125. Peer-Led Team Learning

Many studies have found that peer-led team learning is effective in helping students learn. In this episode, Dr. Christina Winterton joins us to discuss her study of the factors that result in more productive relationships between peer leaders and the students they work with. Christina has returned to SUNY Oswego as a full time visiting professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and was previously the Associate Director of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program at Lemoyne College.

Show Notes

  • Julia Snyder, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Science Teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University
  • Jason R. Wiles, Associate Professor of Biology and Science Teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University
  • Peter Arcidiacono (2020) 122. Differential Grading Policies. Tea for Teaching Podcast, February 26th.
  • Student Assessment of their Learning Gains (SALG)
  • Michelle Miller, Director of the First Year Learning Initiative, Professor of Psychological Sciences, and President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University.
  • Winterton, C. I., Dunk, R. D., & Wiles, J. R. (2020). Peer-led team learning for introductory biology: relationships between peer-leader relatability, perceived role model status, and the potential influences of these variables on student learning gains. Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research, 2(1), 1-9.
    https://doi.org/10.1186/s43031-020-00020-9
  • Ryan Dunk, Graduate Student in Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University.

Transcript

John: Many studies have found that peer-led team learning is effective in helping students learn. In this episode, we discuss a study of the factors that result in more productive relationships between peer leaders and the students they work with.

[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]

Fiona: My name is Fiona Coll. I teach in the Department of English and Creative Writing here at SUNY Oswego and this is my turn to sit in as a guest host.

John: Our guest today is Dr. Christina Winterton. Christina has returned to SUNY Oswego as a full-time visiting professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and was previously the Associate Director of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program at Lemoyne College. Welcome, Christina.

Christina: Hi, thank you for having me.

Fiona: Our teas today are:

Christina: I am drinking green tea infused with raspberry, pomegranate, and strawberry.

Fiona: Amazing. I am drinking Tazo’s Refresh Mint tea with a wink.

John: And I am drinking Republic of Tea’s Spring Cherry Green tea. We’ve invited you here today to discuss the dissertation research that you’ve done on peer-led team learning in an introductory biology class. Can you first describe what is meant by peer-led team learning?

Christina: Sure. Peer-led team learning is an active learning technique that typically gets implemented in courses where there’s going to be a high enrollment of students, so a lot of the introductory sciences. I specifically helped with the peer-led team learning at Syracuse University. So the intro to bio course there had between 600 and 700 students for the first semester, and then it went to about 500/400 for the second semester. So with all those students, we still had two lecture periods. So all those students were in one of two lectures. So to supplement the lecture, we found a bunch of research on PLTL, and they implemented peer-led team learning at Syracuse University. And what it is, is it takes students who have recently and successfully completed that introductory biology course, they become peer leaders. So, they need to get a B plus or higher in the course, but then they also have to enroll in a one-credit course with a learning specialist. And our learning specialist at SU is Dr. Julia Snyder, who actually was a huge factor in implementing PLTL at all with Dr. Jason Wiles, who is the professor of intro to bio. So, the premise of peer-led learning or PLTL is you take the student who just recently and successfully completed the course, you give them a course about how to be a leader. So, it covers pedagogy, Bloom’s Taxonomy, different teaching styles. And then after they meet with the learning specialists, they are on their own to lead a 55-minute section of the supplemental peer-led team learning course. So, they get modules that they work through with the students. And it’s different than a teaching assistant or a faculty because, first of all, there are no grades involved. The peer leader’s not grading the students, they’re just there to help, and a big difference, a big key, is that the peer leaders are not provided answer keys to these modules. So, they’re truly acting like a fellow learner, a fellow student. They’re relying on what they remember, what their notes are, and they’re just facilitating the conversation. And as a group, the current students are working with this peer leader to construct new original answers and in that they become friends, and they talk more about their feelings and what they really think of certain aspects and how to work through it, and the peer leader is able to relate and share stories because they just took the course.

Fiona: Could I ask some very practical questions about how this works?

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: So how big are the groups, the peer groups?

Christina: So each group will have six to eight current students with a peer leader.

Fiona: And these are sections that are scheduled along with the massive lecture courses.

Christina: Yeah. Yep, they’re supplemental. So it’s a co-enrollment.

Fiona: And they’re required?

Christina: They are not required. The literature breaks it down with different incentives for different universities to have the peer leaders and the students both choose to be in peer-led team learning. So, for the leaders, typically it’s a learning credit or a leadership credit, and it’s a resume builder. It’s a way for some of the students who are going to maybe take an MCAT to refresh themselves on the material. And then for the students, a lot of the times it’s connected to maybe a portion of extra credit. So that’s the different carrots.

Fiona: Yeah, that’s fascinating. And I want to talk very, very much about the way you assessed this program, but could you give us maybe an example of a teaching technique or something that the peer leader might learn in the one-credit course you were mentioning they’re a part of?

Christina: Sure. I was lucky enough to be able to fill in for Dr. Snyder sometimes when she was out. One of my favorite lessons that we did was as the instructor for the day, I stood up in front of the classroom and all the leaders all had different pieces of paper. And I said, “Okay, listen to what I say and do it as I say it.” And then I said aloud instructions, “Fold the top of the paper to the right towards the center, make a triangle on the side, do it again with the other side,” and I verbally gave them instructions on how to fold a paper airplane. Well, obviously, that didn’t go so great. So I said, “Okay, keep that to the side.” I didn’t even tell them what they were making. They were like “What am I doing?” So they put it to the side. The next thing, I gave them a handout that it said “Step one, fold this” and it was just written instructions. And then for the final round, I put it on the doc cam and folded it with them. And then we looked at the three different outcomes, and we talked about different strategies used to teach or explain. “Did everybody do it the best the last time? Did maybe somebody do it better the second time? Is that right? Is that wrong?” And we talked about different ways to convey the same information to different groups of students when they’re actually leading a session.

Fiona: And do the peer leaders who are forming a cohort of their own essentially, as they’re going through this…

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: Do they report back through the semester with questions or problems, does that fold into this?

Christina: Yes, I know that Dr. Snyder, as part of the course, she had them keep journals. And so they would reflect on the session. And each leader really only had one group of students. So they knew their names, they knew their habits, they were able to write really good reflective journals and keep notes on “They liked this module or they didn’t like this module. You know, they really liked the debate that we did this week.” Or next week they’d say, you know, “Those concept mappings?…the students struggled, but I think I personally saw them learning even though they didn’t.” So we were able to get really good insight on the models just from those journals.

John: There’s a lot of research that shows that peer instruction can be really effective. What makes it so effective?

Christina: What makes it so effective is actually what my research honed in on, because I was obviously a member of this Biology Education Research Group at SU and I saw Dr. Snyder and Dr. Wiles doing all these really cool things with PLTL. And I know it got results in the form of the research coming out was saying the students enrolled in PLTL had higher grades than their non-PLTL peers, because like you asked, it’s not mandatory. So, some students were in it, and some students weren’t. And you’re able to see the difference in final grades. And I just wanted to know “Why,” right? “What is it about the session? Is it the environment? Is it that there’s no faculty? That it wasn’t in a lecture hall? (It was in a small library room.)” So I just wanted to figure out what about the interaction made it so effective, and I thought like you’d ask that it would have to have something to do with the dynamic between a student-to-student rather than a student-to-faculty. So I was reading up on some literature trying to find out in particular for the STEM fields, what makes peers help each other more. And that led me to some research on role models and relatability and seeing someone you can relate to be successful or do something you want to do. So that led me to develop my question of “Is the PLTL setting enough to leave a student calling their peer leader a role model by the end of this? And what makes up a role model? And did it have an effect?”

Fiona: Don’t keep us in suspense.

John: Although maybe we want to save the answer until a little bit later.

Christina: That’s another question. Yeah.

John: So make sure you listen to the end of the podcast to find out what happened. [LAUGHTER] So you talk about, in your dissertation, the importance of education in the STEM fields. Why is it important to focus our attention on STEM programs?

Christina: So it’s important to focus on STEM programs in particular during the first year or so of college when the students are choosing their major and deciding if they want to pursue STEM after they get a sample of it because the highest rate of students leaving STEM comes between the freshman and sophomore year. So a cause could be what they perceive to be an unwelcoming, large intro course. They come from high school where it’s a smaller class, students know each other, the teachers know them, then you go to the lecture hall and nobody sees you and attendance doesn’t matter, you know. So we can make it feel welcoming and inclusive and that your voice is being heard. And if you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask it and other people struggle as well, then maybe we can keep them and say, “Okay, I still want to pursue this. I got through first year and now I’ll be able to choose an elective that hones in on my specific interests.” So, we particularly don’t want to scare them away with large intro courses, because the overall number of degrees conferred in STEM in the United States is lower than China and Russia and other countries comparable to us.

Fiona: And we also know that the struggle to complete let’s say, STEM is not evenly distributed across different sorts of student groups. That attrition that you described…

Christina: Absolutely.

Fiona: is exaggerated in certain underrepresented groups.

Christina: Absolutely, actually, again, we’ll speak to some of the amazing people I was able to work with while I was at SU in that Biology Education Research Group, one of their studies specifically showed that peer-led team learning closes the gap between underrepresented minorities and their peers in the course. So peer-led team learning can provide this avenue to level out the playing field.

Fiona: Did you have any experience with peer-led learning yourself in your own education?

Christina: I didn’t actually, no.

Fiona: Everything you’ve described makes so much sense. Motivating students, making learning spaces accessible to students.

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: And I can’t help but think what would be different about my educational path if I had had peers involved in the process in some way?

Christina: Yeah. And I actually went to SU myself, and this opportunity wasn’t available. So it’s fairly new.

John: I started doing it after quite a few years ago, maybe 12/13 years ago, I went to a conference. And I wish I knew who presented this. But there was an experiment, and I believe it was a chemistry class, where they introduced your instructors and they measured the students’ performance for everyone, including the TAs. There was a larger group, and they had larger sections, but they had graduate TAs and they were using undergraduate TAs for the first time. And they measured the increase in performance of students from the beginning to the end, including the TAs, and what they found is among the undergraduate students in the class, the graduate student TAs, and the undergraduate TAs, the undergraduate TAs actually learned the most, and the students who work with the undergraduate TAs had larger learning gains than those who work with the graduate TAs, which is very consistent with the types of things that are being found here. There have been quite a few studies, and I wish I knew some of the citations off-hand, that have found similar effects. It’s interesting. I should also note, in a podcast that we released on February 26, we talked a little bit more about the dropout rate where we specifically looked at the gender difference in dropout rates, and that women are disproportionately likely to leave the STEM fields in response to the relatively lower grades that they receive in the STEM field compared to other disciplines, even though their grades were higher than males in the classes, at least in that study. So the lower performance that many students experience in the STEM fields does seem to be a pretty significant deterrent for, as you said, underrepresented groups. Also, for first-gen students, it seems to be pretty significant in a number of studies. So we’re losing a lot of people who could be really successful in these fields, and as you noted, we’re falling behind other countries. And as we close our borders to the people coming from other countries that could seriously hurt us in the STEM disciplines if we don’t bring more people through here or eliminate some of the barriers to foreign students entering.

Christina: Actually as part of my research, when I was delving into some of the psychology research that came up because I was looking at perception and role models, so we went past biology and education into a little bit of the psych realm, and there was one study that just laid it out really clearly like exactly what you’re saying. And it just got me so interested because their study specifically aimed to put students in a situation and give them exposure to things that would specifically counteract the two prevalent STEM stereotypes and identified the two prevalent STEM stereotypes as: 1. STEM is for white European males, and 2. STEM is only for those who are innately gifted at it. So, that really caught my attention because as an advisor, and as a professor, the students have come up to me a lot of times in STEM courses and said, “I got a bad grade on this. I don’t think I’m good enough at this. I studied for 50 hours that week.” And they always put an emphasis on how hard they had to work to get their grade as if it’s a bad thing. And it really just speaks to that that they truly think that people who are successful in the fields are just born with it and that even your professors never had to put in work. So now after reading that article, I always try to directly counteract those stereotypes for them as well and say, you know, “I have to put in a lot of work to maintain too, you know, it’s normal. And it’s not just for those people and don’t give up, everybody has to put in work, even though they don’t maybe show it or maybe you don’t see that.”

John: And that’s where the peers can be really useful because they just went through it. And serving as you said, as that role model, can be really effective in letting them know that this is just normal. This is how we learn.

Christina: Exactly.

Fiona: And I could see how hearing “This is normal, this is how we learn” might resonate very differently, if that comes from a peer than it does from a professor, even if you’re being…

Christina: Definitely

Fiona: entirely sincere and open.

Christina: Definitely, and especially from someone who has no power over their grades, or what’s going to be on the quiz, you know, so if they can just hear it from a peer.

John: And who not only had just been through it, but had been through it successfully and was able to do well in the course.

Christina: Yeah, and if they can share with them, how many hou rs a week they put in and how they prioritized it as well. That’s gonna all lead to part of the finding.

Fiona: You mentioned that you didn’t have any experience with peer-led team learning in your own education.

Christina: Right.

Fiona: Can you tell us a little bit about how you discovered this as a topic? And what made you decide that this is what you wanted to research?

Christina: Sure. So, I actually discovered this because I went to Syracuse University myself, and I was a biology undergraduate. But, then I decided to get a master’s degree in forensic science because the pieces of biology that I enjoyed most were DNA and genetics. So I pursued a Master’s of Forensic Science, and as a graduate student, I was assigned to be a teaching assistant in intro to bio. So I began doing labs, and as I mentioned before, Jason Wiles is the professor of Intro to Bio, so he was my supervisor then and he became my PhD advisor as him and I started agreeing on some teaching strategies and techniques. So, I saw the students as a teaching assistant in the lab. And the lab by itself is such a different feeling than the lecture. I saw 24 students at a time, not 600, so I was able to see that perspective when I was a teaching assistant, and I was giving them weekly quizzes and grades, and they could come to my office hours, and it was like a tutoring type thing. So, I saw that perspective of them. And then they implemented the peer-led team learning. In addition to the lecture in the lab, this became an option. And they started doing research on it, and Dr. Wiles was leading that research. And then when I chose to get my PhD, he still had active projects going on. And I was looking at those results of how come this increases their grades, and this does increase their grades. And then it just made me think: Why?

John: So that brings us to your study, how did you design a study to investigate these issues?

Christina: Alright, I went back and forth on the design for this a lot because a lot of the research was focusing on assessments, quiz grades, test grades throughout the course and final course averages. So, I wanted to include that because I knew that there had been good results as far as a positive benefit for PLTL and you could find this in the grades, in the difference between the grades. So, I knew I want to collect data on the final course grades, which is easy enough. But then I also wanted to hear from the students what they felt PLTL gave them in terms of their learning gains. So I used an instrument called the Student Assessment of Learning Gains. And I had the students fill that out. And I was able to use that to see their learning gains, and you calculate the total learning gains by just adding up all of their different categories. So, you ask them questions on a Likert scale, and then you get the summation, but I knew I wanted to do learning gains rather than just course grade because there’s a lot of different ways to get a good course grade: you could memorize you could just remember from the slides, you could just be a very good test taker and good at multiple choice. So I just wanted to see if they were truly learning and I really was drawn to the SALG because that tested the things that they were able to carry on to upper-level courses like their ability to connect concepts in biology to one another is one of the questions your ability to connect concepts in biology to other courses you’re taking. “How strong do you feel you could explain a biology concept to a family member? How strong do you feel that you could create your own position after reading a graph of results and defend your position of how you interpreted the graph?” So this was testing actual skills and true learning gains, not just their end course grades. So I want to look at both of those factors. So, I gathered up their final course grades, and I got the assessment of their learning gains as well.

Fiona: So, they provided assessments of their own learning gains.

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: And the peer leader?

Christina: So, as I got thinking, like a year into the project, I was thinking, all right, my whole study is testing interactions between the students and student-to-student interactions and what makes a good peer leader. So first, I gave out at the end of the semester, there was a qualitative questionnaire one of the questions asked “Do you consider your peer leader to be a role model in any way? Please explain, yes or no.” So they gave me qualitative data there for why they saw the peer leader to be a role model. But then, as I got thinking that I wanted to do this interaction between them, I thought, why not ask the peer leaders, because this is all the student perception so far, Let’s ask the peer leaders, “Do you consider yourself to be a role model in any way? Yes or no? What makes you a role model to your students? Why do you think you’re not a role model?” And we’re able to look at those two qualitative sets of results and find the discrepancy so that if there is a difference between what the student’s looking for and what the peer leader thinks the student’s looking for, but they’re not providing, we can address that in the leadership course, and say, try to implement these strategies, try to display X, Y, and Z. So, we collected that qualitative data. And then in addition to that, I was also wondering, okay, maybe the student just likes that peer leader, like maybe they’re just a funny person. Maybe they’re just nice. So I thought it would be interesting to see how well the peer leader gets to know the student because as we discussed one of these benefits, this is a very small group of six to eight students, you can spend one-on-one time you see this person every week you talk outside of class. So, I also asked the peer leaders to fill out the Student Assessment of Learning Gains, but ask them to do it in regard to their students. So I said, “Alright, Jane, you had Joe as a student, fill out what you think Joe’s learning gains are.” And then I took Jane’s assessment and compared it to Joe’s assessment and found that the student and peer leader pairings who were closest together had the least amount of differences between their assessments had higher course grades and saw the peer leader to be a role model and relatable and higher learning gains.

Fiona: So very elegantly designed approach to this incredibly thorny, difficult, complex process of learning. And so you’ve essentially got two perspectives on a single student’s experience.

Christina: Yes.

Fiona: From their sense of perception, which is also a fascinating idea. There could be a difference between learning and a student’s perception of learning.

Christina: Right.

Fiona: But by having this very elegant combination…

Christina: And part of what led me to saying, you know, there have been errors in students’ self-reported data before, but perception is valuable, the student perception is valuable. And there are other studies that show if a student perceives themselves to be learning and doing well and happy in a course, they’re going to stay in the discipline despite whatever their final course grade is, and that only helps our retention.

John: But you also said that the people who had the better match that way also had higher course grades as well. So, that seems to validate at least the general nature of that instrument.

Christina: Right.

Fiona: Could we talk about these very interesting concepts, so the idea of being a role model, but also the idea of being relatable?

Christina: Yes. So, originally, the design of the project was on role models because there’s so much literature on role models to support it. So the role model question, the qualitative portion, was asked to the students and the peer leaders. But then, as I was analyzing the results of role model, relatability got mentioned so often that it almost seemed like it was a stepping stone to role model status, that to become a role model, you had to be relatable. So, I didn’t have those students anymore, so I did a follow up question to the peer leaders because we still had access to the peer leaders, their course was a little bit longer. So I was able to ask the peer leaders to write about relatability and how relatability came into context with their relationship with the students. So, for the relatability factor, we have the qualitative answers from the peer leaders. And for the role model factor, we have it from the students and the peers, but students were mentioning relatability in a lot of the role model answers.

Fiona: And what does relatability mean in this context?

Christina: So relatability, I was able to categorize into a few different codes and categories. So the students were calling the peer leader relatable. Sometimes it was very clear, they would say the phrase “In my shoes, you know, they were just in my shoes, they know exactly what I’m going through, they’re in my shoes.” Other times, they attributed it to a common career goal. So these are all bio majors. They’re all “I want to be a doctor and my peer leader is taking the MCAT. That’s what I’m going to do in the next year or two. So, I can relate to her because I see her doing this thing that I’m about to do.” What was interesting is that if there was a commonality there, it would always be a shared attainable goal. Like a “In the near future, I’m gonna do that.” It was neat to see that and it’s definitely an attainable goal of the students. Sometimes when you think role model, you think, “Oh, they need to be a famous celebrity and they’re rich,” so it was neat to see the students just saying “They’re a role model because they’re succeeding in what I see to be a hard path that I also want to do.”

Fiona: They’re a role model because “I want to be there next year.”

Christina: Yes. And I relate to them.

John: So we have all that evidence about the effectiveness of your instruction. But this is discovering why it’s working or what specifically allows it to work.

Christina: Right.

John: So, what does this suggest that in terms of developing your lead team leader program, what should that training focus on?

Christina: I would recommend that we share the results with the peer leaders and show them that in a lot of the student responses, when they were saying what they thought made the peer leader a role model, or the peer leader relatable, a chunk of them did say that they got a good grade in this course, and that’s what I want to do, and that’s my goal is just to pass. But, there was a lot more in depth answers than I think maybe I was even expecting, and it went into things like “They were just kind, they were nice. I could tell that they cared if I was learning, they stopped and adjusted the course to my pace,” and that’s a huge benefit that we don’t get in the lecture halls when you just have to keep going, and you’re not able to assess “Are all 600 students with me? Do they all understand?” And a lot of the responses just came up that there was a caring peer leader who truly cared if they were learning, and talked to them and asked them. So, I think that showing the peer leaders that would be a little bit of a difference, because I think a lot of the times it just gets focused on “Well, I did really well in this course.” So, here’s what I think, that there’s so many personality attributes that go into it.

Fiona: I keep thinking of Michelle Miller’s line, that teachers are professional motivators, fundamentally the role that teachers play in drawing out the learning potential in a student in some way. And this seems to point to that in some sense, that what matters the most to the students… yes, the content and skill development matter… but that, in fact, there was some other piece to the puzzle.

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: That might be effective or emotional.

Christina: And motivate is a word that was frequently used, so much so that I used it as a code for the qualitative piece.

John: And I understand you just heard that a paper from this study is going to be published. We’ll include a link to that in the show notes, and we’ll list it as forthcoming until the paper becomes available.

Christina: Just got accepted. Yes, thank you.

John: Congratulations.

Christina: Thank you. The first paper shows the quantitative aspect, that students had a difference in either perceived learning gains or final course grade, if they saw their peer leader to be relatable and a role model. And then part two is coming up with the qualitative research that explains what those definitions were in the eyes of the students.

Fiona: I have a question that I think goes a little beyond the scope of what you were focused on. But it comes back to this idea of what being relatable means. And I’m thinking about that gap, that the attrition rate or the achievement gap or however you want to talk about that for certain sorts of underrepresented groups. Does your research suggest that the identity of the peer leaders might matter? We know representation matters. We know that this is part of envisioning yourself in a discipline or a field process that your research is getting at. And could you imagine the approach to setting up a peer-led team learning approach could be useful in like specific interventions?

Christina: Actually, that’s a really interesting question that you brought up, because a lot of the research points to that. And then I was expecting to see that, but it was the only time that that was really brought up about the identity of the peer leader was out of all the responses I had, I believe six times the student just said, “Because they’re my age” and interestingly, two times when the identity of the peer leader was brought up for the “No, they’re not a role model,” the answer was “Because they’re my age.” So, I thought that was a really neat finding, that some of the students are viewing age as this positive thing. And other students are using it to say, “No, they can’t be a role model to me. They’re my age,” and other students are saying, “Yes, they’re a role model, because they’re so successful, and they’re just my age.” So, I thought that was really interesting, and I’m not sure, there wasn’t any answers about ethnicity or even gender, and I’m just wondering if the students maybe felt a little like restricted because it was a written out response, and if I just looked at the data of the ethnicities of each group and did a comparison there, if maybe I would find something. But I didn’t go that far in this experiment, but it would be really neat to do so in the future.

John: That could be an interesting follow-up, just to see if the gender and race of the team leader affected the performance of people within the group if they’ve matched or if they diverged.

Christina: Yeah, I agree. I did look at if STEM major and non-STEM major, because in semester one of peer-led team learning, it could be used for any student. So, even if you’re not a bio major, you could be using it to satisfy your science elective. So, I was trying to see if there was a trend with the students who were STEM majors getting more out of it than the non-STEM majors, and we didn’t see a significant difference.

John: Interesting.

Fiona: You mentioned the fascinating finding that when the peer leaders’ assessment of the students’ learning and the students’ assessment of the students’ learning matched, that there was a definite correlation with the overall performance. Did you pull out any information about when there was a mismatch? Or was there anything interesting or useful about the opposite scenario?

Christina: Yes. The peer leader responses, in general, were always a little bit more informative and longer than the student responses. A lot of the time when there was a mismatch, the peer leader would leave a note at the end or something that would say, “This is what I think. But so and so didn’t come to class very much.” In those cases, there was a big discrepancy where interestingly, the student would say, “Oh, I learned a lot, high learning gains,” and the peer leader would put them at a low learning gain, and then there would be a big discrepancy, and I would try to see why and the peer leaders would say, “I never saw them, so I don’t know if they learned or not.” My research group at SU, one of my good friends, Ryan Dunk, who was actually on this paper that just got published, he helped me with some statistics for this. Another question that came up was, “Could it possibly just be that some peer leaders care more and know their students more?” But, we were able to find that there was no significant difference between the peer leaders or the section, so time of day didn’t matter and peer leader didn’t matter, so that was neat to find out too.

Fiona: Fascinating.

John: You mention that the participation in the peer-led team leader program was optional for the students.

Christina: Yes.

John: What proportion of the students in the classes participated in that?

Christina: I can answer that for the semester of the data set that I’m working with, it was after you eliminated students who either didn’t consent to research, or were under 18 and couldn’t be included into research. Out of around 650 of them, 241 participated in my study. So, that means that at least 241 were in peer-led team learning.

John: and it could have been more…

Christina: And it could have been a few more.

John: …if they chosenot to participate or were under eighteen.

Fiona: Are you currently, are you still crunching the numbers and figuring things out from all the data you currently have?

Christina: There’s a good three more publications that are all in progress in various stages. Review, sending it to a partner, and working with my advisor still.

Fiona: Yeah.

Christina: He’s still doing different projects too, though they’re still being studied.

Fiona: Do you think peer-led team learning can work across disciplines?

Christina: I do, and a lot of research was shown to back that. And it’s actually pretty interesting because it started in a chemistry class, and then other sciences picked it up, biology and physics. But, it’s expanded into mathematics, and computer science has had success. And other studies also supported the finding that it would work in smaller classes too. So, it could work at universities, it could work at colleges, it could work at private institutions. So, it just looks like it can work across the board.

Fiona: There’s still room to find out, room to experiment.

Christina: Yeah.

Fiona: We’d like to finish by asking you “What comes next?”

Christina: I think if I don’t answer that I’ll get those three publications out that my advisor is gonna… [LAUGHTER] I’m gonna hear about it. So all the publications.

Fiona: We very, very much look forward to the results from those various publications.

Christina: Thank you.

John: This was fascinating.

Christina: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. It’s such a privilege.

[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. Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Savannah Norton.

[MUSIC]

123. New Trends in Science Instruction

Science instruction in K-12 education has long been provided as if science consisted of a body of facts to be memorized. The Next Generation Science Standards, however, rely on an inquiry-based approach in which students learn about science by engaging in scientific exploration. In this episode, Dr. Kristina Mitchell joins us to discuss this approach and its implications for college instruction.

After six years as a director of online education at Texas Tech University, Kristina now works for a science curriculum publishing company and teaches part time at San Jose State University.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Science instruction in K-12 education has long been provided as if science consisted of a body of facts to be memorized. The Next Generation Science Standards, however, rely on an inquiry-based approach in which students learn about science by engaging in scientific exploration. In this episode, we discuss this approach and its implications for college instruction.

[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. Kristina Mitchell. After six years as a director of online education at Texas Tech University, Kristina now works for a science curriculum publishing company and teaches part-time at San Jose State University. Welcome back, Kristina.

Kristina: Thank you. It’s good to be back.

Rebecca: Today our teas are…

Kristina: Diet Dr. Pepper.

John: The same as last time. [LAUGHTER] I have a green tea today.

Rebecca: And I have a nice pot of brewed English Breakfast tea.

John: We’ve invited you here today to talk about the Next Generation Science Standards. How did you get involved with the Next Generation Science Standards?

Kristina: During my work at Texas Tech University in online education, I was doing a lot of consulting for publishing companies on their online and curriculum offerings, which led to a full-time job offer from a curriculum company that works specifically in K-12 and some higher ed science curriculum, and I learned very quickly that one of the newest trends in science education at the K-12 level are these Next Generation Science Standards that were created by college-level science professors in order to change the way we teach science to K-12 students.

John: How did these standards come about?

Kristina: I have to admit that because I’m relatively new to the science curriculum world, I am not an expert on their creation. But I do know that there were several panels of scientists from various higher education institutions that got together to try and figure out from the perspectives of different disciplines, “What do we want our students who come to university to know about science once they get there?” When I was in middle school, I don’t know how much you remember your middle school science lessons, but I remember dissecting frogs and doing our Punnett squares about genetics, but what I remember most is that we would learn those principles of science like Newton’s laws throughout the week, and then Friday, we would do a lab to prove that they were true. And unfortunately, that’s not how any of us do science. Being a social scientist myself, that’s not how I did science at the college level, as a researcher. So, the panel of experts from various scientific disciplines sought to change the way students think about science to think about it more as a process of investigation, rather than something you sort of memorize and then confirm.

Rebecca: The Next Generation Science Standards have three dimensions. Can you talk about those a little bit?

Kristina: Sure. So, these sort of three dimensions, or the three pillars of the way students are learning in K-12 about science, the first is they’re learning disciplinary core ideas. So these disciplinary core ideas are the core features of disciplines like physics or chemistry and the things that they really have to know about that specific discipline in order to build on that knowledge. The second one is science and engineering practices, so these are the ways we study science. And the great thing about the ways that we study science is that it doesn’t change across disciplines. Whether you’re a physicist or a chemist or a sociologist, you’re going to use the same types of scientific practices to answer your research questions. And then the final dimension, the third dimension, are cross cutting concepts. So, these are things like observing patterns or observing cause and effect, concepts that also span across all disciplines, not necessarily limited only to science. So it’s concepts that students can use to understand the world around them, regardless of what questions they’re asking.

Rebecca: Can you give us an example of how these three dimensions play out in a particular grade level?

Kristina: Sure. So when we’re thinking about what students are doing in science classrooms these days that might be different from the way we learned science when we were in seventh grade, students are doing a lot more investigation centered science. So, you walked into your classroom, your college classroom, and somebody walks in and says to one of your students, “What are you guys doing?” And your student might say, “Oh, we’re reading this chapter on…” Rebecca, I think you’re an art person, right?

Rebecca: Yeah, design.

Kristina: “So we’re reading this chapter on Photoshop,” and you ask them, “Okay, well, why are you doing that?” And they’d say “Well, because Professor Mushtare told us to.” In trying to get them away from that instead, the way they’re trying to implement science in the classrooms now would be to get students, you know, if they came into your classroom to say, “Well what are you guys working on?” And they might say, “Well, we’re trying to make a flyer for this project.” And you’d say “Why?” And they’d say, “Well, because we’re trying to figure out how we can make people more excited in this project that we’re working on.” So, getting students to start from the point of “What are we trying to figure out and why do we have to do this activity in order to figure that out?” …rather than “What are we memorizing, what are we learning because the teacher told us to?”

John: So it’s more of a project-based learning or inquiry-based approach to the discipline.

Kristina: Absolutely. And we’ve seen that a lot emerging in higher ed. So, it’s really great to see it reflected in the K-12 space too.

John: But it’s important probably for faculty to be aware of this, because if students are starting to use this approach, as they move forward, they might expect to see more of that in higher ed, where they might see it as a step backwards if they have to move to something that involves more rote learning, for example.

Kristina: Exactly. We’re seeing a lot less “sage on the stage”-type activities, both in K-12 and in higher ed. So it’s really important, I think, that we all kind of know what both sides of education are doing so we can at least know where our students are coming from.

Rebecca: How do you see this new approach helping students be better prepared for college?

Kristina: Well I definitely think that the idea of empowering students to be in charge of their own knowledge is really important. Sometimes I find that a struggle that my students have is doing this sort of figuring things out on their own. If I don’t give explicit instructions with explicit rubrics, they sometimes feel very lost. And so empowering them to recognize themselves as people who can ask questions and figure out the answers to those questions, that goes far beyond just physics class. That goes into just being a responsible and productive member of society. So, I think hopefully we can see students taking a little bit more ownership in their learning because of these trends at K-12.

John: Does it also perhaps give students a little more motivation when they have a goal in mind, and they know why they’re doing things rather than just doing it because their instructors told them to?

Kristina: Yeah, I would definitely think so. I definitely remember my seventh grade year not being passionate about the science, other than “Wow, cool. It’s a dead frog.” So thinking about empowering students to ask these questions might get them more excited about what they’re learning about.

John: In one of our earlier podcasts, we talked to Josh Eyler, who emphasized the importance of curiosity and nurturing curiosity and this approach seems to be very nicely tied into that.

Kristina: Absolutely. And I think about my own political science classroom. One of the fun activities I’ve done and I swear the first time I went through it, it was one of those days where I thought, “Ah… I’m tired. I don’t have anything that I’m interested in lecturing about. We’re almost through this semester, what am I going to do today?” And so I decided, I’m just going to have the students write questions on index cards related to political science and hand them all in and I’ll answer all of the ones that I can. And that was one of the best days of class. I’ve recreated that many times in semesters. And so seeing that these Next Generation Science Standards where we’re trying to get students to think there are some things you learn about each discipline, but there are some practices and concepts that apply everywhere and you just learn how to ask the right questions and you use these concepts and practices to answer them. It’s something that I’m using in my political science class, even really, before I realized that I was specifically doing so.

Rebecca: Do you have any idea how students are responding to this curricula?

Kristina: So every individual curriculum and program is going to be a little bit different, but they are all going to tie into these main ideas. And one thing that we’ve seen in student performance and student preferences is that the students really like doing things in class, having activities and hands on specifically to science. Of course, that often means labs. But one thing that I often talk to teachers about and get a lot of really good feedback on is the idea that we kind of think of doing science looks like it’s in lab coats with safety goggles, but we all know as researchers ourselves that science looks like talking sometimes. And sometimes it looks like asking questions, and sometimes it looks like taking notes or revising models, and getting the teachers and students to realize that that’s all part of what doing science is. They get really excited at the idea of doing science themselves. Of course, they like to see things explode in class, but sometimes just getting them the opportunity to have discussions with each other. It’s amazing to me what the middle school students are capable of, and our elementary age students, what they’re capable of. I have kids myself and I didn’t know that they were learning such higher level concepts of science in class.

Rebecca: There’s big movements to move STEM to STEAM. Is the humanities represented in this new model?

Kristina: So, when we think about STEM, that’s kind of what everyone’s prioritizing these days: the science, the technology, engineering and mathematics… and the A to add it to STEAM would be the arts. So the idea that the arts are also important, but I think there are some key pieces missing here. When we focus exclusively on STEM and on creation and innovation, that’s really good. We need creation and innovation. But as I feel like sometimes we’re learning right now, without a good background knowledge of history, we might be creating and innovating things that either already exist, or have already been tried, or that don’t have a good basis in what we’ve experienced as a society. It’s like they said on Jurassic Park, you spend so much time wondering whether you can and you don’t stop to think about whether you should.

Rebecca: So you were just raising that question about ethics and things like this. So,how do you see this curriculum evolving so that the humanities are better represented or integrate more into our integrated learning in K through 12?

Kristina: Well, one thing that I think is really great about the NGSS is that it definitely starts to sort of de-silo the disciplines of science. So, when we think about physics and chemistry and earth science and life science, when I was in school, those were all completely separate years, both in middle school and in high school. And the NGSS standards definitely start to recognize that we can’t silo our disciplines like that because they have so much to speak to each other. Some questions you need many disciplines of science to answer. And so I’m hoping that slowly, more and more curriculum writers will apply that same standard to the humanities, to the social sciences, and to the arts, the idea that nothing can truly be siloed because social science speaks to even questions like “What scientific research do we do? What research questions do we ask?” That can’t be explained using natural sciences alone. Because yes, natural sciences might seem really unbiased, but we’re asking certain questions and we’re not asking others. So using social science and humanities to help answer those bigger questions. I’m hoping that we see less siloing across disciplines over time. And even at universities, we’re starting to see increases in things like cluster hires, where multiple people from different disciplines all come at a sort of similar question, kind of like what we’re doing here. We’re three people from very different disciplines. But we’re all interested in the question of, you know, what makes teaching good or bad.

Rebecca: One of the questions that’s risen a lot in higher ed, and I know as a popular conversation on our campus, is about fake news and debunking pseudoscience. Do you see that this curriculum helps with that,? …perpetuates that?

Kristina: I think that’s a really good question, and kind of a difficult one, because I think it’s really important to teach students how to interpret the world around them, and what science is and how it’s done, because that can help us determine the validity of the information that we get. But I also think, like we were just talking about, there is a move away from rote learning, from the idea that an expert in a field tells us what is true about that field and we learn it. The fact that we’re moving toward anyone can be an expert, anyone can do the research themselves, anyone can ask questions. Sometimes, I also worry that that pendulum might swing too far, because that’s sometimes where we get people who go online and find whatever Google can tell them about vaccines not being safe or about climate change not being real. And because they feel empowered to be their own expert, they’re treating themselves and their research as equivalent to people who have devoted their lives to getting advanced degrees and who know the answers to these questions. And so I worry that maybe we’ll see the pendulum swing a little too far in the other direction, but I’m not sure.

Rebecca: Based on knowing what you know about higher ed and what you know about this science curriculum, what do you think faculty should be thinking about in terms of what their students might know or might not know, or how they might know differently than they did before?

Kristina: I think that it’s important to teach students what expertise is to begin with, when we think about what it means to be an expert and know something. So, when we go back to those next generation science standards, and think about those three dimensions, the disciplinary core ideas, to me, those are the things that experts already know and that we can accept as the core ideas of each discipline. So, starting from that point and saying the question of vaccine safety has already been established, we know that the vaccines that are here are safe. That’s a disciplinary core idea. But now let’s use our science and engineering practices and our cross-cutting concepts to think about other types of preventative medicine that maybe don’t have the same consensus or new types of vaccines? How would we know that those are safe or how would we know that those are effective? So, I think it’s important not to forget about those disciplinary core ideas that are things that experts have already figured out questions that have already been settled, and then allowing people to start from that point and ask their own questions and do their own research using the scientific method.

John: Changing the topic just a little bit, we get a fair number of people who are interested in the STEM fields when they’re in middle school and even high school, but then they get to college, and all of a sudden, they have to start taking calculus classes, and Matrix Algebra, and Organic Chemistry. Is there any way that perhaps lessons learned from this approach could be used to make college classes more effective and not having so many people get lost along the way once they hit these courses that have been traditionally a bit of a barrier to progress in those areas?

Kristina: That’s a really great question, and we even see that in political science. I teach our research methods class in political science and it has just the tiniest bit of statistics in it. And students are like, “Why am I doing math in a political science class?” And then of course, in graduate school, we’re seeing increasing amounts of quantitative knowledge needed to finish graduate programs and then to compete on the job market. So, I definitely think that the rise of math as something important is a deterrent to some students who might otherwise be interested in entering STEM or social science fields, but I think that also comes down to the pendulum again. I think that it’s important to realize that quantitative methodology is a method of understanding scientific questions, and you don’t have to use quantitative methodology to answer every scientific question. Some of them can be answered using qualitative methods, and even discussing political theory or other types of theories in other sciences or in the humanities. I think it would be good if we could open up the doors a little bit to people who have really high level intelligence and interest and curiosity, but maybe don’t have an interest in math. I think both by making math more accessible and less required, we might be able to get some really interesting new perspectives in our college level courses. I don’t like the idea of using hard math classes as a way to weed students out. And I think that’s sometimes what they’re used for, because I took Matrix Algebra in grad school, and it was really hard. And I’ve never used it since that class… ever again. So it’s not as though it was a skill I needed to be a PhD in political science. It felt more like a class that was used to weed out students who weren’t as interested or weren’t as good at memorizing how to do Matrix Algebra.

John: The point I was trying to get to, I think, is that perhaps if more of these inquiry-based methods were used to motivate the material, it could help get past that. I actually had a similar experience with Matrix Algebra. And when I was learning, I was able to do the proofs and work through it, but I didn’t really understand it until I started using it in econometrics and other disciplines, when all of a sudden it just made so much sense and why all those theorems were there and useful. But we lost a lot of people along the way there. And perhaps that’s something we could build into all of our classes to help motivate students and not just hit them with a lot of theorems and not necessarily even just rote learning, but a lot of inquiry for which the motivation may not be obvious to people when they take it.

Kristina: Definitely. And I think that when I teach my Statistics and Research Methods class, it always is easier for the students, and they always do better, when I tie the math we’re doing to a real question. So even something as simple as “We’re trying to figure out whether the average American is conservative or liberal,” and this is our question that we’re trying to figure out. Now we need to do a difference of means test to figure it out. And so that would be, going back to what we were saying earlier, the idea of you walking into my class and asking my students what they’re doing. Well, they could answer “We’re memorizing how to do a difference of means test from chapter 12 because Dr. Mitchell told us to,” versus saying, “Well, we’re trying to figure out what the ideology is of Americans from different regions, so we have to use this mathematical test so we can answer that question.” So really about framing it in terms of “What are you doing and why are you doing it?” and making sure that we know that the students would answer in a way that gets them excited about the material.

Rebecca: I think context is everything. The real world problems that you’re talking about in the new science curriculum is not unlike the kinds of things that you’re talking about in your classes or even when you have to use math in design class. So, a lot of visual arts students think math is completely irrelevant to them, but when it’s put in context, when you need to do certain things, all of the sudden it makes more sense. I teach a creative code class and we do fairly complicated geometries there, actually. And if you can see the results, sometimes it makes a lot more sense to some of our students.

Kristina: Exactly. So the fact that they would know why they’re doing this and it’s to accomplish a specific goal, rather than just “We’re memorizing this because the professor told us we had to, it was going to be on the exam.”

Rebecca: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]

Kristina: Lord, help us for how many times we hear “Is this going to be on the exam?” That seems like the motivation for trying to learn something. And it would be great if we could move it away from that being the motivation, toward the motivation being “Well, we’re trying to learn this because it helps us figure out this question or this design problem.”

Rebecca: Or the motivation, like, “Hey, I really need to understand this mathematical principle, because I really want to know the answer to this question.”

Kristina: Exactly.

Rebecca: And that leads to where they actually start asking for the things that we’ve prescribed previously. [LAUGHTER]

Kristina: Yeah, and it becomes just a tool to figure things out. And if they want to figure the answer out, then they’re going to need all the tools.

John: Could you tell us what this would look like if we were to stop by a seventh grade class, and this was being put in practice?

Kristina: Absolutely. So if we think about what a seventh grader might be doing, so if we start from that point of the goal is to figure something out, and maybe they’re learning about Space science. They’re learning about Earth and Space and trying to figure out “Why do some objects in Space orbit other objects?” …like “What does that mean? How does that happen?” So, one really fun activity that I’ve seen middle schoolers doing is they have these embroidery hoops and these marbles. And so what they do is they put the marble in the embroidery hoop, and they sort of spin it around on the table. And so the marble is swirling in circles and then they lift the hoop and marbles start shooting everywhere. So it’s very funny in a seventh grade classroom, because you got kids running everywhere trying to chase their marbles. And so at first, they’re just having fun, tracking which way the marble goes and trying to figure out when they lift the embroidery hoop which direction will the marble head, and then eventually they start realizing, “Oh, well, the marble kind of wants to go straight, but the embroidery hoop is keeping it going in a circle.” So, if we think about the sun, with the planets orbiting it, if the sun suddenly disappeared, Earth would kind of want to go straight out in whatever direction it was headed. But because the sun’s gravity’s in the middle, it’s keeping Earth going in a circle around the sun. And so they start putting these pieces together and eventually they come up with this idea of the relationship between inertia, which keeps the earth going, and gravity, which is what keeps it in that same orbit. When they think about what is the core idea they’re learning about, well, they’re learning about orbit, but the way they’re figuring it out is by looking at this small model of what is actually happening at the planetary level. And that’s really reflective of the kinds of things that scientists do in their labs. We’re running models that try to simulate what’s happening in space, or what’s happening in the political world, or whatever discipline we’re doing. We’re trying to create these models to help us understand it. And so that’s what the students are doing, too.

John: That reminds me of a talk that Eric Mazur has given in several places, including at Oswego, where he talked about the Force Concept Inventory, and how, while students were able to plug numbers into formulas and solve problems very well, when they were asked about questions like that, specifically, if I recall, “Suppose that you’re swinging a rock on a sling, and you release it, what would the motion look like?” And basically it ends up flying in essentially a straight line… well, other than the effect of gravity. But when people were asked that, they would bring up things that they had seen in cartoons where they expected it to loop through the air, perhaps as it’s moving. That’s actually one of those things where people in really good institutions who had taken a college class had some really poor intuition. And this type of practice can help prepare them with better intuition on which to build later.

Kristina: There was also a video at, I think it was Harvard’s graduation, where they asked a bunch of STEM majors who had just graduated if they thought they could make a little circuit that would light up a light bulb. And so they handed them everything they would need to do, and everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, I got this no problem.” And they couldn’t, they couldn’t figure out how to light the light bulb up, because as much as they had done the math in class, they just had never really done the practical aspect. And so getting students hands-on to do the things with those science and engineering practices in whatever discipline we’re in. It’s really important to get our students in the driver’s seat to start practicing what they’re going to be doing when they leave the classroom.

Rebecca: It also seems like having multiple pathways to the same information is a good way to play with our memory, and make sure that it sticks and it stays there. So, something that’s embodied, something that you memorize, something that’s a couple different kinds of examples.

Kristina: Exactly. Maybe it can move it from our short-term back to the long-term memory to help us keep that knowledge.

Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking “What’s next?”

Kristina: So I think I’d really like to start exploring what this does look like in a classroom setting for myself. So rather than just focusing on what it looks like for students in K-12, I’d like to see if I can use a similar style of teaching in my political science classroom, and just see what kinds of evaluations I get and how the students like it. I think the idea of getting rid of these silos and recognizing that we all use the same practices and concepts could help us with keeping our college experience for our students interesting and consistent. And we start realizing that they’re going to learn in each of our disciplinary core ideas, but there are a lot of things that we all have in common. So, I’m really going to try this semester, maybe my student evaluations will suffer greatly, but we all know from my past talks that they’re biased anyway. But I just kind of want to see what it looks like if I let my students take a little bit more of a driver’s seat in asking the question, “What are we going to figure out? What do we want to know about the world?”

Rebecca: Do you have a piece of this semester that you’re most excited about that you already have planned in this domain?

Kristina: Well, I’m doing the research methods class this semester, which of course, involves some math. And I think that I would like to use their ideas about what kind of data we should be looking at and what kind of questions we should be answering. Because I think that’ll make it a lot more meaningful for them, rather than if I say, “We’re going to look at the American national election study,” letting them figure out “What question do you want to answer?” And then I’ll teach them whatever method it is that they need to know in order to answer that question. So, we’re going to try it. We’ll see how it goes.

John: In a past podcast, Doug Mckee talked about a similar situation in his econometrics class where he was using a time-for-telling approach. Where basically you face students with problems and let them wrestle with it a bit before giving them some assistance and helping them resolve things, and there’s a lot of evidence that those techniques can be really effective.

Rebecca: So, it sounds like well wishes on your new adventures. [LAUGHTER]

Kristina: Thank you.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for joining us.

Kristina: Of course, this is great. It’s always great. I think eventually I’ll have to come visit y’all.

John: That would be great. Well, 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. Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Savannah Norton.

[MUSIC]

122. Differential Grading Policies

Students generally receive lower grades in STEM classes than they receive in other disciplines. In this episode, Dr. Peter Arcidiacono joins us to discuss how these differences in grading policies across departments can help to explain the relatively low proportion of female students majoring in many STEM disciplines. Peter is a Professor of Economics at Duke University.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Students generally receive lower grades in STEM classes than they receive in other disciplines. In this episode, we investigate how these differences in grading policies across departments can help to explain the relatively low proportion of female students majoring in many STEM disciplines.

[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. Peter Arcidiacono. Peter is a Professor of Economics at Duke University. Welcome, Peter.

Peter: Thank you.

John: Welcome.

Peter: Thanks for having me.

John: Our teas today are…

Peter: Green tea. I got it specifically for this conversation.

Rebecca: Excellent. I have English afternoon.

John: I’m drinking Spring Cherry Green tea.

Rebecca: Oh, that’s a little switch for you.

John: I’m looking forward to the spring now that it’s 10 degrees outside here in Oswego in January when we’re recording this.

We’ve invited you here to talk about your December 2019 working paper co-authored with Thomas Ahn, Amy Hopson, and James Thomas, on Equilibrium Grade Inflation with Implications to Female Interest in STEM Majors. In this paper, you know that disciplines with harsher grading policies result in higher earnings than the earnings received by those majoring in disciplines with easier grading policies. Can you first describe what you mean by harsher grading policies?

Peter: Well, harsher grading policies… you look at average grades in STEM classes and economics, they tend to be a lot lower than in the other social sciences and in the humanities. In the school we look at, which is University of Kentucky, it’s a third of a grade lower. And that holds true across many other colleges I’ve looked at, be it the Duke University or Berea College, it just seems to be a general pattern that the STEM classes and economics tend to have lower grades. And in fact, there was a very nice book written about this with Duke data called Grade Inflation: a Crisis in Higher Education or something like that written by Valen Johnson a few years back, and it was making that exact point about the big grading differences across disciplines.

John: How does your model explain the grading differential across departments?

Peter: Yes, so that to me is where the big contribution of the paper lies, though. I don’t think our model’s particularly satisfactory in this regard. I think lots of people have noticed in the past these differences in grading standards. Where I think our contribution is, is thinking about how those grading standards impact different groups of individuals, but also in what you just asked about: What are the sources of this? And I think a portion of it is certainly demand for courses. So, at the school we look at, the STEM classes are twice as big as the non-STEM classes. An analogy from my own experience… when I first got to Duke, no one signed up for my grad labor class. And that was a bit of a disaster, because that would mean I’d have to do a new prep for some other course. And what I did is I bribed two students to take the class. And the way I did that was I said, “The class is going to be: we’re going to write a paper together.” And it was a great experience for them. They did get a paper, they had a revise and resubmit when they went out in the job market. And what do you know, they both got A’s in the class, but now I’m a little more popular. Not everyone gets A’s and I’m not co-authoring papers with everyone in the class. So I think part of it is these differences in demand for the classes affect things. You hear about weed-out classes, they’re weed-out classes because there’s plenty of students who are interested in taking that class, so they can afford to do that. If you’re in a discipline that has low demand, you’re not going to have a weed-out class because you’re not gonna have any students. So, I think that’s a portion of it. A portion of it can also be things like differences in preferences, maybe it is the case that some disciplines are just meaner than other disciplines. And a third component may be that it’s just easier to grade those classes, it might be easier to grade a math problem than an essay. I’m a little skeptical of the last one, in part because when I talked to high school students, it doesn’t appear to be the case that the math classes are that much easier than the humanities classes, for example, or grade that much harder than. And I think part of that is in high school, you have to take those humanities classes and when you get to college, you have a lot more choice and that influences things.

John: This also seems to relate to the academic labor markets. Because there’s so much demand for classes, there’s often more demand for faculty. So, faculty are not under as much risk of losing their job if they don’t fill their classes. While in markets in those disciplines where grades tend to be lower, labor markets tend to have a little more slack in them. And faculty perhaps may, using the analogy you used before, have to be a little more generous to make sure their classes fill so they can keep their jobs, particularly when there’s a large component of adjunct faculty and contingent faculty.

Peter: I think that’s exactly right. I’ve heard some economics professors brag about their low teaching evaluations. I just thought they can get away with that in other disciplines.

John: And we see that in many STEM fields as well, at least anecdotally… certainly not on our campus…[LAUGHTER] But certainly many STEM disciplines do have that reputation of bragging about keeping their grades low and having high standards and such things.

Peter: That’s right. You know, in my view, it’s when you change what you grade around, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the standards… how much work is required in the class may stay the same. And that’s where, I think what’s interesting about men and women, is that women actually study much more than men. So, if you change the workloads, that’s more of a deterrent for men than it is for women. So, you can think about different mixes of either giving high grades but with high workloads, or lower grades, with lower workloads and student life, on average being different between those things, but they won’t be indifferent between men and women. At least on average. Obviously, this is just an on average statement. There are some women who are not interested in studying hard, and some men who are. On average, that appears to be the case.

John: And you do know, though, that the STEM disciplines not only assigned lower grades, but they also require larger workloads based on the survey data you were looking at, I believe.

Peter: That’s right, substantially higher workloads. And that was my own experience… that where I went to college, I guess economics hadn’t quite crossed over to STEM at the time, but I started as a chemistry major, and there the formulas are a lot more complicated and you had to memorize them. In economics, I didn’t have to memorize the formulas and they were much simpler than those in the chemistry major and I had to work a lot harder in those chemistry classes.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how the difference in grading policies impacts underrepresented groups in these different disciplines? So in STEM, for example, where you’re saying there’s these stricter grading policies, there’s less women, there’s less underrepresented groups in general.

Peter: That’s right.

Rebecca: How do those things connect? Can you talk us through that a little bit?

Peter: Yeah, actually I had caused quite a stir here at Duke back in 2011, talking about underrepresented minorities, because you do see, for example, African Americans at Duke… They came in just as interested in the STEM classes in economics as white students, but they left at a much higher rate. And so the negative headline was something like, you know, “Potentially racist study says Black students are taking the easy way out,” and that was not the case. It was that they’re coming in with different levels of preparation, due to pre-college inequalities. We have serious differences in pre-college education. And that’s resulted in this coming in and then finding that it’s very hard to succeed in the STEM disciplines. For women, the story is different. And there, because women come in just as prepared as men and are interested in studying a lot more. For them, it’s not the workloads that are affecting this, but more the lower grades themselves, given that they’re working so hard, and then to see these low grades seems to have a bigger effect on women than men. I think one of my very interesting result from some of the work that Stinebrickner and Stinebrickner have done is actually asked men and women, “What grades do you expect you’re going to get?” And then they’ve showed them their grades later and said, “Now, that didn’t work out quite as you expected.” They got lower grades. Why do you think that was, and men were much more likely to say it was bad luck. And you could see that they actually believed it was bad luck, because they continue to take the same classes where they were getting low grades, and they didn’t change their study habits. Whereas women were much more likely to say that it was something about them, either that they needed to study more, or they weren’t as prepared as they had hoped to be for the class. And then you can see that they ended up being more likely to switch to different types of classes and to change their study habits.

John: I think you also found that women tended to not just equally prepare, but I think women came in with somewhat higher GPAs, if I remember correctly.

Peter: They do come in with higher high school GPAs, for sure, and they get better grades in college than the men, both in STEM classes and in non-STEM classes.

John: So the difference seems to be that women are more sensitive to the lower grades or they tend to blame themselves for the lower grades, while the men tend to be less cognizant of the fact that they may be the cause of the lower grades.

Rebecca: I feel like I’ve been socialized to blame myself for not being adequate.

Peter: Yeah, it’s been remarkable, you know I have five boys. And they’re not socialized that way, despite my best efforts to get them to really care about their grades and to think that studying even matters. Here I am, a researcher who knows that studying matters, and yet some of my boys are convinced that if they do poorly, it’s bad luck. It has nothing to do with their studying.

John: One of the things I assigned in my labor class is a reading from, I think it’s a sociologist, who noted that women seem to be more concerned with what she termed “local status,” while men tend to be more concerned with “global status.” Basically, the argument is that men tend to be more concerned with their income expectations and the impact that the courses in the majors have on their grades, while women tend to be much more concerned with the relative grades and seeing grades as a perception of their worth or their value in some sense, which makes them much more sensitive to that grading differential between majors. While men tend not to be as concerned about their local standing, their relative status, while they tend to be more concerned with how the degree will impact their future earnings.

Peter: And I think it’s compounded by the fact that I don’t think people know when they go to college how different the grades are. I think that they figure it out rather quickly, but at first they just don’t know that they’re graded so differently. I mean by the time they figure it out, they’ve already made the switches, which is too bad.

Rebecca: So what do we do so that there’s more representation in these disciplines?

Peter: Well I think at a minimum, that universities should at least have an obligation to tell people, “Here’s what the average grades are in these different classes,” so that students can make informed choices. I personally am in favor of doing something where, like they did at Wellesley, where they put in something that either capped the average GPA in the class, or having all the classes that are above a certain size give the same median grade so that people are not having their decisions distorted by the fact that one department is giving lower grades than another department. It’s not as though they’re learning less in these STEM classes, just because they’re getting these lower grades. They’re actually working very hard in these classes, so, it would be nice if that was somewhat remedied.

Rebecca: I wonder if even knowing the information across institutions and knowing that people get lower grades in these fields, no matter what school they’re at, would actually be useful to those groups.

Peter: Oh, I think it’d be very helpful. Yeah.

Rebecca: Not just within your own institution.

Peter: That’s right. Yeah, I think that’d be great. Because then you know what you’re getting into. And maybe when you get that B in the economics class, you’re not feeling like you failed, that that is a much more typical grade than what you expected.

John: I think a lot of people might object to the notion that there should be the same GPA on the grounds that you’re forcing students into this curve where if you happen to have a class that does really well you might be lowering their grades, which doesn’t always happen in the STEM field, but I think there might be some resistance to that. But the notion of transparency and making people more aware of that early on might help reduce that differential effect by gender.

Peter: That’s right. And I think also making departments aware… the implications that the level of their grading has on things like the gender composition, should matter. I don’t want the way I grade my class to be a deterrent for women taking economics classes. I think that that’s bad. And I’ve changed the way I grade a bit in response to this. If other disciplines are going to give much higher grades, and I want to have a good gender representation in my class, I’m still assigning the same amount of workload. So I’m not making the classes easier, but I am changing the level that I’m curving around, and I typically teach a class that has over 100 students in it.

John: And this is especially important because a large share of the gender differential in earnings is tied to major choice, because the fields that women are more likely to enter tend to offer much lower wages on average, while the STEM fields tend to offer much higher wages. So the differential impact on major choice has quite a bit of an effect on the gender wage gap.

Peter: That’s right. And this is potentially a very low- cost way, at least from a pure financial standpoint, to changing that. It’s not going to solve all of the gender issues in economics or in STEM fields. It’s not going to come close to solving it, but it can put a dent in it, where it’s often very costly to change something like that. Changing a climate is expensive and difficult.

Rebecca: I think I would have been one of those students that would have moved. I’m a person who does a lot of coding and things and could easily have been in computer science. But I’m not, I’m in graphic design, and it’s a field that is much more populated by women. I got much higher grades in the things that I did, and I was very sensitive to grades. So as a student, if it was something that I didn’t do well in, then I thought I couldn’t do well in. And I had a very fixed mindset when I was earlier on in my career. Obviously, it’s much different now. I do much different things and explore other things. But at that time, I think I was incredibly sensitive to that. If you came in as an A student and then it’s like, all of a sudden you’re not getting A’s, it’s like “Woah…”

Peter: Yeah.

Rebecca: “…maybe college isn’t for me, even.”

Peter: Yeah. And that’s just really unfortunate that decisions will get based on nominal differences in these grades, that don’t really have content outside of something that is relative, relative to whatever the professor’s curving around. Another advantage to doing something like this, too, is potentially getting spillovers. Because once you change the gender composition a little bit, then that makes the environment more comfortable. And then that can have multiplying effects.

John: So, why don’t departments want to do this to improve the gender composition of their classes and to get more students in their classes and persisting to graduation in their majors?

Peter: Well, this is sort of where the equilibrium aspect comes in. Because even if you want to do this, everybody ends up ratcheting up their grades, because some departments really need more students. And in order to attract students, you’re going to have to do something if the students don’t have an innate demand for your field. And people have been talking about this for some time, that demand for the humanities has been falling and what to do about it. So, I think that the pressure’s sort of on both sides, even if the STEM departments decided, “Look, we want to have our grades be a bit higher for this reason,” that’s going to lead to response by non-STEM professors as well. So I think it’s hard to get rid of the grading differences across fields, absent doing something that’s pretty draconian.

John: By imposing a grading standard that’s equal across departments.

Peter: Exactly.

Rebecca: I wonder if initiating conversations between the humanities and STEM fields about the interdependence there actually are on those two fields and that people in the humanities should learn things about STEM and people in STEM should learn things from humanities and that there could be more of a relationship there that would actually help start to equalize some of those needs, because there could be some referrals to certain classes or other things that might help boost some of those relationships. I don’t know.

Peter: That’s right. So right now we’re playing sort of a non-cooperative game and move it more towards a cooperative one. Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s competitive rather than thinking about “Why are we at a liberal arts institution? And what does an environment like that or general education offer?”

John: Well think about what would happen, though, if grading standards were relaxed in the STEM disciplines. More students would major in them, enrollments would tend to fall in the non-STEM field, and that would tend to lead to fewer jobs for non-STEM faculty. And maybe that’s not something that departments would react well to, and they face the same incentive to just inflate grades.

Rebecca: I don’t think my suggestion was necessarily to do something about the grades directly, but rather to start helping to increase some demand for humanities and helping out some of those…

John: You mean, more interdisciplinary programs?

Rebecca: Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about, even for my students, the benefits of them exploring a lot of different disciplines to be more effective in their own, and understanding how other people problem solve, and think through problems, and explore the world.

Peter: I really like that too because if you end up providing these skills that are then rewarded in the marketplace through taking some of the STEM stuff, but combining it with the humanities, that will increase demand. And then that will naturally even things out a bit more.

John: And you could move more from STEM to STEAM.

Rebecca: Hey, I didn’t say it, but I’m totally a STEAM gal. [LAUGHTER]

John: Well I was expecting that at any moment. And just in case some of our listeners don’t know what STEAM is, would you like to…?

Rebecca: Yeah, included the A …it’s for the arts, [LAUGHTER] which I am a part of.

Peter: Yeah, they’re doing that at my kids’ high school, you know, having a STEAM program to try to get that integration happening a bit more.

Rebecca: There’s some research happening about the need for these creative outlets to help with innovation and things in STEM fields. So, there’s certainly some research suggesting this interdisciplinary approach to all of our disciplines could actually improve the work that we do.

Peter: Makes sense.

John: And many STEM students tend to specialize as much as they can in their field. So, that broader training could be useful in the future in making them more creative perhaps.

So, we always end with the question: “What are you doing next?”

Peter: Well, it’s been interesting, nothing quite related to this. I got derailed because I’m actually an expert witness in the Asian American discrimination case against Harvard, and that is taking up all of my time. We released a couple of papers on legacy and athlete preferences at Harvard, and we’re going to be writing some more out of my reports for that case. That’s what’s keeping me busy.

John: Very good.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us, this was really interesting, and I hope that it launches more conversations across disciplines.

Peter: Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it.

John: Thank you.

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

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

John: Editing assistance provided by Savannah Norton.

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109. Active Learning

Moving from a familiar instructional format such as lectures to a more active learning environment can be daunting. In this episode, Dr. Patricia Gregg joins us to discuss how she flipped her classes and embraced active learning. Trish is an Assistant Professor of Geophysics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Moving from a familiar instructional format such as lectures to a more active learning environment can be daunting. In this episode, we share the story of one faculty member who fully flipped her classes and embraced active learning.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Today our guest is Dr. Patricia Gregg. Trish is an Assistant Professor of Geophysics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Welcome.

Trish: Thanks for having me.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Trish: I am drinking a peppermint decaf tea.

Rebecca: …in what looks like a very nice handmade mug.

Trish: Yes! This was made last summer at the YMCA of the Rocky Camp in Colorado.

John: My tea today is a Harney and Sons chocolate mint.

Trish: Mhmm.

Rebecca: And I have a Prince of Wales tea today.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about some of the active learning techniques that you’ve used in your class and also a little bit about how you use a flipped classroom approach. But, before that, could we talk a little bit about your own experience in science classes, and whether active learning was common while you were a student?

Trish: I was thinking about this and it’s interesting because it’s sort of a yes or no type of situation. Geosciences in general is the fun major in that we pull together a lot of different disciplines. So, you have chemistry and physics and math and computer science and you’re using those all in applied ways to understand the structure and evolution of the earth. And so our classes typically have a lecture-based meeting time and then a laboratory that’s associated with it. So, when I was matriculating, most of my classes, there would be three one-hour meetings throughout the week where we’d be lectured at, and then we’d have a three-hour laboratory class at some point during the week or a field experience that would help to apply some of the knowledge that we gained in the passive-learning setting. But, then as you get at higher levels, and things become more theoretical, it really did switch to more of this passive-learning mode. And I don’t want to age myself, but I matriculated a while ago, so I didn’t ever really experience these new active-learning techniques that have become so much more widely adopted nowadays. So, even through graduate school, most of the classes were me sitting passively scribbling furiously to try to take notes as quickly as I could, while a professor lectured and basically tried to stuff as much knowledge into my brain as possible. So, I didn’t really know a lot about the types of things that you can do to engage learners until after I was out of that student mode. But, yeah, geology is cool, though, because you still do have active portions where you get to go on field trips with your professors, and they show you things in the field and you apply that knowledge directly. But, in the classroom, it really was sort of divided, like, “This is your passive lecture that you’re going to sit and listen to, and you may never get called on through the entire semester.” And then “Here’s your lab where you will look at a microscope and look at hand samples or do other types of things that are a little more active.”

Rebecca: What motivated you to do something different in your own classroom?

Trish: As a graduate student, I really didn’t have a chance to do a teaching assistantship. I was on fellowships through most of my PhD time. So, I knew that I was woefully underprepared for entering academia and teaching my own classes. So, as a postdoc, I applied to this call that I saw out by the Center for Astronomy Education. And it was in 2011, they had this course called Improving College General Education and Earth Astronomy and Space Science through Active Engagement. And I saw the ad for this course and I thought, “Oh, this sounds great.” And then I saw that it was three days in Hawaii, and I said, “Oh, man, I must apply to this.”[LAUGHTER] And so I applied and it was mostly astronomy graduate students and postdocs, and the workshop was run by Ed Prather and Gina Brissenden out of the University of Arizona through the Center for Astronomy Education. And they had been doing all this amazing research about how to engage students in 100-level classes, mainly for the idea that they would sort of entrain new majors and new science students. But, it was just a mind blowing experience. I for the first time learned what think-pair-share was, I’d never heard of that before. We did lecture tutorials, I didn’t even know that was a thing. They did all of these, like voting and role playing and these different pedagogical things that I didn’t even know it existed. And they use them on us throughout the workshop. So, we were learning about these techniques through them actively using us as guinea pigs. And then we each had the opportunity to sort of develop a little module. They gave us specific astronomy, like 101-type things, that we would be teaching and we got to teach the other workshop participants and get feedback immediately on things that we didn’t do so well and things that we could improve on. But, it really just blew my mind. I think that was one of the most transformative experiences for me because, up to that point, all the experiences that I had, had been very research focused and how to improve as a scientist and how to improve my research approach, but I’d never had an opportunity to actually learn how to teach and how to teach effectively. So, yeah, I credit that three-day workshop in Hawaii, which was awesome… to be in Hawaii. It’s just sort of changing my entire worldview on how education can be and how I could be a better educator. Had it not been for the Center for Astronomy Education, I don’t know what I would be doing now. So, I think what I took away from it more than anything is that not every student is going to learn simply through lecture… passive engagement… type of situation. And I was fortunate that I seemed to do well in that mode, but it was amazing. I loved that workshop……. It was great.

Rebecca: It sounds really transformative. But, the one takeaway that I hear is next time we want a faculty member to change what they’re doing, we just need to woo them to Hawaii. [LAUGHTER]

Trish: Well, I have to admit that being a postdoc gave me some flexibility in that regard. So, yeah, when I saw that call, I was like, “Oh, I want to do that… three days in Hawaii.” I took my mom with me and she hung out and snorkeled during the day while I was in workshops. It was wonderful.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about some of the techniques that you’ve used in your classes?

Trish: The first semester that I taught, I was given a class that had already been developed and it was sort of easing me into that mode of becoming the head lecturer of a course. So, I didn’t really have a lot of wiggle room to change the curriculum yet, because I was still sort of learning how one gets in front of a class and does things. And so in that first term, I started to use some of the approaches that I had experienced through the Center for Astronomy Education, and sort of trickled them into my class. I use lecture tutorials and think-pair-share a lot during that term. And then I even used some small group activities and jigsawing to try to figure out ways that I could engage the students. And it was sort of a perfect situation to get my feet wet because I had the scaffolding of a well- developed course where I could put in some of my own ideas and try them out and if things weren’t working, I could get immediate feedback from the students and change my trajectory. I was also really fortunate that the students were super kind to me, it was my very first time teaching, I told them straight out. I was very communicative throughout the course. Every time I tried something new, I’d say, “okay, we’re going to try this. I don’t know if it will work, but this is why I’m doing it.” And the students were sort of brought in as collaborators in that process, so they didn’t see me as sort of this professor that was telling them “Oh, you’re going to do this, this and this and just follow along and trust me blindly.” They realized that I was trying to learn how best to teach them and so they were very helpful and when things didn’t work, they’re like, “Yeah that didn’t work.” And then when things went well, they say, “Oh, I really liked that.” And even after that semester, I’d get emails from students. They do a lot of journal reading and science reviews. And one of the students had emailed me over the summer and said “Oh, that really helped. At my first job they asked me to review some literature and I was able to use the template that you provided in class and what we did as groups to do that for my job.” So, I gained a lot of confidence through that process. And then after that first term, I started looking around campus to see if there were faculty development potential to help me to do a better job of developing my next courses. Because while that one had already been developed, I was then sort of slated to develop three new courses, which would be mine and I’d have to start from scratch and really think about how I wanted to develop my teaching as a portfolio. So, one of the things that I really wanted to try was this idea of flipping and mainly it came from a place that I didn’t enjoy lecturing. I would get bored hearing myself talk… like there would be times where I’m up there at the dry erase board writing out things and then suddenly I forget what I was saying, because mentally I’d fallen asleep at that point… like, alright, I’ve been talking so long, I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. And I enjoyed the parts where we were actively learning as a group so much more. That was so exciting to me, where the students were doing things hands on, and I could walk around and help them to gain more insight on what they’re working on. So, I contacted the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning on campus and looked at the different things that they had available. And one of the facilities that they had advertised on their page was the Illinois iFLEX classroom. So, this is the Illinois flexible learning experience classroom. And I was able to get some training on how to use IFLEX classrooms from Dr. Eva Wolf here on campus. And that also then immediately changed my perspective of how teaching could be because these were classrooms where all of the tables were on wheels. So, you could move them around. They had monitors that students could plug in their computers or laptops, iPads or whatever too so that they could do collaborative learning. And she showed me some of the things that other faculty members were doing in these flexible spaces and it helped me to be inspired to think about what sorts of things I could do. So, as I started to develop my next class, I was like “Alright, I want to be able to use the computing facilities, I want to be able to use these flexible classroom configurations and I really want it to be flipped.” So, the first time I taught a flipped class, I recorded lectures and put them online and naively thought my students are going to watch them and they’re going to do the readings and they’re going to come to class prepared, and I did not have the assessment structured as such that the students had points awarded for doing those things. And boy did I learn quickly that students are not going to be these wonderfully motivated pupils that do all of the things on the list ahead of coming to class. So, I quickly spoke to colleagues around the department and found out about this edtech tool called PlayPosit. I don’t know have you guys had an experience with PlayPosit?

Rebecca: No.

John: That one I haven’t heard of.

Trish: So, PlayPosit is an edtech tool that you can integrate with a learning management system. We use Moodle on our campus. And you take your video lectures, and it embeds questions and prompts within your video lecture. So, students can’t fast forward and they don’t know when these questions are going to pop up. But, it’s a way to assess how they’re doing with the video… with the lecture as they’re watching it. So, sometimes I’ll use multiple-choice questions. In the upper-level classes I mostly use essay questions because I really want them to delve into the topic a little bit more. I also sprinkle in questions from the readings that they’re supposed to do because it’s another way to assess that they’re actually looking at the text or reading the papers that I’ve suggested. And then at the end, it’s great because you can put in some questions about what concepts did you not understand? What do you want to learn more about? Are there sticking points that are kind of confusing you? And this fed directly into learning about the just-in-time teaching method. So, I could have these PlayPosits that the students had to watch before class and I set them for midnight the day before. And I could come in the morning before class, assess how they did on the lecture and immediately I have a lot of information going into the classroom that day for where they’re stuck and I could modify my approach to the learning goals for that day based on how they did on their PlayPosit. And that just changed everything. That made it so much better, and I think from the students perspective, they felt more accountable because there were points that were associated to watching these lectures. And then I would come into class and the first thing I would do is sort of go through the questions and the things that they missed and talk to them about it. And it gave this really nice back and forth. And it sort of broke the ice a bit, because there’s always that little awkward start when you get into classroom, or at least there is for me, and this was an easy way for, say, “Okay, so on the lecture that you guys completed for yesterday, here are some topics that you didn’t really understand. So, let’s go through them together and maybe we can make sure that everyone’s on the same page.” And that sort of changed the game for me for the flipped classroom model.

John: Going back to the PlayPosit, you can also do the same thing with Camtasia and upload the videos as a SCORM package into Blackboard, Canvas, or other things as well.

Trish: Oh, I have to check that out.

John: Once the students arrived in class, you mentioned that you used a just-in-time teaching approach. How did you structure the class? What would your class generally consist of during the class time?

Trish: I originally taught on Monday, Wednesday, Friday for 50 minutes and realized that that was not a long enough time period for us to do what we wanted to do. So, I switched to a Tuesday-Thursday class so I could have a full hour and 20 minutes with my students twice a week. So, typically when students come to class, we have this sort of icebreaker where we go through the lecture material. And sometimes that might take 10 or 15 minutes if there’s a concept that the students really need to get for us to do our activity for the day. And then we usually go straight into a prompt for what the activity is going to be. So, for example, one of the classes that I teach… my favorite classes… junior-level class in volcanology… so, it’s just called volcanoes. And it’s a sneaky class because it’s actually a geophysics class. It’s very math and physics heavy, but I don’t tell the students that when they come, and they do not have an upper-level math requirement to take the course. And this was sort of my sneaky way to entrain students that might not realize that they can absolutely do this. So, I get a lot of diversity in that class: we’ll have communications majors, advertising, education majors, as well as the geology majors. The first time I taught the class, of the 20 students in the class only 4 were geology majors and the other 16 were just spread from throughout the campus. So, it was a really cool opportunity to empower students that “Wes, you can use math and physics and it’s not that intimidating”. So, we go straight into these activities and every exercise is quantitative. They get real geophysical data from deforming volcanoes and active volcanoes around the world, and they analyze it. And there’s a large social sciences component because I want them to think about the societal impacts of those volcanoes and potentials for eruption and how it might impact the communities that are around the volcanoes. And then also that communication thruway of how as we as scientists communicate hazards to local populations. So, they have a lot of different levels of work that they’re doing. Almost every class period is done in a jigsaw manner, where they’re broken into small groups and each small group is going to be working on some component that at the end of the class we’re going to come together and discuss. I typically start the prep of the activity, for example, “Okay, today we’re going to be looking at this type of volcano.” And maybe it’s a stratovolcano. And we’re going to look at Mount St. Helens in the US, we’re going to look at Mount Fuji in Japan, we’re going to look at Ruapehu in New Zealand. But, each group will have a different volcano. And they’re going to look at data directly from that volcano and the surrounding areas and do a small activity that helps them to understand that data set, the type of physical processing, and then at the end of class, each of the groups will come back together and present what they found to the group and then there’s some larger full-classroom group discussion questions that will go over as a class. So, it’s usually the activity I hope will take about 45 minutes, but it really depends. I try to keep them short in my mind, but then oftentimes they go a little bit long if the students get really excited about it. One of the things I think is really good about the flipped class is that I’m able to do so much more than I was able to do in sort of a classical passive learning model. And with that came a lot of grading. And so the first term I did flipped classes, I had not learned about light grading, and was buried in the amount of feedback I was trying to provide to students. So, if we had PlayPosits a couple times a week, we had these activities twice a week, they had additional outside of class things, they had midterms… so, it was unreal, the amount of grading. So, I was very fortunate to find out about light grading, and how to maybe back up the amount of feedback and time I’m spending on student papers and that really helped a lot. So, I think that one of the things that has to be said in conjunction with this particular model is: you need to do some sort of light grading, because there’s no way to stay on top of everything without losing sleep. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how you adjusted your grading in specific ways?

Trish: Originally, when I did the PlayPosits, again, there are a lot of essay questions. So, I would take a lot of time to really think through the answers to the essay questions and making sure that I’d have a rubric for what I wanted, what points I wanted them to hit on each of these essay questions, and I was very detailed about when they miss things and providing feedback. And so as I shifted into a light grading model, I would do that for the first couple of weeks. And then from then on out, it would just be a quick glance, like, did they hit this? And I wouldn’t spend as much time with the subtleties of “Yes, they wrote out a great answer, and they hit all these points.” And then for just the in-class exercises, the thing I started doing too was originally I had each student turn in their own exercise, even in the groups because I wanted to see their individual contribution. But, I recognize that there was enough individual assessment through the playp osits, and through their midterms, that having that additional individual assessment through the group activity really wasn’t necessary. And it wasn’t really contributing to their success in the class. By having individual assessment on the group assignments, it wasn’t helping students who were falling behind do better. And so after that point, I started allowing the groups to just do their presentations as a Google slideshow, and then I would have their Google slideshow. So, basically, in the jigsaw puzzle, they go into their group, they work on this presentation and when we come back together, each group shows a Google slide or Google doc of what they’ve been working on, and they present it to the entire class. At that point, I just say that’s good enough and I don’t require that each student then hands in the answers to the discussion questions in their own words. So, little things like that made it a lot more tangible for me. Whereas before when I was having each student providing responses for the discussion questions, and then on top of that having the discussion in the class, it was just too much. [LAUGHTER] But, I admit that it came from a perspective that I was concerned that some students would not fully contribute to the group activity, and I wanted to try to hold people accountable, but it really was a little bit too much micromanaging. And I think that the groups ended up holding each other accountable in their own ways without needing me to sit and say, “Okay, everyone needs to answer this question.” The other thing I really like about the small groups is that I’ve noticed that it brings out a lot of discussion from students that otherwise do not participate in the larger group discussions. And one of my favorite things in those small group activities is going around the room… and I typically spend a couple minutes with each group, and I just sort of keep roving around the classroom and it helps me to get to know individual students a lot better. And it also gives them so much more confidence to talk to me. And I feel like it’s made me more approachable as an instructor because they’ve had these smaller group interactions with me where I’ve sat at their table and said, “Oh, that’s a great idea…” or “Oh, have you thought about this” and those just little micro interactions really build up and it creates a student population where they feel more comfortable in the class. And then by the end of the term, I feel like, as a class, it’s much more energetic and engaged. And even in those larger groups discussion, some of the quieter students that you would never have heard from previously are starting to speak out and oftentimes with the encouragement of their group members. That’s another thing I really like about the small group setup.

John: Could you give us some feel for the size of your classes? How large are they typically?

Trish: My typical class size is 20. I usually keep the classes up to 40 students because that’s what the flexible classroom configurations will hold. One of the interesting things about the flipped class is that the first day of class, I do tell the students, these are my expectations. This is a flipped class you’ve signed up for and we go through what that model looks like and I always have students drop after that first day. That’s kind of fascinating for me, maybe it would be nice to follow up and find out…. Did you drop because of the model that was being used in the classroom? Or did you drop because of a schedule conflict? Or were there other things going on? But, I typically end up with 20 students that end up through the entire term. I teach mostly upper-level junior-, senior-level courses. So, I’ve not had the opportunity to try these techniques in the large introductory level classes.

John: I think most of them should scale pretty nicely, except for the grading aspect of it.

Trish: Yeah, I think that were to be done in an introductory class, you probably would want to have some TAs involved as well, just to help. I recognize that other instructors do these amazing small group activities in these large format lecture classes. But, I think having the logistical setup so that you can walk around and interact with groups, maybe not every group every time, but enough so that you can hit most of the groups once in a while, would be imperative because I really think that the students greatly benefit from that almost one-on-one interactivity with the professor.

John: I teach a class typically between three and 420 students in the fall, and I do wander around and I’ve found something similar. I don’t get to sit with each group. But, the students that I do interact with become dramatically more likely to stop by and ask questions, or if they see me in the hallway, to come up and just say hello. So, those individual interactions can make a big difference in practice.

Rebecca: I think it’s just a far more efficient way to give feedback as well. You can disrupt misconceptions and reframe things for small groups. And then if you stop by a couple of groups and hear the same kinds of misconceptions, you can address those more holistically to the whole group. I found that works really well for me, too.

Trish: Yeah, absolutely. And I always get tickled when I see that. I mean, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. But, when there are lots of groups that have the same misconception, because it means that there’s something that… or a piece of information that I have not given the students or something that’s missing in how we’ve set up the activity. And that’s always kind of nice to see and it helps me to redevelop how I’m going to teach it the next time. So, I really do like that. Because otherwise, if I were just lecturing, I would never realize that there was this piece of information that nobody got until the exam comes back and at that point it’s sometimes too late.

John: That’s one of the advantages of a just-in-time teaching approach. It allows you to focus your class time on the things that students are struggling with, and to skip over the things that they already understand. So, it lets you use your class time much more efficiently.

Rebecca: At the end of one of those class periods or even during that class period, I jot down what those things are, so that if it’s a while between each semester when you teach it again you don’t forget what those are because sometimes you can lose track. So, coming up with a system to routinely to check in on those things can be really helpful.

Trish: Yeah, a journaling effort or something. Yeah.

John: And I saw you also do something called Trashcano?

Trish: [LAUGHTER] Yes, Trashcano, Trashcano is an activity that we do late in the term once the weather gets nice. In the class we talked about different styles of eruptions. And one of the styles that we get to later in the class is explosive eruptions andTrashcano is a demonstration that was developed by my colleagues at Colgate: Karen Harpp, Danny Geist, and Alison Koleszar. And they basically developed this experiment where you take a trash can and you fill it up about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way filled with water. And if you submerge a two-liter bottle with liquid nitrogen in it, that bottle represents a pressurized magma chamber and it ends up rupturing because liquid nitrogen is boiling at ambient temperature. And so the two-liter bottle ruptures in that water and creates a column that sprays into the air. So, for this activity, the students do some calculations of plume heights so they can use their iPhones to measure the angle of the trajectory of the water and they can say, “Okay, the plume went this high” and they can do some back calculations to discuss what sort of pressurization caused that amount of uplift to the water. And then we also put styrofoam balls of different sizes and shapes into the trash can. And they can make isopach maps… basically how we actually map explosive eruptions where we take the different grain sizes, and we create a map of how far the different grain sizes spread from the center of the eruption. It’s a fun day outside. This past year, we did it in the rain, which was rather interesting to see how rainfall dampens the amount of distance the styrofoam can spread. I’m not sure that we’d want to do that in the rain again, but it was an interesting experiment. Yeah, we do a lot of little things like that so that the students can take their concepts, the actual equations that we’re working on in class and apply them in a tactile, physical way.

Rebecca: Trish, do you use consistent teams throughout the semester or do you rotate how your groups are formed?

Trish: I’ve done it a couple different ways. I’ve now had the opportunity to teach my flipped classes two to three times each at this point. And some terms I do let them switch around and some terms I keep it consistent. And I’ve found that overall, it works a little better when they’re consistent teams the whole way. I feel like the students build a lot of teamwork and camaraderie with their groups. But, I don’t know… I try to take it by a term-by-term basis because I have had situations where the students are eager to switch around and meet other members of the classroom. We do this a little bit with our jigsaw discussions. So, for example, we do a role playing exercise where each group is a volcano monitoring agency. So, in your monitoring agency, you have a volcanologist, you have a seismologist, you have a geodesist you have a communication specialist, but then all the communication specialists from each group will have to get together and work as a team for one of the activities and all the geodesists will have to get together and work as a team for the activities and then bring them back to their initial group. So, they do get some chances to interact with one another through these, I don’t know, is it a jigsaw puzzle within a jigsaw puzzle? [LAUGHTER] I’m not sure how you describe it, but they do get these opportunities to move around to other groups. But, that’s something that I still am thinking a lot about. I think you had a guest on recently. Dakin Burdick. In his he talked about how sometimes he likes to let the students all which groups all the time because then they get to know everybody in the class, and then sometimes it keeps them all together. It seems like a lot of people do different things with this. I don’t have a great method yet. But, I do tend to go on a sort of term-by-term basis and get a feel for the culture of the class and how people are melding. I do find sometimes when you do the consistent groups, it can happen that the group tends to congeal really well. And then it lifts up all of the students in the group. And so people attend class more regularly, and they’re much more engaged. But, I have seen it happen where groups have sort of fallen apart because one or two members just aren’t attending regularly, and they’re really not committed or engaged. And that becomes difficult. And then you really kind of need to reshuffle a little bit.

John: We talked about that in episode in early October with Kristin Croyle when she was talking about team-based learning where there are persistent teams. And one of the things she suggested is it’s really important to form teams that are constructed to be balanced so that you don’t run into that. But, there are some advantages of having persistent teams. But, if it’s a persistent, dysfunctional team with people missing, then that could be problematic. I think a lot depends on the nature of the activities. If you’re going to have persistent activities like in team-based learning, having well defined teams may be useful, but for other types of activities that vary class to class it may not matter as much.

Rebecca: Yeah, I think there are certainly advantages to both. I’ve had experiences where we’re doing long-term projects. So, doing some preliminary shorter activities with those groups that they’re going to have for their long-term projects can be really helpful. And getting those teams gelled before it really matters. And I’ve also had experience doing persistent teams when I’ve gamified a classroom. And that actually works really well in getting people to hold each other accountable and be competitive. So, I’ve had really good luck when I’ve done that as well. You’ve also received a lot of grants for your research.

Trish: Yeah, I’m in a fortunate position that my primary position is research. So, I don’t actually teach that much. I only teach two classes a year. So, I do try to find ways to integrate all of the exciting research that my group is doing into what we do in the classroom setting, but not just my classes, the other classes in the department too. We teach a 100-level course in oceanography and a lot of my research centers around seagoing expeditions and collecting geophysical data at sea to understand submarine volcanoes. So, we try to bring that experience back into the classroom for our introductory level students. Especially in a landlocked state of Illinois, many of our students have never seen the ocean. They’ve never been to the beach, and they don’t really have a concept for why would scientists be at sea collecting data? And what are scientists doing in our marine setting? So, bringing that into our introductory classes, I think, is really critical. So, the big push there was… I was chief scientist of an expedition we’ve just wrapped up. We had two seagoing missions to the eastern Pacific, it was called the Oasis expedition. And we’re investigating a line of seamounts on the sea floor. So, these are volcanoes that have been active over the past million years, and we were using this submarine to collect data, to collect rock samples from the sea floor, and it started because I have a young daughter and I was going to be gone for about 45 days, and I wanted her to feel connected to me while I was away. We don’t really have great internet at sea, as you can imagine. So, it’s hard to continue to feel connected with loved ones at home. So, I decided with the help of my husband, to create a YouTube channel that would chronicle our life at sea and link back to my daughter’s classroom and some local schools that they could watch what scientists are doing. And then we also ended up using those videos in the introductory courses on campus at a higher level so that students could see a sort of a hands on of what we do when we’re at sea. But, yeah, it started out predominantly as me wanting to stay connected to my then six year old while I was sailing, and became a really great way to provide outreach to a broader learning ecosystem. So, lots of people throughout the community,

Rebecca: I think it might seem more obvious that students in a landlocked state don’t have experience with marine life. But, at the same time, I think that our students don’t have much experience with many professional experiences in what it’s like to be in any kind of industry or research setting. So, I think that that same methodology works in a lot of circumstances to give students exposure to what it might actually be like to be a professional in the field.

Trish: Yeah, and I really like that sort of informal blogging aspect. So, these videos were [LAUGHTER] very informal. I had a blogging camera and I basically just filmed myself doing things. And I remember at one point, my husband sent me this email that basically said, “Wow, you look really tired. Are you doing okay?” Because I just was like, “Alright, it’s 4:30 in the morning, we’re getting ready to do some scientific stuff. I’ll put my camera on me and film what we’re doing.” But, yeah, it’s an exhausting process because it’s a 24/7 operation when you’re out at sea collecting data. You have this facility. For 30, 40 days, whatever it is, and you want to use every second of it to get as much information as possible. But, I think that’s important because a lot of people don’t know like, “Oh, that’s what an ocean scientist….” well, what my particular volcanology centered ocean scientist “…does for research.” And then the other arm of my research program is very much in volcano hazard. So, that feeds directly into the volcano geophysics courses I teach because my group works on developing forecasting mechanisms and algorithms for taking volcano monitoring data and providing monitoring agencies with information about how volcanoes are evolving and we have a lot of monitoring agency partners that we’re working with to try to provide some new quantitative methods for assessing volcanic unrest. So, these are things that we’re thinking about every day, but we certainly can infuse them into classes on volcanology and volcano geophysics,

John: Having that video channel would also let you do some time shifting… where much of the work that you’re doing takes place during breaks when classes wouldn’t be in session. And it still allows you to bring this into your own classes as well. I’ve watched several of your videos, and they’re really good. We’ll share a link to those in the show notes.

Trish: Oh, great… Thanks…. [LAUGHTER] They haven’t been updated for years. But, yeah, I think the asynchronous aspect is really cool. One of the things that we struggled with when we were first doing these expeditions was we were trying to schedule, within reason, because it’s really hard to schedule your ship time because you’re working with all the other scientists that are utilizing the facility, but we’re trying to schedule them such that students could participate synchronously with what we were doing. So, while we’re out at sea we’re sending back Q&As and doing videos. But, what we found was that you could still use all of this information after the fact so students have been benefiting from these videos for the last three, four years, which is really fantastic. And I think that it’s something that a lot of fields scientists could take advantage of. For example, the Antarctic field season is when everyone’s off for holiday. But, perhaps if they’re doing these videos, that they could bring them back and create learning modules for students to see more of what is it like to be a scientist working in Antarctica during the Antarctic summer… and not in a documentary way, I felt like one of the things I really wanted to do was provide that informal feeling for students so that they could look at that and say, “Wow, I actually feel like I could do that. And I could see myself in that role.” Whereas when you have that documentary, shininess, it’s harder to imagine that it’s not this esoteric thing that you could never aspire to be as I wanted to show like, “Yes, we’re up at 4:30 in the morning and we’re tired.” Yeah. I like that.

Rebecca: I think you’re right, that that polish sometimes makes it seem really not approachable to students, or that they don’t belong in the field, or they don’t belong in the discipline. But, if you’re showing that realness in that authentic moment through your own lens, it’s really beneficial to students… and I can imagine this working in just about any context, actually, to help students understand the day in the life that they might be pursuing.

Trish: Yeah, absolutely. It would be so helpful too for K through 12 students, because a lot of times they have no idea. Geology is an interesting discipline in that we’re kind of a found discipline. Students usually come to college thinking, “Oh, I’m going to go do chemistry or I’m going to do physics or engineering…” and geology is not really on students radar, but then they start to see how they can apply chemistry, physics, engineering, and math, all in one discipline, and they sort of gravitate towards us. But, we don’t get a lot of freshmen into our major but maybe if K through 12 students saw what geologists do on a daily basis and what a career looks like, they might say, “Oh, yeah, that’s a major I could be interested in.”

Rebecca: There’s a lot of disciplines and careers that students have no idea exists. The lens in which they see the world is largely through whatever classes they’ve been taking. So, it’s like, world is math, English, science, these really broad categories of things.

John: And they see it from the textbook perspective, as a well defined body of knowledge that they just have to learn or memorize, and not as an active, ongoing endeavor. And those videos you created, and these types of connections that you’re making for students help open up that possibility to them. As part of the OASIS project, you used a variety of social media including Twitter, Reddit, and I believe you did a Reddit Ask Me Anything. Could you tell us a little bit about your use of social media for this project?

Trish: One thing that we learned very quickly is that the internet on the ship was not great. So, the day we did the Reddit Ask Me Anything, it was a day that the Alvin submarine was on the sea floor collecting samples so we knew the ship could stay in one spot. So, it’s sort of like having an aerial antenna on your old TV and you’re trying to like bend it in just the right way so you have a good connection. So, we were able to set the ship in one location and then rotate it [LAUGHTER] so that the satellite was in the right spot so we could get on Reddit, and then we had to like shut down everything using the internet and we all crowded around one computer [LAUGHTER] and did the Ask Me Anything. And I think it was a really good experience. One of the things that cracks me up is that there was a scientist on a sister ship in the northern Pacific that responded to one of our questions and said, “Hey, we’re up here on the RV Armstrong. Hello.” [LAUGHTER] Yeah, I think that they’re Reddit Ask Me Anything was a great experience. It was mostly done by the graduate students on the ship. I was sort of running around doing other things. But, it was a great way, again, to provide outreach. It gives you a demographic that otherwise you may not have interacted with, which I think is important.

Rebecca: Sounds like another sneaky method, like not telling students that your volcano class has math in it. [LAUGHTER]

Trish: Yes. Exactly…[LAUGHTER] Exactly.

John: We always end the podcast by asking, what are you doing next?

Trish: One of the things that we’re working on right now, as I mentioned, we’ve collected a lot of video at sea and on the last expedition, we collected a lot of virtual reality 3D video with GoPro fusion. So, we use GoPro fusions to collect really nice 3D videos on the ship. So, things like how the scientists were cleaning tube worms that were collected from hydrothermal vents and how they’re processing rocks and just the day-to-day life on the ship. So, we collected all this virtual reality video and now we’re working with colleagues and the CITL, the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning on campus to develop VR modules for introductory classes. And this is been a really crazy learning experience for me because one of our goals is to give these experiences to students that would not necessarily ever have a chance to go to sea or to do this type of work. But, building and structuring the learning goals for these VR experiences is really difficult and I didn’t realize how big of a leap it would be from just the video content and lectures to creating a VR structured activity for students. And there’s some really cool things they’re doing here on campus. The medical school’s been doing a lot with VR techniques for med students and different procedures in VR. And there’s an Archaeology Professor on campus who’s been using it to like simulate an archaeological dig using VR. So, we’re working with some really amazing educators. And hopefully, that will come out with some fascinating modules for our students and upcoming offerings of our oceanography class. But, that’s sort of the big thing that we’re doing right now. I’m kind of excited to see how that will turn out.

John: We talked a little bit by email about you and your husband coming back on later to talk about some of that work. So, for our listeners, we will be revisiting this sometime in the next couple months, I think.

Trish: Yeah, hopefully we have a paper in review right now, where we look at asynchronous linkages to field expeditions and ways that you can collect videos and content while you’re in the field, sort of non-disciplinary-specific, of course we’re looking at marine sciences. But, again, you could use it in other fields and how you can bring that back to produce learning modules for your classrooms.

Rebecca: …sounds really exciting.

John: We’re looking forward to hearing more about that as well.

Trish: Thanks.

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

Trish: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you guys. And I really appreciated your podcast, it’s been so inspirational to me and my work. I really appreciate it. ‘

John: It’s been a lot of fun for us too. We get to talk to people in depth. Normally, when we gave workshops, we’d hear little bits and snippets of what people on campus were doing, but being able to explore things like this is so much more valuable for us.

Rebecca: And we get to learn about all kinds of different disciplines too which is really exciting. to

Trish: I think what’s so cool is exactly what you said in your hundredth podcast that a lot of times faculty can’t go to those workshops. So, giving them a way to listen to the podcast while they’re commuting or traveling is just awesome. It’s very, very cool. Before going to sea, I always load up my phone and computer with all the podcasts I can get my hands on, because once you’re there, you’re there. That’s pretty much it. [LAUGHTER] Just download the entire catalog.

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

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

107. Project NExT

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

Show Notes

Transcript

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

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

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

Sarah: Sarah Hanusch.

Rasika: Rasika Churchill.

Jessalyn: Jessalyn Bolkema.

Zoe: And I’m Zoe Misiewicz.

Rebecca: Welcome everyone!

John: Our teas today are:

Rasika: I’m having Earl Grey.

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

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

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

Rebecca: And I have… English afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: It is trickling for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

Zoe: Yeah, publisher provided questions and tools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: I agree. That’s why I do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: It’s our pleasure.

Jessalyn: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Zoe: Thank you very much.

[MUSIC]

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

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

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

76. Courses with travel

International travel can be intimidating, but it provides invaluable learning opportunities. In this episode, Jeffery Schneider and Casey Raymond join us to discuss their course in which students travel with them to study the science of fermentation in a global city.

Jeffery Schneider and Casey Raymond are associate professors in the chemistry department at the State University of New York at Oswego.

Show Notes

Show Notes

Rebecca: International travel can be intimidating, but it provides invaluable learning opportunities. In this episode, we’ll examine a course in which students travel with faculty members to study the science of fermentation in a global city.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

John: Today our guests are Jeffery Schneider and Casey Raymond, associate professors in the chemistry department at the State University of New York at Oswego. Welcome, Jeff, and welcome back, Casey.

Jeff: Thank you.

Casey: Thank you.

Rebecca: Today our teas are…

Jeff: I’ve got no tea, they wouldn’t let me bring in anything more stronger than that.

Casey: I’ve got Earl Grey.

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

Rebecca: I have my standard issue English Afternoon.

Casey: It is afternoon.

Jeff: Pip, pip, cheerio.

John: We invited here to talk about your course Fermentation Science in a Global Society. Can you tell us a little bit about the course and how you got away with… uh… how it started?

Jeff: So back in 2005, I think, I was a member of the International Education Advisory Board and we had a big board meeting and they were talking about a way to get more quarter courses and get students interested and I was being kind of a smartass at the time, and I said…

Rebecca: You? [LAUGHTER]

Jeff: Right?

John: At the time.

Jeff: Right? And I said, “Oh, I could teach a course on scotch” and the D ean at the time—I won’t name any names in case she’s listening—but she said, “Oh, that’d be great, because then I can help you guys, I could teach about some of the history,” and everybody at the table is like “Ha ha ha ha ha,” and nobody took it seriously. And I was kind of mad that nobody took it seriously. And so then I went over to Casey and I said, “You know, I just had this talk, and I thought we could do a thing on scotch,” and Casey says, “Well I don’t really know too much about scotch, but I bet we could do something on Belgian beer,” and being easy as I am, I said, “Oh, okay.” [LAUGHTER] And so we proposed the course and, you know, they said, “Okay,” and so we did. They gave us money to go explore and so we ended up taking a little exploratory trip to Belgium in the middle of January.

Casey: In 2006.

Jeff: 2006, yeah.

Rebecca: That sounds really awful.

Jeff: You know, it wasn’t actually that bad. [LAUGHTER]

Casey: I think she was being sarcastic. [LAUGHTER] It was really an opportunity to spin a hobby—I’ve been home brewing about eight years at that point and had started getting Jeff interested in home brewing—to spin the hobby into a class. And so we did that exploration trip in January to work out a few details and then that May took fourteen students to Belgium for, I guess it worked out, nine days at that point in May.

John: And how many times have you done this?

Jeff: Since 2006 we’ve only…

Casey: Only not done three years.

JEF: …not done three years, I think. It was because we couldn’t get enough students. It was really strange for whatever reason, there was one point—I hate to say it—but I think it was around that time when terrorism was kind of a big thing and parents were a little reluctant to send their kids and so we did see a dip then, but then all of a sudden, it’s like, “I guess everything’s okay.” We’ve only never done it three times but we’ve tried every year since.

Casey: And I think in one case, we were proposing to go back to the Czech Republic, we had done one trip there. And I think that wasn’t just maybe not as a high-interest location for some students as others. But we’ve done Belgium, we’ve done Scotland—which is where we’re going back to this year—we’ve done a trip to Munich, Germany, and we’ve done a trip to Amsterdam and the surrounding areas in the Netherlands.

Rebecca: So SUNY Oswego has a number of quarter courses, which you mentioned that this is one of. Why does this particular format work so well for a class like this?

Casey: So the format is: it ’s seven weeks of instruction on campus and then travel over spring break or in the case of the second half of spring semester, travel in May after graduation, and it really gives the students a chance to have a study abroad experience without committing to a whole semester. And in some majors, it’s hard to commit a semester without falling a whole year behind. And there’s also students that are hesitant to go that far for a whole semester. And we have always said that, “Yeah, we’re interested in this. We know students are interested,” and it’s more about giving those students the opportunity to experience something abroad than the actual content that we’re covering.

Jeff: And we’ve always taken quite a few students and a lot of them have never been out of the country before and a lot of them have never been outside of New York State before, and so it’s a good opportunity for them because it really is a different clientele between the quarter course students and the whole semester students. It’s the kids that haven’t traveled before, they’re a little afraid, they don’t know if it’s for them, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to learn a language. Do I have to learn a language?” and so it just gives them an opportunity. But then we’ve had kids after that, we’ve kind of given them the travel bug and they just go off and travel and I know one student in particular now she’s actually living in France.

Rebecca: That’s been my experience too, teaching the quarter classes with travel. I think that’s who those classes are really designed for. What have you found the balance of course content is in terms of helping students learn to travel, the subject matter you’re covering, and then also the country you’re traveling to? Because you’ve gone to different places.

Jeff: In our course we tried to have science just about every course period. You got to teach them about money, you got to teach them about what they’re going to expect, you got to teach them what not to do because that’s always important. And if it’s a place where English is not the native language, then we got to teach them a little bit of language as well. And if you take them to someplace like Scotland, where English is the native language, you still have to teach them a little bit as well, because you can’t understand a word they say.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the science that you cover?

Casey: So one of the things that we try to focus on is how broad fermentation is and how long we’ve been doing it and it was only relatively recently that we really understood what was happening in fermentation in making bread, in making beer, in making wine, in making cheese.

Jeff: When Casey says “we” he means it as “we” as a society.

Rebecca: Not you? You’re not making cheese in your basement? [LAUGHTER]

John: Not for centuries.

Jeff: Not right now, but we have.

Casey: Not right now. We have made cheese and that’s one of the things as well that we do with students in terms of getting them a sense of the science outside the classroom. We usually do a demonstration day where in the past we’ve had a couple people maybe brewing beer, we’ve done a session where we’ve actually gone through the cheese- making process so they can kind of see how that works. The very first time we did it, it was an absolute disaster.

Jeff: It was terrible.

Casey: But we’ve learned.

Rebecca: You’re going to tell us about that then, right?

Casey: The simple fact of the matter is, we squeezed too much of the liquid out of it and it became a hard rock. [LAUGHTER]

Jeff: But I tell you what, we took that cheese to Belgium with us and we did a day trip to Amsterdam and we all sat down—there was construction outside of Centennial at the time—but we sat down outside the little barrier and everybody…

Casey: …tried…

Jeff: got that cheese down. [LAUGHTER]

Casey: It was bad. But we’ve learned. It really is to give them a sense of appreciation of the science behind it all, not to make them experts, so that when we’re visiting breweries, or cheese production, or distilleries, they have a sense of the science behind it. We’re not trying to make them experts in it and so that’s really the balance. And we’ve had everywhere from first- year students to graduating seniors and art, english, history majors, chemistry, biochemistry, so we just kind of have to take each class as a group and figure out what the balance is.

Rebecca: Do you tend to have many science students as part of your student body?

Jeff: We have, but that also fluctuates. There will be some years when a chemistry major says, “Oh, hey, so and so, do you want to take this course? I’m taking it…” and then all of a sudden you’ve got a mass of chemistry majors or science majors taking the course. Other times you get maybe one or two, so it’s varied.

John: How many hours does a class meet if it’s a quarter course?

Casey: Most of the quarter courses on our campus meet one hour a week and then have the rest of the content delivered when they’re abroad. Our course, we meet two hours a week just to be sure we get the science covered as well as the travel… the location information… covered. And so we meet two hours a week on campus, and then we go abroad for in general eight to ten days.

Rebecca: You hinted a little bit at some of the kinds of places that you visit when you travel. Can you talk a little bit more about what your in-country experience is like?

Casey: It is pretty varied, and it certainly depends a little bit on where we go. Besides visiting things specific to fermentation, we try and also visit things that are historical or cultural. Many times, but not always, we will be in a couple different destinations, cities, instead of just staying in one location the whole time. And all of the transportation that we do, we try to do on local buses and trains. We very rarely have a charter service. Part of the reasoning for that is one it’s easy and two it gets the students a little more experience of what Europe’s like.

Jeff: And it also keeps the cost down.

Casey: Yup.

John: How do you prepare students for the trip in terms of preparing them for the culture and the experiences in advance?

Casey: I think part of it is getting them a few common phrases, if it’s a foreign language, getting them a sense of what the customs are, but likewise, letting them know that it’s not that different. Sometimes it’s a case of, “I need to pack absolutely everything.”

Jeff: Right, they think that we’re going to a third-world country and so we have to remind them: “You know, Belgium is a first-world country. The Netherlands is a first-world country. You can buy toothpaste, it’s okay. You don’t have to pack it. Or if you forget it, it’s not the end of the world.”

Casey: And sometimes it’s a fun experience to have to go, “Okay, what am I trying to find?”

Jeff: Of course, if a student gets sick, and they have to go to a pharmacy, that’s also an interesting time.

Casey: Which we have had occur.

Jeff: Our inaugural experience, we had a young lady terribly sick and she went to a pharmacy. She got some cough medicine and we said, “That’s great,” until Casey read the bottle and it said it was loaded with codeine. [LAUGHTER] And so she was taking it easy after we said, “Hey, don’t chug that.” [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: The benefit of having a scientist with you on a trip. [LAUGHTER]

Casey: Yeah.

Jeff: Well, yeah.

Casey: Partly. But I also know in many European countries, the pharmacists have a lot more leeway. You still have to talk to them to get ibuprofen or aspirin, but they also have the ability to sell you hydrocodone cough syrup, if that’s what they think you need. So things like that in terms of preparing students.

Jeff: You know, how to deal with money, right? That’s always the hard part. We’ve had kids lose their debit card, we’ve had kids bring traveler’s checks, and over the years we’ve built up a list of no’s and we just tell them, “Bring your debit card, that’s all you need.” Make sure though that it’s current because the one kid’s was not current and that’s why his card was eaten by the machine. And so then, of course, that was on a weekend and so we had to loan him a little cash. I don’t remember if it was me or Casey, but one of us floated him some cash. So we also have to be a bank while we’re over there. [LAUGHTER] My son went on that first trip with us, and everybody started calling me the international bank of dad.

John: What were some of the best experiences you had during the travel component?

Jeff: Personally I love traveling so I think all of the experiences are good. A kid will say something funny or whatever and everybody has a good time because even the kid who said it realizes, “Yeah, I guess that doesn’t make sense, does it?” I think it’s just fun being with the kids. There have been some probably not so great times, but…

Casey: …only a couple.

Jeff: …but only a couple.

Casey: Only a couple of situations where we’ve traveled that have been, let’s say, taxing and not ideal.

Rebecca: Like? [LAUGHTER]

Jeff: I can think of one in particular.

Casey: Basically, students thinking they knew what they were doing and deciding they were going to go off on their own and got themselves stuck in a different city overnight. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Oops.

Casey: Because they basically decided to do things on their own without consulting with anybody that actually knew what was going on. And it happened to be a day that was a holiday in Europe.

Jeff: And they just left us a note. And finally somebody came and knocked on my door late and said, “Uhh so-and-so and so-and-so and s o-and-so are nowhere to be found.” I said, “Oh boy,” “But they left us this note.” I said, “Oh, what does the note say?” And it said, “Went off to discover mother Europe,” and they ended up not returning til the next morning.

John: You brought most of them back to Oswego, right?

Jeff: We’ve never lost a student. We’ve wanted to. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Actively tried.

John: They’ve always found their way back.

Jeff: But we’ve never lost a student. We’ve never had to send anybody home early.

Casey: No.

Jeff: Although it certainly, we may have…

Casey: That incident was close.

Jeff: That was close. And we probably wanted to, but honestly—and hopefully no future students are listening—honestly, we didn’t want to deal with the hassle.

Rebecca: It’s too much work, right?

Jeff: It’s a lot of work.

John: Yeah.

Casey: It’s a case, though, that by and large, it’s gone really well.

Jeff: Yeah I’d say overall, we’ve done well. I think the students always give us glowing reports back as well. They have a great time and they learn a lot. And I think sometimes they don’t realize it until after they’ve come back that they’ve actually learned a lot.

Casey: We make them keep a journal. We have six, seven, eight specific assignments we want them to write about, but we really stress, “Use it as a log,” so that you can look back on it and remember. And that’s, I think, where they really start to realize how much they’ve learned if they take it serious and write everything. In terms of losing students—and trying to lose students—one of the challenges we sometimes have is getting the students to go off on their own. They want to stay right with us all the time and as part of their experience they need to, in small groups—not alone, but small groups—go do your own thing.

Jeff: Yeah, some of them like to be glued to you at the hip and it’s because as I said before, not everybody has traveled. They’re afraid, it’s a new place, the language might be different, they just don’t know. And you really see a difference between whether or not you’re taking a freshman versus whether or not you’re taking a senior.

Rebecca: What have been some of the challenges and opportunities of co-developing and co-teaching this class?

Casey: One of the situations we encountered is we developed this and even the very, very first year we did it, there were people on campus that were incredibly uncomfortable of us teaching this class. They were very concerned that we were teaching a class all about drinking and that’s not the case at all. And Josh in International Ed…

Jeff: This is not a “how-to” course in how to drink.

Casey: No, and we’ve heard it several times that in many respects because it’s a course that involves alcohol and it’s all about appreciating alcohol and understanding it, we have less problems with drunkenness than some of the other study abroad classes that don’t really address it. But that very first year or two that we did teach the class there was a lot of skepticism and concern by several people on campus about what we were actually doing.

Jeff: Well, and even if somebody would mention the fact, “Oh, you teach the beer course, hahaha,” right, and they kind of give you this kind of snide look like, “You’re a joke” kind of thing. Say what you will, but we know what we do and we do it well and kids get an understanding of fermentation and all the processes that go into it and an appreciation.

John: And it is applied chemistry.

Casey: It is.

Jeff: It is applied chemistry, applied biology, it’s applied science. One of the things that people have to keep perspective of is that alcohol is a multibillion dollar industry, right? …a multibillion dollar global industry. And people don’t appreciate that.

Casey: Sometimes it’s juggling who’s scheduling what because we do almost all of our own planning and organization for the study abroad component.

Jeff: I would agree. Just even this latest trip, Casey and I are both trying to plan hotel accommodations and it’s like, “Hold it. Did you talk to someone?” “No, wait, I thought you were,” “Oh? No I didn’t.” So that’s probably one of the challenges. Opportunity, I don’t know, we get to work together.

Casey: Yeah. And it provides…

Jeff: Doing something we like.

Casey: Yeah. It provides a little extra coverage in those times when it’s like, “Oh, I can’t quite get to class tonight. Can you cover?” and it gives us that balance as well. It gives us a little more balance when we’re abroad. Kind of keeping track of students especially in the trip’s locations where we’re moving destinations and hopping between trains.

Jeff: Right. One of us will be in the front, one of us will be in the back, Casey will do a count, I’ll do a count, hopefully they’re the same. [LAUGHTER] So it does make it a little easier.

Casey: Thinking about trains, challenging instances. When we went to Munich, we took the train from the airport to the city.

Jeff: Yeah, we did.

Casey: Two of the students didn’t realize we were serious when we said, “When the doors open at the next stop, get off,” because the doors closed before they got off. We were able to signal to try and get turned around.

Jeff: If this was visual, you could see me waving like they did, because as they’re going they’re just “Ugh.”

Casey: Now what? [LAUGHTER] And it happened to be two students that year that didn’t have a cell phone that would work in-country. So that’s something that’s changed a lot since we first taught courses, the wireless and cell phone and technology. But you know, 40 minutes later, they’d find their way back to that.

Jeff: They had the presence of mind to get off at the next stop, cross the tracks, get back on, and come back to where we were. We didn’t move, we waited, and not having cell phones when we went to Belgium—must have been 2011—we took my daughter with us. I took all of my kids when they were 16-years-old, with my daughters. And it just happened that it was always to Belgium. Well this time we took a day trip to Amsterdam and…

Casey: No, we stayed in Amsterdam.

Jeff: Oh we did. That’s right we did.

Casey: We landed in Amsterdam to stay there.

Jeff: And we’re wandering around and…

Casey: Introducing them to the city that first day.

Jeff: And all of a sudden…

Casey: We sent everybody to ATMs to get money because we just got in the country.

Jeff: And it’s like, “Hold it. Where’s my daughter?” She was only 16. I said to my wife, “Where is she?” so we’re going one direction and I think somebody told me where they had seen her and we went that way and turns out, Casey and his wife and my daughter are going a different way looking for us and I was just…

Casey: You had like, two students with you and I had the other 10 with me.

Jeff: …round and round and round. And yeah, so cell phones would have been helpful. But I mean, you think about it even seven, eight years ago, cell phone technology is vastly different. So that can be a challenge sometimes. And the lesson I took away with that is don’t take my own kids with me. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: The lesson of the 40 minute wait is nobody else wants to be that kid next time, so it’s like, lesson learned the first 40 minutes we’re here.

Casey: And it’s something we tell classes now. We’re serious when we say get off the train, get off the train.

Rebecca: This is why you don’t take too much luggage with you. [LAUGHTER]

Jeff: We do tell them to pack light. I will admit that as I’ve gotten older I tend to check a bag rather than carry it on but Casey will get there, he just doesn’t know it yet.

John: What would a typical day be like while you’re in-country?

Casey: Usually see everybody at breakfast, it’s kind of a standard.

Jeff: We tell them, we want to see, we don’t care if you eat—even though breakfast is probably included—but we got to see you at 9 o’clock or whatever it is.

Casey: And then usually we’ll have half of the day planned… programmed… scheduled. There’s cases where it’s a whole-day situation but usually we’ll have half-day things planned so we’ll do that and then they’ll have a chunk of open time to explore things that they’re particularly interested in. We certainly make recommendations and suggestions. But we found it’s really valuable to have the free-time for them to do things they want and do their own exploring.

Rebecca: But I bet the free time is really good for you.

Casey: It is. [LAUGHTER]

Jeff: Maybe…

Casey: It is. And it also gives us the flexibility to adjust our schedule in some cases. If we’ve had something planned outdoors and it’s a really cruddy day and we know the next day is going to be better, we’ve been known to flip things around to make it work. The very first year, our flight was six hours late leaving New York City which then affected things we were going to do that first day in the country. And we just started flip flopping things and we made it all work, but it was a lesson immediately: Build in that flexibility.

Rebecca: I can imagine that by students taking this class if they weren’t interested in science or didn’t know that much about it, that when you see how it’s applied and have a practical application that maybe they didn’t experience in high school that they might actually develop an interest in an area that they didn’t know they had an interest in.

Casey: I’ve spoken with people, some parents but others and they asked what I teach, and I say chemistry. “Oh, my student will never have you for class,” or, “I would have never had you for chemistry,” I said, “Well, you might take the fermentation science course.”

Jeff: “What?”

Casey: Wuh…. huh… what? And it’s really about—I said many times—it’s sort of enticing students into a course based on the topic. I usually actually say, “Sucker them into a course,” because they think it’s going to be about something, but it really is: give them that basic science that appreciation, but really give them a chance to experience something different, something very eye opening.

Jeff: And we’ve had kids actually go on and work in the industry, and being brewers and distillers.

Casey: Yeah.

Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking, what’s next?

Jeff: What’s next? Well I know come spring break, Casey’s taking a bunch of kids to Paris.

Casey: It’s an honors course, related to food science.

Jeff: And I’ll be taking a dozen kids to Dublin for spring break. That course is not about drinking.

Casey: You talk about challenges. This year has been a different challenge because Jeff’s planning Dublin, I’ve been planning France for spring break, and then we’re planning Scotland in May. And so I’m trying to keep things straight.

Jeff: It was hectic. It was hectic.

Rebecca: I made that mistake. The first year I took students abroad I planned another U.S. travel class in the same year, so like Q3 was a travel and then Q4 was. I hear you, I learned my lesson. [LAUGHTER]

Jeff: Well, no, the lesson is you just have to keep practicing.

Rebecca: O, oh, oh yeah.

Casey: Thankfully Jeff’s done Dublin several times.

Jeff: I’ve done Dublin several times now and I basically plan it as soon as I get back after spring break. This year I’ll have the next year planned already or pretty close.

Casey: And we’ve been to Scotland so most of that was set. At least, we knew what we wanted to do, it’s just a matter of finalizing things. And we’ll do the same thing, end of May we’ll come back and we’ll start strategizing, “Okay, what’s the location for May ‘20?”

Jeff: I mean even before that, we’ve already talked a little bit about the location for May ‘20.

Rebecca: Which is going to be?

Jeff: Well, we haven’t decided yet.

Casey: It may be the Netherlands, it may be Munich.

Jeff: I love Amsterdam and I love Munich as well.

Casey: I haven’t put on his radar that we could go to Cologne.

Jeff: Well, we could go to Cologne… ah…Decisions.

John: And what is your class in Ireland?

Jeff: The class in Ireland, that’s GLS 100. It’s a Global Cities course and so there’s always some question as to, you know, is Dublin really a global city? Because there’s some kind of fancy-pancy definition of what a global city is and I’m not quite sure if Dublin actually fits but I think it’s a global enough city. It’s cosmopolitan, it’s got a lot of political problems, especially now with Brexit coming up. It’s a fun course. We talk about culture of Ireland and Dublin and the history and we spend a lot of time on the 1916 revolution and things like that and so kids get a lot of information. I only meet one night a week, like most global courses, and then we’ll be gone for all of spring break. In fact, we’re going to leave the Friday before spring break, and we’ll be coming back midnight or one Monday morning.

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

Jeff: Thank you.

Casey: You’re welcome.

John: It sounds like an interesting class.

Rebecca: Thank you.

Jeff: Thank you.

John: We’ve recorded this podcast a couple weeks early, which is somewhat new to us because we’re often recording these within a week of their release. But as we were completing editing on the podcast, we got an email from Casey who noted that perhaps some things can go wrong on trips that they had not yet experienced. So Casey, would you like to tell us a little bit about what happened?

Casey: Yeah, John. I led the spring break class to France, as I indicated at the end in the last podcast. And I recalled you asking about challenging or difficult situations that occur. And in our case, it reminded me that I probably needed to do this little addendum. Specifically, we were scheduled to leave Syracuse Friday afternoon and we had all 13 students at the airport on time. We actually even boarded the plane Friday afternoon, and the pilot came on and made an announcement that during his walkthrough, he noticed a small leak. He wasn’t sure what it was, they were bringing mechanics over to look at it. A couple minutes later, he comes back on and says, “They’re not sure, we need to de-plane so they can figure it out.” And so everybody’s off, everybody gets in line to the ticket counter for fear of missing connections and rebooking and lo and behold, they weren’t sure what the problem was. When they finally did find the leaking part, they didn’t have a replacement, and it wouldn’t come in until maybe six o’clock Friday night, in which case we would have missed our international flights. And so I contacted our travel agent, she couldn’t really do anything because it was all airport control. I ended up working with a supervisor, just by chance, he pulled me out of line to try and rebook 15 of us on a single ticket. And so as he was working with corporate trying to map this out and come up with a plan, we ended up needing to split our group to come up with options because there just weren’t seats available leading into spring break, dealing with some weather issues that were happening, and the fact that the 737 Max grounding had limited some of the airlines—not ours—but there just weren’t seats available. And so I agreed to split the group, my wife would go with one part, I would go with another part and we came back with our new itinerary, instead of a direct flight from Washington D.C. to Paris, the first group of us was going to fly from Washington D.C. to Chicago, to Frankfurt, and then to Paris. The second group was going to fly from Washington D.C. to Zurich to Paris. So we get in a couple hours apart… day late… which would affect our train travel to Lyons because our first four days was going to be there. And so it’s like, “Well, it’s the best we can do, that’s what we’ll do.” And so we stayed in a hotel Friday night as a group, got to the airport Saturday morning, and by about 9:30…10 a.m. Saturday morning, they had completely canceled our flight because they still didn’t have the right repair part and they couldn’t bus us to Washington D.C. So the next thing we knew they were going to bus us to New York City so we could have a direct flight from JFK, but they couldn’t find busing to get us to JFK. And so then they rerouted us on a Sunday night like from Washington D.C. to Paris, with the promise they would get us to Washington D.C. Saturday night. So now we’ve spent all of Friday afternoon sitting in the airport. Now we’re going to spend all day Saturday sitting in the airport. And some of the students got together with parents that were local, some of the students hopped an Uber and ran to the mall to kill some time. But we finally got out of Syracuse on the fixed plane. Saturday night about 8:30 got to Washington D.C. about 10pm, got into a hotel there—the airline put us up—and then Sunday morning, students studied, did various things, but we all got to the airport Sunday afternoon, and finally got on our flight to Paris. So we arrived in Paris Monday morning instead of Saturday morning. by Saturday afternoon, when I knew we’re going to miss two days and that the things we had planned on Monday were not going to be possible, we just weren’t going to make it, and that was a key reason for going to Lyons, I all of a sudden was in the mode of, I need to completely reconfigure the whole front end of my class. And so I started working with International Ed and the person on the ground in Paris. We have to try and get two additional nights of lodging in Paris, just cancel the whole Lyons part of it, try and recruit rail ticket expenses, cancel the hotel there—which did cost us two nights of lodging, but not all four—and then try and figure out what am I going to do in Paris with this group food related in the two days now that I have? So it really wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that I finally started to feel comfortable and relaxed on this trip just because of all the upheaval. The crew at the Syracuse airport that was trying to help us… the person there… was outstanding. He was doing everything he possibly could to help the class. The students were really pretty good. They understood that was not a lot we could do other than keep pushing along. Some were concerned, some were upset, there were certainly frustration and disappointment for all of us, especially as we had to cancel things we were planning to do. But it was a situation that you hope you never really encounter. But it’s a case of, you really have to be ready for almost anything. And as Jeff and I indicated before, you’ve got to be ready to be flexible. And this was really an extreme case of it because all of a sudden, I’m rescheduling basically half of our overseas experience completely on the fly and largely with an internet connection through a cell phone.

John: Flexibility is important. There are a lot of moving parts there. And if one of them stops moving, it affects all the others.

Casey: Yeah.

John: Overall, how did it work?

Casey: Overall, it worked out really as best as it could under those situations. Once we got into France, everything went fine on the ground there. It actually worked out amazingly well that the extra two hotel nights were in the same hotel we originally going to be in. And I discovered at least one activity in Paris as a substitute… a cheese tasting that worked out outstandingly for the students and it was a great experience. So in the grand scheme of things, I think it all worked. We’re disappointed to have missed a few things that we had originally planned, but I think the students still benefited from what happened and the stress that I experienced didn’t really negatively impact the class.

John: Great. Well, thank you for the update.

Casey: You’re welcome.

John: And we look forward to hearing more stories about more pleasant travel experiences in the future.

Casey: Me too.

[Music]

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

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

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