couple of groups… for instance, we have two students who are helping develop materials for a German class and neither one of those students speak German, but they’ve had great success in the instructional design component. So, that’s another challenge that has arisen in this particular context. But then we have another group of four students who’s working on a project. And so you asked earlier about scope, the size of the group, and how many people are contributing also influences how great the scope of what they can take on is.

John: What benefits do your students get from this type of class format… the service-learning and the hybrid nature… that they might not have received in a more traditional class setting?

Linley: I think one of the greatest benefits that they are getting out of this setting is in working directly with a faculty member who intends to actually implement these materials with students, is that they are giving a sense of material design that’s not only evidence-based but constrained by the real-world environment. The students are applied linguistics programs tend to get lots of wonderful information and lots of great ideas about best practices for teaching a language, but they may struggle with gaining a sense of how to implement that in only a 50 minute face-to-face class. So, those are some of the real-world constraints that that are ironed out as they work with a faculty member who has tons of experience working with real students in the real classroom. So, if the student designs this activity that’s elaborate and meaningful and evidence-based and wonderful, but it would be way too time-consuming for students to actually accomplish, or maybe it would be too advanced for students at this level, which graduate students may not have a clear sense of exactly what that would look like. Then the faculty member is saying, “ I don’t think my students could do that or this would take way too much time.” So it’s building in an awareness of some real-world constraints that may not be so evident to our graduate students otherwise. And then additionally, as we mentioned earlier, they’re developing some of those professional skills that they would never otherwise be able to develop. They’re working on communicating with a client, they’re working together in a group, they are negotiating roles… all different kinds of things that we tend to face when we enter the workforce in general.

Rebecca: Great.

Linley: One thing that I really love about service-learning is the emphasis on civic engagement and the awareness of diversity and different types of issues that come up in the real world. And I think that it’s interesting to see how our students are becoming more sensitive to the different types of students that we have at Texas Tech University and their different experiences of the college classroom. There are different experiences of technology, there are different aspect of resources, so I am excited to see how in this service learning environment students are becoming more aware of who student populations really are and to some of the diverse challenges that face those two populations. I think that sort of awareness raising is really exciting. And then additionally, I like the idea that students will be graduating and entering the workforce with this idea of cooperation, because they’re working together as a group and they’re working with all of these faculty members as opposed to moving into an educational environment, where we often have a tendency to work in a silo. They’re having some experience bridging those gaps and reaching across the aisle and saying “O kay, what are you doing here? How can we use those strategy” in the areas that we’re trying to operate. So I think they are walking away with a greater sense of cooperation, but I hope they will carry into the institutions where they either continue their graduate work or are working as professionals.

John: One thing we have to ask is about your podcast. What started you on the podcast? I see you’ve got a pretty big audience there in terms of the number of downloads for the podcast. Could you tell us a little about it?

Linley: Yes. I wanted to start a podcast because I love podcasts, I really enjoy listening to them, they are a big part of my personal learning and they’re one of those things that I find the more I listen the more creative I feel…. that I’m just exposed to lots of different ideas. And I started looking around for English content that would be useful to some of my other students. I also teach English as a second language mostly for graduate international students who will be teaching in their various content areas but using English as the mode of instruction. And so, what I realized is that there are obviously tons of podcasts in English but some them are pretty… well they’re definitely designed for native speakers, so there’s no support for language learning or they’re designed for people who are very early language learners… so, just focusing on lots of vocabulary building. So I noticed that there was a bit of a gap there in terms of something that was designed for intermediate or advanced speakers of English, but with just a little support for language learning. So I thought let’s just create it… let’s try it out. So that’s what we did and I think like these projects that we’re describing the exciting thing about something like a podcast is that you really can dive in with not a lot of experience or complicated resources. So most of the episodes that we have on the podcast are recorded on my iPhone, and I’ve had family members on the podcast, we’ve had different individuals from around the university, and the students in my classroom have responded well. I’ve been able to take some of the content that we were developing for that podcast and use it in my classroom, which is always exciting when you can get double use out of any project that you’re working on. And we did have we have seen a positive response internationally where it seems like people all over the globe are excited to have this type of content. So at its height, we had a good number of people listening in Benin, in Africa, and I have no idea how they found out about it, but we had quite a following there for a while. And I’ve taken a bit of a break in producing content as I’ve focused on some other projects, but I have been looking into how I can make use of some other resources on campus in terms of maybe having an intern or developing some type of service-learning course where students could help me, especially on the technical side, because I don’t mind talking, I don’t mind conducting an interview, but the editing is more time-consuming than I would like.

John: We have noticed that too.

Linley: It’s remarkable.

John: Your podcast seems like a great resource for graduate students because you deal with a lot of topics like how to understand slang or Texas accents, for example, or in similar topics. For grad students who’ve learned English formally in their countries… coming to a new institution… coming to a new country… it might be helpful for them to fill in some of the gaps that might not otherwise have been done in their instruction. I was I was really impressed by it.

Linley: Well thank you.

Rebecca: What also seems nice about a podcast is that if it’s a gap in their knowledge, but they don’t want people to know that it’s a gap in their knowledge, you can listen to a podcast without anyone really knowing. So, you can fill those gaps easily.

Linley: Yeah exactly.

John: You could be listening to it at the gym… while driving… while walking…. or when you’re sitting at home.

Linley: That’s exactly right.

John: We normally ask as the last question: what are you going to do next?

Linley: Oh, well, that’s a great question. So I’ve mentioned that on a personal level I’m expecting a baby soon, so that has taken up lots of head space in terms of what I’ll be doing next. I’m not sure how my personal life will be changing but professionally, I am definitely interested in continuing to examine ways that service learning can be used in the classroom. So I would love to see me in my ESL courses (English as a second language courses) see ways that international graduate students can be contributing meaningful service to our community while learning English. And I could see lots of amazing ways that could take place. Our international students on campus are usually here because they are so bright. They have a lot to contribute to scholarship and research… In general. But, oftentimes, as they struggle to communicate in English at the same level as a native speaker they’re often underestimated. So I think if we could look at ways of incorporating service-learning courses where students were learning English and then contributing some of the things they’re really great at doing, it would have a wonderful impact on our university, our community, and international students. So that’s one thing I would like to look at developing and certainly getting back into the podcast game. So as I mentioned, I haven’t produced new content in a while so I would really like to to get back into that, to come up with some new ideas for how we can contribute to English learners all across the globe.

Rebecca: Well sounds like we have two different we have you back to talk about later.

Linley: I would love it.

John: Well thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure talking to you

Rebecca: Yeah it’s really great hearing about what you’re up to and and how it’s coming along.

Linley: Well thank you so much for having me and I have really enjoyed listening to your podcast. I found the episode on online teaching especially relevant to things that I’m working on and thinking about these days. So, thank you so much for for all that you’re doing.

John: It’s been a lot of fun.

Rebecca: Yeah, thank you.

John: Thank you.

Linley: All right, thank you.

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

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

17. Online learning

Enrollment in online classes has grown steadily over the last few decades. Today, over 30% of college students enroll in at least one online course. In this episode, we discuss the evolution of  and possible future directions of online learning with Greg Ketcham, the Assistant Dean of the Division of Extended Learning at SUNY Oswego.

Show Notes

Books used for SUNY-Oswego reading groups (referenced by Greg):

  • Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick. Harvard University Press.
  • Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online: Teaching effectively with technology. Harvard University Press. (one of the books used in a reading group at SUNY-Oswego)

Transcript

John: Enrollment in online classes has grown steadily over the last few decades. Today, over thirty percent of college students enroll in at least one online course. In this episode, we examine how online learning has evolved, and is continuing to evolve, to better serve student needs.

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.

Today our guest is Greg Ketcham, the Assistant Dean of the Division of Extended Learning at SUNY Oswego. Greg focuses primarily on programs serving adult learners. Greg is actively involved in Educause, the Online Learning Consortium, and the University Professional Continuing Education Association. Welcome, Greg.

John: Welcome.

Greg: Thank you, Rebecca. Thank you, John.

John: So today, our teas are…

Rebecca: English Afternoon.

Greg: Actually we were just joking about this before we started that I think we have to change the name of the show to “Coffee for Cognition.” So, I’m drinking coffee.

John: …and I am drinking Harry and David’s Bing Cherry tea.

Rebecca: It sounds like a mouthful.

Greg: Well, if you’re going to be giving a plug, I have to give a plug then to Recess Coffee because it’s my favorite coffee roasting vendor in Syracuse.

Rebecca: I say it’s a nice, local, upstate…right?

Greg: Absolutely.

John: So you’ve been involved in online education for quite a while… since sometime last century…

Greg: You’re making me feel really old, thank you.

John: …both as a student and as an administrator. From your perspective, how has online education evolved over that time period?

Greg: Sure. That’s a really good question. Now granted, I really was not there at the dawn of time of online learning, I want to be clear about that. But, actually, as an outside casual observer… well, maybe I was…at least in terms of the late twentieth century…. because if we really think about what distance learning looked like before the advent of the internet, it was really what I refer to as ITV, Instructional Television. Sunrise Semester being probably the most famous example of that, that I think is still in production and out there for years and years and years out of New York City. And obviously, at the advent of time based on the technology, there was a one-way transmission of knowledge. To say that it was really education, It was not a bidirectional experience in any way. Moving forward into the 90s, with the advent of the Internet and shortly thereon, the World Wide Web, suddenly we begin to move into something that becomes much more bidirectional and I love these acronyms because nobody remembers them anymore: MUSHes, MUDs, multi-user domains that were largely text based, that kind of go back to the Adventures of Zelda, in a way, if we go back and remember that far back in terms of what an interactive game experience was like. So those were text based and as we begin to scroll forward, really to where we are today, the changes in the underlying technology change the kinds of interactions that we can have.

So, largely speaking, when I started, which was thirteen years ago here, we were really looking at online learning in a purely asynchronous form and really, of course, we said that was for learner convenience… which I think is still true. I think that’s the reason why it is asynchronous, because the typical online learner is an adult and is a part-time student… is juggling many things in his or her life and learning is a part of that… so, it has to be based on when it fits into their time budget. So where we are, compared to again let’s say 2005. 2005, we had limitations in our learning technology. It was largely text based so the forms and interaction between instructor and student were predominantly text based. Today, we’re at a point where those kinds of interactions can truly be multimedia. We can incorporate audio… we can incorporate video… we can have online chat sessions together… video sessions together. So we’ve really broadened our palette in the ways in which we can interact and communicate and create those learning spaces. That to me is a really big deal and I think I’ve become much more of a convert to these sort of multimodal means, being a student again.[Laughter]

Yeah, eating my own dog food as they say, right?….being the continuing adult learner… I’m actually a part-time learner in a doctoral program and it’s always good, actually, to flip the equation, if you can, right? To go from instructor to student and remember what the student experience is like, first of all. To be in an online course and go, “Oh God, really? This is what it’s like?” Now, that’s not true of all my online courses so far, I just want to be clear about that. But what I did experience was the fact that we injected group work into one course and, of course, I’ve never personally loved the idea of group work, period. But leveraging Google Hangouts, leveraging Google Docs, it was transformative in the sense that it really was creating a sense of community. That’s something we’ve always strived for in online learning and moving outside the bounds of that purely asynchronous construct– it was just truly transformative to me in my thinking about it. And as we move forward, I think we have these opportunities to leverage the technology and not be so trapped in the box of the tools.

Rebecca: What I’m hearing is… early on, even when it was online, it was still traditional correspondence classes, right? So, you’re corresponding… but now, it’s community…

Greg: RIght.

Rebecca: …and I think the difference in those two words is really powerful… and even just thinking about what they mean.

Greg: I think that’s true, and it’s interesting because you’re seeing this right now in our media. I want to say “the media,” about our media that we consume about higher ed. Western Governors University, being on the leading edge of doing competency based education, it tends to subvert our notions of what online learning is…. maybe not necessarily true for Western Governors, but in some models, you’ve got kind of a pay-one-price, consume-all-you-can… it’s not bounded by the conventions of a semester. It’s not in the normal control functions of an instructor helping to manage the students ‘learning. So conversely then, the Department of Education at the federal level is saying, “You know what? This looks like a correspondence course, and if this is a correspondence course, then it doesn’t qualify for financial aid.” So there’s a lot of implications in there for us, in terms of thinking about the design of learning…. unfortunately, secondary effects that impact the student in terms of their financial ability to take the course. But, to your point Rebecca, I think the difference again between correspondence and community…. because traditional, fully asynchronous learning is always sort of time modulated and time delayed. It does look more like the conversation between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, right? There’s a lot of thought going on and there’s a lot of reflection going on, based upon reading which you’ve said, “I’m going to come back with a response,” but it isn’t necessarily dialogue…. and dialogue, I think, is part of a community because it’s really of the moment. Things build… things are reactive. I think that’s a potential change. Yes.

Rebecca: Seems like a way that you might be able to build mental models more effectively because the learners are interacting with each other much earlier on and they probably have more similar mental models then an instructor….

Greg: Right.

Rebecca: There’s a different relationship there that I could see how that could be really beneficial to help overcome some of the misconceptions and things that students might have because they come out a lot sooner.

Greg: Exactly.

John: But also with the introduction of more group work in online courses, even if the course is designed to be fully asynchronous, the work within the groups does not have to be, so that the student, as she said, could be using Google Hangouts soon or other tools and working collaboratively at times that they arrange within the group.

Greg: Right, and again, I think what you’re looking at is you’re beginning to model work flows in collaborative strategies that our students would use out in the world once they graduate. All of us do things across time and space that are outside the university with other colleagues. In how we approach that are those very same tools. So, why not expose them to your students early on? …and say “This is how it works. You don’t have to get together in the library every day… You really don’t have to.” The challenge tends to be when you’re blending a group of learners…. between the target audience, those adults who aren’t here, and our traditional students who are here…. because when you do propose an assignment to the students… it’s group work… what do they do? They say, “OK, let’s get together in the library at three.” ….and the student who’s not here has to speak up and say: “Excuse me, I’m a hundred miles away. I really can’t do that. Let’s think about some other method to make this work.”

Rebecca: I’m definitely a strong proponent of capitalizing on the idea that these are professional skills to develop. So, even in my non-online classes, I use tools like that for group work: Slack, and things for group discussions and things… and I think that when you frame that for students and help them realize that it is a professional tool and a professional opportunity, they do buy in… and so I think there’s a real positive in this online environment to encourage small groups and things to start using these tools because then they’re seeing how it’s going to benefit them in the future. Obviously, non-traditional students would catch on to that much sooner. We have to be probably a little more explicit with more traditional-age college students about the benefits, and that it is a professional skill.

Greg: I think so. I do think we have to move beyond the culture of the familiar uses of social media, which most of our traditional age students are very proficient in, into more professional uses of those kinds of technologies. So, it’s not just dropping “LOLs” all over the place [LAUGHTER], it’s communicating in a more meaningful and deep way…. and I think those are the skills that we’re helping them to learn in these kinds of online environments.

John: A lot of faculty, when they first start teaching online — and I started teaching online a couple decades ago… sometime last century, too… when they first do it, they tend to try to replicate what they were doing in the classroom, and then they discover that doesn’t work very well… and there are these rich tools out there that can make interaction much more effective. How do you work with faculty to try to transition them to alternative teaching methods, and things that work better online?

Greg: Right, when I did faculty development, in working with instructors who were new to online learning, I would pose a scenario something like this to them: “Okay, you’re very comfortable with standing up in front of your class and delivering the content and doing a lecture. Now imagine your students are next door behind a wall… they can’t see you…. they can’t hear you…. How are you going to teach them?” What you’re doing is you’re imposing those barriers of time and space right away to begin to reframe the conversation. and in reframing the conversation, one of the things that I found initially to be very helpful… It was pointed out to me by one of our colleagues here that I was actually espousing a very well-known design theory which is called backwards design (from Wiggins and McTighe, I believe)….and the notion is that we begin the conversation by talking about: “What are your students supposed to do at the end of this course? What is it that they’re able to do?” I rarely use the phrase learning outcomes because that sounds rather abstract, but if you put it in a concrete observable frame of “How do you know that they’ve learned what they’re supposed to learn?” “What are those artifacts?” is my favorite phrase. If we can start with: “What are they supposed to be able to do? How do they show me that they can do it? What are the artifacts? What are the outputs? Oh, those are the outputs?” Those are the actual learning activities. How do we scaffold them to those learning activities? What are the instructional materials and activities that precede that?

You deconstruct. You deconstruct what faculty think they understand about their teaching process. Faculty come in, many times, with the frame of thinking… truly about content delivery, which is perhaps not doing yourself justice in terms of your skills and what you really bring to the classroom, but if you think of yourself as simply as an amplifier and conveyor of content, then one of the things we do is begin to change that around… and discuss what a facilitator does versus a pure instructor. I think that’s part of it too.

Rebecca:I would imagine that you also have many conversations about audience… that we don’t necessarily have in more traditional face-to-face classrooms…. thinking about who are your learners? what do they come to the table with? and what are their other life responsibilities and things? To find that balance and how things might work.

Greg: Right. You do try to interject… to talk about what the audience looks like… and I think also Rebecca, to your point about audience behaviors and audience constraints we can discuss things that we are now gleaning from research. So, for instance, you may say to me: “Well, you know, Greg, I’m just gonna record my 55-minute lecture that I do every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday… and we’re good to go.”

John:…and a lot of faculty come in planning to do that.

Greg: Sure… sure… There’s my favorite animation out there… which still exists and I forget the acronym of that that animation program… there was like these little furry creatures and the professor comes in talks to the instructional designer and says: “Hello (in this very cultured British accent), I am going to teach my course online. I have recorded all of my lectures.” …and you have to break that down and you have to say: “Well, current research shows us that the attention span of what people are looking at, it’s probably about in you know six to ten minutes.”

John: Actually, we just did a podcast on that. We recorded it just a couple days ago, and it will be released just a week before yours. That research turns out not to really exist or not to really show that.

Greg: Can I retract that statement?

John: …but people have been saying that for decades. So, it’s one of those myths, like learning styles…

Greg: Right.

John: …and that Dale’s Cone of Learning….

Greg: Oh, yes…

John: ….that people just keep recreating.

Greg: …and you know how much I love Dale’s Cone of Learning. That’s just a fantastic fabrication… two things that are mashed together…

John: …including citations that don’t exist…

Greg: Mm-hmm. Exactly.

John: …and articles that were never created in journals that weren’t there.

Greg: Exactly.

Rebecca: Yeah. So, apparently the attention span stuff is too.

Greg: This is something, that I think, we have to all be aware of… that we’d like to refer to these things… and obviously I’m guilty of this too…

John: …and I have too.

Greg: ….without going out and stopping and asking ourselves: “Well, is this still true? Is this still current?” ….and we all know many people who will talk to us about learning styles and you just want to go: “Okay. Stop right there. Don’t say another word. Let me hand you this article from Daniel Willingham.” We do have to be careful about that, but I also think you have to look at it in the construct of, for instance… now I am doing this all the time at a personal level all the time…. I find this… and it probably says something about my mental state and how it’s devolving… but if I am watching even a Netflix video I will often throw it into 1.5 speed or 2.0 speed. I will do this with podcasts, and if anyone out there is listening right now, feel free… speed me up. I won’t sound any more articulate, I’ll just go faster… but we do this compression, because potentially we’re time challenged… potentially our attention spans are impacted. So, I do think we need to look at those kinds of behaviors. You can look at the log behaviors on the learning management system, and students are popping in and out… popping in and out…. popping in and out…

John: Which is good if they’re engaging in spaced practice.

REG: Right.

John: …but that’s not always the case.

Greg: …may not be.

John: and there are issues. Even if there’s no magic attention span issue, there are issues with cognitive loads.

Greg: Right.

John: …and that chunking things into smaller more manageable chunks, especially for beginning students is really effective, and that’s where a lot of the online classes tend to be focused.

Greg: Exactly. Let’s go back to the typical statement about multitasking… multi-processing… A lot of the research on that is really much more granular in terms of the kinds of parallel tasks that can be effectively executed with multiple inputs versus this notion of “I’m facebooking and I’m in my course and I’m listening to a podcast….” because there’s obviously multiple inputs and we process all those things differently. So you can’t just crunch that and make a blanket statement about it. But, you can find fascinating things coming out there… out of cognitive science research… that says, for instance (I won’t get this right because I would have to go back and listen to this story)… but they measured the effects of retention of white text on a black video vs. black text on a white video, and there were significant differences. So, looking at that as an input and informing design-based practices when you’re creating this media is incredibly important….

John: …and part of the issue is when things are harder to read, students have to process it more and they end up recalling more of it. There’s even studies that show that if you use, and…

Rebecca: Stop!

[Laughter]

Rebecca: Just stop!

John: …if you use a really hard to read font, students will recall more of it later.

Greg: That’s fascinating.

John: It may not be a desirable difficulty, but it does result in more retention.

Greg: OK. So….

Rebecca: so but they might not read the whole thing, because it’s difficult to read….

Greg: So, conversely, are there any studies measuring the effect of…. let’s say, an easy friendly format that’s easier to read… and I’m thinking Comic Sans, obviously. What’s the impact there? Do we know?

[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Well, actually…

Greg: Can we do a study on that, ‘cause I would love to. [LAUGHTER] I would love to build a whole course in just Comic Sans.

Rebecca: There are some studies about Comic Sans, but they’re always in these isolated situations.

Greg: Yeah.

Rebecca: So, yes, the letter forms are more identifiable.

Greg: Certainly.

Rebecca: So, it actually does help some students for certain kinds of cognitive disability, because…

John: …including dyslexia.

Rebecca: Yeah, because the shapes and letters are really quick to identify so there’s a legibility that can come out…. However, does that help most students? Not necessarily… and does it help with a lot of content? Not necessarily… right because it might be okay for a small amount. As a designer, I just want to die.

Greg: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting…

[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: None of those studies are done with design in mind at all… and so they’re really in these isolated situations. So, I would really love to see some of these cognitive science studies related to visual design with an actual visual designer… to see whether or not some of the things are actually beneficial.

Greg: I think that would be really interesting… and so to loop back on this… what we are trying to do is, in essence, create a learning environment for students that is: 1. easy to navigate… again, to the point of design, easy to find your way… find your way back again.. Will you re-enter that particular unit or module… and package it in such a way that it provides sort of a continuity of experience for the student? Beginning, with as we used to refer to him, high father Robert Gagne… Gagne’s “Nine Events of Instruction”… One of the things you do is, of course, you state what the learner is going to do… the advance organizer.. and the advance organizer helps focus the students’ attention as to what is about to occur in this learning module. This week, we’ll be covering this particular topic. You’re going to read this. You’re going to do these learning activities. By the way, this builds upon what we did last week by adding this. That last part is often what’s missing in an advance organizer.

John: …to create those connections.

Greg: Right. ….and that’s one of the things we sort of point out… because if you go back, and I recently read this… my world is shattered… people are just calling names… and saying Gagne was just an out-and-out behaviorist. Well, of course he was. I mean… in the context of the times, much of what instructional design theory looked like was based on the principles of behaviorism, because instructional design kind of goes back to World War II. It really emerged, I think, immediately after World War II, but given the needs of having to train multiple thousands of soldiers in a brief timeframe, it became obvious that there had to become a systematized way to develop and produce instruction.. . and that sort of behaviorist mindset carried through…really, I think, up until about the time when I was in graduate school somewhere in the 90s. There was this revolutionary… shocking… special journal that came out that posited that we should really be incorporating social constructivism… not just at the learning theory level but at the instructional design level too… and I think you sort of see that today, still, in this sense of community… in the sense that we now think truly of learning as socially mediated. It occurs within a group… so we think about what that looks like… and how we support that group of learners…. and that tends to be, I think, a transition point… a pivot point for us. Somebody was slamming poor Ben Bloom the other day. …again, because we’re really quantifying and proscribing what learning looks like in terms of those domains. The struggle, of course, is that we need to somehow define learning such that we have uniform measures of evaluation. If you took a purely constructivist standpoint… yeah, I think you would look at it and say: “Well, whatever you did was great, and if it doesn’t work… so.. well when we’ve got to put somebody on a continuum of a grading scale… and so that’s that’s the challenge. I think we always try to mediate.

Rebecca: We’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the role of instructional designers. Could you just take a couple minutes to explain what an instructional designer is, and maybe explain a little bit about what faculty could learn from instructional designers?

Greg: Sure. Instructional designers are somewhere between a unicorn and potentially a dodo. One of the fun things in life, if you actually are an instructional designer, is to go out into any kind of social setting and do the cocktail party meet and greet: “Hi, what do you do? I’m an instructional designer….” and people just look at you very very blankly and then you have to find ways to elaborate out in some way that makes sense to them. What does that mean? …and I had this problem with my parents… I had this problem with my children…. My children would go into school and they would say: “My dad works on computers, and he helps teachers learn how to use computers.” As an abstraction, it’s pretty close… pretty close…. but but not quite. My daughter… now actually, being a teacher, we now speak the same language. Yeah, she now goes: “Oh my God, that’s what you were talking about all those years…” like, yes, now you see… now you see… When I talk to you about Bloom’s taxonomy, you know exactly what I’m talking about… and…. so, really, instructional designers are, I would say…. one way to describe this… I’m not super fond of this description… is to say that they are learning technologists. We could say they’re learning specialists… we could say they’re learning engineers… we could say they’re learning designers… The focus, I think, is the fact that they are knowledgeable about the science and theory of learning. So, what an instructional designer brings to the equation, in working with a faculty member, is that perspective on evidence-based practice in learning. This is what the research tells us…. Oh, that research about video we’ll throw that out, okay… because you’re not up to date… but largely we try to stay up-to-date on the research… to say to faculty: “You know these are really the best practices if you’re going to engage in, let’s say, online discussion.” Because, back to what you said earlier, John, we may not be able to replicate the classroom, but let’s create an equivalent learning activity, right? Exactly.

Rebecca: …or a learning community.

Greg: …or a learning community, Yeah.

John: …and we should note that most faculty, especially those in older cohorts, were never trained in learning theory. They picked up what they saw their faculty do, and they come out of grad schools often where there’s very little or no emphasis on teaching or effective teaching… and they’re often told: “Don’t waste your time worrying about your teaching, focus on your research.” ….and having that sort of support can be really useful for faculty.

Greg: Right, and to be honest, it’s a very delicate conversation to have when you’re looking at someone who is, as we always say, you are the subject matter expert. I really know next to nothing about your discipline… but what I do know is I do know how people learn and I do know how to create effective learning experiences online and that’s what I’m here to help you understand. So we move away from any fears, any concerns that we’re here to challenge your notions of what you do in your discipline, because I don’t what you do in your discipline. By the time we’re done working together, I will know substantially more, which is the tremendously fun part of the job. You get to learn everything that everyone does here. Who gets to do that? We get to do that!

John:…Or if you’re doing podcast you can… and it’s fascinating….

Rebecca: It is.

Greg: It is fascinating. It’s so much fun. I just ran across, last week, this great study from a group called Intentional Futures, and they were really kinda trying to quantify what an instructional designer is… and they broke it down, I think, into four quadrants which I thought was incredibly useful to just share this out. So, the four primary roles of an instructional designer are: to help design learning experiences; to actually manage that production process of creating online courses or units of learning; to actually train the faculty, whether it’s discussion around pedagogy as we’re talking about here today or whether it’s the specifics of a tool set that the faculty wants to use; and most importantly, there’s the sort of Maytag repairman element that there honestly is ongoing support for faculty, continuing weekly… not just at the beginning of the semester… not just at the end when everybody’s trying to figure out why their grades don’t look right in Blackboard. [LAUGHTER] …although that happens. That’s right. We know that. We know when the peak calling times are, based on faculty work, but…. an ongoing effort to continue to help faculty throughout the semester and their teaching practice. So, that’s what happens. There’s a lot of one-on-one consultation with faculty, which again, is just fantastic in terms of creating relationships and getting to know people and getting to understand that subject matter…
JOHN :…and one other thing I think we could talk a little bit about is… we’ve been focusing mostly on online instruction and the role of instructional designers and learning new tools there, but there’s often a feedback effect that works to affect how people teach their face-to-face classes. The division between face-to-face and online is no longer quite as clear as it was thirty years or so ago.

Greg: That’s very true, John. In fact, I think, as we attempt to define the spectrum of technology enhanced learning, or technology supported learning, even those initial divisions that we created are really arbitrary today. Because, we would say… “Well, there’s ‘web-enhanced learning.’” I don’t even really know what that means…. but it means that somehow you’re doing something other just having students read out of a textbook, right? …and you’re doing something beyond just lecturing that somehow incorporates some instructional technology into that mix… and in the middle between web enhancing and fully online there’s this idea of blended ….which we like to call hybrid here, because we just want to be different… I don’t know… but most of the world refers to it as blended learning and in the K-12 domain they like to call it “flipping the classroom” because it sounds… I don’t know… you’ve got a psychomotor thing going on in there… it’s kinetic… I don’t know… but it’s the same thing… it is finding the correct balance between what occurs in the classroom and what occurs online and what we’ve seen… John, you’ve probably said this to me over the years… many faculty have said this to me over the years, unprompted… that they bring these things back into the classroom… and it isn’t necessarily just the technology of the affordances of the learning management system, but how you think about constructing that learning experience.

John: When I first taught online, I was using many of the same things that were very common at the time: these text mini-lectures and tests, and so forth… with weekly quizzes and discussion forums and because it was fairly new, there were a group of people in economics who decided maybe we should do a research project on that and we did… and we found that students really didn’t learn very much. In fact, they did a bit worse in the online courses than they did face-to-face. So, that forced all of us… but.. well a couple of the people there stopped teaching online in response, but others went and looked a little bit further into perhaps what might work. I attended some workshops. it was one actually given by Michelle Miller down in Orlando. I think you may have been there, too… at one of Carol Twigg’s workshops…

Greg: Right… right… right… I was in with you. Yeah.

John: She was using low stakes quizzing… and I started doing more research on that… and I introduced that in my online class and it worked really well, and student performance went up dramatically… and I’ve been doing it in my face-to-face classes ever since… and there’s a wide variety of things that I first tried in some of my online classes that have moved their way over…. and there’s not that much of a difference between the way I teach my face-to-face classes and my online classes.

Greg: Right, I mean it really begins to break it down and you begin to hopefully ask yourself the question: “Well, why am i standing up here spending the first half class restating the readings that my students should have read? Why shouldn’t I put up a quiz ahead of time to confirm that they read it?” ….but more importantly, and more valuably… use that as a diagnostic to find those fuzzy points in the reading and then let’s talk about that in class.

John: So you can do some just-in-time teaching. You don’t waste time on things that they do understand and you can spend more time on the things they don’t.

Greg: Right.

John: …and along those lines, one of the reasons for that issue that you mentioned about… going over things that they should have learned in the reading is that faculty who lecture primarily, often get into this situation where they tell students to do the reading… students come to class and they ask them questions about the reading and they find students haven’t done the reading… and in response they end up going over the reading… and then students realize they don’t have to do the reading, because it’s going to be gone over in class anyway… and then the faculty realize that they’re never doing the reading so they have to do it in class….

Greg: Yes.

John: …and we get this vicious downward spiral in terms of expectations of both students and faculty — where students end up not learning as much as they could be if that time outside of class was more productively used.

Greg: Right. You see this, as much as you can take rate my professor with a salt mine, where the salt… one of the themes that you can find in there, is that many times students will say “you don’t need to buy the book, because the professor will tell you everything you need to know in class.” It’s exactly what you just described, John.

John: …which is generally a much smaller subset of the content that we’d like them to learn.

Greg: Right.

Rebecca: I wanted to follow up a little bit. We’ve been talking a lot about evidence-based teaching and the role of instructional designers, but how about the role of administrators? What role do they play in helping advocate for evidence-based teaching on campuses?

Greg: Well, I do think… given in our particular frame… in our particular world… we’re a comprehensive college, so presumably our primary focus is teaching and learning. Presumably, we are creating culture here that really values and places teaching and learning first… and I do think, honestly, what you both have done here… in terms of creating reading groups… in terms of bringing in outside, evidence-based, yet eminently readable texts for a faculty to examine together…. to go out and try those strategies together… I think that’s incredibly valuable that we are doing that… and then we have a culture that actually supports us doing that. I do think if we could shift the frame a little bit more in terms of faculty activity… not just simply publishing to publish within your domain, but perhaps publishing to show the effects of teaching and learning strategies in your domain connects it all together better in a way.

John: ….the scholarship of learning and teaching.

Greg: Exactly… and I just say that somewhat selfishly because I think we need more of that within the disciplines. Because we need to recognize where there are disciplinary differences and where certain strategies may be more effective than another is… and I think reframing the conversation at the administrative level about expectations for faculty in terms of publication could help us in that. That’s very easy for me to say since I’m staff and not faculty, so I can come up with all kinds of crazy ideas that exist outside of the culture… but recognizing that providing incentives locally to create actual research opportunities in the scholarship of teaching and learning, as John says. For instance, doing things with open educational resources… if we can then turn around and measure the impact in terms of learning… and we’ve actually seen quite a bit on that happening out there at the community college level so far. Can we replicate that? The challenge for us to replicate it, frankly, is that we have to create materials and learning experiences at the upper division level. It’s really super easy, I shouldn’t say that, it’s easier. It’s easier to create foundational course materials because they can be more widely shared and it’s much more difficult when you move into money and banking or other specialized economics topics, because… what’s the audience that you’re constructing it for beyond your own local audience? You have to assess the cost-benefit analysis of doing that… but I mean those are ways we can engage in that… if I ran the world.

[LAUGHTER]

John: Where do you see online education going in the next five years?

Greg: We know it’s not going away. I think that’s the easiest thing to say. We know it continues to grow. I think one of the things that we’ll see change more rapidly, at least I hope so, is to bridge the gap between how we are engaging learners in this construct… this horrible walled garden of the learning management system versus the learners’ world — which is mobile, and its social — and given the fact that our students are always on… always connected… always mobile… how do you move from the learning exchanges that are best played out on a big screen and the keyboard, If I want to break it down to the technological problems? I had this conversation a week or so ago. A learning management system vendor was asking me: “What do you want to see? What do you want to see in the learning management system in the future?” …and I said I would really like to see a way for you to think about this problem of mobile first… and if we can still think of discussion as a valid construct of engaging in critical thinking, then I want a way for students to easily do voice-to-text in that environment. It’s things like that. It’s things like thinking about how do we situate that, and how do you situate it if I’m in my car an hour every day each way? ….and that’s lost time for me in a sense. I can listen to our podcast which is really cool, and I can listen to other podcasts, but what if I could actually be interacting with my course while I’m in the car in some way? or if I was on the train? We have to really rethink what that delivery looks like and how we interact with things… and are there ways that augmented reality can be brought into this mix… again, through our phones… they’re with us…. they can do this overlay…. What can we do with that? Those are like the new frontiers.

Rebecca: In design, it’s actually an old frontier…. but it’s just applying it to this context. It’s user centered design.

Greg: It is and it’s totally understanding your user behaviors… the environment in which they live in and interact in… and it’s not a new concept.

John: But the technology has changed quite a bit… because now both iOS and Android operating systems have AR kits built in to make it easier to record and to implement AR.

Rebecca: …and really new. The AR kit on the iPhones just came out in the last few months.

John: …and similarly the Android one has just come out.

Greg: Yeah, and you know overlays like that… your voice assistance that we all have on our phones… are there other ways that those can be integrated in too? I think these are more interesting things… how you look at the challenge. The fact that you can create adaptive learning that works pretty well in an app. Duolingo is a pretty good and often cited example of an adaptive learning app for language acquisition. The challenge there, of course, is that that is one silo.

John: …and we don’t see as much of that. Carnegie Mellon was doing some great work on this over the last few decades.

Greg: Yeah.

John: …but there aren’t that many implementations. There’s cog books and one other publisher who started bundling some of these in packages but there’s not that many courses developed yet, and there’s still a ways to go.

Greg: Right.

John: …but that offers a possibility of having customized learning paths for students where they work on the things they don’t understand as well… and they build in all the best practices of learning… and we can get people to learn more efficiently once those tools are there. But, it’s still an early time for that.

Greg: It is an early time, and it’s somewhat beyond my skill set and your skill set to go out and just create that. It’s like saying I’m gonna go build an airplane. I have a friend who built an airplane, but before he retired he was an engineer, so he had the skill set to do that.

John: Cogbooks… and Acrobatiq (I believe is the other company)… have provided a framework for instructors to build that. But there’s still a lot of time… because you have to think about what area students might have problems with… and then build materials to get them past those problems… and there’s some pretty high fixed costs for doing that.

Greg: There are. That understanding a particular domain and understanding how you remediate in those weak areas. Whether or not AI can really, through machine learning, get there with us, I think is another thing. Because I tend to be a person who doesn’t subscribe to the model of the brain in a purely computational model. I think there’s a lot more, in the sense of mind, than just thinking about storage and retrieval. So, it is, I think, one of those great challenges to get through… and I do think, while you can build specialized apps that do that. the problem then becomes… as we know, what we deal with a lot is command and control as instructors… and by command and control, I really mean being able to understand and manage the learning… but having visibility into the learning and being able to assess the learning, where human judgment combined with some rubric development is necessary. So, centralizing all that together… one colleague argues that the worst thing they ever did in growing the learning management system was to add a grade book. Because you and I evaluate things differently, even if we live in the same world… even if we’re in the same domain… So, my grading schema doesn’t look like your grading schema… and you build this horrible, horrible, horrible, layer of complexity into the grade book to try to accommodate everyone’s variations… and so there’s one argument that says maybe we just need an app that’s just a grade book… and it just sucks in the data from all these apps that do what they do really well. That potentially… maybe… is part of what’s known as the next generation digital learning environment.

John: We’ve been hearing about that for decades.

Greg: Right… right?

John: Yeah.

Greg: …and it’s been another forever… I had conversations somewhere 8…10 years ago… very parallel to that… that was being framed as the learning management operating system at that time… and we were thinking about this sort of decentralized approach, loosely coupled, that through other structures and other communication methods like LTI… blah, blah, blah ….I won’t go down the rabbit hole with all these acronyms… but ways in which you could move the data around and share it across these varying systems… and we’re back to that conversation… and what the learning management system developers do with these inputs is the big question.

Rebecca: So, you have some pretty interesting visions for the future. What are you gonna do next?

Greg: Well, I really hope to complete my doctorate before I retire… that’s my major life goal.

John: That’s a great program, by the way. You’re in the program in Buffalo?

Greg: Yes. University of Buffalo… The acronym is CISL [pronounced sizzle]. Yes. Curriculum, Instruction and the Science of Learning… and I think that’s really fascinating that we’re now seeing programmatic titles that put the words learning and science together. So we’re really emphasizing that indeed you can draw upon evidence-based practice… you can examine the research and inform practice. It happens to be the only fully online doctoral program that SUNY offers. So, as a matter of convenience for somebody like me, it’s fantastic…. and it’s been a great experience… and it’s kind of brought me around to, again, examining some of these logical fallacies that we continue to carry around and when we’re done, I’ve got to go back and I’ve got to read up again on video and attention.

John: Neil Bradbury, by the way, is the person who did that, and I believe that will be released in mid-February.

Greg: Okay. Sometimes I get questions from on high in administration: “What is the most appropriate size for an online course in terms of seats?”

John: Five?

Greg: Yeah, well… it depends… in a graduate course in a seminar… yeah… probably five is right [LAUGHTER]… frankly… because it depends upon…. the context is everything.

John:… what they’re doing.

Greg: Right. When you break down and you try to do a literature analysis on class sizing, context is everything. So you can’t provide a universal rule or even a sliding scale to Deans and Provosts and say: “Well, it looks like this.” Not necessarily… but you take other constructs that again we tend to look at and know when our received assumed wisdom: effective discussion is three posts… the student engages in the question and they engage with two other learners. Well, why? What makes that effective? What does that have to do with anything? That’s an arbitrary number that somebody invented to generate activity. So, looking at what are the constructs that have been defined to actually promote critical thinking… and if we break critical thinking down into elements… into certain specific responses…. Couldn’t we create a better grading rubric that supports the evidence of that? ….and that’s kind of where I am Rebecca. I’m finding these new things to kind of come back and shake the tree with everybody… and where it’s most fun is shaking the tree with fellow instructional designers… who also teach…. and what do they say to me? They go: “I know what critical thinking looks like in my course.” I’m like… Really? Really? You’re saying that? Aren’t we beyond that? Actually, I had the discussion once here… way back when…. I won’t say what department… I won’t say who… but we were discussing the utility of rubrics in grading and the response I received was: “I don’t need a rubric. I know what learning looks like in my students.” Yeah, that’s fantastic…. really objective…. not subjective at all. That’s great…

John: …as long as students share that vision….however it may happen to exist at that time in that person’s head.

Greg: Exactly… Exactly… so I think what is next for me… I think it’s continuing to look at these things… continuing to examine what’s happening in research and bringing that back into our practice so that we continue to evolve as a community here.

John: It’s an exciting time. There’s so much going on out there.

Greg: It is. Definitely.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us today, and taking some time out to talk instructional design with us.

Greg: Thanks for having me. Thanks for the coffee

John: That’s right…. we did have coffee here. But that’s because we had an early meeting prior to this. We normally don’t have coffee in our office.

Greg: You might want to think about a name change for the podcast… I’m just saying… [LAUGHTER]

John: We’ve been getting that sorta feedback recently.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: Well, thank you.

Greg: Thanks again.

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.

10. VoiceThread

Tired of boring online text discussions? Looking for a way for students to annotate, critique, or analyze images, videos, presentations and documents? In this episode, we’ll examine how VoiceThread can augment class activities and assignments.

Our guest is Jeffrey Riman. Jeffrey is a coordinator of the Center for Excellence in Teaching at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He’s also a consultant and educator at Parsons The New School University. Jeffrey is a council member and the incoming chair of the State University of New York’s Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Technology. At FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology, he is also the chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on instructional Technology.

Transcript

John: Today our guest is Jeffrey Riman. Jeffrey is a coordinator of the Center for Excellence in Teaching at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He’s also a consultant and educator at Parsons The New School University. Jeffrey is a council member and the incoming chair of the State University of New York’s Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Technology. At FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology, he is also the chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on instructional Technology.
Welcome, Jeffrey.

Jeffrey: Good morning.

Rebecca: Today our teas are…

Jeffrey: Fresh ground Guatemalan, through a coffee press

John: Very nice! My tea is a black currant black tea from Tea Forte.

Rebecca: I have an Enchanting Forest Fruit Tea.

Jeffrey: I switch in the afternoons to a zesty ginger and chamomile mix.

Rebecca: That sounds yummy.
So we invited you to talk a little bit about your use of VoiceThread at FIT and I was wondering if you could start by helping our audience know what VoiceThread even is.

Jeffrey: Okay, that’s a great question. Let’s start by making a comparison. In our online courses and many other teaching modalities, people use text-based content for communicating or having conversations. In online courses, that’s always an asynchronous discussion forum typically used… and none of these tools have presence. You’re reading thoughts… you’re hearing things…. you might see a picture…. you might even see a video, but the third wall, let’s call it, is always up; meaning there’s no interactivity… there’s no sense of presence that is more human. What VoiceThread does is allows you to integrate both voice and video or either into a asynchronous conversation environment that allows people to actually hear each other, so when it comes to storytelling or articulating concepts you can actually see a talking face… hear what they’re saying… and in addition, under the right circumstances, the commenter also has the ability to draw on the image or pause the video and doodle on it, as they call it. The cognitive gain from being able to listen and see a person speak, and actually watch them draw, vastly increase the cognitive gains over a text-based communication.

Rebecca: I would also imagine that it helps with students feeling more safe to converse in that environment because anonymity often makes people feel like they can say whatever and sometimes things come out where it’s not so human, so if you have a human voice and face I could imagine that might eliminate some of those concerns around anonymity.

John: Well, even that’s not anonymous. If you just see a name it doesn’t identify with a person, right?

Rebecca: Yeah, it feels anonymous.

Jeffrey: Well, in order to make that effective, the teacher has to show their game by being a video and by being a voice that’s both animated and relaxed (and that takes practice)… but when the students see the professor actually engaged, I think they’re put much more at ease and I will add that very shy students… and students that were both shy and ESL [English as a second language] loved the fact that they could re-record their comments as many times as they need until they’re satisfied that they’ve articulated. The most difficult thing of face-to-face classes with these type of students is they have to be extemporaneous and that’s what causes the paralysis. I have had students whom I had both in an online course using VoiceThread and then had in the classroom and they all told me that VoiceThread made it easier for them in a face-to-face environment as well.

John: Now you mentioned that text discussions tend not to have the same sense of presence, and I agree, I’ve always been somewhat disappointed in the quality of text discussions in online classes. But the one thing that I noted that they had over face-to-face classes, is the point that you just made… that they have a delete key at least. But with VoiceThread they not only have a delete key, they have a re-record button and they can edit what they say. They can re-record it as many times as they want to make it correct, Which takes one of the advantages of text based online discussions and actually gives it a lot more flexibility.

Jeffrey: Yeah so I might add to that, because you’re absolutely right, when you’re using VoiceThread… just like you don’t feed your dog the same food every day, if you do you have a very bored dog… with VoiceThread you do not you need to use this for each and every lesson. That text-based, mixed in with some VoiceThread,s causes students to think in a variety of ways and express in a variety of ways. So let’s face it, text-based communication is probably equally critical to good presentation skills these days… and so writing is important as well.

John: A starter document could be videos that are posted, it could be text, it could be a portfolio, it could be pdf, it could be a presentation, there could be just links to websites. So, there’s quite a bit of flexibility in terms of what anyone can post, including what the instructor can start with

Jeffrey: Yeah, you can add a link to any, and when we talk about the ways that people use VoiceThread at FIT, and other VoiceThread users, I think you’ll see the flexibility there.

John: I’ve given some workshops at Oswego here in the past, but I never was able to get many people interested in exploring it. What prompted the interest in voicethread at FIT? and how did it get so widely adopted?

Jeffrey: Two words: art history. So, art historians…. There are very few classes that people will see in almost any University that are so linked to visual communication as art history, or history of design, or anything that’s rooted in the creation of visual media. Art historians were among the first at FIT to really engage fully with fully online courses, and as a result they discovered that they could actually put up a painting by Michelangelo and that they could lecture about it… draw on the painting to bring to bear certain pieces of important information regarding symbolism, quality of painting, and so on and to do these in lecture forms that then allow the students to pause the lecture and ask a question. Now that started something. Where this is 7 years ago now… a while ago… and then my background being in visual communications, I began to show instructors how they could, in design class, create a VoiceThread where students post their work and receive critique using VoiceThread. Once again, because you can take a VoiceThread and you can blow it up to full screen, and so if the image upload it is appropriate quality, which requires some practice for the students, a professor can look at a piece of media and comment on it. I wouldn’t say for a drawing class it would be the first choice, but I would say for design …absolutely, and also screen grabs of like web design and so on can be viewed and drawn and some professors actually make a VoiceThread for every single student, so they can have some direct interaction. There’s a way that students can create VoiceThreads, too. FIT has a campus-wide license, which means every student and faculty member has a VoiceThread account. There’s something called Creative VoiceThread where you assign the students to go and create a VoiceThread and they might post their work… or I’ve done things where I said go out with your phones and take pictures of artifacts in New York that represent historical references that have been spackled over or painted over and make a VoiceThread of six slides… and then do a narrative explaining what you found and where you found it and they loved it because they’re used to being in social media to a degree. Yet everything in VoiceThread is behind our authentication wall. Among the early ways we used it was to send students out to the museum, pick an object, and critique it or discuss its history and symbolism and they took to it quite well. There is a text-based comment method in VoiceThread that most of us disable. VoiceThread allows you to control what type of comments are used. It also allows you to moderate them, so if somebody goes off the rails you can make sure that they’re not hitting the class until you get a chance to see what they say.

Rebecca: How long does it take to learn VoiceThread? Is it complicated for students or faculty?

Jeffrey: I do a session with faculty I call quick takes where I promised them in 30 minutes from login they’re going to have made a video and a lecture and all they have to do is come with a PowerPoint and their face, their mouth, and their ears and we’re all set. So because we have a Blackboard integration using LTI, this allows people to go into Blackboard and choose VoiceThread as a tool, and it creates a link that allows the professor to both create and share. So what we do is we go in and we just do a video and I usually ask them to do a welcome video. I encourage all faculty to make welcome videos no matter what course they’re teaching, because if it’s August and you’re opening your course early, or you just want to include a video, you can share it with the students, say “Hey, I’m so excited for you guys to come to class, here’s a little bit about me, and you can tell me something about yourself while you’re at it…” and people like that… and they like the fact that they’re not worried about QuickTime or Premier or Final Cut. They don’t have to worry about editing, because if you record video… say you wanted to do five different videos in one lesson, you can record them as five different items within a given VoiceThread, and even rearrange the order if you want, or delete that. So it eliminates editing… eliminates worrying about lot of stuff. Mac users love it because every computer is fully equipped. PC users get frustrated when they have to run out the Best Buy and buy a cam and a microphone, but many people now are recognizing the importance of just equipping their PCs appropriately.

John: Right, and pretty much all laptops, which is what most students would have, would have cameras in them and microphones, so….

Jeffrey: It’s more a problem with the professor’s clinging to their desktops.

John: …and I believe VoiceThread also works with mobile apps as wel,l so students could use smart phones and so forth to create and participate in VoiceThreads.

Jeffrey: Yeah, any tablet or phone… you can both create, comment, and watch VoiceThreads… and from the professor’s point of view, because everybody always worries when they set up their first discussion, will the students come? Will they participate? You can control notifications so that you not only will be notified when a student makes a comment, you can listen to the comment through your email, and that means you can really closely monitor activity, particularly if you’re in a situation where your access is not consistent. Then you open up your email…. Boom boom boom, five comments. You can listen, you can respond, and they’ll never know whether you’re in Tuscaloosa or Cape Town, you know.

John: For those who don’t have campus integration into their LMS, there are free accounts that people can get ,and fairly inexpensive accounts that people can get that limit the number of VoiceThreads that can be started by the instructor and you have to manually put the students in the group, or you have to share a link with them.

Jeffrey: Right, there are ways of testing it without full integration. Every human being hearing this podcast can go out and go to VoiceThread.com… watch… and listen… and try it, but the roster management and permissions are more limited. It’s all manual. We did it manually for about six months, then we went to a limited-use license and our concurrent users went through the roof. We couldn’t manage it anymore, so we went campus wide. I’ll also add that, you know, they’re off Flash now. It’s all HTML5.

John: Excellent.

Jeffrey: I love the product, obviously, and I really haven’t found a product that does what VoiceThread does. We’ve tried and, as you know, in the State University system we’re supposed to search the earth to find something that can compete, but they’re always current technically, and they’re very adept at informing their public about their improvements and I would also add that they offer a lot of online live sessions that are synchronous, as well as a history of their tutorials. I could provide you some links for that, but they’re easy to find. Google will get you there every time.

John: …. and in the show notes we’ll provide links to VoiceThread as well as some samples of information about them.

Jeffrey: Great… Great.

Rebecca: So you brought up some things about VoiceThread being on top of technology in moving to HTML5, which is great. That does help with accessibility. Can you talk a little bit about other accessible features that you’re aware of with VoiceThread?

Jeffrey: It’s possible to caption every single video comment, and anything that needs captioning can be captioned. They also have an alternative user interface for people who have special needs. To be honest with you, I’ve only looked at it. It’s not nearly as pretty, but then again it’s not for people who are looking at it. It’s for people who need to hear it… but they are compliant, and they’ve been compliant longer than most of the products we’ve been using… including things like contrast… font size. They’re sensitive to the issue.

Rebecca: That’s really exciting, because I feel like a lot of times as media opportunities often don’t think about that so it’s nice to hear that this particular one is one that you can use from the start and know that it will be ok for students and faculty.

John: Let’s go back to the integration with the LMS. So by being integrated it means any grading is automatically put in the gradebook, right?

Jeffrey: Yes.

John: …and the roster is already there, so you create it and it becomes available just as another assignment, is that correct?

Jeffrey: Yes. To be specific, using LTI, every time a student or a faculty member clicks on a VoiceThread link — only faculty can create the Blackboard link, but this is a little bit — let me just get into the weeds very briefly. If John were opening up his online course with a VoiceThread at FIT, every student who is brand new to FIT, once they click on that VoiceThread link, their account is provisioned. Once their account is provisioned, they can also alternatively go directly to fit.voicethread.com and they could actually use the VoiceThread user interface to create as many threads as they want. There’s no limit right now on that, and faculty can do that as well. So, what I often do is we provision the accounts in our training sessions and then I show them how they can build all their VoiceThreads without having to work through Blackboard and then when they open the new link in VoiceThread they can select from every VoiceThread they’ve created to either select one or they could actually select say five and have them all appear in the course in one window, you know, so it’s it’s pretty good.

John: So, could you give us a feel for how widely it’s been adopted, in terms of some of the varieties of disciplines.

Jeffrey: Yes, okay, I’ve got a lot. First of all, it’s used a lot for storytelling in Liberal Studies. FIT does not have a liberal arts degree major, we have a liberal arts minor, but languages are very important, so some people are using it to teach foreign languages: “repeat after me”… or “speak in Italian,” you know, and “tell me how to get to the Colosseum from the airport” and so they get to hear excellent fluent speech and then they get to respond in kind. They also get to hear each other, which is very good. I mentioned that they’re using critique for visual arts. I also mentioned how they’re used in Art History. There are some professors who use it only for lecture, because they find that it’s just so easy to do. It’s easier than even putting a voiceover on PowerPoint, and they like the fact that if they do want to open it up to comments, they can.

John: Are they using it for lecture capture or are they using it for flipping the classroom?

Jeffrey: Well, actually it’s kind of both. So if somebody’s doing a lecture on let’s call it blockchain supplying, they might have a PowerPoint they do a voiceover on. That might be assigned to be… by the way in face-to-face, blended, and online this happens. Watch this… listen to it… if you have questions, add them… and then in the classroom they review the questions that were asked and they talk about the content. So you’re flipping and screencasting all in one big ball of yarn. Other ways that it’s used is: students telling story, students creating their own threads (I think I mentioned that earlier), and I think that among the most popular ways it’s used is students creating assignments giving presentations. So final presentations often are done that way, especially in fully online classes, and I could go on but I won’t.

John: Could you give us some information about the volume of use? How many VoiceThreads are created there?

Jeffrey: Yes. Well, today is almost the end of the semester… we have a couple of straggler classes early next week. Let me just give you a quick background. FIT has about 1200 faculty, about 75% of them are part-time, which is typical for a City University. We have about 9,800 students and we are running about 2,500 sections a semester. So that gives you an idea of scope. From August when the world becomes alive again planning for September, we have created 714 new threads. Now, this is not including threads that are used year over year. Let’s face it, you know, the story of Michelangelo doesn’t change much unless they unearth new content. So these are new threads. During the same period from August first until today there’s been 4421 hours of VoiceThread use, which also could be translated into 7,303 comments. Another way to look at that is about 53 comments per day are pulsing through VoiceThread at FIT. But there are peaks. I mean I have a chart that, if you just visualize looking at the stock market, then it’s two years ago to today. That’s how comment use ups and downs during the semester.

John: So, it sounds like it’s been a fairly viral expansion…. that it’s grown pretty rapidly since you adopted it a few years back.

Jeffrey: Yeah, actually to our surprise, because initially it was a sell. Faculty who are not typically comfortable with technology still get a little skittish when they’re being trained, but it doesn’t take long for them to warm to it… especially when they hear and see the students. So I would say if you asked me five years ago, I would say we’re still pushing uphill but we hit a point where also new faculty tend to be much more interested in taking risks than faculty who over the years have developed strategies that they feel very comfortable with and a new product might disrupt that…. and I know, speaking for myself, training people with Voicethread and using it in my teaching are two very very different experiences. I too sat there biting my nails, waiting for my students to reply to my first VoiceThread. So that’s the beauty of being both a teacher and an instructional designer is you have to practice what you teach and you also have to acknowledge when some of your ideas are not necessarily as effective as you hope. So, I’ve got a whole bunch of humble pie sitting in my office now for some of the things I’ve done.

John: I think we all do.
REBECCA; How did you start to integrate it into your own classes… experimenting with this on your campus? and then so how did you find to integrate it into your own classes…. and your teaching practice, really?

Jeffrey: Okay, well I teach a course on collaboration in creative settings and my icebreaker is actually: “Tell me a story: the best and worst collaborative experience you’ve ever had” and then the way I did it was… I got a video of a campfire and while the campfire is burning I said everybody can… oh, pull up to the campfire and let’s swap stories, and so it’s just that one perpetual loop of video… the students saying “oh, I was in this class last year and nobody who did it all did the work and we had a big fight and we almost failed” and then somebody else would say “Well, that’s nothing compared to mine” and it comes and it’s very good-natured competitive thing and I just had a couple of stragglers who I reached out to outside of VoiceThread to encourage them. Now, there are some things in VoiceThread that have improved dramatically. For those of you who looked at VoiceThread, say three or four years ago, two of them are “direct reply” whereas if you had a student but it’s ten students made comments you would have to say “and Rebecca said this” and “John said that” and this all makes sense in terms of the lesson, whereas now if John makes a comment I can click on direct reply and it will appear like a thread, where my comment to him is direct…and threaded commenting makes it even more effective. Instead of having to feel like you have to listen to every single one, you can say I went into this conversation. So, if Rebecca makes a new thread, John can reply to it directly, but if Rebecca just goes around and replies to others she just shows as a secondary bubble next to the main comment… and more importantly from a professor’s point of view there’s something called “private comment” where John, as the teacher, can say to

Rebecca: “your answers are really, really long and you’re digressing off the point. I’d like to delete this comment and have you do it again…” and the students do take that guidance very well because they can see it’s private; it’s got a big lock on it.
The other thing that is easier to do now than before is to moderate. So in Blackboard, a lot of people like the feature of nobody can see other comments until the first comment is made by each individual. That way, they’re not doing intelligence collection, to make their comment even better than anybody else’s, and you can do that in VoiceThread too, by turning on moderation. So you can basically say “everybody has until next Wednesday to make their initial comment in response to these questions, and then the professor can actually review all of the comments to make sure all the comments are in, and then lift moderation… and everybody else can begin to listen to and respond to each other. It requires a little bit more attention, but if it’s a graded assignment, the way VoiceThread works when you’re grading is: you see a list of all your students who have submitted and all of your students who have not, and there’s a handy little reminder button saying “it’s 10:30 on Sunday night, have you visited your VoiceThread yet?” and the reminders work very effectively as well. Grading works nicely on that. It integrates fully to the Blackboard gradebook.

John: …and so you can manually set up the equivalent of a post first discussion then.

Jeffrey: Yes, you could do that, and even if say you have a VoiceThread that’s lasting for two weeks instead of one week, students can all weigh in… have their interactions pause… turn moderation back on… make a new comment… and then begin the process again.

John: Okay.

Jeffrey: It just requires attention.

Rebecca: You hinted a bit at student engagement throughout our conversation. Can you talk a little bit more about how students have been engaged using VoiceThread?

Jeffrey: So, knowing that FIT is a college which is about half business and half visual communications in the broadest sense of the word…. people can learn how to make shoes and dresses and belts and jewelry, but they also learn how to do marketing and entrepreneurship and so on. The one thing they all have in common is presentation skills are essential. It’s not optional. So Voicethread has immediate recognized value to the students who know they have to get up in front of a class, whether it be virtually or in person. So this is a great tool and it also gives them a chance to hear their professors in presentation mode, where they actually get a model that they can follow… that coupled with the fact that students do not have a fear of the microphone as much as some people who never had to communicate in those modalities.
You guys may remember, I know John you’ve been in online for a long time, that a lot of professors used to create these personas like “I’m a spy” and a trench coat with dark glasses and a pompadour hat. They didn’t necessarily recognize that their sheer presence and personality was enough, and so they became bigger-than-life personas… and what this does is it breaks down what I called the third wall where, in a flipped classroom scenario, there’s bi-directional activity in some way or another or accountability for your activity by communicating… and this really works well.
We do not have problems with students using VoiceThread except oddly enough, and maybe coincidentally, the students who don’t participate until the last minute [laughter] waiting…

John: That’s always an issue.

Jeffrey:…waiting for a thunderstorm to take that Wi-Fi down or, you know, an earthquake to break the cable… but for the most part very, very few complaints at all. Our biggest issue was going through three different types of authentication systems. People who were early adopters who had not revisited, we had to merge their accounts. New users…it’s seamless.

John: Was part of the expansion, then, pushed by students suggesting it in other classes or word-of-mouth among faculty?

Jeffrey: We do show and tells. So, I’ll give you an example. There was one VoiceThread that really kind of rocked the school…. because everybody gets lecture right? You know… here’s a painting… here’s a story… here’s a doodle… you know, whatever… but one of the professors in textile development convinced her husband to help her shoot microscopic shots of knitwear and of fibers that are the equivalent of looking at them through a high-powered microscope and then she would actually do these beautiful narratives where she would talk about the over-and-under and the fiber content and so on… and then she would have the students look at other microscopic photography that was put in there and they would each have to do an analysis… and so it was technical… it was visual… it involved drawing… and it was not the kind of showbiz that a lot of times we do when we use media. It was a strictly technical course and it was really fascinating to see how that grew the minute other people teaching technical things began to realize that. Because FIT has a very robust knitwear division we have looms, and we’re famous for our knitwear. So knitwear analysis is also very important, as is pattern design. As a matter of fact, don’t be caught in a cheap sweater while you’re walking around here. You know, somebody will tell you that for the same money you can do better.

John: Someone should have reminded me of that before I showed up for the visit a couple of weeks ago. …which was a great visit, by the way. I was really impressed.

Jeffrey: It was fun to have you there, John.
So, student adoption has never been a barrier and at this point I’m wondering what the next thing is because one of the questions that we discussed was what is next and I think a huge part of what’s next is the way education is changing. For instance there are some faculty who still have very deep grade books, where they’re grading 30 or 40 items in a semester… all of them by using percentages and letters and so on. I’m beginning to encourage faculty to understand the nurturing aspect of the learning space, and to not make everything a gradable item. Now, obviously this is academic freedom. This is not something that would ever be anything other than a prescriptive as an alternative, but when you do a VoiceThread where you just grade them on completion, it liberates them to be a little bit more dynamic. It also liberates them to speak up. So in a sense by making it pass/fail, it’s almost like they get tenure for an assignment, but they could say anything they want and not get graded down for it and I think that the discourse is really important in the classroom. for students to feel that they can ask challenging and direct questions, especially when the content is not specifically science-based. You know. because obviously if we’re working with algorithms or for working with cellular biology how challenging can you be? I dare you to show me mitosis. I mean. you know, you can’t. It doesn’t work that way… but on the creative thinking and critical thinking skills, many people play it safe, just like politicians.
So, if we de-escalate some of the accessible tasks to have very specific outcomes and to make a clear line: you need to do these 11 things to pass… if you do 7 you won’t, but if you do 11 you will… but you won’t get like a super duper A or a super duper F, you know. So I think that VoiceThread allows you to have evidenced-based performance and to relieve them of some of the burden of being graded for every 5 inches they move and I do this warm-up in my class where before I even introduced myself, this is in my face-to-face class, I said I would like some applause please… and they don’t even know who I am so they’ll, clap gently [clapping sound], somebody will do “Woo-Hoo” in the background or something. I said: “now I want you to clap like you want to get an A in applause” and all of a sudden it’s loud clapping and cheers and excitement… and I said and now I want you to clap like it’s a C and then they immediately begin to realize that they’re raising and lowering their performance in order to be graded appropriately and that doesn’t necessarily mean they care about what they’re doing, you know. So one of my colleagues heard the cheers coming out of my classroom…

John:…in the first few minutes…

Jeffrey: …and said like what did you do, like pay them or something? …and I said no they were clapping like they wanted to get an A. Now, I know that VoiceThread isn’t specifically about an assessment, although it connects up to all the assessment tools, but I think that there’s a causative relationship between how we grade and how students perform that is, I think, a little bit of the secret of opening the classrooms to more dynamic interaction. So…

John: …it shifts from extrinsic to more intrinsic motivation.

Jeffrey: Exactly… exactly… and I feel that what that does is it builds up more trust in the learning space. So you can hear me… you can see me… and I’m not going to get a bad grade if I have not been able to be as comfortable as my colleagues in this environment. Because I’m sure many of us can say that some of the smartest students, in the beginning… they kind of run out of gas sometimes as you’re going to the tenth week of the semester… but some get stronger every semester… and so if they’re graded harshly in the beginning when you’re nurturing them, they may never dig out of the hole and get a decent opportunity unless we make some things… Baby, you got to grow… students let’s make this something where I recognize everybody is not at the same starting point, but we all have to go for the same outcomes. So, some people start off a little slower and they’ll get power and I find, personally, I would love to have the argument at the end of the semester of why did so many students do well.

John: Now, for those who are going to try VoiceThread, are there some things you’d recommend as good practice and some things you might recommend as pitfalls that they may wish to avoid?

Jeffrey: Practice with your friends. Don’t just think that because it’s another tool… I mean I’ve had faculty that… in training… they immediately… the first time they use it… they say “Hi, this is professor so-and-so, Welcome to my class” and they’re trying to actually do the welcome in a room full of ten other people all talking at the same time. So, a best practice is to practice and not share it with anybody, or to practice with your colleagues. …and what we do is we have an administrator here who will say John… I would like John and Rebecca enrolled in my class so we can all practice together and they’ll do that. Another good practice, which is really something everybody should be thinking about, is how are you lit? I mean so many people, when they’re in video, they look like it’s a hostage video, you know… I’m stuck in a basement somewhere in… you know, the Midwest and I have no idea where I am, you know, but if you practice with lighting… So, what I encourage people to do is to sit facing a window, so they get natural light that’s softer, as opposed to putting a lamp right on their face which makes them look super high contrast. You need to look friendly and comfortable and also be careful what’s in the background. This is true of all video, but I still go to Life Drawing and have some paintings and I left them in the background of one of my videos… and somebody said you have naked people in your office, you know, and so I quickly realized that the frame wasn’t cropped the way I wanted it to be. So I just re-recorded it. It wasn’t a big deal but people tend to not necessarily pay attention to those optics and that’s part of the professionalism .

John: One other question is… I know at FIT class sizes are limited to 25 typically. How might this scale? Have you talked to anyone who used it in classes of 40 or 50?

Jeffrey: Yeah, I’m so glad you asked that question. Let’s just make believe 25 is onerous. We don’t have a lot of lecture classes here, so the idea of like 200 people in a room or even a hundred or 50 is unheard of, for the most part, but here’s what I do recommend: groups.

John: Okay.

Jeffrey: You can take a VoiceThread and create it, and then you can clone it as many times as you need to, and then use group management, which works in Blackboard as we all know… and then all of a sudden your group of 50 becomes like you know a very manageable size. The group work works really nicely… and don’t handpick your groups. Just let them happen. It’s just my own personal opinion. I’m sticking to it.

John: OK.

Jeffrey: You get more surprises that way.
So, I think we wore out this topic, right?

John: Yeah, I think so.

Rebecca: Yeah. This is really interesting.

John: Mow I’m gonna try it next semester. I’ve been going back and forth for years.

Jeffrey: My enthusiasm is unabated for the product because so many people have taken a long time to get comfortable with it, but when they do they use it… I actually say to them please don’t use it every module. Don’t use it every week. Use it like you use the special Mediterranean oregano, you know, only for the dish where you’re really gonna taste it and I think that you’ll be surprised.
Okay, this was fun.

John: Thank you, Jeffrey, this was fascinating.

Rebecca: Yeah, so exciting. I can’t wait to try it. Thank you very much.

Jeffrey: It was great to share, and I hope people find value in our discussion.