38. Reflective practice

Now that we have been on summer vacation for a while, we thought it would be useful to take a break from our usual interview format to reflect on the previous semester and our plans for the fall. We also provide some recommendations on summer reading related to professional development.

Show Notes

  • Sue, D. W. (2016). Race talk and the conspiracy of silence: Understanding and facilitating difficult dialogues on race. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Guffey, E. (2017). Designing Disability: Symbols, Space, and Society. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Evans, N. J., Broido, E. M., Brown, K. R., & Wilke, A. K. (2017). Disability in higher education: A social justice approach. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Hogan, Lara (2016). Demystifying Public Speaking. A Book Apart (https://abookapart.com/products/demystifying-public-speaking)
  • Hoffman, Kevin H. (2018). Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers and Everyone.  Rosenfeld Media.
  • Openpedagogy.org
  • Schwartz, D. L., Tsang, J. M., & Blair, K. P. (2016). The ABCs of how we learn: 26 scientifically proven approaches, how they work, and when to use them. WW Norton & Company.
  • Cavanagh, S. R. (2016). The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion. West Virginia University Press.
  • McGuire, S. Y. (2015). Teach students how to learn: strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Parkes, J., & Zimmaro, D. (2016). Learning and assessing with multiple-choice questions in college classrooms. Routledge.
  • Lewis, M. (2016). The undoing project: A friendship that changed our minds. WW Norton & Company.The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis
  • Tea for Teaching podcast: 15. Civic Engagement – a discussion with Allison Rank about the Vote Oswego project.
  • DeRosa, Robin (2017). “OER Bigger than Affordability” Inside Higher Ed. November 1.
  • Tea for Teaching podcast: 30. Adaptive Learning
  • Videoscribe
  • Flipgrid
  • Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online: Teaching effectively with technology. Harvard University Press.
  • Learning How to Learn MOOC
  • Oakley, B. A. (2014). A mind for numbers: How to excel at math and science (even if you flunked algebra). TarcherPerigree.
  • Oakley, B. (2017). Mindshift: Break through obstacles to learning and discover your hidden potential. Penguin.
  • Oakley, B. (2018). Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School without Spending all your Time Studying; a Guide for Kids and Teens. Penguin.
  • Brown, P. C., Roediger III, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick. Harvard University Press.
  • Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc..
  • Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Teaching in Higher Ed – Bonni Stachoviak
  • Teach Better – Doug McKee and Edward O’Neill
  • Email addresses: john.kane@oswego.edu and rebecca.mushtare@oswego.edu

John: Now that we have been on summer vacation for a while, we thought it would be useful to take a break from our usual interview format to reflect on the previous semester and our plans for the fall.

[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 teas are:

Rebecca: …a mix of seven different kinds of tea, and it’s not really describable at this point.

John: After I’ve had many different types of tea today, I have Twinings’ Wild Berries herbal tea.

Rebecca: Finally dropping the caffeine after a long day?

John: …after many teas earlier in the day, yes.

Rebecca: So, I start my reflective practice while grading during finals week and for me it’s a really effective and productive procrastination technique. As I’m reading assignments or looking at projects and making notes about things that clearly did not work or “Wow, I really should cover these skills better” or “This really worked…” and I have a running dialogue with myself while I’m grading them and I use that for planning for the fall. What are your practices like, John?

John: I’d like to do that a bit during grading week but during grading week I’m generally busy working on the workshop schedule for our workshops here…

Rebecca: What?

John: … and also working on plans for various presentations at the SUNY Conference on Instructional Technology and so forth… and then getting ready for my trip down to North Carolina for the summer. So, I try to do it as I’m going during the semester so that I keep in my blackboard folder for each course a hidden folder where I list any problems… and I’ll do that for the course overall, as well as within individual modules. That way, when I go to refresh the course in the future I’ll have a list of things in general I want to do differently as well as specific recommendations in specific components of the course.

Rebecca: Have you ever accidentally made one of those hidden files not hidden?

John: I have not, no. [LAUGHTER]. I’m much more likely to leave something hidden that the students have as an assignment, but they’re usually pretty good at reminding me of that as we go through.

Rebecca: I think my greatest fear of having notes like that would be that I would make them really public and then probably have some sort of snarky comment in my hidden files. [LAUGHTER]

John: So, we thought maybe we talked a little bit about our lists of plans and then make some general recommendations of things that we found useful. So, Rebecca would you like to go first?

John: Sure, I think both of us have a fairly aggressive reading reading dream list. I don’t know how much either of us will get through that list, but my list includes Race Talk and [the] Conspiracy of Silence by Derald Wing Sue… which jDerald Wing Sue’s coming to our campus in the fall to give a talk based on this book… and we’re gonna have a reading group again. So, I want to make sure I’m on top of that.

John: That’s also on my list. I started reading it earlier, but I got buried in the semester, so it’s on the top of my summer reading list.

Rebecca: Yeah, I read the first chapter but then that’s as far as I got. I’m also planning to read… I started reading but I didn’t have time to finish a book called Designing Disability: Symbols, Space, and Society by Elizabeth Guthrie. It’s a really interesting book about the history of the wheelchair symbol. So, it’s related to design, obviously, which is my area of teaching… but also my interest in accessibility, which I’ve been working on a lot on campus. Related to that, I also am planning to read Disability in Higher Education: a Social Justice Approach by Nancy Evans. I started reading that during this semester and read a few chapters here and there but didn’t get all the way through. It’s a pretty hefty read. So, I’m hoping to get through a lot of that this summer… and then I have two other books that are not so much teaching related but come out of the design field. One of them is Demystifying Public Speaking, by Laura Hogen, which is from a series called A Book Apart… it’s made for designers, so I’m hoping to read that book and pull out some nuggets that might be helpful for students who get a little nervous about public speaking… or see whether or not it’s a good recommendation for our advanced students in our program… and then the other one that comes from a designer is Meeting Design for Managers, Makers, and Everyone by Kevin H. Hoffman. I’ve seen Kevin speak and have had some conversations with him in the past about designing meetings, so that meetings are actually productive and useful rather than unproductive and something that could maybe have happened in an email. So, I’m looking forward to reading a fuller version of his process. What are you hoping to read, John?

John: Well, several these I’ve already started again but haven’t gotten too far but they’re enough so that they’re on my Kindle or I have the books very handy… and I plan to read them as soon as I can. One is The ABCs of How We Learn by Daniel Schwartz. I actually made it, I believe, through letter L before I had to put it down to get caught up on some other things.

Rebecca: Yeah, I remember getting some updates in the various letters and it did kind of fizzle out.

John: So, I will finish that fairly soon, I believe. The Spark of Learning is a book I’ve heard wonderful things about from Sarah Rose Cavanagh. I’m hoping to read that this summer. It’s also on my Kindle app. The Teach Students How to Learn book by Saundra Yancy McGuire and Thomas Angelo is a really good book that talks about ways of improving student metacognition. Again, I’ve read a little bit of that just to see that it is something I really want to continue with. Another thing I’d like to look at, since I teach large classes where I use a lot of multiple-choice questions, is a book that I heard about on a couple of other podcasts on teaching and learning… in particular, the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, which is Learning and Assessing with Multiple-Choice Questions in College Classrooms by Jay Parkes and Dawn Zimmaro. That’s something I haven’t started yet, but I do have a copy of that and I’m looking forward to reading it. Another book that somewhat on the border between teaching and learning and my work in economics is The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. It’s a book on the early development of behavioral economics by Kahneman and Tversky, and the reason why it’s on the border of economics and teaching is that behavioral economics explains why people don’t always behave as rational agents… and certainly that’s important in trying to understand how people work from an economics perspective… but when we’re dealing with students and faculty we observe that people don’t always behave, perhaps,in an optimal fashion. We don’t see people engaging in activities that are in their long-run self-interest, and they often will prefer short-run benefits over long term benefits, even though they know they’d be better off doing their work a bit earlier and so forth. So, it overlaps between those two interests. I’m looking forward to that I guess that’s it for my books.
So, what are your plans for redeveloping or redesigning some of your courses?

Rebecca: Well, I have a new class that I’ll be offering in the fall that’s related to some other special topics I’ve taught before on experience design… and in that class we’re gonna do two community projects: one is called “recollections storytelling through mementos“ which is the design of an interactive exhibit that will travel to multiple adult care facilities in central New York. It’s the second exhibition in a series. The last one we did was a couple of years ago… and so the design and development of that will happen partially through the summer and then in my class in the fall… and then the exhibit will go up and travel next year in 2019… and then the other project that we’re gonna work on is our very famous [LAUGHTER] regular guest Allison Rank, who’s talked about her project Vote Oswego. My students will be working on that project as well, doing some design work with her class. We scheduled our two classes so that they would be at the same time slot, so that they could collaborate a little bit easier this time. so I’m looking forward to working with Allison a little bit this summer to make some specific plans for that for the Fall. So, I’m doing that and then revisiting my web design courses like I do every year: a) the content generally changes because standards and things and web change but I’m also… I had my little list, as I was grading, of things that I want to make sure that I’m doing and some of that means integrating more reflective practice opportunities I think it’s really important and I always plan on doing that and then somehow it gets cut. So, I decided I really need to just actively decide to cut something else out, so that there is actually that room and that’s not what gets cut in the future.

I’m also working on some new accessibility modules and I’m also really thinking of… I’ve been doing a lot of quizzes based on our reading groups and things that we’ve been talking about for retrieval practice… but I’m really thinking about switching to trying some in-class polls even though my class is relatively small and mixing in some practical exercises and I was doing both of those kinds of things in the quizzes and I think spreading those out a little bit will actually help with engagement, and also make it so it doesn’t take up as much class time.

John: In terms of the use of polling in small classes… for the last five or six years now I’ve been using polling in classes that I teach at Duke where generally there are between sixteen and twenty students, and it works just as well in small classes as it does in large ones. In some ways it works a little bit better.

Rebecca: Yeah, I can imagine that and I know that you’ve talked about that in the past, so you’re wearing on me. [LAUGHTER]

John: It’s a good practice.

Rebecca: Yeah, how about you?

John: Well, I’ve got a number of things planned. One is, I’ve been wanting to adopt an OER for a long time, but I’ve been somewhat tied to the adaptive learning tools and so forth provided by publishers, as well as the array of materials they provide… but, I want to explore some OER options for my large introductory class.

Rebecca: For those that aren’t familiar, what’s an OER.

John: Open educational resources… basically things that are released under Creative Commons licenses… and there’s two major advantages of that: one is that it would be free for students… students would also have access from the first day of class, and we’ll be talking about that more in future episodes… and another thing I’d like to do more is explore some alternatives to publisher provided adaptive learning tools so that it might be possible to find some ways of integrating OER with it, or to investigate ways in which OER materials can be used with adaptive learning systems that can work in classes where you want to have enough variety in the question so students can’t just look them up on the internet…

Rebecca: …and if you’re a little more interested in OER and the kind of big impact that that can have on students, you may want to check out Robin Derosa’s article in Higher Ed “OER Bigger than Affordability.” …and then we also have a previous episode that’s about adaptive learning that people might want to check out if they’re curious about that.

John: I believe was episode 30. Another thing I’d like to do, along the same lines, is I had written an econometrics text that I’ve been using in class for a while. I’d like to rewrite that as an OER text, and one of the things I need to do is update some of the old videos I’ve created. Last winter, when I was at the OLC conference in Orlando (at Disney World) I saw a presentation on Videoscribe and I had seen some videos created by that and it just looked really really cool and so I purchased a subscription to that and now I actually have to actually learn how to use it… and it does involve a bit of work… and there’s a bit of start-up costs in that, but it’s a very powerful tool and it looks like a really good way of presenting technical material.

I’d also like to explore a little bit of Flipgrid just because i’ve used voicethread now and I keep hearing really good things about Flipgrid, so I’d like to look at that and compare the benefits of the two systems.

Rebecca: What’s a Flipgrid?

John: Flipgrid is very much like Voicethread except the videos are provided in a grid. In many ways, it’s very similar to Voicethread except your class shows up as an array on the screen. You can click on any of the boxes for the students and hear or see their responses.

Rebecca: So, it sounds like the interfaces may be the big benefit there.

John: I believe so. I need to explore it more. It’s something I’ve been hearing a lot about from a lot of people who do some really good work, so I’d like to see how it compares.

Rebecca: You know all your talk of OERs and open education resources reminded me that one of the key things I have on my to-do list is to explore all the available resources that are available on openpedagogy.org. After hearing Robin DeRosa talk about it at CIT, the conference that John and I were at in late May, I got really excited about some of her teaching techniques and I just really want to see what else is out there and what’s available. So, who knows, it might really overhaul something.

John: I was at the same talk and we were both so impressed by it we went down and we talked to Robin at the end and we’ve invited her to come back to Oswego in the fall to give a presentation here, and there’s a good chance that she will appear as a guest on a future episode of the podcast. So, there’s also some things we’d like to recommend to others: books and tools that we found really useful. So, would you like to start?

Rebecca: Alright, so most of our recommendations are publications that have highly influenced our show. So one of those is Minds Online by Michelle Miller, a great cognitive psychologist. The book is about being online, but all the things she talks about works in in-person classes too, so I highly recommend that book.

John: Michelle Miller, after I had read her book, so impressed me that I invited her to come up to campus to give a workshop here… and people were so impressed by that that we created our reading group series here. Our first one was Michelle Miller’s Minds Online and participants were so enthused about that they insisted that we bring her back again at the end of the reading group and she was a wonderful speaker as well as a very good author.

Rebecca: Yeah, and a great facilitator too. We also want to recommend Barbara Oakley’s Learning How to Learn MOOC. It’s a great way to learn the basic cognitive science behind the evidence-based practices. So, if you’re not familiar, that’s a great way to follow along and get involved and her videos are fantastic.

John: It’s also the most popular MOOC in the world…

Rebecca: …and it’s the biggest one too, right?

John: and it’s the biggest one and she’s got hundreds of thousands of students taking it. It’s a four-week experience and I encourage all my students to take it.

Rebecca: …and if you’ve never done a MOOC, what a great experience to take one of the best MOOCs in the world.

John: It also provides very good examples of effective practice for online teaching that are very scalable. So, there’s a lot of good reasons to do it.

Rebecca: She also has some other great books including: A Mind for Numbers, Mind Shift, and Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School without Spending all your Time Studying; a Guide for Kids and Teens. That last one is a new one that’s directed specifically at middle school and high school students.

John: Another book, I think, that we’d both strongly recommend is Make it Stick. We used that as our second reading group here at Oswego a couple years ago, and Peter Brown came up and presented on that. but it’s by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel. Peter Brown is a novelist and Roediger and McDaniel have done a tremendous amount of work in studying how people learn.

Rebecca: We can’t go without mentioning Carol Dweck’s Mindset book as well. We often see who we might traditionally think of as being quote unquote good students, “A” students maybe who hit something in college where they realize that they have to struggle a little bit and they don’t know what to do, because everything’s always come easily to them… but they struggle because they don’t have a growth mindset. So, this is a great way to learn more about the differences between fixed and growth mindsets and maybe put some strategies in place to help all of our students move more towards a growth mindset in the courses we teach.

John: The next thing we recommend is Jim Lang’s Small Teaching. it covers much of the same material as Minds Online and Make it Stick but it does it in a somewhat different way. It focuses on small techniques that you can change in your classroom that pay off very substantially. So, for people who don’t want to substantially revise their courses, it’s a very effective way of making small modifications… activities that take five to ten minutes in a class… that have a very large impact without requiring a dramatic overhaul or restructuring of your course.

Rebecca: Yeah, and the faculty here have responded very well to this book and have made a lot of small changes to their classes in the last year and had big success.

John: Another thing we’d like to mention are some podcasts that we listen to that have some really good coverage of topics related to higher education. The first one is Teaching in Higher Ed by Bonnie Stachoviak. The other one we want to recommend is Teach Better by Doug McKee and Edward O’Neill and you might remember Doug McKee from a previous episode.

Rebecca: So, we usually conclude by asking what’s next, but if you really want to know you could just listen to this episode again. We made a lot of references during this episode to a lot of great material and I can’t imagine that you wrote it all down, especially if you’re driving in your car, right? So, remember to check the show notes will have specific links and details so that you can find all these resources so that you can also enjoy some of these during your summer.

John: If any of you have any recommendations for topics for the show, please write to either of us. Our email addresses will be in the show notes.

Rebecca: We also wanted to take a couple minutes and just reflect on the podcast itself. We really appreciate the community of listeners that we’ve gained. We never expected this to even go on this long. It was a little experiment that we had that we wanted to try out in the fall and now we’re on Episode… oh, I don’t know what episode we’ll be on.

John: We’ve been really impressed by how many listeners we’ve reached across the U.S. and throughout the world. We were expecting we’d mostly get people listening from our institution and perhaps some of our colleagues in other places. So, we very much appreciate all the support you shown.

Rebecca: …and please let us know if there’s other things that we can cover that you’re really interested in or really need some professional development in.

John: We hope you’re enjoying your summer vacation. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

[MUSIC]

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

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

24. Gender bias in course evaluations

Have you ever received comments in student evaluations that focus on your appearance, your personality, or competence? Do students refer to you as teacher or an inappropriate title, like Mr. or Mrs., rather than professor? For some, this may sound all too familiar. In this episode, Kristina Mitchell, a Political Science Professor from Texas Tech University, joins us to discuss her research exploring gender bias in student course evaluations.

Show Notes

  • Fox, R. L., & Lawless, J. L. (2010). If only they’d ask: Gender, recruitment, and political ambition. The Journal of Politics, 72(2), 310-326.
  • MacNell, L., Driscoll, A., & Hunt, A. N. (2015). What’s in a name: Exposing gender bias in student ratings of teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 40(4), 291-303.
  • Miller, Michelle (2018). “Forget Mentors — What We Really Need are Fans.” Chronicle of Higher Education. February 22, 2018..
  • Mitchell, Kristina (2018). “Student Evaluations Can’t Be Used to Assess Professors.Salon. March 19, 2018.
  • Mitchell, Kristina (2017). “It’s a Dangerous Business, Being a Female Professor.Chronicle of Higher Education. June 15, 2017.
  • Mitchell, Kristina M.W. and Jonathan Martin. “Gender Bias in Student Evaluations.” Forthcoming at PS: Political Science & Politics.

Transcript

Rebecca: Have you ever received comments in student evaluations that focus on your appearance, your personality, or competence? Do students refer to you as teacher or an inappropriate title, like Mr. or Mrs., rather than Professor? For some, this may sound all too familiar. In this episode, we’ll discuss one study that explores bias in course evaluations.

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.
Today our guest is Kristina Mitchell, a faculty member and director of the online education program for the Political Science Department at Texas Tech. In addition to research in international trade and globalization, Kristina has been investigating bias in student evaluations, motherhood and academia, women in leadership and academia, among other teaching and learning subjects. Welcome Kristina.

Kristina: Thank you.

John: Today our teas are?

Kristina: Diet coke. Yes, I’ve got a diet coke today.

[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: At least you have something to drink. I have Prince of Wales tea.

John: …and I have pineapple ginger green tea.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about your instructional role at Texas Tech?

Kristina: Sure, so when I started at Texas Tech six years ago, I was just a Visiting Assistant Professor teaching a standard 2-2 load… so, two face-to-face courses in every semester, but our department was struggling with some issues in making sure that we could address the need for general education courses. So in the state of Texas every student graduating from a public university is required to take two semesters of government (we lovingly call it the “Political Science Professor Full Employment Act”) and so what ends up happening at a university like Texas Tech with pushing forty thousand students almost, is that we have about five thousand students every semester that need to take these courses… and, unless we’re going to teach them in the football stadium, it became really challenging to try and meet this demand. Students were struggling to even graduate on time, because they weren’t able to get into these courses. So, I was brought in and my role was to oversee an online program in which students would take their courses online asynchronously. They log in, complete the coursework on their own time (provided they meet the deadlines), and I’m in a supervisory role. My first semester doing this I was the instructor of record, I was managing all of the TAs, I was writing all the content, so I stayed really busy with that many students working all by myself. But now we have a team of people: a co-instructor, two course assistants, and lots of graduate students. So, I just kind of sit at the top of the umbrella, if you will, and handle the high level supervisory issues in these big courses.

John: Is it self-paced?

Kristina: It’s self-paced with deadlines, so the students can complete their work in the middle of the night, or in the daytime or whenever is most convenient for them, provided they meet the deadlines.

Rebecca: So, you’ve been working on some research on bias in faculty evaluations. What prompted this interest?

Kristina: What prompted this was my co-instructor, a couple of years ago, was a PhD student here at Texas Tech University and he was helping instruct these courses and handle some of those five thousand students… and as we were just anecdotally discussing our experiences in interacting with the students, we were just noticing that the kinds of emails he received were different. The kinds of things that students said or asked of him were different. They seemed to be a lot more likely to ask me for exceptions… to ask me to be sympathetic…. to be understanding of the student situation… and he just didn’t really seem to find that to be the case. So of course, as political scientists, our initial thought was: “we could test this.” We could actually look and see if this stands up to some more rigorous empirical evaluation, and so that’s what made us decide to dig into this a little deeper.

John: …and you had a nice sized sample there.

Kristina: We did. Right now, we have about 5000 students this semester. We looked at a set of those courses. We tried to choose the course sections that wouldn’t be characteristically different than the others. So, not the first one, and not the last one, because we thought maybe students who register first might be characteristically different than the students who register later. So, we took we chose a pretty good-sized sample out of our 5,000 students.

John: …and what did you find?

Kristina: So, we did our research in two parts. The first thing we looked at was the comments that we received. As I said, our anecdotal evidence really stemmed from the way students interacted with us and the way they talked to us. We wanted to be able to measure and do some content analysis of what the students said about us in their course evaluations. So, we looked at the formal in-class university-sponsored evaluation, where the students are asked to give a comment on their professors… and we looked at this for both our face-to-face courses that we teach and the online courses as well. And what we were looking for wasn’t whether they think he’s a good professor or a bad professor, because obviously if we were teaching different courses, there’s not really a way to compare a stats course that I was teaching to a comparative Western Europe course that he was teaching. All we were looking at was what are the themes? What kinds of things do they talk about when they’re talking about him versus talking about me? What kind of language do they use and we also did the same thing for informal comments and evaluation? So, you have probably heard of the website “Rate My Professors”?

John: Yes.

[LAUGHTER]

Kristina: Yes, everyone’s heard of that website and none of us like it very much… and let me tell you, reading through my “Rate My Professors” comments was probably one of the worst experiences that I’ve had as a faculty member, but it was really enlightening in the sense of seeing what kinds of things they were saying about me… and the way they were talking about me versus the way they were talking about him. So again, maybe he’s just a better professor than I am… so we weren’t looking for positive or negative. We were just looking at the content theme… and so the kinds of themes we looked at were: Does the student mention the professor’s personality? Do they say nice… or rude… or funny? Do they mention the professor’s appearance? Do they say ugly… pretty? Do they comment on what he or she is wearing? Do they talk about the competence, like how how well-qualified their professor is to teach this course and how do they refer to their professor? Do they call their professor a teacher? Or do they call their professor rightfully a professor? And these are the categories that we really noticed some statistically significant differences. So we found that my male co-author was more likely to get comments that talked about his competence and his qualification and he was much more likely to be called professor… which is interesting because at the time he was a graduate student. So, he didn’t have a doctorate yet… he wouldn’t really technically be considered a professor… and on the other hand when we looked at comments that students wrote about me, whether they were positive or negative… nice or mean comments… they talked about my personality. They talked about my appearance and they called me a teacher. So whether they were saying she’s a good teacher or a bad teacher… that’s how they chose to describe me.

Rebecca: That’s really fascinating. I also noticed, not just students having these conversations, but in the Chronicle article that you published, there was quite a discussion that followed up related to this topic as well, and in that there was a number of comments where women responded with empathetic responses and also encouraged some strategies to deal with the issues. But, then there was at least one very persistent person, who kept saying things like: “males also are victimized.” How do we make these conversations more productive and is there something about the anonymity of these environments that makes these comments more prevalent?

Kristina: I think that’s a really great question. I wish I had a full answer for you on how we could make conversations like this more productive. I definitely think that there’s a temptation for men who hear these experiences to almost take it personally… as though when I write this article, I’m telling men: “You have done something wrong…” when that’s not really the case… and, my co-author, as we were looking at these results about the comments and as we were reading each other’s comments, so we could code them for what kinds of themes we were observing… he was almost apologetic. He was like: “Wow, I haven’t done anything to deserve these different kinds of comments that I’m getting. You’re a perfectly nice woman, I don’t know why they’re saying things like this about you.” So, I think framing the conversation in terms of what steps can we take to help, because if I’m just talking about how terrible it is to get mean reviews on Rate My Professors, that’s not really giving a positive: “Here’s a thing that you can do to help me…” or “Here’s something that you can do to advocate for me.” So, I think a lot of times what men who are listening need… maybe they’re feeling helpless… maybe they’re feeling defensive…. What they need is a strategy. Something they can do going forward to help women who are experiencing these things.

Rebecca: I noticed that some of the comments in relationship to your Chronicle article indicated ways that minimize your authoritative role to avoid certain kinds of comments and I wonder if you had a response to that… and I think we don’t want to diminish our authoritative roles as faculty members, but I think that sometimes those are the strategies that we’re often encouraged to take.

Kristina: I agree, I definitely noticed that a lot of the response to how can we prevent this from happening got into “How can we shelter me from these students,” as opposed to “How can we teach these students to behave differently.” I definitely think the anonymous nature of student evaluation comments and Rate My Professors and internet comments in general. You definitely notice when you go to an internet comment section that anonymous comments tend to be the worst one. …and so the idea that what we’re observing, it’s not that an anonymous platform causes people to behave in sexist ways, It’s that there’s underlying sexism and the anonymous nature of these platforms just gives us a way to observe the underlying sexism that was already there. So the important thing is not to take away my role as the person in charge. The important thing is to teach students, and both men and women, that women are in positions of authority and that there’s a certain way to communicate professionally. Student evaluations can be helpful. I’ve had helpful comments that help me restructure my course. So, it’s a way to practice engaging professionally and learning to work with women. My students are going to work for women and with women for the rest of their lives. They need to learn, as college students, how to go about doing that.

John: Do you have any suggestions on how we could encourage that they’re part of the culture and in individual courses the impact we have is somewhat limited. What can we do to try to improve this?

Kristina: Well, I’ve definitely made the case previously to others on my campus and at other campuses that the sort of lip service approach to compliance with things like Title 9 isn’t enough. So, I don’t know if there at your institution there’s some sort of online Title 9 training, where you know…

John: Oh, yeah…

Kristina: …you watch a video

Rebecca: Yeah…

Kristina: … you watch a video… you click through the answers… it tells you: “are you a mandatory reporter?” and “what should you do in this situation?” …and I think a lot of people don’t really take that very seriously; it’s just viewed as something to get through so that the university cannot be sued in the case that something happens. So, I don’t think that that’s enough. I think that more cultural changes and widespread buy-in are a lot more important than making sure everyone takes their Title 9 training. So, in our work I mentioned that we did this in two parts, and the second part just looked at the ordinal evaluations. The 1 to 5 scale, 5 being the best… rank your professor how effective he or she is… and not only are students perhaps not very well qualified to evaluate pedagogical practices, but once again we found that even in these identical online courses, a man received higher ordinal evaluations than a woman did. And so what this tells me is in a campus culture we should stop focusing on using student evaluations in promotion and tenure, because they’re biased against women… and we should stop encouraging students to write anonymous comments on their evaluations. We should either make them non-anonymous or we should eliminate the comment section all together. Just because if we’re providing a platform it’s almost sanctioning this behavior. If we’re saying, “we value what you write in this comment,” then we’re almost telling students your sexist comment is okay and it’s valued and we’re going to read it… and that’s not a culture that’s going to foster positive environment for women.

John: Especially when the administration and department review committees use those evaluations as part of the promotion and tenure review process.

Kristina: Exactly. I mean when I think about the prospect of my department chair or my Dean reading through all the comments that I had to read through when I did this research, I’m pretty sure that he would get an idea of who I am as a faculty member that, to me…maybe I’m biased… but to me, is not very consistent with actually what happens in my classroom.

Rebecca: It’s interesting that anonymity.. right, we talk about anonymity providing more of a platform for this become present. But I’ve also had a number of colleagues share their own examples of hate speech and inappropriate sexual language when anonymity wasn’t a veil that they could hide behind, increasingly more recently. So I wonder, if your research shows any increase in this behavior and why?

Kristina: We haven’t really looked at this phenomenon over time. That’s just not something that we’ve been able to look at in our data, but I would like to continue to update this study. I definitely think that… current political climate is creating an atmosphere where perhaps people don’t feel that saying things that are racist or sexist are as shameful as they once perceived them to be. So there’s definitely a big stigma against identifying yourself as Nazi or even Nazi adjacent and that stigma, while it’s still there, the stigma against it seems to be lessening a little bit. I don’t know necessarily that I’ve seen an increase in what kinds of behavior I’m observing from my students, but I definitely will say that a student… an undergraduate student… gave me his number on his final exam this last semester like I was going to call him over the summer. So, it definitely happens in non-anonymous settings too.

John: Now there have been a lot of studies that have looked at the effect of gender on course evaluations, and all that I’ve seen so far find exactly the same type of results. That there’s a significant penalty for being female. One of those, if I remember correctly (and I think you referred to it in your paper), was a study where… it was a large online collection of online classes, where they changed the gender identity of the presenters randomly in different sections of the course, and they found very different types of responses and evaluations.

Kristina: Yes, that was definitely a study that that… I hate to say we tried to emulate because we were limited in what we could do in terms of manipulating the gender identity of the professor… but I think that their model is just one of the most airtight ways to test this. I agree, this is definitely something that’s been tested before. We’re not the first ones to come to this conclusion… I think our research design is really strong in terms of the identical nature of the online courses. At some point, I find myself… when I when I was talking about this research with a woman in political science who’s a colleague of mine… the question is how many times do we have to publish this before people are going to just believe us… that it’s the case. The response tends to be: “Well, maybe women are just worse professors or maybe there’s some artifacts in the data that is causing this statistically significant difference.” I don’t know how many times we have to publish it before before administrations and universities at large take notice… that this is a real phenomenon… that’s not just a random artifact of one institution or one discipline.

John: It seems to be remarkably robust across studies. So, what could institutions do to get around this problem? You mentioned the problem with relying on these for review. Would peer evaluation be better, or might there even be a similar bias there?

Kristina: I definitely think peer evaluation is an alternative that’s often presented, when we’re thinking of alternative ways to evaluate teaching effectiveness. Peer evaluation may be subject to the same biases. So, I don’t know that literature well enough off the top of my head, but I imagine that it could suffer from the same problems in terms of faculty members who are women… faculty members of color… faculty members with thick accents, with English that’s difficult to understand… might still be dinged on their peer evaluations. Although we would hope that people who are trained in pedagogy who’ve been teaching would be less subject to those biases. We could also think about self evaluation. Faculty members can generate portfolios that highlight their own experiences, and say here’s what I’m doing the classroom that makes me a good teacher… here are the undergraduate research projects I’ve sponsored… here the graduate students who’ve completed their doctoral degrees under my supervision… and that’s a way to let the faculty member take the lead in describing his or her own teaching. We could also just weight student evaluations. We know that women receive 0.4 points lower on a five-point scale, then we could just bump them up by 0.4. None of these solutions are ideal. But, I think some of the really sexist and misogynist problems in terms of receiving commentary, that is truly sexually objectifying female professors… that could be eliminated with almost any of these solutions. Peer evaluation… removing anonymous comments… self-evaluation…. and that’s really the piece that is the most dramatically effective in women being able to experience higher education in the same way that men do.

Rebecca: So, obviously if there’s this bias in evaluations then there’s likely to be the same bias within the classroom experience as well. We just don’t necessarily have an easy way of measuring that. But if you’re using teaching strategies that use dialogue and interactions with students rather than a “sage on the stage” methodology, I think that in some cases we make ourselves vulnerable and that does help teaching and learning, because it helps our students understand that we’re not you perfectly experts in everything… that we have to ask questions and investigate and learn things too… and that can be really valuable for students to see. But we also want to make sure that we don’t undermine our own authority in the classroom either. Do you have any strategies or ideas around around like that kind of in-class issue?

Kristina: Yeah, I think that the bias against women continues to exist just in a standard face-to-face class. One time, when I was teaching a game theory course, I was writing an equation on the board and it was the last three minutes of class and we’re trying to rush through you the first-order conditions and all sorts of things… and I had written the equation wrong, and as soon as my students left the classroom I looked at it and I went, “oh my gosh, I’ve written that incorrectly,” and so the next day when they came back to class, I I felt like I had two choices: we could either just move on and I could pretend like it never happened, or I could admit to them, that I taught this wrong… I wrote this wrong. So I did. I told them “Rip out the page from yesterday’s notes because that formula is wrong,” and I rewrote it on the board… and I got a specific comment in my evaluation, saying she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.. that she got that she got this thing wrong… and it was definitely something that, while I don’t have an experimental evidence that says that if a man does the same thing you won’t get penalized in the same way, to me it very much wrapped into that idea that women are are perceived as less qualified as men. So whether it’s because we’ll refer to as teachers or whether it’s because the student evaluations focused more on men’s competence, women are just seen as less likely to be qualified. How many times have you had a male TA and the students go up to the TA to ask questions about the course instead of you. So, I definitely think it’s difficult for women in the classroom to maintain that authority, while still acknowledging that they don’t know everything about everything No professor could. I mean we all think we do of course…. So, I think owning some of the fact that there are things you don’t know is important, no matter what your gender is, but I also try to prime my students I tell them about the research that I do. I tell them about the consistent studies in the literature that exists that shows that students are more likely to perceive and talk about women differently, because I hope that just making them aware that this is a potential issue, might adjust their thinking. So that if they start thinking “wow, my professor doesn’t know what she’s talking about” they might take a moment, and think “would I feel the same way if my professor were a man.”

Rebecca: I think that’s an interesting strategy. We found the similar kind of priming of students about evidence-based practices in the classroom works really well… and getting students to think differently about things that they might be resistant to… So, I could see how that that might work, but I wonder how often men do the same kind of priming on this particular topic.

Kristina: I don’t know. That would be an interesting next experiment to run if I were to do a treatment in two classes face-to-face classes and and you know do have a priming effect for a woman teaching a course versus a man and seeing if it had any kind of different effect. I think a lot of times men perhaps aren’t even aware that these issues exist. So, talking about the way that women experience teaching college in a different way… if men aren’t having this conversation in their classroom, it’s probably not because they’re thinking, “oh man, I really hope my female colleagues get bad evaluations so that they don’t get tenure.” It’s probably just because they aren’t really thinking about this as an issue… just because as a sort of white man in higher education you very much look like what professors have looked like for hundreds of years… and so it’s just a different experience, and perhaps something that men aren’t thinking about… and that’s why I’m getting the message out there so important because so many men want to help. They want to make things more equitable for women and I think when they’re made aware of it, and given some strategies to overcome it, they will. I’ve definitely found a lot of support in a lot of areas in my discipline.

John: …and things like your Chronicle article there’s a good place to start too… just making this more visible more frequently and making it harder for people to ignore.

Kristina: I agree. I think being able to speak out is really important, and I know sometimes women don’t want to speak out, either because they’re not in a position where they can or because they’re fearing backlash from speaking out. So, I think it’s on those of us who are in positions where we can speak up. I think it falls on us to try and say these things out loud, so that women who can’t… their voices are still heard.

John: Going back to the issue of creating teaching portfolios for faculty… that’s a good solution. Might it help if they can document the achievement of learning outcomes and so forth, so that that would free you from the potential of both student bias and perhaps peer bias. So that if you can show that your students are doing well compared to national norms or compared to others in the department, might that be a way of perhaps getting past some of these issues?

Kristina: I definitely think that’s a great place to start, especially in demonstrating what your strategies are to try and help your students achieve these learning outcomes. I always still worry about student level characteristics that are going to affect whether students can achieve learning outcomes or not. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds… students from underrepresented groups… students who don’t come to class or who don’t really care about being in class… these are all students who aren’t going to achieve the learning outcomes at the same rate as students who come to class… who are from privileged backgrounds… and so putting it on a professor alone to make sure students achieve those learning outcomes, still can suffer from some things that aren’t attributable to the professor’s behavior.

John: As long as that’s not correlated across sections, though, that should get swept out. As long as the classes are large enough to get reasonable power.

Kristina: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s definitely it’s time for more evaluation into into how these measures are useful. I know there’s been a lot of articles in the New York Times op-ed, I think there was one in Inside Higher Ed, really questioning some of these assessment metrics. So, I think the time is now to really dig into these and figure out what they’re really measuring.

Rebecca: You’ve also been studying bias related to race and language, can you talk a little bit about this research?

Kristina: Yes, so this is a piggyback project after after I got finished with the gender bias paper, what I really wanted to do was get into race, gender, and accented English. Because I think not only women are suffering when we rely on student evaluations, it’s people of different racial and ethnic groups… it’s people whose English might be more difficult to understand. What we were able to do in this work is control for everything. So, we taught completely identical online courses the only difference we didn’t even I didn’t even allow the professors to interact with the students via email. I told them to make sure I… like Cyrano de Bergerac…writing all of their emails for them over a summer course and so they were handling the course level stuff just not the student facing things. They were teaching their online course but they weren’t directly interacting with the students in a way that wasn’t controlled… and the the faculty members recorded these welcome videos, which had their face… it had their English, whether it was accented or not… and I’m I asked some students who weren’t enrolled in the course to identify whether these faculty members were minorities and what their gender was. Because what’s important isn’t necessarily how the faculty member identifies – as a minority or not – as whether the students perceive them as minority… and even after controlling for all of that… controlling for everything… when everything was identical, I thought there was no way I was going to get any statistically significant results, and yet we did. So, we controlled even for the final grades in the course… even we controlled for how well students performed… the only significant predictor for those ordinal evaluation scores with whether the professor was a woman and whether the professor was a minority. We didn’t see accented English come up as significant, probably because it’s an online course. They’re just not listening to the faculty members more often than these introductory welcome videos. But we did when we asked students to identify the gender and the race of the professor’s based on a picture. We asked the student: “Do you think you would have a difficult time understanding this person’s English” and we found that Asian faculty members, without even hearing them speak, students very much thought that they would have difficulty understanding their English… and then we have a faculty member here who… blonde hair and blue eyes… but speaks with a very thick Hispanic accent, and the students who looked at his picture… none of them perceived that they would have a difficult time understanding his English. So, I think there’s a lot of biases on the part of students just based on what their professors look like and how they sound.

John: Can you think of any ways of redesigning course evaluations to get around this? Would it help if the evaluations were focused more on the specific activities that were done in class… in terms of providing frequent feedback… in terms of giving students multiple opportunities for expression? My guess is it prob ably wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Kristina: I think, as of now, the way our course evaluations here at Texas Tech University look is that they’re asked to rate their professors you know in a 1 to 5 on things like “did the professor provide adequate feedback?” and “was this course a valuable experience?” and” “was the professor effective?” and that gives an opportunity for a lot of: “I’m going to give five to this professor, but only fours to this professor” even when the behaviors in class might not have been dramatically different. Now this is also speculation, but maybe if there was more of a “yes/no,” “Did the professor provide feedback?” “Were there different kinds of assignment?” “Was class valuable?” Maybe that would be a way to get rid of those small nuances. Like I said, when we did our study, the difference was .4 out of a five-point scale, and so these differences aren’t maybe substantively hugely different. Maybe it’s a difference between you know a 4 and a 4.5. Substantively, that’s not very different. So, maybe if we offered students just a “yes/no,” “Were these basic expectations satisfied?” maybe that could help and that might be something that’s worth exploring. I definitely think that either removing the comment section altogether, or providing some very specific how-to guidelines on what kinds of comments should be provided. I think that that’s the way to address these open-ended say whatever you want… “are you mad? “…are you trying to ask your professor out? …trying to eliminate those comments would be the best way to make evaluations more useful.

John: You’re also working on a study of women in academic leadership. What are you finding?

Kristina: A very famous political science study, done by a woman named Jennifer Lawless, looked at the reasons why women choose not to run for office. So we know that women are underrepresented in elective office, you know the country’s over half women but, we’re definitely not seeing half of our legislative bodies filled with women. What the Lawless and Fox study finds, is not that women can’t win when they run, it’s just that women don’t perceive that they’re qualified to run at all. So, when you ask men, do you think you’re qualified to run for office, men are a lot more likely to say: “oh yeah, totally… I could I could be a Congressman,” whereas women, even with the same kind of qualifications, they’re less likely to perceive themselves as qualified. So, what my co-author Jared Perkins at Cal State Long Beach and I decided to do, is see whether this phenomenon is the same in higher education leadership positions. So one thing that’s often stated is that the best way to ensure that women are treated equally in higher education, is just to put more women in positions of leadership… that we can do all the Title 9 trainings in the world, but until more women are in positions of leadership, we’re not going to see real change…. and we wanted to find out why we haven’t seen that. So you know 56 percent of college students right now are women, but when we’re looking at R1 institutions only about 25% of those university presidents are women, and then the numbers can definitely get worse depending on what subset of universities you’re looking at. We did a very small pilot study of three different institutions across the country. We looked at an R1 and R2 and an R3 Carnegie classification institution. Our pilot study was small, but our initial findings seem to show that that women are not being encouraged to hold these offices at the same rate as men are. So what we saw was that… we asked men “have you ever held an administrative position at a university?” About 60% of the men reported that they had, and about 27% of women reported that they had, and we also asked “Did you ever apply for an administrative position? …and only 21% of the men said that they had applied for an administrative position, while 27% of women said they had applied. Off course it could be that they misunderstood the question… that maybe they thought we meant “Did you apply and not get it?” but we also think that there may be something to explore when it comes to when women apply for these positions they get them. There are qualified women ready to go and ready to apply, but men may be asked to take positions… encouraged to take positions… or appointed to positions where there might be opportunities to say: “There’s a qualified woman. Let’s ask her to serve in this position instead.”

John: That’s not an uncommon result. I know in studies and labor markets starting salaries are often comparable, but women are less likely to be promoted and some studies have suggested that one factor is that women are less likely to apply for higher level positions. Actually, there’s even more evidence that suggests that women are less likely to apply for promotions, higher pay, etc. and that may be at least a common factor that we’re seeing in lots of areas.

Kristina: Absolutely. I definitely think that University administrations need to place a priority on encouraging women to apply for grants, awards, positions, and leadership because there are plenty of qualified women out there, we just need to make sure that they’re actively being encouraged to take these roles.

Rebecca: Which leads us nicely to the motherhood penalty. I know you’re also doing some research in this area about being a mother and in academia, can you talk a little bit about how this impacts some of the other things that you’ve been looking at?

Kristina: Absolutely. The idea to study the motherhood penalty in academia stemmed from reading some of those “Rate My Professor” comments. Because at my institution, we didn’t have a maternity leave policy in place… so I came back to work after two weeks of having my child and I brought him to work. So my department was supportive. I just brought him into my office and worked with the baby for the whole semester… and it was difficult, it was definitely a challenge to try and do any kind of work while a baby is, in the sling, in front of your chest… but one of my “Rate My Professor” evaluations from the semester that I had my son, mentioned that I was on pregnancy leave the whole semester and I was no help. And so this offended me to my core, having been a woman who took two weeks of maternity leave before coming back to work… because I didn’t… I wasn’t on maternity leave the whole semester, and in addition… if I had been, what kind of reason is that to ding a professor on her evaluation? Like she birthed a human child and is having to take care of that child… that shouldn’t ever be something that comes up in a student comment about whether the professor was effective or not.

So what we want to look at are just the ways in which women are penalized when they have children. Even just anecdotally, and our data collection is very much in its initial stages on this project… but as we think through our anecdotal experiences, when department schedule meetings at 3:30 or 4:00 p.m., if women are acting as the primary caregiver for their children (which they often are) this disadvantages them because they’re not able to be there. You have to choose whether to meet your child at the bus stop or to go to this department meeting… or networking opportunities, are often difficult for women to attend if they’re responsible for childcare. Conferences have explored the idea of having childcare available for parents because, a lot of times, new mothers are just not able to attend these academic conferences… which are an important part of networking and most disciplines… because they can’t get childcare. So at the Southern Political Science Association meeting that I went to in January, a woman brought her baby and was on a panel with her baby. So, I think we’re making good strides in making sure mothers are included, but what we want to explore is whether student evaluations will reflect differences in whether they know that their professor is a mother or whether they don’t. So, how would students react if in one class I just said I was cancelling office hours without giving a reason and then in another class, I said it was because I had a sick child or I had to take my child to an event. That’s kind of where we’re going with this project and we really, really hope to dig into what’s the relationship between the motherhood penalty and student evaluation.

Rebecca: Given all of the research that you’re doing and the things that you’re looking at, how do we start to change the culture of institutions?

Kristina: Well, I’m thinking that we’re on the right direction. Like I said, I see a lot more opportunities at conferences for childcare and for women to just bring their children. I see a lot of men who are standing up and saying, “hey, I can help, I’m in a position of power and I can help with this” and what, you know, without our male allies helping us, I mean, men had to give women the right to vote, we didn’t just get that on our own. So, we really count on allies to put us forward for awards. One thing, I think, that’s an important distinction that I learned about from a keynote speaker is the difference between mentoring and sponsoring. So, mentoring is a great activity, we all need a mentor, someone we can go to for advice, someone we can ask for help, someone who can guide us through our professional lives. But what women really need is a sponsor, someone who will publicly advocate for a woman whether that’s putting her in front of the Dean and saying, “Look at the great work she’s doing” or whether it’s writing a letter of recommendation saying, “This woman needs to be considered for this promotion or for this grant.” Sponsorship, I think, is the next step in making sure that women are supported. A mentor might advise a woman on whether she should miss that meeting or that networking opportunity to be with her child. A sponsor would email and say, “we need to change the time because the women in our department can’t come. because they have events that they need to be with their children.”

John: A similar article appeared in a Chronicle post in late February or maybe the first week in March by Michelle Miller where she made a slightly different version. Mentoring is really good… and we need mentors, but she suggested that sometimes having fans would be helpful. People who would just help share information… so when you do something good… people who will post it on social networks and share it widely in addition to the usual mentoring role. So, having those types of connections can be helpful and certainly sponsors would be a good way of doing this.

Rebecca: I’ve been seeing the same kind of research and strategies being promoted in the tech industry, which I’m a part of as well. So, I think it’s a strategy that a lot of women are advocating for and their allies are advocating for it as well. So hopefully we’ll see more of that.

Kristina: I think the idea of fans and someone to just share your work is hugely important. I have to put in a plug for the amazing group: “Women Also Know Stuff.”

Rebecca: Awesome.

Kristina: It’s a political science specific website, but there are many offshoots in many different disciplines and really it’s just the chance that, if you say, “I need to figure out somebody who knows something about international trade wars.” Well, you can go to this website and find a woman who knows something about this, so that you’re not stuck with the same faces… the same male faces,,, that are telling you about current events. So “Women Also Know Stuff” is a great place. They share all kinds of research and they just provide a place that you can look for an expert in a field who is a woman. I promise they exist.

Rebecca: I’ve been using Twitter to do some of the same kind of collection. There might be topics that I teach that I’m not necessarily familiar with… scholars who are not white men… And so, put a plug out like, “hey, I need information on this particular subject. Who are the people you turn to who are not?”

John: You just did that not too long ago.

Rebecca: Yeah, and it, you know, I got a giant list and it was really helpful.

John: One thing that may help alleviate this a little bit is now we have so many better tools for virtual participation. So, if there are events in departments that have to be later, there’s no reason why someone couldn’t participate virtually from home while taking care of a child, whether it’s a male or female. Disproportionately, it tends to be females doing that but you could be sitting there with a child on your lap, participating in the meeting, turning a microphone on and off, depending on the noise level at home, and that should help… or at least potentially, it offers a capability of reducing this.

Rebecca: I know someone who did a workshop like that this winter.

John: Just this winter, Rebecca was doing some workshops where she had to be home with her daughter who wasn’t feeling well and she still came in, virtually, and gave the workshops and it worked really well.

Kristina: Yeah, I definitely think that that’s a great way to make sure that that everyone’s included, whether it’s because they’re mothers or fathers or just unavailable… and I think that’s where we look to sponsors… the department chairs… department leadership to say, “This is how we’re going to include this person in thid activity” rather than it being left up to the woman herself to try and find a way to be included. We need to look to put people in positions of leadership to actively find ways to include people regardless of their family status or their gender.

Rebecca: This has been a really great discussion, some really helpful resources and great information to share with our colleagues across all the places that…

John: …everywhere that people happen to listen… and you’re doing some fascinating research and I’m going to keep following it as these things come out.

Rebecca: …and, of course, we always end asking what are you gonna do next. You have so many things already on the agenda but what’s next?

Kristina: So next up on my list is an article that’s currently under review that looks at the “leaky pipeline.” So the leaky pipeline is a phenomenon in which women, like we were saying, start at the same position as men do, but then they fall out of the tenure track, they fall out of academia more generally… they end up with lower salaries and lower position. So, we’re looking at what factors, what administrative responsibilities, might lead women to fall off the tenure track. We already know that women do a lot more service work and a lot more committee work than men do, so we’re specifically looking at some other administrative responsibilities that we think might contribute to that leaky pipeline.

Rebecca: Sounds great. Keep everyone posted when that comes out and we’ll share it out when it’s available.

Kristina: Thanks.

John: …and we will share in the show notes links to papers that you published and working papers and anything else you’d like us to share related to this. Okay, well thank you.

Kristina: 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.

20. New faculty transition

New faculty often come out of graduate programs that have trained them to be researchers but not teachers. The transition into full time teaching can be stressful and overwhelming for these colleagues. Maggie Schmuhl, a new faculty member in the Public Justice Department at SUNY-Oswego joins us to discuss how she has embraced evidence-based methods in her practice as a teacher.

Show Notes

  • Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Incorporated.
  • Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons.
  • LePore, Jill (2014). “The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman.” The Smithsonian Magazine. October
  • 12. The Active Learning Initiative at Cornell.” the 1/17/2018 Tea for Teaching podcast discussion with Doug McKee in which two-stage exams were discussed.

Transcript

Rebecca: Today, our guest is Dr. Maggie Schmuhl, a first-year faculty member in Public Justice at SUNY Oswego. Her research focuses on structural inequality, violence against women, and punishment. At SUNY Oswego, Maggie has taught American Criminal Courts and Judicial Process and Women in Crime. Welcome.

John: Welcome.

Maggie: Hello.

John: Today our teas are…

Maggie: I have a green tea that’s mint.

Rebecca: I’m also drinking green tea today, but mine is jasmine green tea.

John: I’m drinking a custom blend of peppermint, spearmint, and tarragon.

Rebecca: Ooh, yum.

Maggie: Fancy.

[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: So, today we have a slightly different setup. We invited Maggie to come in and talk a little bit about the experience of a first-year faculty member and that transition from graduate school to teaching. Can you describe a little bit about what that transition’s been like? You’ve completed one full semester; you’re into your second semester. So, what’s that transition like? And what are some of the biggest hurdles?

Maggie: Yeah, the first year has been a lot of trial and error, a lot of learning curves and really just getting to know the university… getting to know the students… the department… and all of the intricacies of balancing research, balancing teaching, getting better at both of those things, and you know making time to explore a new place, a new city, it’s been good so far.

Rebecca: So in graduate school, was there a focus on teaching and developing curriculum, or was it more focused on research?

Maggie: Grad school was certainly more focused on research. It was about developing our research styles, our methodologies, our research interests. Teaching was not a major focus for a lot of reasons… but often teaching was a responsibility that we had, but not one that was explored as in-depth as our research. Since my first year in the program they have implemented third-year development seminars to talk about teaching, but for most of us, we had to really find our own way, we had to rely on upper cohort members to help guide us through our first time teaching, and we really had to spend our own time thinking about what kind of teachers we wanted to be, and how much effort we wanted to put into our teaching.

John: This is not uncommon in graduate programs. The faculty are focused on their research because they have to be if they want to keep their jobs. There are some programs that do more professional development, but they’re relatively rare… at least in my discipline.

Rebecca: I went to graduate school at Syracuse University and they actually had a development program for graduate students.

Maggie: Oh, that’s interesting.

Rebecca: So there was in the beginning, but then I also was in a fellowship program, where you actually put together teaching portfolios, and things, like you would if you were applying for teaching positions and things. That was part of the development and there was ongoing workshops.

Maggie: Yeah, so I think, for me, when I realized that I had a passion for teaching, I spent a lot of time seeking out professors that were engaged in wanting to make all of us into effective teachers… and so that drive, I think, that perhaps came from my desire to be a better teacher, helped me find better resources… within the program… within faculty… and I also served as the president of our doctoral association, and so when it came time to go on the job market, we sought out those faculty that were interested in helping us develop our teaching portfolios, and so we’d hold programs but a lot of it was student driven.

Rebecca: Did you find it challenging, when you were in graduate school. to balance that? When you have this interest and desire to explore teaching almost as a secondary research interest, right?

Maggie: Right.

Rebecca: How did that work? and what challenges did you face because of that? Because I’m sure you had colleagues in the same position who weren’t as interested in teaching and just didn’t spend that much time on it.

Maggie: Sure…. and I think the demands of grad school really keeps any particular person from excelling at teaching… and spending the time that it takes to implement and learn about effective practices for most of us. We’re trying to finish our dissertations. We’re trying to publish on research, and while all of that’s important, there’s kind of a piece of the puzzle that gets neglected, and often it was teaching.

John: …and so, you’re now at a four-year school and you’ve been really active in some of our workshops. We had a reading group last semester that focused on Small Teaching and you attended that workshop regularly… and read through that… and then you implemented some things. How did that go?

Maggie: Yes, I really enjoyed those Small Teaching reading group that we did,0 mostly because it gave me the time and in place to really explore what I wanted to be in the classroom and how I wanted my students to interact with me in the classroom. In that group, I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk with other faculty members who have this experience and have the kind of classrooms that I want to emulate and to get to learn. I really enjoyed the Small Teaching reading group. It gave me a place and a regular time to work into my schedule to sit down, talk about the kind of teacher I wanted to be, to listen to teachers with a lot more experience and how they develop their classroom, and implement these effective learning strategies to create a more productive learning environment, and to teach students and to challenge them to think critically about the world.

Rebecca: I think sometimes carving out time is one of the most difficult things, right? To think about teaching.

Maggie: Yeah.

Rebecca: So the fact that you said that the reading group provides this regular way of holding you accountable to think about these things…

Maggie: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think being a first semester faculty member I wanted to get involved in the campus community… to get to know other faculty members… to see how they’ve been successful in and outside of the classroom… and for me to try to broaden my perspectives on teaching… try to learn about the techniques that are important to facilitate learning… and to carry on to help students become valuable members in the justice system and whatever career paths they they choose.

John: Now a little bit of background on the reading group, we had a hundred and two faculty and staff members who participated in it, a large proportion were faculty. We met multiple times a week, and one of the things that happened there is people from different disciplines got a chance to talk about issues they’ve had in the classrooms, and how they’ve worked on it, and they got suggestions from other people in different departments. How did you find that experience getting to work with faculty from the sciences, from the humanities, from art and so forth?

Maggie: What I really liked about the diversity of the faculty there was… especially the math teachers. Every time they would talk about their experience in the classroom, I remember my own struggles and successes at learning something like math. And to think of a discipline that we wouldn’t normally consider has (or can) benefit (maybe) from a variety of teaching methods. I think that hearing their experiences throughout their teaching careers gives some important insight I can carry on to my own classes.

John: Could you tell us a little bit about the courses that you teach, how big they are and what the subjects are?

Maggie: Yes, so currently I teach… well, and last semester I also taught American Criminal Courts and Judicial Process. These classes ranged anywhere from fifteen students to about forty students, depending on the time of day and the enrollment. The other class that I currently teach this semester is Women and Crime, and that is about thirty-five students.

John: …and what techniques have you tried that were new to you?

Maggie: So, one of the challenges I had in my first semester here was teaching at an 8 a.m. section, and trying to…

[LAUGHTER]

John: There are no good solutions…

Maggie: Yeah…

Rebecca: Was it trying to teaching at 8 am or was it the students trying to take a class at 8 am?

Maggie: I think it was the students trying to take a class at 8 am… for sure. It’s hard…

John: It’s hard to stay up that late…
MAGIE: It is.

John: …they get tired and they need to get some sleep.

Maggie: Yes, that’s the end of their day, as opposed to the beginning of most of ours… and so, the 8:00 a.m. class… it was like pulling teeth trying to get them engaged and participating. In the first semester, I think I carried a lot of the same methods and practices that I had developed in grad school, and some of them… through the Small Teaching reading group, I found that I have names for all of that practice… like retrieval practices… and summarizing and recapping at the beginning of courses and at the end of a lecture… and holding small discussion groups. But, somehow none of that was quite enough to bring the 8 a.m. students back to thinking critically about the judicial system. Recently, in my current semester, I’ve started pairing up the students… and I can’t remember exactly what we called this, but pairing up the students to… after they’ve completed a mini pop quiz in class (which they all freak out about, but eventually I tell them that it’s not being graded). So, I’ve paired them up and they discussed their answers and then as a group they present their new answers and…

John: …a think-pair-share method.

Maggie: Yeah, a think-pair-share method. Yeah, so I’ve been implementing think-pair-share and a lot of the 8AM students, especially the ones that were falling asleep, they’re now forced to you know really think about this material right off the bat, and it’s helped keep them engaged throughout the rest of the course. I’ve really enjoyed taking that method and seeing them wake up a little bit more.

Rebecca: That’s great…

Maggie: Yeah.

Rebecca: …it’s not a super difficult thing to employ…

Maggie: It’s really easy.

Rebecca: …but it makes a huge difference.

Maggie: Right, Absolutely.

Rebecca: …and something that may work across all class periods, but sometimes you just have that particular class that’s got a slightly different personality…

Maggie: Right, yeah.

Rebecca: Sometimes due to the time or sometimes just the makeup of the group, that …employing different things in that situation… sometimes you have to troubleshoot like that.

Maggie: Yeah, absolutely and I think…often when you do have big personalities in the classroom, they’re so much fun… and they really they bring the other students into the discussion. But when you don’t have that, if you have students who are maybe a little more timid in the classroom, I think that think-pair-share is a good way to bring each and every one of our students into the discussion.

John: What were some of the other techniques that you may have tried?

Maggie: I’ve also implemented some low-stakes testing for my American Criminal Courts class and that has been going well so far. We’ll see how everything continues in this semester. I’m hoping that this will leave them more prepared for their midterm and their final exams by continually asking them… and then asking them questions from prior lectures… a lot of interleaving… also give them bonus questions on those quizzes to help them predict what we’re talking about next week, so I think there’s going to be a tangible difference in their grades when midterms roll around.

Rebecca: I was really surprised when I implemented more testing. You always hear conversations about test anxiety and nobody likes tests… nobody wants to take tests… and I’m in a discipline where tests are not that common. But I’ve been surprised historically, that the students maybe grumble at the beginning about it…

Maggie: Um-hmm.

Rebecca: …but over time they actually really appreciate it… and if you didn’t have one, like “what’s going on, why don’t we have one today?” They find it helpful and useful to keep them on point. How are students responding to this regular testing?

Maggie: I was actually really surprised when I got an evaluation last semester where a student asked if they could have more tests in the class. Because the format of the exams was four exams a semester, they were longer and they were, I think, looking for something that kept them accountable for the readings… something that kept them accountable for paying attention in class… and so far everyone has been… I don’t think they’re thrilled with it, but I think they understand the reason for having the tests… because I took time at the beginning of our class to talk about why having these low-stakes testings are important for their learning, but important also as they prepare for exams… and to really get this foundational information to build on in future classes.

John: …just simply reminding them that, making a mistake on a quiz that an infinitesimally small part of their grade is much better than making that mistake on a major exam…. and reminding them that this is, in large part, for formative purposes can really help, I think.

Maggie: Yeah, and for some students – who are perhaps a little more on the perfectionist side – I’ve had a couple of them pretty concerned when they miss a quiz but I tell them that I’ve dropped the lowest quiz score…maybe it’ll be the lowest two quiz scores… we’ll see how the semester goes… but to keep them accountable, but also to remind them that they’re human and things happens… they miss a quiz… they forget… and they have the opportunity to learn from that mistake, but to have not such a detrimental effect on their on their grade.

Rebecca: One thing that came up in our reading group frequently, was that faculty had much more success in their classes with this particular technique, if you took the time in class to talk to your students about why you’re doing it and how that’s helping their learning. I think that most faculty who’ve implemented it like you, and have spent the time to share that information with students, have found far more success than faculty who have just implemented the technique without explaining it .

Maggie: Yeah, and that’s one thing I’d really took from the reading group too, is that if we explain to students why the things that they typically hate are actually important and are beneficial to them, there’s a lot more buy-in from them.

John: It’s helpful in general, because students have habits of learning that we know aren’t as effective as they could be, and they tend to resist things like testing for learning. They much prefer rereading things or highlighting things, and after the second re-reading the evidence is pretty clear that there is virtually no increase in the amount that they’ll remember later… but it doesn’t feel that way. When they take a test on something and they get things wrong, it doesn’t feel as good. So, it’s important to help set it up and prime them so that they understand that this is really useful for them.

Rebecca: …and I think when you take class time to talk about evidence-based practices, not just on the first day, but a few times throughout the semester, those same students who are struggling with other parts of learning will speak up and ask more questions. I had a student today who just called me over and was asking like “I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to structure my files, so I don’t lose stuff.” Just a basic organizational thing… but in my field that’s quite detrimental, actually, if you can’t figure out how to do it. …and so, it’s kind of funny. Now they see you as a resource of someone who can help me learn better, not just in this class, but in other classes too…

Maggie: Yeah.

Rebecca: …which is kind of a nice feeling sometimes.

Maggie: Yeah, and I’ve also found that even beyond pedagogical discussions with students, that some of these concepts actually can apply to a lot of the content that we’ve learned. So, in my Women in Crime classroom we’re talking about labeling theory, and what it does to a person when they think they’ve reached the limit of their identity, if they’ve….

John: …issues of stereotype threat.

Maggie: Yeah, right. Exactly. If they fit the stereotype, how do they… can they learn to move beyond that… and so I talk to them about how, when they’re journaling I write all of my comments to reflect the work that they’ve done, and not the person that they are. …and so, I had them to think back about some of those comments that I do make and I tell them that this was purposeful on my end… Because I want them to know that they can do better in some cases… and in other cases that work has reflected some of their best effort… and that’s a good thing, right? And that their effort is just as important as, perhaps more important as, who they are as a person.

John: So it helps build a growth mindset ..

Maggie: Yeah.

John: …of the sort that Carol Dweck talks about. and that’s really helpful, because if they can learn that they can learn and improve their work, they become much more effective.

Rebecca: One of the things that I’ve found, implementing some of these techniques (especially in the first couple of tries), is that, when it doesn’t feel good to learn, right? [LAUGHTER]… we sometimes have this illusion that we know something, but we don’t actually know it. The students can get a little downtrodden, right? … a little down on themselves… and so then you have to remember to monitor for that a little bit…. which I’ve learned over time, and then you got to kind of just stop and allow for an opportunity to show success. So, for example, in my classes, I started breaking my first project assignment into very small pieces, so everything was low stakes. But, I could see that at some point they just maxed out, and they’re “I can’t do any of this, like I don’t know any of this.” I was like “well, actually you do know most of it, you’re just panicking for no reason.” So, we stopped one day, and we just did we just did a brand new little thing that demonstrated to them that they could actually do the entire project that we’d been doing… in two hours, despite the fact that we’ve spent three weeks on it… and yes, there was a couple little hurdles that they had, but the hurdles they had were minor, and they could do it. I think to allow for that growth mindset… yes, you need them to fail and realize that they can do better, but then also allow for some opportunities where they get some real success too. It seems like you’re interested in this growth mindset idea, so have you been experimenting with any of these sorts of things in your classes?

Maggie: When I started doing the mini pop quizzes, because not only do I throw in a mini pop quiz occasionally, but I also have them doing low stakes quizzing over the weekends on Blackboard. So, I think they start to get a little overwhelmed. We were able to do this on our quiz, when we had everything in front of us, but now that we don’t have anything in front of us, you know, I can see it in their faces. They’re freaking out. They’re upset with themselves, because they knew that they had this information somewhere, they just hadn’t had the time to actually recall it without their notes. I think that, hopefully, the more we do this, the more they’ll take their quizzes maybe a little more seriously and try to really push themselves to do it without without their notes.

Rebecca: So, actually trying to recall the information as opposed to look it up.

Maggie: Right, yeah, right.

Rebecca: Yeah, sometimes students do things out of convenience and meeting a deadline as opposed to valuing the …

Maggie: Sure.

Rebecca: …learning and the more we demonstrate to them that we value that they’ve learned, the better. This semester, I just… for some reason my class is just full of anxiety in a way that maybe even last semester it wasn’t… I didn’t change anything… it’s the same thing… but I spent the time, I felt it…. this big ball of anxiety is not going to move forward… because the anxiety is getting in the way of learning now…. to just stop and recognize that you’re observing something… and then make a change…. this is what the syllabus says, but I’m feeling this and I see this. Do you guys agree? Yeah, great! How about we do this instead? Does that make sense to everyone? And then all of a sudden… buy-in again.

Maggie: Right, yeah. They feel like they have the ability to structure the class themselves right? ..that it’s not just you sitting there saying “This is what we’re doing.” You’re asking them: “If we change this, will this be better for our class?” I think that’s cool, and does keep them invested in the class itself.

Rebecca: What other kinds of supports do you feel a new faculty member needs in place to be successful as a teacher?

Maggie: So, I think that for me, because in grad school I sought out different faculty members and helped create some of the programs that I thought were missing… I think for those faculty members who haven’t put as much emphasis on their teaching, perhaps to reach out to them and maybe have a friend bring them along to activities and in workshops at the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching holds.

John: …and it’s not surprising though that some people, when they first start teaching would not put that much weight on teaching because they’ve just come from an R1 institution, where their focus is often entirely, or nearly entirely, on research … and most people start by teaching the way they’ve learned …and the way they’ve learned is often just simply lectures and exams…

Maggie: Yeah.

John: One of the things I’ve observed as a chair of our recruitment committee (for the last couple of decades) is that, in economics at least, a very large proportion of faculty have no background in teaching while they’re in grad school. In our last search, we had, I think, three or four people who had actually some knowledge of effective teaching practices… and actually three of them made it to our top five list of candidates, but they were by far the exception… and it’s a tough adjustment …and it takes a while, especially when you have to start your research very quickly in order to meet tenure requirements …it’s a difficult adjustment.

Maggie: Yeah.

Rebecca: I think the first semester, in general, is a tough adjustment. You’re at a new institution… there’s institutional memory that you’re not privy to… there’s all kinds of acronyms that you don’t understand. It takes a lot of time to figure out who this student population is… and you might not think that between institutions the students change very much, but man they’re really different… and you have to adjust your teaching to the population that you’re dealing with. As a designer, I would always jump on my soapbox to say you have to design for your audience, and I don’t think designing your classroom experiences is any different.

Maggie: I’d say in grad school, most of the courses I took were very heavy with reading…. and a lot of discussion based classes. But a lot of students don’t have the time to do the kind of reading we did… and that’s why it was grad school and this is undergrad…. and for them who are just learning… and I think we talked about this in the Small Teaching reading group… that we have the ability to make connections across different concepts and how they interrelate to each other, but the students aren’t there yet …and so, when you’re going from one institution where you have gauged where these students are and what kind of connections they’re able to make, because you know a little bit more about their experience, and then you move to a new university and those experiences… some of them are similar, but a lot of them are vastly different… and to gauge where they’re able to make these connections and how much I have to draw out those connections certainly changes on that university.

Rebecca: It isn’t just university, it’s sometimes like semester to semester….

Maggie: Sure.

Rebecca: …or group to group. You almost need to build in a way in your classes to figure out… some sort of little survey or something… like, who are these people? what do they already know?

Maggie: Yeah, yeah.

Rebecca: So that you can make those connections… so that you have a better understanding of what your class’s mental model looks like versus your own.

John: …and there’s a number of ways of doing it… some people will give a pretest at the beginning… just asking what people had, or some general questions about the discipline or their prior knowledge. Others will use clickers and other things throughout the term to assess knowledge before moving on. …and, as you said, just asking students to reflect on what they know and perhaps write it down or at least bring it to the discussion, is another good way to help determine the level, so you can do more just-in-time teaching and deal with what students come in with rather than what you think they should come in with.

Rebecca: What’s your favorite way of handling that John, in your classes?

John: It varies a lot by class. I use clickers regularly in actually nearly all of my classes. I don’t use it in the seminar class I’m teaching, but I’m using them in my econometrics class which is, I think, about 35 to 40 students, somewhere in that range… and I use it in my large class where I have somewhere between 360 and 420 students every fall… and it’s a good way of getting that sort of information. I’ve also sometimes used pre-tests on basic math skills or other things in my large intro class. Sometimes in a smaller class I’ll just ask them what classes they’ve had in the past. When I’m teaching econometrics, for example, I have some students who are math majors who’ve already had multivariable calculus and three or four stat classes. Other students come in who took, sometime in the last three or four years, a very basic stat class… and they come in with very different backgrounds and very different information. Some of the people in the class are math majors who just want to pick up a course and they haven’t had that many economic classes and so finding out what they know helps me determine how much emphasis I need to focus. One of the problems though is that students have such diverse that it’s difficult, but the more we can get them working together with peer instruction, the more they can help each other fill in those gaps.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that I like about what you were saying is that students, in some of those methods, it’s revealed what other students know too, so that they can see that “I have a different mental model, but it matches up with some other people, and here’s some other students and they have this other kind of information.” I find it helpful, and I think the students find it helpful to recognize that people come with different expertise and that we can lean on those expertise at different times. Do you have any strategies that you’ve been using to figure out who’s in the room yet or is that something that you’re still kind of experimenting with?

Maggie: It’s something that I’m still experimenting with. Last semester, I did a pretest and it was helpful for gauging what they knew about criminal justice, but not necessarily what they knew about courts and how those concepts in criminal justice relate to the court system… and this semester I did not do a pretest, but another thing that, I think has been an interesting way to see what they know when they know it is I’ve had them write down for a minute the important things we’ve talked about last class and then I go around the room and every person has to say at least one thing… and everything they know about that thing… but it has to be different from the other person and so that challenges them… and of course the people in the very back corner of the class are freaking out because they’re afraid everything’s gonna be said… but then it turns out that we only get to half of the topics that we actually discussed in the class. So, I think that giving them the opportunity to actually see what they know, I think is important for them in the classroom moving forward.

Rebecca: Yeah, a lot of students don’t have good metacognitive skills, in general. They have no idea what they know. So, if you take the time to get them to even stop and think about what they know, it’s more time than they probably spent on it…

Maggie: Right. Yeah.

Rebecca: …giving them the time and demonstrating that you think it’s valuable for them to spend time thinking about what they know… by you even spending two or three minutes in class on it… all of a sudden lets them know that that’s something that’s valuable.

John: …and actually I’m going to be trying something new this semester to help build on those skills with something that Doug McKee talked about in an earlier podcast, which is the use of two-stage exams. I’m giving an exam in my econometrics class next week next Wednesday and then they’ll all take it individually. Then I will grade them, and then the next class they’re going to work on subset of the questions in small groups… and then they’ll submit group responses which will be weighted as a portion of their overall score. So, basically, they get the opportunity to improve their scores on some of the more challenging questions by sharing their knowledge and in places where that’s been done they found some fairly significant learning gains from leveraging the knowledge of their peers.

Rebecca: Sounds very similar to Maggie’s strategy for some of her quizzes.

Maggie: Yeah. that’s exactly what the mini pop quiz that I’ve been implementing… that they can try to figure out their answers on their own, but then they can really talk with another student… see where their strengths are where… perhaps the other students strengths are and builds from there.

Rebecca: I think what’s nice about pointing out those two examples is that both emphasize peer instruction… but ones in a high-stakes situation… ones in a low-stakes situation. The fact that there’s kind of two graded parts in the in the two-stage exam is a way to demonstrate a way of doing it in a higher stakes situation and then a nice low stakes situation where they try it on their own but then they can collaborate before they’re ever graded is a different scenario and a different level of pressure, etc.

John: …and adding one more level complexity to mine… it’s actually a little lower stakes than it might sound because, while they have three exams (I’ve told them this at the beginning of the term but I’ll have to remind them after they get their test scores back), I have a series of exams that are progressively cumulative, and if they do better on the second exam it will replace the first; if they do better on the third exam it will replace either of the first two… because they’re tested on all the material again. So, they get another chance. It does make the subsequent exams a little bit higher stakes if they didn’t do well, but they have the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from that, and improve their scores.

Rebecca: Great.

John: …and thanks to Doug for the suggestion about the the two-stage exams!
Now, you’re also going to be trying something new next year. Oswego is introducing some new signature courses for students in their first year. You, very graciously, were one of the new faculty who chose to participate in that. Could you tell us a little bit about the course that you’re going to be doing?

Maggie: There’s a group of faculty who have been asked to teach very small seminar like courses that are really aimed at engaging students in their very first year… their very first semester at Oswego and with the intent to get them connected to the University and to get them really excited about their coursework and uncover some of their interests. The class that I’ll be teaching is called the Injustice League. It’s on crime, inequalities, and injustice in comic books… and so, in the class we’re going to read a lot of comic books and some graphic novels… and we will have the chance to talk about how those comic books reflect inequalities that exist in society… how they reinforce some of those inequalities… and how comic books are used today to deliver how comic books are used today to facilitate discussions on race, gender, class inequalities.

John: That sounds like a lot of fun

Maggie:Yeah, it’s gonna be…

Rebecca: Yeah, can I sign up?

John: I wish I could take many of these class but that one in particular sounded really interesting.

Maggie: Yeah, it’s gonna be fun, I think, for students who perhaps don’t have an interest in comic books… or those who do, they can share their interests and we can learn a lot of things about the worlds on our way.

Rebecca: What I like about that is using something that’s more popular media and then using it as a tool to apply critical lenses…

Maggie: Yes

Rebecca: …and really getting students to think critically. We don’t have to always think so abstractly to think critically…

Maggie: Sure.

Rebecca: …a comic book is a nice tangible thing that you can look at and analyze and evaluate.

Maggie: Yeah, and apply to other discussions that we have going on in society. So if it’s examining gender and equality, and the way female superheroes are portrayed in their dress, and how we, as a society, have developed gendered expectations of women and of women of color and all of those intersecting identities.

John: …and Wonder Woman was developed in large part to help correct some of those gender imbalances, right? …it was developed by a psychologist who wanted to help provide a better gender…

Rebecca: Have you seen what she wears?

John: Well, there was that, too… and and there were some other issues there, but that was the rationale…

Rebecca: Yeah, of course, it was a male psychologist.

John: It was, but…
[LAUGHTER]
…in any case…. Okay, never mind.

Rebecca: I was just having a conversation with another one of our colleagues the other day about some of the topics that are really intangible like race, gender, and inequality. There are things that we talk about, but they’re abstract or conceptual, and so sometimes students have a really hard time getting their finger on it and finding a doorway in. So, I like the idea of the comic book as a really specific physical object… a really tangible space to enter into those discussions rather than thinking up in the air….

Maggie: Yeah.

Rebecca: …where it’s not always easy to digest that if you don’t have a good mental model of what you’re talking about.

John: …and it may also make it easier for students to separate themselves from those issues, because of course they don’t have any biased views themselves… but when they start seeing it perhaps in the comic books it might be help them identify it more generally in society and in themselves and in the world around them.

Maggie: Yeah, it helps them uncover where their biases do lie.

John: Right, but they’re implicit biases in part because they’re not aware of them so…

Maggie: Right. Yeah, they discover where these gendered expectations that they have been surrounded by throughout their growth as children and adolescents… and in why those expectations are problematic, and through comic books they can actually see it. We can actually point to why wealth inequality can create a superhero or it can create a villain.

John: …and it’s also perhaps less threatening that way, because it’s a comic book. It’s not their life directly, but it’s a nice lens by which they can start seeing these issues better.

Maggie: Absolutely.

Rebecca: Sounds like you had a lot of exciting teaching things on the horizon, what else are you gonna do next?

Maggie: I would like to develop a class that looks at punishment and the historical development of punishment and how sexism and racism in society have influenced that development in our society. …and I think for classes, we’re talking about really tough subjects that it’s important for them to be engaged and to feel comfortable having these conversations, because they are so necessary… and through these techniques, I think it gives them a level of comfort in the classroom to be themselves and to understand their positionality in society and how their experiences have impacted the way they view these social issues, and how they can resist against some of those preconceived ideas.

John: Excellent.

Rebecca: Right.

John: …and I think this could be a great topic for a future podcast…

Rebecca: Yeah, we’ll follow up on that

John: …when your class is underway.

Rebecca: Absolutely. Definitely. Well, thank you so much for joining us Maggie and sharing your perspective. I think a lot of faculty can relate and have had similar struggles and also similar successes, but it’s really nice to see your journey. So, thanks for sharing it with us today.

Maggie: Thanks.

John: Thanks a lot. It’s great having you here at Oswego.

Maggie: Thank you. It’s good being here.

18. Faculty Development

We all want to be more effective teachers, but face increased demands on our time. What can colleges and universities do to efficiently support faculty development? In this episode, we discuss these issues with Chris Price, the Academic Program Manager at the Center for Professional Development at the State University of New York. Before joining the Center for Professional Development, Chris was the Director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at SUNY Brockport. While at Brockport, Chris also taught classes in Political Science and in the online Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies program.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: We all want to be more effective teachers, but face increased demands on our time. What can colleges and universities do to efficiently support faculty development? In this episode, we’ll discuss how teaching and learning centers in the State University of New York system are tackling these issues.

John: Our guest today is Chris Price. Chris is the Academic Program Manager at the Center for Professional Development at the State University of New York. Before joining the Center for Professional Development, Chris was the Director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at SUNY Brockport. While at Brockport, he also taught classes in Political Science and in the online Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies program. Welcome, Chris.

Chris: Thanks, John. Good to be here.

Rebecca: Today our teas are:

Chris: I just finished my coffee.

[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: It’s really an epidemic.

Chris: …but. if I was having tea, I’d be having Earl Grey.

John: Okay. Rebecca?

Rebecca: Jasmine green tea.

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

Chris: Mmmm. That sounds good, I’ll have to check it out.

Rebecca: So Chris, your role at SUNY is somewhat unique. Can you talk a little bit about what you do?

Chris: Yeah, sure. My role is kind of twofold. First thing that I try to do is keep abreast of what is going on in faculty professional development across the system and I do that primarily through talking with and networking with all the people in the system who do faculty professional development… and that runs the gamut from people who are directors of teaching and learning centers to those who work in instructional design and support online courses and hybrid courses and that sort of thing. So, that’s part of my job… and just keeping that group together. I like to say it’s like herding feral cats, because people do faculty development tend to wear a lot of hats and they are usually doing a million things at once. So trying to keep up to date with what they’re doing is kind of a challenge. The other thing I do is develop and deliver our academic programs… there’s the title: academic programs manager. Our academic programs really just service everybody who is involved with teaching and learning in the system. Our programs aren’t really meant to replace… or be the only thing a campus will utilize for their professional development for their faculty. They’re more supplemental. We have online certificate programs for new instructors in teaching and learning. We have programs that are for those to learn about assessment of student learning and institutional effectiveness… So, again a lot of them are really meant to supplement what campuses are doing. I just started in this role about three and a half years ago. I joined the staff of CPD permanently in July, leaving my position at Brockport. So, we’re really starting to ramp up the number of programs that we are offering.

John: You’ve been conducting focus group meetings at a variety of SUNY campuses on professional development needs of faculty. What have you found to be some of the most pressing concerns and needs?

Chris: Yeah, so let me just back up a second… just explain why I’m doing it. Back in July, as part of our program development, we sent out a survey to people work in faculty professional development and asked them what their interests and needs and concerns were… and we learned a little bit from that survey. We learned that the most pressing concerns are in three areas. Number one, helping faculty adopt innovative teaching and learning practices. Over sixty percent of the people who answered the survey indicated that that was something they were very concerned with. And then coming in number two, with just over fifty percent of the respondents, they were looking to help faculty instructors better design courses using sort of data and best practices to improve teaching and learning, and then third, we found that faculty developing folks across the system are really interested in increasing faculty and staff knowledge and participation in their professional development programs. So, those are the concerns but how can we address those concerns, and what is behind those concern? And so we came up with the idea of doing some focus groups across the system. We have 64 campuses, so we didn’t think we could do them at every campus, that would take it a little too long. We looked at the regions where people answered the survey so we wanted to first go out to the places where a number of people had answered the survey and clustered around there. So, so far I’ve done five of them in Plattsburgh, Purchase, Stony Brook, Genesee Community College and Buff State. I have another one scheduled in March at the CPD in Syracuse and I might do another one in Albany later in the spring, and so far I’ve had about a third of the 64 campuses represented in these focus groups. Most of them have been anywhere between five and 12 people and they all been pretty much nice and balanced between those at the community colleges, those at the comprehensives and those at the university centers. So, like I said I’ve been doing them over the last few months and I’ve learned a number of things.

We were joking before we started talking about this that resources are a top concern for many who do faculty professional development, but you’ll find though that it’s not the case…. and those who don’t have a lot of resources probably don’t want to hear this necessarily…. but there are some campuses where faculty professional development is really well resourced and there are a lot of funds that campuses are extending towards faculty professional development. The one thing I found consistent across the campuses, while some campuses don’t have a lot of resources for faculty professional development, you’ll find that the resources kind of followed trends. Many campuses, especially those that have online teaching and learning as a strategic priority, are investing money in supporting faculty professional development and online teaching. Lately we’ve seen a lot of resources follow other trends. Innovation… innovative teaching and learning… so you are seeing a lot of funds now expanded towards that. A lot of the campuses do follow what the system is doing and system does provide money for professional development for innovative things. So, one example would be the open educational resource initiative that’s going on now, where there is some money for that.

The second concern that faculty development folks seem to have is the fact that the folks they’re working with, the faculty, the instructors, teachers, professors… their needs and motivations for participating in faculty professional development vary… widely. Many that they work with are ahead of the curve in terms of adopting innovative teaching and learning practices and highly motivated to participate in their programs. These are the folks that come to all our programs, come to all our workshops, come to our professional development days. They’re the folks that are excited about what we do… and they’re the students that sit in the front row of the classroom, right? and they’re great and we love to work with them, and they give us great feedback on our programs and help inspire us to do what we do. However others, and I would say the majority of faculty, need incentives to participate in our programs like this… and so those are the folks that I think we spend a lot of our time thinking about.

What sort of incentives should we provide folks? Obviously, where resources are somewhat limited, we can’t just pay people to participate in faculty professional development. We have to be a little bit more creative in the incentives that we provide to folks.

The other thing about instructors is that, and again because they kind of are a heterogeneous group, some are very skeptical about what we do, and about innovation in general in teaching and learning. I think most professors tend to teach as they were taught. Typically, if you get a PhD or you advanced to this level of your career, you will be probably been successful no matter what others did to you… but, we have to face the fact that our students are not us. Most of our students will not end up as faculty as professors, and so the things that work for us aren’t necessarily going to work for them, and so the skeptical folk…. I mean again some of them are skeptical for a very good reason. There are a lot of innovative teaching learning practices that don’t bear fruit in the end. I won’t point anything out specifically. I don’t to alienate anybody from their favorite pedagogical technique… but if you look at the literature, there are certain things that just don’t work out in the end. So some of the skepticism is worthwhile listening to, while other skeptical attitude, you just gonna have to ignore, and figuring out which is which is a tough thing for these folks to do.

The other concern that faculty development folks have is that… and this is a concern I’m sure for everyone is that there’s limited time for professional development. One of the we’ve seen in higher education over the last couple decades, is the decreased number of tenured and tenure-track faculty, and what that essentially has done is increase the burden on those who are tenured and tenure track faculty in terms of service, especially. They are required to do more and more than their colleagues 20-30 years had to do, because they’re just fewer of them to share the load. There’s also just more going on on colleges and universities than 20 or 30 years ago. I mean there are just the programs and things that we have to keep afloat, are just increasing year after year… and then, of course, the fact that there are fewer tenured and tenure-track faculty means that more classes are taught on many campuses by adjunct part-time contingent faculty… and they don’t necessarily have time for professional development, because they’re either teaching five… six… seven… eight… classes or they’re working full-time in addition to the classes they teach. So all the folks that we would like to participate in faculty professional development, just don’t necessarily have the time to do it…. and so, trying to figure out ways to do just-in-time kind of professional development preoccupies a lot of folks who do faculty development. So, we had folks on campuses talk about going to departments and framing the professional development activities in the ways they think in their disciplines is one successful strategy.

Another challenge, and I have three more that I’ll mention, is we have folks who do this work who are directors of centers for teaching and learning….but not all campuses have centers for teaching and learning. Only about half have them ….about 30 to roughly 32 of 64 campuses, so those folks kind of do their work in the guise of a center… some of this work happens where faculty get release time to do professional development work or to lead faculty development sessions and that sort of thing and so that’s another population. A lot of this work is being done by instructional designers who are initially hired to just support online faculty, but they’re also not going to turn away faculty who aren’t teaching online if they ask for help…. and, in many cases, librarians are helping faculty with their teaching and so we have a heterogeneous group, and that kind of makes it hard to sort of say, okay… this practice will work for you… because you’re in a totally different department reporting to a different line than someone else… and then another challenge is the choice of whether or not to go deep with professional development… so… go and meet people one-on-one and do consultations, or go wide and schedule workshops… come up with online resources for folks to take advantage of on their own time…. and so this is a choice that folks have to make all the time, and the challenge behind this…. and the thing that I think compounds this challenge… is that we don’t really have a lot of good assessment data, impact data, about what works in faculty development. There’s some out there, but on the campuses, what most people look to to judge success are the numbers of people served. So, I know, for years at Brockport, when I would do my annual report, I would just count how many people we helped or we served through events or consultations, and of course the big events so that lots of people came, were the ones that Jack our numbers up… but that didn’t really say whether or not the folks who came to those events got anything out of them necessarily. I think we have a lot of work to do around assessing what works and what doesn’t in faculty professional development, and that’s going to help us in the long run hopefully improve the type of things that we do in the campuses… and the last thing… the last kind of concern… the thing that a lot of folks said that they tried to do and they struggle to do, was to look at faculty on a continuum, that faculty are a heterogeneous group. Some folks come and they are ahead of the curve… early adopters… on top of the literature of teaching and learning… and they are the ones that like I said are easy to serve and are very eager to learn from us and and to participate in our workshops and activities and that sort of thing. But many faculty, because they’ve got so many other things to do… their own research… many courses to teach…. lots of service… aren’t really on top of what works in the classroom, and it’s not always the best approach to pitch programs that are way ahead of where they’re at. You have to meet faculty where they’re at… so what’s innovative for someone is what you kind of have to define as innovative to that person. It not be innovative to you to say… I don’t know use clickers or something like that… but it may be innovative that person… and you alienate them if you try to make them think that they have to adopt techniques that are beyond where they’re at.

The problem is, this isn’t the most efficient approach and when you’re looking at every individual as a unique case, you can get bogged down and not really be able to create these programs that you could pitch to a general audience.

So the other challenge is that there are a lot of administrative and organizational churn. At Brockport, when I was there we had five Provosts in ten years… and with each Provost comes a new set of priorities and a new organizational structure to report to, and other people that we need to work with…. and so that also compounds the challenges. So I’ve been talking for a while, I bet you have other questions, but as you could see there are a lot of concerns that faculty development folks have… and they’ve been very generous and sharing with me so far.

Rebecca: So when you’re looking at the concerns and in these discussions, did some of these folks provide some information about innovative things that they’re doing to address some of the concerns that you just summarized for us?

Chris: Yes. Definitely, and I think a lot of them fall into a few categories. So I’ve talked before about either going deep or going wide. So most of them all do, and value, the one-to-one consultations they do with faculty, and so they are all still doing those. That’s where they really are able to have an impact I think, but others are trying to reach you know wider audiences through a variety of methods. For example, in Suffolk, they subscribe to this program called Monday Morning Mentors, and so all faculty, regardless of status…part-time, tenured, tenure track… they get an email on Monday morning with some kind of teaching tip directed at maybe something at that point of the semester… and they all get that, and it’s kind of low-hanging fruit for them. I think it’s easy enough for them to do it, and I think they subscribe to a service that gives them those tips. Other campuses are doing a lot with…. those are lucky to have some resources…are doing a lot around grants. So we talked about incentives and the need for incentives… and some faculty need that, and so some campuses are providing incentives to their faculty for… adopt a technique or redesign a course around something. For example, Farmingdale does this. They’ve had one around hybrid teaching and learning and other programs. Buff State has a program where they give instructors some money and some support to redesign a course around an innovative teaching technique.

Campuses are still doing day-long traditional professional development events with speakers and facilitators. Those are still popular… maybe not the most innovative things in the world, but I think they work really well… Some of the more kind of unique approaches I heard about related to regional collaboration. So, I know you guys at Oswego had that book club in which you invited folks from other campuses to participate. That to me is something that I hope to facilitate a little bit more within the system… because there’s something to be said for working with others on other campuses, to get your juices flowing and to hear about other things that others are doing. I think especially for those that are on campuses for a long time, you start to hear the same things over and over… and it’s helpful to sometimes sort of talk to folks outside of your campus… especially for faculty that teach the same discipline on other campuses….and that’s sometimes that’s a good way to think differently about your teaching…. and then the last thing I’ll say I’d like to see more of that I don’t see as much of… although Buff State just recently has been doing this.. and are planning on doing more of that is supporting the scholarship of teaching and learning through very informal ways, so providing incentives for faculty to take the time to do scholarship around their teaching… and supporting that… and rewarding that on the campus.

John: How have you seen the needs for professional development change since you’ve been involved with professional development?

Chris: Yeah, so it’s interesting, so I’ve been doing this work for about 13… 14 years… and when I started, there was a real hard boundary between those technology training and then those who do sort of teaching and learning professional development…. and so I’ve seen that slowly break down. The people that have attended the focus groups I’ve conducted so far have been both reporting to CIOs on campuses but also those who report to Provosts and so those boundaries…. they are slowly breaking down in which those who are using technology in their teaching… that’s not considered really separate from classroom based teaching. It’s all kind of mixing together and I see that as a very positive development because I think that we can’t avoid technology. now in teaching and learning…. and not that everybody has to utilize every single piece of technology that’s out there, but considering how it impacts learning… everyone should consider how it impacts learning, and I think we need to have all our tools in our toolbox to help folks do that. The other thing I’ve seen change is that innovation narrative, as I spoke about earlier, is really driving professional development conversation, and everybody seems like innovation and being innovative in higher ed is what everybody wants. I don’t think everybody knows exactly what they mean by that, I think some campuses using that term and not really I think defining what it means for that campus to be innovative… I think it’s a good thing that we’re considering what’s the latest and greatest out there in micro-credentialing or think of all these sort of innovative practices, I think campuses really need to think about what that means for them and teaching and learning centers are actually ideally positioned to help facilitate that conversation. Another change over the last 15 years or so is that active learning is no longer openly questioned by folks, When I first started I heard faculty say all the time: “Well, I learned great when I was in lots of lecture based classes and why can’t our students learn through lecture?” and now I think folks are recognizing the value of active learning techniques and we don’t have to throw away lecture… and I think there are a lot of good articles and research out there that shows that some lecture is valuable, but I think everybody, for the most part at least, now doesn’t openly question the value of active learning techniques. One thing I haven’t seen as much of, that I was hoping at this point we would see more of is assessment of student learning, scholarship of teaching and learning in classroom research being more widely adopted. I still don’t see a lot of that going on. There’s lots of educational research out there by people who are in the fields of Education, but for faculty to be doing their own research is something that I would like to see more of and I was hoping to see more of.

Rebecca: Over time, have you seen any changes in faculty doing more evidence-based practices?

Chris: This kind of goes back to the idea of innovation driving the narrative now. I think faculty do care that what they’re doing maybe has some basis in literature, but I don’t know that they’re actually diving in and doing the research themselves and sort of: “oh, this I saw this, I read this article… and there’s some research on this, and this worked… and I’m gonna adopt it.” I don’t necessarily see that that much, because I think once you start doing that I think you’re gonna start down that road of maybe doing some basic research yourself in your classes. I’d like to think that that’s the case…. but this is just an opinion, I don’t have any research to back this up… but my guess is that most fact that he still choose to do what they do in the class because their colleagues are doing it or they hear about it offhand. They’re not doing exhaustive literature reviews to make those decisions about what they do in the classroom.

John: But that does open up a bit of a lever for introducing new techniques, so that professional development centers don’t necessarily need to reach all the faculty… if they can reach some influential faculty member in the department and help them introduce more effective practices… quite often other people will adopt it… especially with the growing culture of assessment. If they see the results are a bit stronger or sometimes if someone introduces something more effective and students can see that it’s made the class more effective, they’ll often ask other faculty in the department to perhaps try something similar. I know that’s happened quite a bit here in a number of departments.

Chris: Yeah, I didn’t mean to suggest that hearing it from colleagues was not a good way to go. We have to leverage that, as you’re saying, John. I think we have to figure out ways to make those connections that faculty make with others a little bit more… almost intentional… and leverage that. I think it’s great when that goes well…. when someone hears something from a colleague and then they adopt it and they improve upon it and then they talk to their colleague about: “how here’s what you did… here’s how I did it… and then… oh…” and you listen…. It’s this iterative process… where that good expands out like that, but, as we all know, I mean we can also have bad expend that way as well, right?

John: Yes.

Chris: So if they’re not being critically reflective about what they’re doing….. you could imagine a scenario where folks latch onto something and it doesn’t really work well, but everybody’s doing it, so I guess I should too. So I’d like to see us leverage that and then there’s different ways we could do that.

John: …and those conversations don’t always take place in departments. I know here, periodically…. at least in my division in arts and sciences, the Deans have sometimes encouraged departments to have retreats where they discuss effective practices, and have these discussions… but they don’t always take place.

Chris: Yeah, and that was actually something that I would like to see more of campuses doing…. to put these discussions at the center of all their initiatives when something comes down, especially…. say…for a general education program reform. Finger Lakes Community College recently went through a general education program reform and they put faculty development at the center of that, and so… not only did they rethink how to deliver their curriculum, but they also thought simultaneously how can we help faculty improve their practice to meet the needs of this new curriculum… and I heard that again and again in the focus groups… that, the programs that faculty got the most excited about were the ones that were really tied very directly to what the college was doing strategically, and so they kind of went hand in hand. This is where administration plays a big role… and developers recommending this to their administrators is, I think, a good thing to do…. because… sometimes, they understand that faculty development is important… but they’re not faculty developers… they don’t do that… so they don’t know exactly how to build that into initiatives on the campus so that it works well. A lot of times, it’s just tacked on like: “okay, we’re gonna have this initiative to do this… and… oh yeah, we’ll have to have some professional development, so we’ll figure that out later. That’s not the way to do it. You kind of have to think about at the beginning for it to work well.

Rebecca: In addition to teaching and learning centers or professional development centers on campuses, what are some other ways faculty members can expand their professional development?

Chris: Yeah, so I think networking is probably the best way to do that. Try to find others… not necessarily on your campus, but in your discipline. All disciplines, for the most part, have either conferences or journals that relate to teaching in that discipline… and this is the way faculty think, right? They think first as whatever they teach….you’re a political scientist… you’re a psychologist… you’re a biologist… that’s how you think first. So, trying to find others who think in those terms… and think about teaching in those terms… I think is the first step for everybody to make. But, obviously, I think teaching learning centers are important, and I think all campuses should have them… because it’s nice to have that place where everybody, can congregate around teaching and learning… and have something for these initiatives to revolve around… Beyond those two things, I think teaching conferences are great… But, I think teaching and learning conferences are great mostly as venues for faculty to present their work… giving them an opportunity to present scholarship on their teaching. They can be good for learning as well, but I think learning in this area happens best when you’re really, again doing the research in your classes themselves first.

John: We’ve been doing reading groups here for the last three years… and one of the things that really surprised a lot of the participants…. because we had people coming in from all across campus… in very diverse areas…. is how common the problems that they were having were… and how many solutions people in very different disciplines had… because they wouldn’t have thought to look at that first… and your point about working first within the discipline is a very good one. Because, people are more comfortable if they hear it from other people teaching the same courses or very similar classes.

Chris: It’s funny… because that advice that I would give… going to your discipline first… it does run contrary to the idea that, as you just said, John, It is true that teaching and learning is teaching and learning… and the obstacles that people face are very similar even in very diverse subjects… but, like you said, you have to bring people along where they’re at… first.. and it’s good to see something a little bit familiar first…. and then kind of move on… and then maybe learn from others and other disciplines. So, yeah… it’s one of those things I always get pushback from folks a little bit… we know that you could learn from folks in other disciplines….and, in fact, it’s good to do that… but I think, for many people, it’s good to maybe start off looking in their discipline.

John: …Because when people try something new they have to move outside their comfort zone…. and making it a little more comfortable initially can often help.

Rebecca: I think we saw that a little bit in our reading groups as well… when you’re reading an example or something and it’s not in your discipline and you can’t quite envision how it might apply to your content area. So that’s where I think it’s really valuable to find people in your discipline who can bring some expertise to the table.

John: …and even just the comfort of knowing that other people have done these things and it’s worked… and they can provide you with examples and sometimes a more packaged solution that directly applies to your discipline.

Chris:Yeah, that’s actually one of the innovative practices that… actually they’re talking about this at Buff State…. and they have folks get together and and share resources and repositories, They’ll create some kind of learning activity and then they’ll put it in a repository and then you could adopt that… you could amend that… and I think having those resources in your discipline leads to that culture of sharing first…. and once you start down that path you can, like I said, look to other disciplines to learn from and adopt practices from. It’s like I said a way of moving along a continuum. You have to start where you’re most comfortable and then push yourself gradually to other areas where you’re not as familiar.

Rebecca: What about faculty who are those early adopters? …or who might be a little ahead of the curve? How do we make sure that we continue to engage them?

Chris: That’s a great point. I think those are the folks that you need to have on your advisory board for your Center. Those are the folks that you’re going to bring in to do workshops… but you also have to mentor them a little bit… because I think, like in a class where you have those advanced learners, they can sometimes turn off those who are more novice… because they appear to be know-it-alls… or “I never can know what that person knows.” So, with some careful mentoring, I think those are your folks that you could turn to to help deliver programs and workshops…. maybe facilitate learning communities or reading groups…. really try to harness their enthusiasm. They’re also the folks that you turn to when you want to have folks meet with administrators, and broker or at least advocate for your programs because administrators always like the examples of faculty who are doing innovative things… and so those are folks that we want to send to meetings or advocate for resources for your Center.

John: You mentioned learning communities. One of the things I’ve heard from many people at Brockport was how effective the learning communities were at Brockport. Could you tell us a little bit about how you arrange them? …how they work? …and what sort of incentives were provided to faculty to participate in those?

Chris: Yeah, sure. The way the faculty learning community program worked at Brockport was, it was very faculty centered. We would solicit applications from those who are interested in facilitating a learning community on a topic. We did not restrict the topics to just teaching and learning… We opened it up to, say, research methods types of learning community topics. So we had a couple run on qualitative research methods… quantitative research methods… so we didn’t provide a lot of guidelines around what topic we were interested in learning about. Which is a little bit unique. There are many colleges and universities that organize them around themes and they come up with the themes in advance. So we decided, well… let’s see what the faculty want to learn about… let’s get that full list to put out there.
After that step, we would advertise the proposed topics to the faculty, and even before they ran, we asked them to sign up, so that it would help us decide which ones we would select and run based on how many folks would sign up for them. In an average year, we’d usually have maybe six to ten proposals…. and of those six to ten maybe only five to eight had enough people for them to run. We would usually require at least like eight people to sign up for them to be considered. Then we would look at them and then we would make the decisions. Part of my advisory groups role was to make those decisions about which ones we would fund.

The person who proposed it would be paid as a facilitator to make sure that FLC [faculty learning community] would accomplish what it had proposed to accomplish throughout the year… and mostly that just they would meet every couple of weeks… and then I would meet with those facilitators as a kind of mini-learning community once a month, just to check in and see what they needed… and basically just talk together collectively about their progress during the year.

They would run for an academic year. We’d actually start working over the summer. I’d have a full-day orientation for the new facilitators usually in June, before the year they would run… and then the FLCs would meet every couple weeks. One of the things I always stressed with the FLCs, and I think one of the things that made them work well, is that the goal of FLCs was the professional development of the members. They weren’t really required to come up with a collective deliverable… that’s the job of a committee… and I want to stress that FLCs, if they work well, can’t be seen as committees. They have to be seen as a group of folks who are looking to learn together… and really learn something… and a benefit to their own practice… At the end, some of the FLCs would pursue group projects, but that was their decision. It wasn’t something we would impose upon them… and my other concern with that is I didn’t want the FLC program to be seen as a vehicle to accomplish initiatives on the campus…that say, the administration wanted to accomplish and sort of co-opt them. …and there were occasions where we would get applications for FLCs, where a clearly a Dean had put the bug in the ear of a faculty member and said: “Hey, propose an FLC on this topic.” …but faculty would never sign up for those.

[LAUGHTER]

So they would never run anyway… but, yeah…. it was a great program. They did have a little bit of a budget… a few hundred dollars per member… that they would pool collectively… sometimes to send someone to a conference, or a couple people to a conference or buy us some materials or buy a piece of hardware or software to help what they do.

If you go to the Brockport website and search Brockport faculty learning communities, you’ll find all the ones that we did… and their end-of-the-year reports we would put on our website, so that we would share their learning with the entire community. My favorite part of the program was at the end of the academic year, we would have a end-of-year luncheon. We invited all the FLC members… usually the Provost would come… and then we would invite the people that were going to facilitate and/or be part of the next year’s FLCs to hand the baton off to them, and so they can hear about what those FLC accomplished and what those folks accomplished and then inspire them to do their work the following year.

John: That’s a very nice structure.

Chris: Yeah, it worked really well. Thing that was great about it was that it kind of helped me do my work. There were topics that faculty were concerned about,… say: “Hey, propose a FLC on that topic.” ….and it would really start to generate this momentum around faculty developments in those areas… that they would take the ball and run with that. I was a center essentially of one, we had one other full-time staff member, an administrative support person, so there was only so much I could do, by myself and with only a couple of people, so these were ways for faculty to own their professional development… faculty centered professional development is the way I would always look at.

John: Excellent.

Rebecca: So what are you gonna do next?

Chris: One of the things that I would really like to do… on the top of my wish list for the system, is to take almost that FLC model… and apply it in the system. Now, I don’t think it makes sense to do it exactly the way we did at Brockport and just sort of say: “Hey, we’ll have system-wide FLCs.” I don’t think that necessarily would work, but I would like to have some kind of a network of faculty who are involved in teaching and learning projects… maybe scholarship of teaching and learning projects… or action research projects. Something where they’re doing a investigation of a teaching and learning method…almost like SUNY teaching and learning scholars… or something like SUNY teaching scholars…. or something like that… where they collectively work together… most of its going to have to be virtually… online… where they’re working together… supporting one another… getting support from the system somehow…. and at the end presenting their work maybe at CIT [a SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology] or another sort of system-wide program, and then we can gradually build this cohort of SUNY teaching scholars and have maybe them be recognized by their campus somehow. I haven’t figured how we’re gonna do that yet, but I’ve been putting bugs in the ear of anybody they will listen about that. I think that we should do something like this.

Rebecca: Sounds pretty exciting. I think there’s desires on individual campuses for a cohort like that, but maybe there’s not always enough of a cohort on an individual campus… so having something system-wide could be really beneficial.

Chris: Yeah, exactly and again I think just that benefit of hearing from people on different campuses… just these focus groups I’ve been having… they’re just one shot, two hour deals, but having folks come together regionally, and really facilitating that regional conversation… I think they’ve been sort of saying: “Oh, this is great… we should do this more often.” So, like I said, I’m hoping this to spur those connections and I see this as just another opportunity to do that.

John: Excellent.

Rebecca: Great. Well, thanks for spending some time with us today and sharing your expertise and getting us all thinking a little bit more about our own professional development.

Chris: My pleasure, yeah.

John: Thank you, Chris.

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