308. Design for Learning

We tend to design courses for ourselves because we are the audience we know best. In this episode Jenae Cohn joins us to explore how user-experience design principles can help us create effective and engaging learning experiences for the students we have right now. Jenae is the Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author of Skim, Dive, and Surface: Teaching Digital Reading. Her newest book, co-authored with Michael Greer, is Design for Learning: User Experience in Online Teaching and Learning.

Show Notes

  • Cohn, J. (2021). Skim, dive, surface: Teaching digital reading. West Virginia University Press.
  • Cohn, J., & Greer, M. (2023). Design for learning: User Experience in Online Teaching and Learning. Rosenfeld Media
  • Global Society of Online Literacy Educators
  • Horton, S., & Quesenbery, W. (2014). A web for everyone: Designing accessible user experiences. Rosenfeld Media.
  • Web Accessibility Guidelines
  • Copies of Design for Learning may be ordered at the Rosenfeld Media website. The discount code for listeners is TEA20. It’ll be available on Wednesday, 9/27 and will give listeners access to 20% off the book for one month (i.e. 30 days).


John: We tend to design courses for ourselves because we are the audience we know best. In this episode we explore how user-experience design principles can help us create effective and engaging learning experiences for the students we have right now.


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: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guest today is Jenae Cohn. Jenae is the Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author of Skim, Dive, and Surface: Teaching Digital Reading. Her newest book, co-authored with Michael Greer, is Design for Learning: User Experience in Online Teaching and Learning. Welcome back, Janae.

Jenae: Thank you. I’m so glad to be back.

John: It’s good to see you again.

Jenae: …Good to see you, too.

John: Today’s teas are… Jenae, are you drinking any tea?

Jenae: I sure am. I’m always prepared to drink tea. Especially when I’m talking to the two of you. But I went for a classic English breakfast tea this morning. Do you both have some tea with you?

Rebecca: Yeah, I have English tea time.

Jenae: We’re matching…

Rebecca: Yeah…


John: And, I’m not. I have [LAUGHTER] ginger peach black tea today.

Jenae: That sounds really good, though.

John: It is.

Rebecca: Sounds like a good way to start the day, for sure. So we invited you here today to discuss Design for Learning. Can you talk a little bit about how this book project came about?

Jenae: Absolutely. So my colleague Michael and I have a lot of shared interests. Michael and I both are trained in rhetoric and composition. And we both are people really interested in online writing, online reading, and online learning, broadly speaking. We both served on the board for the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators, which is an organization dedicated to supporting folks who teach reading and writing online, broadly speaking. Through that organization, we got to know each other better. And we just realized how much we wanted to talk about what it really meant to create quality online learning experiences. And something that kept cropping up for the two of us. And I should say that both of us have had like a hodgepodge of jobs in and around higher education. We kind of joke that we were both sort of like these misfits in higher ed, people who have kind of done a bit of teaching, a bit of admin. He’s worked in publishing, I did a lot of work in instructional design and just higher education pedagogy. And something we noticed, just in the various roles that we were in was that educators, professors, faculty could learn a lot from user experience frameworks. And we were reading a lot about UX and UI in the work that we were doing around instructional design and for him publishing, and it just dawned on us like, why are we not bridging these conversations between the work of thinking about designing learning interfaces and the work of building really good, high quality learning experiences. I think we notice that in higher ed, there is this tendency to kind of try and reinvent the wheel around defining what a good teaching experience, especially what a good online teaching experience is by just creating really kind of exhausting templates and tons of checklists and rules. And we really thought those are useful, but wouldn’t it be more useful just to remember that students are people navigating devices online? And can’t we use the frameworks that help inform those design decisions to inform the design of learning experiences to make them better? So that was really the genesis of this project. We started off thinking we’d write a bunch of blog posts and then it struck us that blogs and articles were great, but wouldn’t it be even better if we wrote a book [LAUGHTER]. So we put it all together, and it resulted in this book.

John: So who’s the intended audience of this book?

Jenae: We really are targeting a broad audience with this book, I’d say primarily folks who do instructional design style work in mind. So in higher ed, that could be faculty, a lot of faculty play the role of instructional designers, as well as facilitators and teachers, of course. But, we also hope that this book would really reach folks who do dedicated instructional design support. We also hope that this would just reach people who are having to teach online or do trainings or workshops online, and who are still really struggling with it. This book, I would say, was written before the pandemic happened. We were, I would say, drafting and conceptualizing it before the pandemic. And of course, the pandemic shaped the drafting as we went, there’s still COVID-19 out there, so I don’t want to say we’re beyond the pandemic. But in this moment where we’re beyond perhaps like a peak point of the pandemic, let’s just say. There may be folks who are still wanting to be more intentional about what it means to provide more equitable access to online learning experiences, who want to be designing in a more intentional way, and who want to be really thinking critically about how to create more sustainable online learning experiences, as well, that really work. I think we were also on a mission with this book to prove that really, anyone can do this, you just need to keep some known principles in mind that, again, this is not totally new territory, and scholars and user experience and human computer interaction have been thinking for a very long time about how to make information accessible online, and how to make sure that information and interactions are easily navigable. And so that was really the literature we wanted to tap into. So that’s all to say that I think people who benefit from reading this book is really anyone who wants to be creating a better online learning experience for whatever teaching situation they’re in.

Rebecca: I’m, of course, super excited about this book, because I’m a UX designer. I love that you use that framework to write this book. Can you talk a little bit about why you chose this approach?

Jenae: Absolutely. I’m so glad that you appreciate this book exists. We’ve gotten really good reception from the UX community on it as well. I would say that we use this framework because we felt like it really centered the learner in an important kind of way. I think that in a lot of teaching situations, people who educate or design learning are often more thinking about the content: What information do I have to deliver? What are the main things that I need to make sure people know how to do? Those aren’t bad things to focus on, we need to cover content, and we need to make sure that there are clear outcomes. But I think it’s most important to really think about how is someone engaging with that content? How are they understanding it? What are their opportunities to understand that content in a variety of different ways. And I think what a user experience framework allows us to do is to center that reminder. Learners have these embodied experiences that shape how well they’re going to be able to learn, how well they’re going to be able to interface with the information. And if we’re talking about that in an online context, in particular, it’s impossible to do so without addressing what it means to, again, engage with and use these online environments effectively. So I think a UX framework really just allows us to be more centered in reminding ourselves who really benefits from the learning experiences we design, and who really needs to have access to [LAUGHTER] the information to be successful. And I think UX frameworks just really help us center that.

John: Can you talk a little bit about how this approach centers the user in terms of practical ways in which that’s built into the design process?

Jenae: Sure, one way to sort of think about that is to really take a step back and try to remind yourself just who is taking your class in the first place. Starting there, starting from the place of trying to be curious about who your learners really are. I think that it’s easy to make assumptions, I’ll just say in higher education, in particular, since I think that’s primarily the audience for this particular podcast. I think a common misconception, for example, is that all students entering their class are traditional college age, 18 to 21 years old, but like, I should put a big asterisk on that and say, that’s probably not the traditional age at most institutions anymore. But that’s the stereotype of kind of who a college student is. And there may be some assumptions about what their prior learning experiences were like that brought them into a college classroom… about the prior knowledge that they had. And so what I think a user-centered design encourages us to say, “Do we know that? How do we know that? What information do we need to gather to remember who’s actually coming into our rooms?” And I’m not suggesting that any educator has to like, do deep dive demographic data work to find out who their learners are. But I think most of us can kind of anticipate the range of people who are coming into our classes. We might anticipate just the different types of learners that we may encounter. And by that, I mean, it’s worth, I think, before you start designing, just trying to remember, what are the different motivations that students have for coming into the class? What are their purposes for being there? What are the main things that students are going to want to do by being in your class or your training or your workshop at any given moment? So starting by just sort of trying to map out who those people are? And then try to anticipate, okay, given this motivation, or this purpose that this learner may have, what kinds of things might they be looking for… literally looking for my online course? What things will they click on first? Which links are they going to want to access most frequently? Which resources are going to benefit them on the site most? And then trying to design your learning management system course site, or if you’re not using learning management system, your course website, broadly speaking, to really privilege the resources, the links, the activities, the pages that are going to be best aligned with what you anticipate your users or your learners may need. And Rebecca, I’m sure, can speak to this given her expertise, too, but UX design really is a whole process of trying to consider how the visual information, how even like the tactile information, say how your keyboard was set up, how your device is set up, how that allows you to most easily use and engage with products, so to speak, that you’re building. And in this case, we want to think about how can you build the best online course that you can, in a way that allows users to most easily find the information you anticipate they will most frequently need?

Rebecca: So one of the things I’m hearing you say, is really thinking about the wide variety of learners that we have and the different needs that they have and trying to address that. One of the things that’s really popular in UX design and that you talk about in your book are personas. Can you talk a little bit about how learner personas can help us think through the different kinds of learners that we have in our class in a really practical, tangible way. You just kind of provided that theoretical framework, but I love that the personas is such a practical application of that.

Jenae: Yes, thanks for asking that. Rebecca, I was debating whether to dive into that with the last question. But let’s dive into it now. So for those who aren’t familiar, personas are an exercise where you really try to create a character sketch, I would say, of the user you’re imagining is going to engage with your course or in this case, try to imagine an example of a student who’s going to be in your class. And by creating a character sketch, I mean, I encourage instructors, if they have the time to sit down and say, “Okay, what might be the name of someone in my class? What might be their age? What might their prior experiences with learning my topic have been? Why are they here? What brings them to college? Or what brings them to this class in the first place? What are going to be some of their biggest challenges? What are going to be some of their biggest hopes? What are the things that they’re going to be most excited about doing in this class?” And again, it’s a bit of an imaginative exercise. And so I think it’s easier to do with more teaching experience. But it’s also not impossible to do even if you’ve had relatively limited experience. It’s really just an exercise in trying to think through who might be the real people that you are engaging with, I do want to say that there’s been a lot of conversation in the UX community, and again, Rebecca, you may have some thoughts on this, too, about sometimes the stereotypes that personas can perpetuate. For example, I think there have been concerns in the UX community that when you try to characterize, say, an older user, of an online interface, a stereotype might be that they struggle more or are more challenged with using technology than, say, a younger user. And that that might be a challenge to anticipate. And so I want to be mindful, for example, that if you are going to be in the practice of building personas, which we talk about in the book, because I do think is a useful exercise to kind of try and make concrete for yourself who is going to be on the receiving end of your experience, that you do try to check yourself a little bit on reinforcing stereotypes to the best of your ability. It’s easy to do, stereotypes exist because we notice patterns sometimes in how people behave. And that can sort of reproduce some harmful assumptions about who those users are. But again, to the best of your ability, attempt to anticipate what the needs might be based on what you do know about who might be in the room, just again, kind of reminding yourself that you’ll want to think about your personas in nuanced ways, and not necessarily make assumptions about who they are. And I would say one solution to that, how am I supposed to write a generalized description of a persona, while avoiding all possible stereotypes about who they might be? I would say again, time allowing, try to run your personas by other people, and just see what their reactions are to reading them. For example, if you have a trusted colleague, or a friend who teaches a similar class, or who you work with regularly, just show them what you’ve drafted and say, “Does this feels like a real person to you?” And to attempt to ask diverse people about how your persona sketches are landing or how realistic they feel to them. That’s always a good way to kind of gut check, and just make sure that as you’re anticipating your users’ needs, you’re not falling too much into your own biases about who the people are that you’re supporting in your course.

Rebecca: So one of the things, I think, people do sometimes run into when they’re making personas is to create the ideal student that doesn’t exist, and also to recreate themselves. And so one strategy that I often recommend is thinking about creating aggregates of people that you do know. Because then they’re more realistic in terms of the way they might interact. So if you’ve taught a class before, you might have a real pool of people you could draw from [LAUGHTER] and to create a persona from, obviously, that’s more difficult when it’s a new place. And I was also going to offer up in terms of thinking about disability and thinking about accessibility, that there’s a book called A Web for Everyone, and they have a lot of resources. It was published quite a while ago, but they have a lot of resources still online, they have some personas for people with a wide range of different kinds of disabilities. And sometimes that can be really useful in just thinking through kinds of scenarios that you might not think of on your own.

Jenae: That’s fabulous. I would love to see that resource about sort of supporting accessibility, especially. That’s such a huge issue in designing online learning experiences, particularly. I’m so glad you mentioned those resources. That’s fantastic.

John: And while there may be those types of biases that you might have, those who’ve taught classes multiple times do know some of the types of problems that past students have had. So those issues that they’ve experienced in the past could be built in. But one of the other things you suggest is doing a pre-course survey, so that you get some more information about the actual students in the room rather than those who may have been thinking about when you initially designed the course? Could you talk a little bit about that survey?

Jenae: Yes, I’d be happy to talk about the pre-course surveys. So this is a practice that, I think, has multiple benefits. So in a pre-course survey, I think instructors have this wonderful opportunity just to ask students what their motivations are for engaging with the class, what brought them here, how they would characterize some of their prior experiences with learning similar topics, if any, and just to voice what concerns they have, or what things are exciting to them about the term ahead. I’m giving a lot of examples of possible questions and I just want to acknowledge that not all instructors will want to ask all of those questions all at once. But those kinds of questions that really get at motivation and concerns, I would say, in a nutshell, can be really critical, both for adjusting, I think, those persona expectations. So, creating personas should be an iterative process, I should say, as well. It’s not a one and done thing where you anticipate who your learners are prior to the course starting and then you’re like, “Okay, I figured it out, I know who all the students are. Knowing who the real students are, can then allow you to go back to what you anticipated. I think, and both of you, Rebecca and John, were speaking to how you could use prior information from prior terms to inform your kind of current term or current course. Great, you could sort of just align your prior understanding with this current information you might get from these surveys to then go into your course website, or your course learning management system, your syllabus and say, “Okay, is this design going to work for the group of people who are actually here based on what I’m reading?” …recognizing, of course, that nothing’s gonna be perfect for everyone. But you can do the best you can to try and make the materials as good as possible for the group that you have. In front of you. I would say that you want the survey to feel less burdensome for your students to complete. I’m giving a lot of examples of questions that I think are ideal as open-ended questions. Some of these, you could turn into multiple choice or kind of Likert-scale style questions, because you can just use it as an opportunity to take the temperature. “On a scale of one to 10, for example, how confident do you feel in your understanding of your ability to pick up new quantitative concepts?” …for example, if you’re teaching in a STEM-style discipline. Or “On a scale of one to 10, how comfortable do you feel as a writer or with writing tasks?” …if you’re teaching something more humanities- or writing-centric. You can get really creative in trying to solicit some feedback. And I also encourage instructors to be judicious in what they’re asking in these pre-course surveys to kind of try and ask questions, with the end goal of helping you as the instructor make small tweaks to the design of the course. Think about this information as a way to say “Okay, are there certain links I should put on the homepage that I didn’t think needed to be on the homepage? Or should I reorganize the menu on my learning management system in a way that highlights some resources more than others based on the information I’m getting in the survey? Should I reorganize a module to introduce some content before other content, because I’m seeing a trend in the surveys about less confidence in one area of the course than I was expecting in another?” So thinking about how the answers might inform your design, a research-based perspective really, I think, can make your course really even stronger. And I think it’ll feel better, both for you and the students because it helps the students see that you’re curious about them, you want to know who they really are. And we know that engaging personally with people really matters for good teaching. But the instructor too, it can be really frustrating. If you design something and it doesn’t land with your students. You feel like you spent a lot of time building something that didn’t work. That’s a really disheartening experience. So getting the feedback might allow you to avoid [LAUGHTER] having or feeling so disappointed if the information didn’t land the way you were expecting it to. And this isn’t foolproof. There’s always room, again, for iteration. But I do think the surveys can at least help you anticipate a little bit better how the progression through your course could go.

Rebecca: I can imagine that some of those surveys with open-ended questions could lead to better understanding how students name things or label things which could give you a lot of clues about the actual user design of a course by just how you might name or provide quick descriptions of things. In your book, you talk a lot about instructional text design, which obviously has lots of skills in online learning from instructions for assignments to just how we might label a folder [LAUGHTER]. There’s lots of skill there. Can you talk a little bit about the basic principles that you’d recommend for course designers to follow when they’re writing instructional text?

Jenae: Absolutely, and I realized, as you were talking and responding, I was nodding along. And then it struck me. It’s like, “I’m on a podcast, no one’s going to know that I’m nodding and agreeing with you right now.” So [LAUGHTER] for the listeners sake, like I was nodding along quite vigorously with that entire response. Instructional text, I think, is one of the most underrated and one of the most important things to design for any online course experience. I think that online course designers have a real tendency to rely too heavily on video and on images. There’s an assumption that if you’re working online, everyone’s just using video all the time, or everyone’s just wanting to engage with the flashiest multimedia possible. That is still important. I mean, we have two chapters in the book, all dedicated to video. So I don’t want to undermine that. It is important to engage with multimodal artifacts and building multimodal interventions, when you’re teaching in a multimodal environment like the internet. However, for students who may have low internet access and low bandwidth, for students with disabilities, text remains one of the most accessible and easiest ways to find information in an online course. I’d also say text is one of the most mobile-friendly pieces to think about. And we know that increasing number of students are accessing their courses or coursework through their smartphones. I’ll answer your question directly now, but I wanted to provide that context. I would say when it comes to designing instructional text, I really encourage instructors to think about two big things, to think about the hierarchy of the information that they’re writing, and to think about the discrete chunks of information that they’re wanting to communicate. So when I talk about the hierarchy of texts, I think it’s important when we’re writing to consider what are the sections of our text? Most academics, most instructors, are used to, when they’re reading or writing, creating headers, and sub-headers, and paragraphs that denote a certain order of information. And when you’re teaching online, especially, I think even more critically about how are you labeling the text? How are you indicating which things are instructions versus content? How are you labeling the order of the content that you want students to read in? How are you even labeling the order of instructions, like there is usually multi-tiered sets of steps. So using header text and different layers of header text, is a really important web accessibility measure. And again, it helps readers see visually and if they’re using a screen reader tool, it helps them navigate that text more easily. So I should take one step back and say when I’m referring to header text, I mean that when you’re working in a rich text editor, on any website, you can typically see an option to select different layers of headers, like the header ones are usually the highest, biggest level header, header twos go below that header, threes go below that. So just being mindful that just increasing text size is not the same thing as using headers is one really, really simple way to create hierarchy. And again, to denote the correct order of reading the text information. And when I say chunking text, this is as simple as just thinking about paragraphing, making sure that you are spacing out pieces of content in really critical ways. So anyone who’s read a piece of writing with super long paragraph knows, that’s a lot harder to kind of discern, it’s a lot harder to see how one idea moves from one to the next. Shorter paragraphs are typically easier to get a sense of when you’re moving from one idea to a new idea. And so even though long paragraphs have their purpose, perhaps especially in scholarly writing, or even in more, I would say kind of creative writing, in some cases, when you’re doing really instructional or technical work, which you’re often doing when you’re designing a class, shorter is better, more chunked is easier to access, because you’re assuming that people are doing things with your information. So those are the two qualities I would just be thinking about with instructional text. There’s a whole other component that we didn’t really address in the book, but I’ll just stick to very briefly here, which is also thinking about just the visual appearance of your text. A lot of accessibility folks speak to some best practices and guidelines around font face, and font size, and some of these factors when you’re designing text as well. I’m not an expert, I should say, in like type of graphic design or font size, but I want to point out anyway, because I think if you are designing online, it’s important again to do the best that you can to try and anticipate those needs. So I think as a general rule, making sure your font sizes are not super teeny tiny, or super large. Making sure that you’re using standard font faces: Arial, Helvetica any sort of sans serif font is typically considered a best practice. The rules around this change all the time, Web Accessibility Guidelines change as technology evolves, so I never like to give super hard and fast rules, and again, it’s not my area of expertise. But it’s another piece to keep in mind that visual and verbal information is intertwined. Text is a visual medium, online learning experiences are largely a visual medium, by default. And so the more mindful we can be of what that looks like, and the more mindful we can be of how the visual experiences we design online, are compatible with accommodations for disabled users. We just anticipate our users’ needs, our learners’ needs more proactively, and it raises the boats for everyone. It just gives everybody a deeper chance to succeed if we’re just thinking about these interface choices in more deliberate ways.

Rebecca: I love that you’re really talking about how the instructional text is also part of digital accessibility. It’s important to have plain language, it’s important to chunk your content and these sorts of things. So I’m really excited that you’re incorporating that into the work that you’re doing.

Jenae: Thank you. It is exciting. I think it’s one of these things that, when Michael and I were first discussing this book, it was a real lightbulb moment for us that there was such a robust literature out there that discussed all these great principles for making sure that online information was easy to find. And it just was striking to us that a lot of folks in teaching professions weren’t getting access to that information or exposure to that information. And we started thinking about this, again, prior to the pandemic, kind of in the mid 2010s. And even at that point, online courses were growing, mobile access was becoming a more common way that students were engaging with courses. So, why not tap into these existing sets of conversations that are industry best practices, for engaging with online interfaces, in spaces like higher ed, and in spaces just like learning and development, where these dialogues seem not to have met each other as fully as they could.

Rebecca: Our chief technology officer and I were having a conversation about some of these things yesterday as we’re talking about our student body is diversifying and that we have far more students with disabilities who are able to attend college and have access to college in a way that maybe they haven’t in the past. And as you were talking about headings and paragraphs and things, something that people might not know, is that if you use a screen reader, you’re not necessarily visually interacting with the text. Instead, you’re thinking programmatically, and so just like kind of vision centered [LAUGHTER], the user might skim headings visually, it’s the same way someone might use a screen reader. So by choosing a heading level two, it allows someone to find that section easier. And by breaking things into paragraphs, and delineating that’s that kind of content that allows a screen reader user to be able to jump to a particular part of the content. When we don’t do that, a screen reader user has to listen to everything from the top to the bottom of the page.

Jenae: Great example. Yes, and that’s such a frustrating experience to have to do that. If we can be just a little bit more attentive to the information architecture of sort of what we’re trying to communicate and convey… information architecture is a technical term, but it’s also a metaphor [LAUGHTER]… we have architecture and we have design to help create solid foundations for places that we live. Similarly, when it comes to information, we need to be building solid infrastructure to help people navigate their way through a course. One of my colleagues a while ago used a metaphor for online learning design I’ve never forgotten and we’ve alluded this a bit in the book, which is that when you’re building something online, it’s like you’re just building a whole house [LAUGHTER]. When you walk into an in-person classroom, the architecture is literally there, and you make assumptions about the room in the space, the second that you walk in the door. When you’re designing text online, or just when you’re thinking about the whole online learning experience, it’s a total blank canvas, you have to build that architecture and those hierarchies. If you’re not attentive, you’re absolutely right, the consequence is that it can be a big overwhelming mess of information. And I think it’s a useful practice for instructors, even when they’re not teaching online, to think about these things. It’s also just a great exercise and getting really very focused on what information do you want to prioritize when you’re communicating assignment instructions or when you’re picking out content-based readings for your students? What do you want them to focus on? What are the big things you really need them to learn or pay attention to? And so if your course design, your visual design can align with the hierarchy of choices you’re making as an instructor or the priorities that you’re setting, it just makes it easier for everyone to have equal access that information so that more time can be spent for students to focus individually on how they’re processing, applying, doing higher-order thinking with that information. They don’t have to spend so much energy just trying to intake the kind of basics before they have the opportunity to really work with it and apply it meaningfully,

John: You provide a lot of other information in your book, and we encourage people to read your book. If they want to find out more about creating videos, about providing effective webinars, and so forth, there’s some really nice hints and suggestions throughout. But one of the things you end with in there, is ways in which instructors can continuously improve their courses, in terms of soliciting feedback to make the course better each time. Could you talk a little bit about how you would encourage instructors to continuously work on developing their courses?

Jenae: Sure. So I really like that section of the book, because what I hope that section communicates is that thinking about your course design is a reflective and an iterative process. I don’t think a course is ever really fully perfect and done, there’s always things you can do, and modify each time you teach or offer the experience. So, I don’t think getting feedback on the course has to be hard, I don’t think it has to take a ton of time. We talk about multiple ways of getting information about how the course is working. And I’m going to start with I think some of like the easiest and most passive ways to get information and then we’ll sort of work our way to some of the more perhaps active or personalized interventions for getting information about the course. So one thing I think is worth really paying attention to, after you finish teaching a course, are some of the analytics that are available in your learning management system or your course website. And I recognize that some folks are really reluctant to look at the analytics, because there is a surveillance economy implicated in the tracking of course analytics. Every site on the web tracks your movements, every site in the web knows how long you’ve stayed on a certain page, what things you’ve clicked on. And a learning management system is no exception to that. Unfortunately, that information can get weaponized to discriminate against students, discriminate against users in problematic ways. In the web, outside of learning, for example, analytics can be gathered and sold to advertising companies to spread information about your activities for profit. So I just want to note that context, but you can also use this information for good and for some useful things as well. So seeing which resources students are clicking on the most in your class can be really useful information for you to say, “Huh, seems like a lot of people found that resource useful.” You don’t have to necessarily identify which individual students looked at which resources but you can look at this data, typically in aggregate, and again, most learning management systems have an analytics dashboard, you can access to look at this. I think that’s incredibly useful just to see what was clicked most often and what wasn’t. You might also want to track, for example, which pieces of information students did spend more time on. It could indicate a couple different things, it might indicate that something was really challenging, if students spend a lot of time on one particular piece of content over another or if they found it useful. You’d have to contextualize that data based on what you were seeing in the course. But I think if you’re willing to look at that information, again, in the context of how your term went, it might just give you some passive information that could surprise you. I would even look at, for example, with assignment submissions, how many delays were there on certain assignments versus others? In which assignments did students request more extensions more than others? Again, this is just information that might help you inform whether the pacing was appropriate for the course, whether assignments were sequenced appropriately. That kind of thing. If you want to get more active, if you gave a pre-course survey, you can do a post-course survey. Most institutions, of course, have formal evaluations of teaching, but we know that institutional student evaluations of teaching can be fraught. Sometimes they ask the kinds of questions we don’t always want to ask or find most useful as instructors. So if you do your own very brief post evaluation, you could focus it on the design of the course itself. I think it’s worth asking students at the end of the course, how easy was the course site to navigate? How accessible did the materials feel for your ability to learn? You could return to some questions from your pre-course survey. If you asked a Likert scale about rating your confidence with learning something on a scale of one to 10 at the start of the course, you could ask them by the end, “How does your ranking change?” Even referring back to the original data that they might have submitted to you with the pre-course survey. So those are another way to ask them. I think if it’s possible to, what I love to at the end of the course is even a little brief post interview with students if possible. We mentioned this a bit in the book. Again, it’s time consuming. But if you have a small-ish class where you could have conferences at the end of the term, and have a moment with just a five-minute conversation to ask students: “How did it go? What aspects of the course design did you like most? Which were most challenging to you?” That’s another way to get information. Finally, I’ll just do one more technique we write about in the book, which is never discount your own reflection on your experience as well. This is another form of user research. Even though you are not the end user for the course, you are the designer, and so I think it’s always useful just to jot down a few notes and treat that as research when you’re done, too. What did you notice about user interactions on your course site throughout the term? What things surprised you? What things went exactly as you expected? You can use those notes to iterate and improve your experience for the next time that you offer it. So those are just a few techniques and many, which again, are drawn from the field of user experience research surveys, and interviews, for example, are pretty common user experience research practices… other UX research practices that, again, just depending on your time, depending on your resources, it’s great if you can see students engaging in the course as well, asking them, just really seeing what it looks like for them to interact in the course. That’s a good way to get at good information about it. I just want to encourage anyone who’s teaching not to shy away from getting that kind of feedback, because it does make, I think, teaching more satisfying when you’re getting more information about what’s working and what isn’t.

Rebecca: So, you know this question’s coming…[LAUGHTER] We always wrap up by asking: “What’s next?”

Jenae: Yes, I do know it’s coming, and it’s funny, because I was thinking about it. What am I [LAUGHTER] doing next? So to be honest, I don’t have a clearly defined project, I’m doing a lot of little things, I might be taking a little break, because I have written two books in about two and a half years [LAUGHTER]. So that’s been a lot… wonderful. I think I’ve been bitten by the writing bug, for sure. And so I suspect there’s more writing in my future, but nothing immediately next. I’m still very curious about what it’s going to mean to keep designing really good online learning experiences in the future, I don’t think we’re done with that conversation. I’m really curious about how that’s going to evolve in the context of creating more inclusive and equitable learning environments for students. So I imagine those are topics I will continue to explore to some extent, but we will see how, of course, with AI too, and the impacts of that on online learning, I’m sure there’s gonna be a whole set of ways to think about these topics that will continue to evolve. So I’m kind of keeping my eyes open and my ear to the ground on how things are developing. And we’ll just kind of see what ideas emerge from there.

Rebecca: Well, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you, Jenae. Thanks for all the work that you do.

Jenae: Likewise, thank you, again, for having me and for engaging with these excellent questions. And if you listened to this podcast, we’ll put in the speaker notes, I’ll give you a little gift of a promo code. If you’d like to buy the book, we can give you a 20% off discount with thanks to Rosenfeld Press who published this book.

John: Well thank you. We’ll be sure to include that in the show notes and it’s always great talking to you.

Jenae: Wonderful, and likewise, thank you again.


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

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

Ganesh: Editing assistance by Ganesh.


307. Career Readiness

Students do not always understand how the work that they do in our classes helps prepare them for their future careers. In this episode, Chilton Reynolds and Ed Beck join us to discuss one institution’s approach to helping students understand and articulate how their course learning activities intersect with career competencies. Chilton is the Director of the Faculty Center for Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship at SUNY Oneonta. Ed is an Open and Online Learning Specialist, also at SUNY Oneonta. Chilton and Ed have both worked on integrating career readiness skills into the curriculum.


John: Students do not always understand how the work that they do in our classes helps prepare them for their future careers. In this episode, we discuss one institution’s approach to helping students understand and articulate how their course learning activities intersect with career competencies.


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: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guests today are Chilton Reynolds and Ed Beck. Chilton is the Director of the Faculty Center for Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship at SUNY Oneonta. Ed is an Open and Online Learning Specialist, also at SUNY Oneonta. Chilton and Ed have both worked on integrating career readiness skills into the curriculum. Welcome Chilton and Ed.

Chilton: Hey, It’s nice to be here.

Ed: Thanks, John.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are… Chilton, are you drinking any tea today?

Chilton: I am. It’s afternoon here, so I’ve moved to iced tea. I make my own decaffeinated, slightly sweetened, peach iced tea for the afternoon.

Rebecca: Sounds nice and refreshing.

Chilton: Yes.

Rebecca: What about you, Ed?

Ed: I am drinking a Chamomile honey and vanilla tea, in a very fancy special mug.

Rebecca: Oh, that’s a Tea for Teaching mug. I wonder where you got it.

John: And I am drinking an Irish Breakfast tea today.

Rebecca: Also in a tea for teaching mug. I have Lady Grey, I think.

John: We’ve invited you here today to discuss your work at SUNY Oneonta in making explicit connections between course learning objectives and career readiness skills. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Chilton: Yes, we’d love to. And again, thanks for having us. We’re excited to be here to share this project that we’ve been doing. We just finished up with our first cohort where we are really trying to help our students make really clear connections between what’s going on in the classroom with career competency skills that they’ll be using after they leave college. So the focus of this program was really on helping faculty build into their courses, times to allow students to reflect on what they’re doing in the classroom, and really say explicitly: “Here’s the skill that we are trying to build towards. Here’s what we’re doing in class. Now, as a student, practice actually making that connection. We want you to either write that and think about it in writing or say it out loud, and practice saying out loud, so that those connections can become as strong as possible after you leave this class.” The focus of this was on lower-level classes, we specifically targeted lower-level classes, because we thought that by the time they’re getting to their senior seminars, they’re doing that in the class already. But we don’t have these conversations in our 1000- and 2000-level classes. And so the more we can do this in our lower-level classes, hopefully when they get to those upper-level classes, they can say, “Oh, yes, I do remember talking about technology skills or communication skills early on and I can make connections now between what happened in that class and what’s going on.”

Ed: Yeah, the big thing that we always are talking about in the instructional design field, in the faculty development field, we’re talking about authentic learning all the time. But I joke sometimes when I say like if a student completes a course built on authentic learning, but can’t talk about it in an interview, or articulate it to themselves or others, did it really happen? And this is our practice. This is us saying, “if we’re going to do all the effort to make sure that our courses are built on authentic learning, we’re building authentic tasks into them. Let’s go ahead and do the next step of reflection, of practicing, so that students are prepared to speak about it.”

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit more about how you rolled it out to faculty, because you’re talking about working on it through the center, and then getting faculty to adopt it in these lower level classes? Can you talk a little bit about those details?

Chilton: Yes. So we had started with a call for faculty. We actually had gotten a grant, there was local money from our institution to be able to do this where our incoming president had created… we didn’t have a strategic plan at the time, so he created a initiative called “regaining momentum” that was very much focused on re-engaging our students, both incoming students and current students. And so one of the focuses was on career readiness. And so that was kind of “how do we help our students make those connections?” So we had applied for a grant, we received the grant, and in doing that had promised that we would do this over three years, the first year being our first cohort. So we actually put out a call for proposals and went to a couple of faculty that we knew were doing some of this from some of our previous work, and said, “Would you be willing to be a part of this?” and then also have the full call for everybody across campus, and we were looking for 10 faculty, and I think we had 11 proposals to begin with. After that we went through the team that was built from across campus. We can talk about that in just a second too. But they had a team that would review those proposals and then said, “Yes, we had a cohort of 10,” which is what we had funding for the first year of the cohort, and then went through the process with them over the year.

Ed: In our center, we’ve really been thinking about how we can focus on the student experience. We’re in a transition phase right now, we used to be known as the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center, and we are transitioning, and as of July 1st, we’re now the Faculty Center on campus. We were thinking about how we stop leading with technology. We always were thinking about teaching but we wanted to lead with that. And one of the things that we were doing was we were focusing in on the AAC&U high-impact practices. And we went through that long list of high-impact practices and said “okay, what fits into the work that we are already doing as a center?” and kind of identified some of them, so we had already been doing sessions and cohorts of project-based learning with our faculty members, we had already been investigating and helping build ePortfolios. And we always saw ourselves as the collaborative learning people. So what we wanted to do was create a cohort of people that were thinking about this and tie it to a goal that we could keep coming back to, and have these faculty meet with each other throughout a semester to really create a community around a central idea. And that’s where the idea really came from was to keep reconnecting through the semester and focus on building that community versus the sometimes one-off presentations that faculty development can sometimes feel like.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the career readiness competencies that you’re focusing on?

Chilton: Yeah, when we started this application process, we were connecting with other groups across campus. And one of those that when we talk about career development should be the Career Development Center. So we reached out to them and they talked about how they were using the NACE career readiness competencies. NACE is a national organization that is connecting what’s going on in the classroom to careers afterwards. There are eight competencies that are a part of those and they align a lot of their work specifically with that. Additionally, we found out that some of our co-curricular activities also aligned with the NACE competencies. We have a Lead program, which is a leadership program on our campus, and that uses the NACE competencies as well. The School of Liberal Arts has a program going on right now where they were trying to do a lot of this similar work outside of the classroom with students helping them connect what they had been doing in their classes with what was going on through the NACE competencies. So we found there was a lot of work already happening on campus, and so we really wanted to make sure that we aligned with that as well. What we like about NACE competencies is it really aligns with a lot of the work that goes on in our classrooms. And that’s what resonated with us, and that said, we’re focused on what’s going on in the classroom, how we can help support faculty in doing more useful work inside the classroom. And so we thought about how the NACE competencies really do that. So we think about things like professionalism, communication, critical thinking, teamwork, technology, and leadership. Then there’s equity, inclusion, and career and self development. Those are the soft skills is that word that got used a lot in the past to kind of say, “Yes, we do these things, but we didn’t really help students make those connections between what’s going on.” So we felt like it was a great framework to take into the classroom and say, you’re doing this as faculty, you know, you were doing this, but the students don’t always know that they’re doing this, how can we be able to help do that? The other thing I’ll follow up with that is, as we were exploring this more, we reached out to the POD Network, and actually found out [LAUGHTER] from SUNY, there was already work going on some of this as well. So our Center for Professional Development, has a whole certificate program that’s around connecting career readiness skills into the classroom and our use of the NACE competencies as a part of that as well. So it was really a lot of tie-ins that we saw really strong connections between what was happening on our campus and things that were happening locally.

John: We have talked about that, to some extent in our previous podcast with Jessica Krueger, and we’ll include a link to that, in the show notes.

Chilton: And one thing I follow up with that, John, is we have a couple of pre-professional programs. And this seems to fit really well there, like career readiness makes sense when you have a pre-professional program that’s preparing you for a specific program. We were also trying to reach into our liberal arts programs, into our science programs, into lots of other programs that might not be as focused on a specific profession, but still are connecting into these career readiness competencies.

John: And since we’re doing these things in the classes anyway, it’s nice for students to be able to recognize that these are skills that are going to be helpful for them in their future careers. And when they can see that, I think that may help provide a little more intrinsic motivation to engage in these practices and develop those skills. How have students responded to that?

Chilton: So we are in the first year of this, and this is one of the things we were reflecting on as we were preparing for this in that we realized our first year was focused on what faculty are going to be doing. As Ed said, we’ve been working with some faculty on this, that have been doing this on a smaller scale. But as far as this program, we’re looking forward in year two to really hearing from students and hearing how that’s going to go, so we’ll have to provide some feedback and liner notes later on to let you know when we hear about from the students.

Ed: Yeah, I’m gonna lead a committee to do the IRB and create some surveys to send out to students that are part of the program and have a little bit more of that student voice that we can report back on. Because I think that’s really important. It grew out of a proposal like that, that I’ll talk about a little bit later. But we had done that student interviews and student feedback once before, that really helped create this framework that we were really trying to set up with now a cohort of faculty members.

Rebecca: I really love hearing that you’re using NACE across your institution in different spaces. So you mentioned that Career Development Center is doing it as well as your center. Can you talk a little bit about how that collaboration is working?

Chilton: Yeah, so we really see this as a partnership. And it’s one of the things that we really tried to be intentional early on. Because when you say career readiness, that is a Career Development Center thing, and we don’t want there to be any perception that we’re trying to take over what they’re doing and we want to be able to just support them so that when students come to them, they are more prepared. A part of the original proposal was going to the Career Development Center and saying, we want to do this with you, would you be willing to partner with us? We can do more of this in the classroom. It was very much a partnership, it was very much us wanting to say, “What is it that you do in the Career Development Center, and then also, where can we help support you?” And then make sure that we feed into what you’re already doing. So it’s not any appearance of us coming in and trying to take over your programming, but just help our students be more prepared when they come to your program.

Ed: Actually, we had a great day at a winter workshop where the Career Development Center sat with our faculty and said, “Here are some of the things that we are already doing, here are the services that we’re purchasing, here are the things that we do at one-on-one consultations, here was what it could look like if you invited us into your course.” And some of our faculty members did that and invited the Career Development Center into their course to speak to them. And some of our faculty members were doing other things that incorporated the competencies but didn’t necessarily incorporate an outside group like the Career Development Center. So we had a wide range, even among our cohort of what they were doing. During that winter workshop that I was referencing, we actually brought in an outside trainer. And that was really nice. Chilton mentioned that the SUNY Center for Professional Development, the CPD had already been doing a four course sequence on the NACE competencies, which was really meant for a variety of professionals, it wasn’t just faculty, but the instructor that came highly recommended to us was Jessie Stack Lombardo also from SUNY for the SUNY Geneseo Career Development Center Director. And she came in and did some workshops with us and the faculty thinking about what are the small things that we can do in our class that helped students reflect, that helps students make those connections?

John: Could you tell us a little bit about the impetus for starting this program?

Ed: Yeah, so even before the program, we were, of course, working with wonderful faculty members here at SUNY Oneonta. And one of the things that we’d been doing quite a bit was thinking about making websites and ePortfolios, having opportunities for students to build their own web space, build their own web presence. So even before the cohort happened, we had one great instructor that said, “Hey, I would really love to be thinking about building ePortfolio projects into my course, would you help me do that?” During this time, John, you know, we were doing the SUNYCreate, a domain of one’s own initiative. We were giving websites to students. That was a technology-focused initiative. But we were doing a lot of these things already. I said, “Yeah, let’s come in. Let’s do that.” I was invited into that class several times. And we were so proud of this course, the way it came out. I want to give such a big shout out to Dr. Sarah Portway. She later went out and won the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching based on a lot of the work that she was doing. They were building a fashion magazine online, the students were taking the articles they submitted for that fashion magazine, and also bringing them back to their portfolio and showcasing them on their own sites in addition, and she said, “Hey, why don’t we take this thing on the road? Why don’t we go to the AAC&U’s Institute on OER and ePortfolios.” And we said, “Okay, let’s do an IRB, get some student feedback from that, to bring to the conference so that we have that student voice when we go through.” And the feedback was fantastic. Students really responded to it. It was a wonderful presentation. But we were also starting to realize during those interviews, it wasn’t a negative, but it wasn’t all positive. Students were still not making all the connections between the skills that they had done and things they had practiced and the skills they had acquired, and being able to articulate that. I have this memory of a student saying to me, “I wish I could have put this on my portfolio, but it was a group assignment, so I can’t put a group assignment on my personal portfolio.” And I remember just kind of stopping the interview format and saying to her, “Oh, I would absolutely put that group assignment on your portfolio if you’re proud of it. I would absolutely describe what it is you did to contribute to that. group atmosphere and talk about how you can be a successful collaborator and describe how you work in team environments. And then put that thing that you’re proud of, that artifact that you’re proud of, on your portfolio, but also with the framing of what it means for you to be a good teammate and what it means for you to be a good collaborator.” And the student said “Oh, I never thought about it like that, I guess I could do something like that.” And Dr. Portway, being a fantastic instructor, never being satisfied with how things went in the last class was kind of like, “We need to think about this a little bit more. We need to be more explicit. We’re already doing all these authentic assignments. And at some level, it’s hitting. And we definitely want to keep going down this road. But on some level, we are missing something in helping those students make those connections. What do we need to do in the classroom activities, in the way that the assignments are presented, that helps walk them through that to make them just a little bit more prepared, because the authentic skills were already in the course. They just needed help making that connection.” And that was really the thing for me that I walked back from that experience and knocked on Chilton’s door and said, “We need to be doing more of this, and we need to be doing it not one at a time, but with groups of faculty members.” And that was really important to me.

Chilton: And what was interesting to me was that to carry that on a little bit more, when we first had this proposal ePortfolios was in the proposal title. We were really focused on we want to do ePortfolios for everyone. And some of the feedback we received was “Yes, ePortfolios can be a part of that but this could be a much wider conversation,” which is again, how we got back to NACE. There are these bigger frameworks that we can be a part of. So we went from, “Yes, here’s this great tool to no, no, no, let’s look at it from a framework perspective.” And now we’re at the point where we’re like, yes, some of the projects will be ePortfolios, some of them will be other things. And that’s okay. And that was bigger than the tool. This is about helping our students think about what they’re doing and helping them connect to things that will be useful for them after they leave college.

John: One quick follow up, you mentioned that you have groups of faculty who worked on it. As I understand this, this was a faculty learning community that you put together, where faculty received some slight funding or a small stipend as part of the participation. Have you done any work there with entire departments in revising their curriculum yet?

Ed: No, we haven’t done the departmental level work yet. Right now we’re focusing on coalitions of the willing, having faculty who are interested in these types of things. One of the hopes is that after doing three cohorts, having worked with multiple faculty one year, then the second year, then a third year, new faculty each year that we can get to a point where we’re ready to have a bigger discussion. There was one participant in the group that was really focused on making a freshman ePortfolio with the explicit reason to keep contributing to it throughout the program. And I think that shows a lot of promise. But we’ve still got to do some work to get the buy-in from the rest of the department to make sure that it gets used. So I mean, there is a lot to be done there. And it’s one of the things I’m hopeful for the future.

Chilton: To add on to that, one of our goals out of this is to be able to build a repository where we can share and our hope is that we can have enough examples that when we go to a department, we can say, here’s some small changes you can make. Ed had mentioned this earlier, we want to be able to have a breadth of here’s some small tweaks you can make. Or here’s some larger things you can do. And be able to have some examples that are multidisciplinary, that are a wide range of both implementation needs, as well as examples from different departments so that when they go to a department, we can say this doesn’t have to be a large change, it could just be helping make some small changes to help those students make connections.

Rebecca: So I wanted to follow up on an earlier point that you were making, from an experience that I’ve had as an instructor, and I’m sure many other instructors have had is you work really hard to make these kinds of career-ready activities, things like professional email writing, and portfolio projects, and team projects, the list goes on. We do many of these things as instructors, and then you inevitably have this conversation, a one-on-one maybe with a student. And you just realize they have no idea why they were doing any of the things and you’re like, “Oh, I failed the student clearly [LAUGHTER]. I could have done a better job.” And so it seems like frameworks like NACE could be really helpful, both for instructors and students to just be more explicit about those things and to practice talking about them. Can you talk a little bit about that piece of the puzzle?

Ed: Yeah, I think it’s so important to have small opportunities to embed a skill or embed a practice in there. So I’m going to start off with a very small thing that I think anybody could throw into their class. At the end of the course, it’s at reflection time, we want to talk about what you learned. Let’s take a moment and think about a common interview technique is the star interview technique, you’ve probably heard of it, where you describe a situation, then you have the task that you were assigned, the action that you took, and then a result, explain that, say “Hey this is how a lot of times we make sure that we have an action-oriented response to an interview question.” Now talk about this course, using the STAR method. What situations did your instructor put you in? What were you asked to do? What did you do in order to be successful in there? And then is there anything else you want to share about it? Are there next steps that you should continue to do that your instructors put you on the path to? Or are there things that you’ve realized about yourself that you need to continue on with for the future for the next thing? That’s so simple, it’s not rewriting an entire course. Yet, it’s a little opportunity to say, this is important, and what we did had meaning, and take a moment to integrate that into your context. How will you talk about this course in the future.

Chilton: What was interesting to me when we were doing this was when we first started out, we list a whole bunch of sample outcomes that get at what you were talking about, I’m going to do this email, I’m going to have them do this thing and it’s going to be great. And as we got to the conversation with our faculty, we realized that what we were missing was really creating the places for the students to practice making the connection. We have to practice the skills all the time, we’re like, “Yes, we do this.” As the faculty member, we understand that there is a connection between this and career readiness but unless the students are actually practicing making the connection, not just doing the action, but making the connection, then it doesn’t always stick for them. And so that’s where we started to shift from, what do we want the faculty to do? How do we want the students to practice this so that it does stick for them? So it is meaningful for them in a way that they can think about it again, hopefully, a year, two years from now, when they’re finishing their college career and starting to think more about career readiness. That was a shift for us of what is the faculty member going to do to how do we help the students really intentionally practice what they are doing, practice talking about what they have done, and making that connection to, in this case, the NACE framework, because we thought it was such a good framework to talk about.

Ed: I feel like we’re saying NACE too often. So I feel like it’s always helpful to be a little more specific. So let’s talk about communication. We’re teaching communication to students all the time. One of the key aspects is audience. So have the conversation with your students. When we communicate to different audiences, we use different standards. So part of the reason why I’m asking you to write a more formal paper, in research style format, is I want you to be prepared to speak to other experts in your field. But when we shift to the oral presentation, I want you to adjust your language, so that you’re speaking to a non-expert, you’re speaking to your future colleagues, you’re speaking to a potential customer. And when you make that switch, make sure it’s intentional. And then at the end of this course, I’m going to ask you to reflect on that to think about what choices you made when you were speaking to someone who you expect to already understand and be embedded into the discipline and someone who you do not expect. How is it different when you talk to a colleague versus when you talk to your friends and family about what you do. That’s an important communication competency. So let’s talk about it and intentional choices that we can be making.

John: How many faculty members and how many departments were involved in this project so far?

Chilton: So we had our first cohort, and in that cohort, we specifically targeted to having 10 faculty. But we were very specific about trying to have faculty from as many departments and as many schools as possible. So we have three schools on our campus, we ensured that we had representation from all three schools, we ensured that we have representation from multiple departments. So in the end, we had nine different departments as a part of this. We did have overlap in one department, from two of our participants. As we said before, we did focus and said in the call that we wanted you to work with a 1000- or 2000-level class. And so that was part of the call as well. So we actually had a couple people that applied for this that were planning on doing this in a 3000-level class. We reached out to all of them and said “Do you have any lower-level classes that could be part of this?” Two of them said yes and one didn’t, which was one person that we weren’t able to take in. We’re focusing on in years two and three, again, lower-level courses, and going to try to continue to have faculty from as many different departments as possible, so that when we get to the end of this, again, we have a nice repository of examples from as many different disciplines and as many different schools as possible.

Ed: And we can invite some of the cohort I faculty back as mentors, and we can incorporate them into year two in a different way, as we continue to try to build a larger community and push a conversation that we think needs to happen on campus.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about what was expected of a faculty member who was accepted into the program?

Chilton: So we’ve spelled that out upfront, we had already been planning on our campus, what we call the SUNY digital learning conference that was focused on open and public education. And we purposely built in a track in there that was about career readiness. Originally, as we’ve been talking about, we were focused on ePortfolios, and so I thought a lot of them will be doing ePortfolios. But in the expansion of that, we wanted to make sure that we really talked about how we can make connections. So we said that we would pay for the faculty to be a part of that conference. So they attended that conference in November of 2022. And that was the first part, kind of the kickoff for this cohort. We then had a January full day workshop, as Ed had talked about earlier, brought in Jessie Stack Lombardo from SUNY Geneseo to be our speaker for that, and she wasn’t even a speaker she really planned the day and it was very highly interactive with those ten faculty. So as Ed said, we have a staff member from the Career Development Center was a part of that and presented locally, Jesse then talked about some different frameworks to be able to do including NACE and how you can start to think about both small changes that we made and large changes. And then we had said in the call that the expectation would be that by the end of the Spring 23 semester, they would turn in a revised syllabus and examples of work that they are doing to the group. We realized that wasn’t specific enough. So we then created a rubric that focused in on three specific areas of what they would need to do. First part of that rubric is what would be the changes they would make in their syllabus to really spell out what are the NACE competencies? Are you focusing on all of them? Are you focusing on one of them? But didn’t have to be a lot in there, but we did want to have it be addressed in their syllabus in some way. And then what is the activity they’re going to be doing where they actually have students practicing and how will the students receive feedback on that? Well, there’s three levels, it’s not present as a part of the rubric. And then we had two levels of “yes, it meets expectations.” And we were thinking again, what are those small changes that could happen, but then also, we had a what’s above expectation, where what’s something if you were really dreaming about what it could be, where could you take it and what could it be, so we kind of want to have “Yes, you meet expectations” that would help us get small changes that would be usable by everybody. And then what could this be look like if you really wanted to really [LAUGHTER] dive into the deep end with it and explore what could happen with it a little bit more, and make it so that it was better for students, not just in the class, but beyond the classroom.

Ed: Yeah, the only thing I’ll add to that Chilton is we also met once a month during the spring semester. So we had recurring meetings throughout the Spring semester. With those rubrics between the present and highly effective, and we’ll share the rubric so that you can put it in the notes if you’d like. We were starting to think about not only did you incorporate the NACE competency in your course, but you were also presented your prompts or your things in a way that gave the students the opportunity to think about future activities they could take, future things they would want to do. And that was really important to us as we were doing it is to not only just create a moment of reflection for the students at that moment, but also to make that connection of, okay now that I’ve had that moment of reflection, now what? Should I be picking out some different courses? Should I be finding an internship? Should I be doing something now to set myself up for success? And so we don’t get that panicked feeling when the student is at senior year and they go into the career readiness and or the Career Development Center and say, “Okay, what do I do now?”

John: What type of incentives were offered to faculty to participate in the program?

Chilton: So we spell that out as pay for their participation in the conference in November. So they were able to go for free and participate. It was on our campus that made it easy for them to be able to go. It was just their conference registration that we covered as a part of this. In addition, we paid them a stipend for attending the January workshop. So officially it was $90 was the stipend to attend the workshop. And then when they completed and turned in their final version of their revised syllabus and examples of activities, there was another $510 stipend. So in total, it was a $600 stipend. But as a part of that final revision, we actually did review their submissions, looked at the rubric and did give them feedback… a couple of people, we said, “Hey you’re missing…” and asked them to go back and do some additional work. So we did hold them accountable to that rubric before getting the final stipend. And so it was a useful and interesting conversation when the leadership team did meet to kind of look at those to be able to say, “What do we like about this? What are we thinking for cohorts two, and three? What might be asked for more specifically next time to make this even more meaningful for our students?” So we’re already starting to think about cohort two and looking forward to that for next year.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how faculty responded to their participation,

Ed: We take the faculty’s response and the feedback they gave us really seriously. We gave them the opportunity. They had the reflections that they were doing that, of course, we knew who was speaking. But we also gave them some opportunities to give us some anonymous feedback, so that they could tell us how they really felt about us. And we were just really pleased with it in year one. We do recognize that we have to keep honing our message, we have to keep defining what we mean by career readiness, and what we mean by incorporating it into class. We need to have our elevator pitch a little bit more refined and down. Because what’s evolved through this conversation is, we’ve really talked about the skills are already there, but we can be more intentional about it. And we can be intentional in the ways we ask students to reflect and practice in ways that we really believe can be beneficial for students. But that can still be a difficult conversation. When people see career readiness in 1000 and 2000 level classes, some people are bristled or turned off by that because they’re thinking, “Oh, just one more thing that I have to do.” Now we didn’t get that from our participants in the cohort that much, because they applied and they came here on purpose, that was nice to have a group that was really wanting to be here and was willing to try some things with us in this space that we were creating. But overall, I would say that the feedback had been very positive.

Chilton: Looking through the feedback from faculty, I just pulled out there was one quote that stuck out to me that i’ll read quickly that came from one of our professors in our communication arts department, where this professor said, “Students said that they felt more confident.” So this is actually one of the professors we recruited into this program that had been doing this already. This professor did have some experience with students doing something but said that “Students felt more confident in the skills as a professional, and were able to articulate how the experiences they had in my class connected to the expectations and employers would have of them. They also appreciated being told of why we had to do certain projects and to help them transition from college to life after college.” And so I think that really speaks to how the professors enjoyed having time to be able to do that.

John: We only have courses from 100 to 500 levels. It seems there has been a bit of a course number inflation there at [LAUGHTER] Oneonta. That was just a joke. I’m sorry.

Chilton: We were told that everybody in SUNY was moving to four course digit numbers and so we over the past two years, it was like this really big project that we did to move from three digit to four digit numbers, because at least we heard, everybody in SUNY is doing this. So we have to do it. It’s very intriguing that not everybody had to do that. [LAUGHTER].

Ed: And simultaneously, as we were going from three digits to four digits, we didn’t have 400 level classes previously. And the feedback we were getting was that that was seen as a deficiency by some people who are reviewing our students’ transcripts, even though calling all of our upper division 300 level, and that people applying to professional schools would get that explanation they would understand why there weren’t 400 level. Other people who are maybe not as skilled at reading a transcript are like, “Well, did this student avoid all 400 level work?” And so simultaneously as we were adding another digit, we were also transitioning to having 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000 level classes. So that was a big change that took a lot of curriculum writing and mapping through over the last two years. It wasn’t just as easy as adding a zero on to every course.

Rebecca: Sounds like such a fun project. Sign me up. [LAUGHTER] So we always wrap up by asking what’s next?

Chilton: So we are excited about Cohort Two. We are going to be starting our recruitment in the fall. We actually have a fall faculty Institute on campus. This year is very much focused on what the communities of practice that are already happening on campus and how you can get involved. And so that’s going to be our first, not our first, but that’s gonna be one of our big recruitment pitches for Cohort Two. In Cohort Two, we are looking to be able to include more faculty from a wider range, we are going to be starting to get into faculty that might not have as much experience in doing this. So we are thinking about how we hone our pitch and how we focus this to a wider audience to be able to say “No, this is not big changes in your classes. This is just asking one additional question or allowing space for one additional time for students to be able to practice connecting what you’re already doing to these career readiness competencies.”

Ed: And I would say what’s next for me is this experience has really solidified the idea for me that we need to continue in faculty development centers, to make spaces where faculty can repeatedly come back and interact on the same topic, getting away from that kind of one and done workshop, and identifying major things that we want to return to through the year inviting people into that space to share. Because when those faculty, when they get an opportunity to think and show off what they’re doing, it really is a wonderful spread of ideas. And you get a lot from all the energy in the room.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us and sharing how this project’s unfolded at your institution.

John: And you’re both doing some really great work at SUNY Oneonta and it’s great to keep in touch and thank you for joining us.

Chilton: And thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here with you. So thanks for taking the time to be with us today.


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.

Ganesh: Editing assistance by Ganesh.


306. Gender Bias and Timing of SETs

 A number of studies demonstrate gender bias in course evaluations. In this episode Whitney Buser, Jill Hayter, and Cassondra Batz-Barbarich join us to discuss their research that looks at the timing of when these gender differences emerge and theories for why they exist.

Whitney is the Associate Director of Academic Programs in the School of Economics at Georgia Tech. Jill is an Associate Professor of Economics in the College of Business and Technology at East Tennessee State University. Cassondra is an Assistant Professor of Business at Lake Forest College. Whitney, Jill, and Cassondra are the authors of an article entitled “Evaluation of Women in Economics: Evidence of Gender Bias Following Behavioral Role Violations.”

Show Notes


John: A number of studies demonstrate gender bias in course evaluations. In this episode we discuss research that looks at the timing of when these gender differences emerge and theories for why they exist.


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: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guests today are Whitney Buser, Jill Hayter, and Cassondra Batz-Barbarich. Whitney is the Associate Director of Academic Programs in the School of Economics at Georgia Tech. Jill is an Associate Professor of Economics in the College of Business and Technology at East Tennessee State University. Cassondra is an Assistant Professor of Business at Lake Forest College. Whitney, Jill, and Cassondra are the authors of an article entitled “Evaluation of Women in Economics: Evidence of Gender Bias Following Behavioral Role Violations.” Welcome Whitney, Jill, and Cassandra,

Whitney: Thank you for having us.

Cassandra: Thank you so much.

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

Whitney: I am. I have some jasmine tea.

Rebecca: Always a good choice. Jill. How about you?

Jill: Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice.

Rebecca: Oh, that’s such a good choice. I love that one. It’s a family favorite at my house. How about you, Cassandra?

Cassandra: Yesterday, we made a sun tea on the porch. So it’s sweet peach tea.

Rebecca: This is a good variety. How about you, John?

John: And I have ginger peach black tea from the Republic of Tea.

Rebecca: So we’re combining choices here [LAUGHTER]. And I have Awake tea, despite the fact that it is early afternoon here.

Jill: I also had three cups of coffee this morning.

Rebecca: It’s one of the most popular kinds of tea, Jill.

John: We’ve invited you here today to discuss your research on gender bias instudent evaluation of instructors. Could you tell us how the study came about?

Whitney: Jill and I have been working on this for about six years, believe it or not. It’s been a long process for us. And actually at the very beginning we had a different third working with us. And the original three of us, we met at the conference, and we had just attended a session that talked about teaching evaluations. And afterwards, we just naturally began talking about this, because we all had these really, really strong feelings about teaching evaluations. All three of us at the time were young, young in our careers, young age wise. We were female PhD economists. And we were all earning tenure, or I think Jill had just earned tenure. But we’re all in this similar experience of having what we felt like was a very positive class climate, and a lot of camaraderie between ourselves and the students until the grades were returned for the first time. And then we could feel a definite shift and it was upsetting to all of us. We all got into this because we love teaching and we want to do a good job in that. It was just something that we were picking up on. So that was our anecdotal experience, Jill had a little data on it herself, because she would do mid-semester evaluations herself, just to gauge the class climate and see what students were needing. And I had an experience where in my first position, they did a surprise midterm evaluation, just to kind of see how the new professor was doing, that I didn’t know about. And I got glowing reviews from the students, everything was very, very positive, wonderful and six weeks later, same students but grades returned, evaluations looked a little different. And the comments were a bit different. So we had a little data to backup this idea too, and one thing if the people listening today haven’t read the literature, there’s an extensive literature on course evaluations. And it consistently finds gender bias in those. But the thing about that literature is it only looks at evaluations, which are typically done on the very last day of class, maybe even after that, maybe a couple of days before, but at the end of the semester. And we really haven’t seen anyone look into how these opinions of students evolve over the semester, or how students feel at the beginning or the middle of the semester. So that’s what we wanted to do with that. And in my opinion, and this is just me speaking here, Jill can have her own other motivations, or our other co-author that has worked with us before could feel differently. But for me, it was really important to acknowledge that society has come a long way in the past several years with gender bias. And I don’t think that modern students are shocked by female faculty any longer, I don’t think they have an explicit distaste for female faculty. Anecdotally, I feel that my students are actually happy when they meet me. And they have expectations of me to be warm, comforting, approachable. But I do think that when you expect someone to be more comforting and approachable, and they give you a grade back, that’s not always an “A” in a difficult quantitative subject like economics, you can get a bit of a Grinch Who Stole Christmas effect. I thought it was going to be one way and now my expectations are taken down. We all know no one likes that dopamine depletion of having expectations not met. So, to me, if we’re going to talk about gender bias, we really have to talk about it in this nuanced way, so that it doesn’t get automatically dismissed by people who don’t see an explicit bias and then say, “Oh, hey, there’s nothing here.” And then the last thing that I think is really important here for the motivation for the paper is that we have this expectation that bias would grow over the semester. So if bias grows over the semester, that means the earlier in the semester you evaluate, the smaller the bias will be. And one thing that the literature is missing is a very concrete objective way to deal with bias. What we were hoping to find was: move the evaluations up in the semester a bit, and you minimize or eliminate bias and that’s a concrete objective. Towards the end today, we’ll talk about what we actually found and whether or not we knew that. But that was one of the motivations.

Jill: So that’s how the original paper found in terms of motivation, but then Cassandra, she is a PhD in Psychology until she had read and she was doing work in the area. And she had reached out to Whitney and I. She had read our paper, she had read the results of our paper. And so then a second paper with Cassandra takes a more psychology approach in terms of a lot of what Whitney is talking about and Cassandra is going to talk about it later, with respect to the role-incongruity theory, social role theory, and she’s going to talk more about that later. And Whitneys described the motivation of that first paper, the second paper takes a very different perspective and looking at it from a more psych perspective. Cassandra, you might want to chime in?

Cassandra: Absolutely. I think you summarized it well, I joined the paper, as Whitney and Jill were trying to find a home for it. And we thought that our interests, though coming from very different backgrounds ,would blend nicely for this particular topic, as there’s a lot of scholarship in psychology that looks at understanding reasons behind this bias. And so I was brought in to really help kind of think about how do we frame that in a way that might appeal to even a broader range of audiences.

Rebecca: At the beginning of the paper, and Whitney, you’ve kind of pointed to this today about being a young faculty member, you also noted in the paper that women are underrepresented among economics faculty, especially at the level of full professors. Can you tell us a little bit about the extent of this under-representation?

Jill: Women have earned more than half the doctoral degrees for over a decade. But particularly among tenure-track faculty are underrepresented. In the paper we cite 36% of full professors are females. In economics, that’s a smaller percentage, 17 and a half percent of full professors are females, in the area of economics, although 35% of PhDs in econs represent females. It’s a smaller percentage of female faculty receiving full professor rank in economics. That’s what we mean by that under representation. In terms of economics, specifically, it’s oftentimes left out of the STEM fields, and depending on which university or college that you’re out at, economics can sometimes could be found in the social sciences and in the arts and sciences, or it can be found in the business school. So at my institution, Whitney’s institution, I believe, and Cassandra’s I think we’re all represented in the business school. But sometimes, you know, economics wanted to put in there with the social science field, it’s not thought of as being this more quantitative, heavy subject, and it oftentimes is, it is by nature of it. And so females in those more math heavy classes, like the STEM classes. I think my students when I started off, and I think Whitney was getting at this, with us being more junior faculty members. I can considered by students peer, instead of the professor in the course. And that made it tough, because to Whitney’s point about that returning grade feedback and the perception that students had of me a day one versus midway through the course, I was now coming across as someone that was handing back maybe less than 100% or “A” grade. So in my business school, my principles of economics courses are required. They might not even want to be in there, but they have to be in there to get a business degree. Earlier on, that was a challenge I faced, I’m 13 years into my career. I’m going up for full professor this summer. But starting off was really a challenge. And I remember having female mentors in my graduate program. They tried to prepare me for this, they tried to say it’s going to be challenging early on, you’re going to have to go against some of these perceptions, alot of the perceptions that we measure in this paper..

John: To what extent is the underrepresentation of women faculty due to a cohort effect where women have become a larger share of PhD economists in the last few decades, but that was less true 20 or 30 years ago and how much of it might be due to the impact of gender bias on evaluations on career pathways for women?

Jill: Really what this paper looks at, the standard evaluations of teaching and the bias or potential for bias, that exists there. So I’ll just speak to that and that where I currently am, evaluations of teaching are weighted heavily for retention of faculty, promotion of faculty, tenure and promotion decisions. And then when we’re hiring new faculty, looking at any previous course evaluations and experience with teaching. At every level in academia, these are used as some gauge for teaching effectiveness. I think one of the questions that we’re looking at and accrediting bodies are looking at is whether or not this is the measure that should be used. And looking at different measures that might be options for measuring teaching effectiveness, we know that they’re flawed, that our study is showing that they’re flawed, but also previous literature has suggested that they’re flawed as well. And so the fact that for most schools, this is the single measure that’s being captured… and I know that it’s different depending on again, at my institution, some departments don’t give them a whole lot of weight in tenure and promotion decisions. But certainly, my experience in my College of Business and Technology that these are weighted heavily. And so in thinking about a junior faculty member starting off, when Whitney and I met at the conference, if my evaluations were lower, I’m putting a lot of time into my teaching and improving and bringing up those scores. My male colleagues, in discussion just with them, didn’t have the same experience that I was having with respect to these SETs. And so we think about allocation of time and resources as a tenure track junior faculty member, I’m putting more in what I would consider just catching up, getting those SET scores higher, so that it’s reflected in my tenure and promotion packet. And that’s less time that I’m allocating toward research or other things. That’s my view on it. I think Whitney has a couple other thoughts on that.

Whitney: One of the things we tried to make clear in the paper is that the literature is very clear that evaluations do have a gender bias. And if these evaluations are being used, and they are, in hiring decisions, annual evaluations, promotion, tenure evaluations, and merit pay raise decisions, then they’re being used at every single level of advancement. It’s not one small piece. It’s a piece that’s used throughout and very integrated late in the process.

Rebecca: You mentioned at the top of our interview that the second paper shifts more towards psychology, and specifically describes ways in which both social role theory and role-congruity theory may explain the bias against female faculty in student evaluations. Can you briefly summarize these arguments for our listeners?

Cassandra: So social role theory was a theory that has been put forth for decades by Alice Eagly, a very prominent scholar in the social psychology world, as well as her colleagues. And this has been used as a framework to really understand the complexities and origins of gender gaps in our workplace in particular, whether that be inequities and experiences, the expectations that are different for women, and of course, the outcomes such as promotion at work. Essentially, social role theory suggests that the reason we see these gender inequities today in society or that they originated from men and women being distributed into social roles based on physical sex differences, so that women biologically were able to have children, men, on average, were physically stronger, which those differences 1000s of years ago, had an evolutionary benefit to a well functioning society, people were supporting in the ways in which they were best equipped to do so. And the assignment of men and women into these roles led get them to adapt role-specific qualities and skills. So women who were bearing children were friendly, helpful, sensitive, concerned with others, kind, caring. We refer to these now as more communal qualities, and men and the provider, the protector, role led them to have attributes such as ambition, being assertive, authoritative, dominant. These are qualities that now we label as agentic. So while technology of course has since caught up and made these biologically driven role assignments unnecessary, society continues to see a division of labor along these lines in the modern world and society at large. And society at large still holds the belief that women do possess these traits, and should possess these traits, these more communal qualities, and men do and should possess more of these agentic. Relatedly, role-congruity theory helps us understand the consequences when men and women fail to fulfill these expectations. And we know the failure to fulfill these expectations are more consequential for women, this experience of bias driven from the failure to behave in communal ways. In other words, violating these cultural expectations can be seen in all areas of society, but particularly in traditionally male-dominated positions, like college professors, or in male-dominated fields like economics [LAUGHTER]. And so women that are in these roles are already going to experience some degree of backlash for being in gender-incongruent positions. But that is especially true if they are also going to behave in traditionally more agentic ways, being more assertive, demonstrating their power, which we argued was what was occurring when you give critical feedback back to students.

John: To approach this, you gave evaluations to students at two different points of the semester. Could you tell us a bit more about the study design, how large the sample was and how many faculty and institutions participated in the study?

Whitney: Sure, we had a really rich data set for this study. That’s one of the reasons we were able to get two different papers out of it, and maybe even some future research, because we took all of this data, and we collected it in person on paper and entered it, which was an arduous process. As I said, we had been working on this project for about six years, about a year and a half of that was just data collection. And we have a lot of people to thank that did that for us for no author credit on this paper, so we had males and females across the United States gathering that data for us, that we’re really appreciative to have. So in the end, we wound up with about 1200 students in total, we weren’t quite 50/50, we were 60/40, favoring men, which is typical for economics classrooms, even though it is required in a lot of majors (that’s where you’re getting a lot of the women taking it). And like you said, John, we surveyed them twice. We surveyed them on the second day of class, we wanted as close to a first impression as possible without having a major sample issue with drop/ad. And then we surveyed them the day after they got their first midterm grade back. So we got the first impression, and then we got the way that they felt after they had had their first grade returned. We did this at five different colleges and universities, we had three male professors contributing data and four female professors contributing data. One of the big questions that people have asked us over the time is “Well, how does race play into this?” And that’s something that’s beyond the scope of our research, I will say that we only had one underrepresented minority in our sample, again, typical of economics professors, it was one of our male instructors. So, we would expect a downward bias from race and maybe an upward bias from gender, or getting those two, at least watching one another out in the paper. And when we asked these students about how they felt after their grades were returned. This was about four weeks into the semester, so still pretty early in the semester. What we did was we really wanted to ask about the specific qualities that had been hypothesized in the literature as drivers of bias or drivers of differences. So we just asked students to rate their instructor on a bunch of different qualities. Cassie really helped us out here because she came in and she says, “Well, you know, we can categorize these qualities into communal qualities and agentic qualities and neutral qualities…” which was really the way to approach it because of course, we get different things in communal versus just qualities. So we asked our students things like: “How knowledgeable do you find your professor? How challenging? Do you find them to be approachable? Do you find them to be caring? Are they interesting?” And then we asked a couple of very general questions: “Would you recommend the course?” All of this set us up to have a really nice dataset where we could look between genders and across time as well.

Rebecca: So I think everyone’s probably dying to know exactly what you found. [LAUGHTER]

Jill: I’m just going to provide an overview of the results because we do a number of different specifications and use different econometric methods in the findings. And so you can get all of those results there in detail. But in general, on the second day of class, we find that women are receiving lower ratings across the five agentic and gender-neutral instructor characteristics that we measured. They were rated higher on that second day of class on those more communal characteristics. And not all of those differences were statistically significant. Immediately after the first exam grade was returned to students, women were receiving lower ratings for all seven measured characteristics. Each difference was significant except for those caring and approachable, more communal characteristics. And then men were now having higher ratings in all the different aspects relative to time, or the second day of class. Over time, what we see was that men’s evaluations were getting higher on all characteristics from the second day of class to the period after the first exam was returned. And then in contrast, women’s evaluations were not trending upward. So we had a couple that were staying the same, but overall, they were going down. So those are just some overview findings. Again, those more specific results, by specification, can be found in the paper.

John: We will include a link to both papers in the show notes too, so people can go back and review them. To summarize, what you found is there was relatively weak evidence of significant gender bias on the second day of class, but that gap increased fairly dramatically after the first graded exam. So what do you attribute that change to, was it because of the feedback students were getting from grades as Whitney had mentioned before?

Whitney: We were attributing, and Cassie can talk about this with more authority on the theoretical point, but we’re attributing that to backlash theory, this idea that if I expect one thing, and I don’t get it, there’s this need to back off so that things go in congruence.

Cassandra: Exactly, Whitney is spot on there. What we thought this was evidence of was women behaving in gender incongruent ways, women are supposed to be warm and caring and friendly. And when you get a perhaps grade that maybe wasn’t an “A,” that feels harsh and critical, and a woman is asserting their power and dominance in the classroom, which again, they already are in a male dominated field profession. And those two things together combined can result in this backlash.

Rebecca: So if we take these findings, and think institutionally, what are some things that institutions might want to think about moving forward?

Whitney: That’s a good question. If you remember, from the very beginning, we were saying, we’re really hoping to find this nice objective concrete solution, we anticipated finding it through timing. And that’s what I would really like to do with future research is to be able to find something concrete and objective to treat this with. We weren’t able to do that because we found bias from the beginning. And we found that it came so quickly in the semester that it’s not something that we can just move back evaluations to midterm or something like that. Since we can’t do that, we’ve talked about other ways for institutions to take this. And one takeaway really is just an awareness that these gender biases exist and that these evaluations are flawed. This is really well established in the literature, but not necessarily in the general sphere of knowledge. When we published this paper, Georgia Tech did a little feature in their daily digest, and I had two female engineering faculty email me and say, “I knew this in my gut for years, but nobody’s ever quantified it.” That to me, is just evidence that it’s not in the general sphere of knowledge, even though the literature defines it well. Some of the impact of the concrete solutions that we have seen is we’re seeing a lot of schools and accreditors, like AACSB, they’re starting to require multiple indicators of teaching effectiveness and evaluation. So evaluations and peer reviews, or maybe something else to see the observation, something to that effect to where we have more of a global and inclusive way to look at someone’s teaching effectiveness. So this is a great takeaway, hopefully that will reduce the weight of the impact of evaluation just by having other factors in there. And just one final point that I want to make. And this is just a really big sticking point to me for the paper is that all of us are researchers, we all deal with statistics and statistical significance, and robust research methods. And then when those of us in Chair and Dean roles go to look at evaluations, all the sudden, all that training completely goes out the window, and we look at the difference between a 4.2 and a 4.4. And I know those differences sound really small, they are that small. And we say, “Oh, well, this person does better than this person, this person deserves to be hired over this person.” Never in our research, or in a formal presentation, would we ever compare two means that small without significance testing, number one, and without making sure they’re actually comparable, and say, “Oh, there’s a difference.” It’s just something that I think we need to recognize, we would not recognize this as good research or good methodology in any other area of our work. It’s just something that we should keep in mind as we move forward with this.

John: Now, you mentioned the use of peer evaluations as another way of providing, perhaps, more balance, but might they be subject to the same type of bias?

Whitney: Yeah, all the things that we would see for student evaluations, I can imagine how you would see with peer evaluations as well.

Jill: But there are creative ways to do peer evaluations that I think here at ETSU, we have a Center for Teaching Excellence. And I’m confident Georgia Tech, and Lake Forest has their own version of that. And so there are creative ways. And again, not that SETs are necessarily bad, but knowing what we know about the flaws in them, that, coupled with an additional measure or two, can be a lot more insightful, I think, to the teaching effectiveness, like true teaching effectiveness of instructors.

John: And one thing I’m wondering is if the measured effect might be larger in economics, because at least at many institutions, grades and economics and STEM classes are often lower, which might magnify the effect of this difference. It would be interesting if there was to be a study that also included some classes, maybe in humanities, to see if perhaps there’s less of an effect because of that role-incongruity issue there. It may not appear to be as severe in disciplines where grades across the board tend to be higher.

Whitney: I think you’re right about that, most people when they take economics, it’s a required class and certainly the grades are a big factor, then the two things that showed the most significance outside of our key variable of interest was interest in economics, and expected grade. Those were the things that across the board… now we still found gender bias controlling for those things, but it mattered.

Rebecca: So we talked a little bit about things that institutions might want to start thinking about: institutional policy and things that might shift how we use teaching evaluations. Are there any other strategies that institutions or instructors can use, or adopt, to try to reduce this bias in the short term?

Cassandra: That’s really the million dollar question. Because this type of bias exists in a lot of different domains, whether we’re talking managers and their subordinates, teachers and their students. One thing that’s often suggested or recommended is simply making people aware that this bias exists, and providing training on how to better approach evaluations, whether that’s how to use a rating scale and ensuring that you aren’t engaging in a halo effect, for example. Another strategy is requiring that people justify their ratings that are provided with qualitative comments… that if you’re just asked to fill out on a scale, on how competent is this person? Well, bias may creep in more if you aren’t asking for a justification of why that particular rating was given for competence. A last recommendation that I’ll share here is making these evaluations more public. So if there are a couple of people, say peers, that are evaluating myself or Whitney or Jill in the classroom, well, they need to come together, share and publicly disseminate their evaluations that they had given to us. This social accountability can help to mitigate bias and for people to ensure that the ratings that you’re giving are, in fact justified.

John: So we’ve got a long ways to go with this. It’s a problem that’s been recognized for quite a while with a lot of studies. But there hasn’t been that much done to address that. And those are some good suggestions that institutions may want to try. We always end with the question: “What’s next?”

Cassandra: [LAUGHTER] That’s a good question. Of course, I think that the three of us collectively would say we do hope that administration and decision makers start asking questions about their use of student evaluations of teaching and how they might seek to mitigate this bias, based on the recommendations Whitney had already shared. But we also hope that women faculty perhaps feel more empowered to advocate for themselves when it comes time for promotion and tenure decisions to be made. My Institution, a part of the promotion process, is writing letters, and going through interviews. So speaking to this, bringing an awareness to the people who are making the decisions that this exists, and that it is not just an opinion, that there is empirical evidence of its existence. But we are really interested in exploring more fully how providing feedback, particularly critical feedback, like in our study, where the professors are giving back grades might impact the perceptions of men and women in other contexts as well. So is this a phenomenon we would see, for example, between a manager and their team? Do people respond differently to critical feedback from a manager because of their gender? And how much are these differences, perhaps, driven by perceptions of how communal or agentic they are in their delivery of that feedback? So in other words, are we seeing the same pattern in other contexts? Ultimately, we hope that by better understanding how perceptions of communion and agency impact interactions that women have at work, particularly women in male-dominated or gender-atypical roles, this greater understanding will allow us to also discover ways to alleviate some of that backlash through more targeted interventions and training and perhaps better timing. Because at a minimum, it’s important to highlight the various ways gender bias continues to persist in our society. Because without that awareness, nothing can be changed.

John: Whitney, Jill?

Jill: I think that was great. [LAUGHTER]

Whitney: Yeah, I think, Cassie, you did a great job. And Cassie certainly helped us out with bringing formal language and theory to things that we felt as intuitive and we felt in our gut as important. We don’t have a lot of language for that in the economic space. And so blending these two disciplines together has been very helpful for looking at the situation.

Rebecca: Well, thank you all for joining us. And the research that you’re doing is really important and impactful. So we hope our listeners will use it.

Whitney: Thank you so much.

Cassandra: Thank you.

Jill: Thank you so much.


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.

Ganesh: Editing assistance by Ganesh.


305. 80 Ways to Use ChatGPT in the Classroom

Faculty discussions of ChatGPT and other AI tools often focus on how AI might interfere with learning and academic integrity. In this episode, Stan Skrabut joins us to discuss his book that explores how ChatGPT can support student learning.  Stan is the Director of Instructional Technology and Design at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts. He is also the author of several books related to teaching and learning. His most recent book is 80 Ways to Use ChatGPT in the Classroom.

Show Notes


John: Faculty discussions of ChatGPT and other AI tools often focus on how AI might interfere with learning and academic integrity. In this episode, we discuss a resource that explores how ChatGPT can support student learning.


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: , an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is Stan Skrabut. Stan is the Director of Instructional Technology and Design at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts. He is also the author of several books related to teaching and learning. His most recent book is 80 Ways to Use ChatGPT in the Classroom. Welcome, Stan.

Stan: Well, thank you ever so much for having me on. I have been listening to your podcast since the first episode, you guys are crushing it. I recommend it all the time to my faculty. I’m excited to be here.

John: Thank you. And we very much enjoyed your podcast while you were doing it. And I’m hoping that will resume at some point when things settle down.

Rebecca: Yeah, we’re glad to have you here.

Stan: Yeah, thanks.

John: Today’s teas are:… Stan, are you drinking any tea?

Stan: A little bit of a story. I went over to the bookstore with the intent of getting tea. They had no tea in stock. I went to the vending machine on the same floor. The vending machine was down. I went to another building. I put in money. It did not give me tea. I’m stuck with Mountain Dew. I’m sorry. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Not for lack of trying. Clearly. [LAUGHTER]

Stan: I tried. I tried.

Rebecca: I have some blue sapphire tea.

John: And I have Lady Grey.

Rebecca: You haven’t drink that in a while John,

John: no. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Little caffeine today huh. [LAUGHTER]

John: Yeah well i am back in the office, I’ve returned from Duke and I have more options for tea again.

Rebecca: That’s good. So Stan, we invited you here today to discuss 80 Ways to Use ChatGPT in the Classroom. What inspired you to write the book?

Stan: Well, I’m an Instructional Technologist and my responsibility is to help faculty deliver the best courses possible. And in November 2022, ChatGPT came onto the scene and in December, faculty are up in arms, “Oh, my goodness, this is going to be a way that students are going to cheat and they’ll never learn anything again.” And as an instructional technologist, I see technology as a force multiplier, as a way to help us do better things quicker, easier. And so I didn’t feel threatened by ChatGPT. I’ve been looking at the horizon reports for the last 20 years. And they said, “AI is coming. It’s coming. It’s coming. Well, it’s here.” And so it was just a matter of sitting down in January, write the book, publish it, and provided a copy to all the faculty and we just started having good conversation after that. But the effort was that we should not ban it. That was the initial reaction; that this is a tool like all the other tools that we bring into the classroom.

Rebecca: Stan, I love how you just sat down in January and just wrote a book as if it was easy peasy and no big deal. [LAUGHTER]

Stan: Sell, I will have to be honest, that I was using ChatGPT for part of the book, it was a matter of I asked ChatGPT kind of give me an outline, what would be important for faculty to know about this, so I got a very nice outline. And then it was a matter of creating prompts. And so I’d write a prompt and then I would get the response back from ChatGPT. It was a lot of back and forth with ChatGPT, and I thought ChatGPT did a wonderful job in moving this forward.

John: Most of the discussion we’ve heard related to ChatGPT is from people who are concerned about the ability to conduct online assessments in the presence of this. But one of the things I really liked about your book is that most of it focuses on productive uses by both faculty and students and classroom uses of ChatGPT because we’re not always hearing that sort of balanced discussion about this. Could you talk a little bit about some of the ways in which faculty could use ChatGPT or other AI tools to support their instruction and to help develop new classes and new curriculum?

Stan: Yeah, absolutely. I guess first of all, I would like to say that this is not going anywhere. It is going to become more pervasive in our life. Resume Builder went out and did a survey of a couple thousand new job descriptions that employers were putting out. 90% of them are asking for their employees to have AI experience. As higher education, it’s upon us to make sure that the students that are going out there to be employees know how to use this tool. With that said, there has to be a balance. In order to use the tool properly, you have to have foundational knowledge of your discipline. You have to know what you’re talking about in order to create the proper prompt, but also to assess the proper response. With ChatGPT sometimes it doesn’t get it right… just how chat GPT is built, it’s built on probabilities that these word combinations go together. So it’s not pulling full articles that you can go back and verify, kind of like the human mind has been working. We have built up knowledge all these years. My memory of what happened when I was three, four or five years old is a little fuzzy. Who said what? I’m pretty confident what was said. I’m pretty confident, but it’s still a little fuzzy. And I would need to verify that. So I see ChatGPT as an intern, everybody gets an intern, now. They do great work at all hours, but you as the supervisor still have to verify the information is correct. Back to the classroom, students can’t or should not, or regardless of who’s using it, should not just hit return on a prompt, and then rip that off and hand it in to their supervisors or instructor without verifying it, without making it better, without adding the human element to working with the machine. And that is, I think, where we can do lots of wonderful things in the classroom. You know, from the instructor side of go ahead and use this for your first draft. Now turn on the review tools that track changes and show me how you made it better, as you’re working towards your final product. Instructors can go ahead and craft an essay, craft out some supposedly accurate information from ChatGPT. tThrow it in the hands of the students and say: “Please, assess this. Is this right? Where are the policies? Where are the biases? Tell me where the gaps are. How can we make this better?” And using it to assess it.” Those are some initial ways to start asking students or using it in the class. I don’t know if I’m tapping into all the things. There’s just so many things that you could do with this thing.

John: And you address many of those things in the book. Among those things that you address was having it generate some assignments, or even at a more basic level, having it develop syllabi, or course outlines and learning objectives and so forth, for when faculty are building courses.

Stan: Oh, absolutely. We have a new dean at our School of Business. And he came over and wanted to know, “Tell me a little bit more about ChatGPT, how we can use this. They’re looking at creating a new program for the college. And it’s like, “Well, let’s just start right there.” What are the courses that you would have for this new program and provide course descriptions, titles, and descriptions? Here comes the list of 10, 12 different courses for that particular program. Okay, let’s take this program, what are the learning outcomes for this particular program? So we just copied and pasted, asked for learning outcomes, here comes the list of outcomes. Now for these different outcomes, provide learning objectives. And it starts creating learning objectives. And so you can just continue to drill down. But this moves past the blank page. Normally you’d bring in a group of faculty to work on that program, what are your ideas and send everybody off, and they would pull ideas together and you would start crafting this. This was done in 30 seconds. And now okay, here’s the starting point for your faculty. Where are the problems with this? How can we make it better? Now go. Instead of a blank page, starting with nothing? That was one example. But even for your course, using ChatGPT, having a course description, you can ask it to say, provide me a course plan for 16 weeks. What would I address in this? What would be the different activities? Describe those activities. If you want it to have the activities use transparent assignment design, it’ll craft it in that format. It knows what transparent assignment design is, and it will craft it that way. And then going back to assessment, you can build content. So looking at that OER content, open education resources, that it can get you a jumpstart on that OER content. What are gaps that I want or taking content that’s there and localizing it based on your area to say here we are in New England, Massachusetts, specifically, I need an example. Here’s the content that we’re working with. Give me an example, a case study, and it will craft a case study for you. It allows you to go from that zone of drudgery to your zone of genius very rapidly. I’ve been working on a new book, and got down to the final edits, and I was like, “Oh, I’m missing conclusions to all these different chapters.” I just fed the whole chapter in and said, “Could you craft me a conclusion to this chapter?” And it just knocked it out. I mean, I could do it. But that’s my zone of drudgery, and I’d rather be doing other things.

Rebecca: It’s interesting that a lot of faculty and chairs and administrators have been engaged in this conversation around ChatGPT quite a bit, but many of them haven’t actually tried. ChatGPT. So if you were to sit down with a faculty member who’s never tried it before, what’s the first thing you’d have them do?

Stan: This is an excellent question because I do it all the time. I have a number of faculty members that I’ve sat down, looked at their courses and say, “What is the problem that you’re working with? What do you want to do?” And that’s where we start. We say “What is the problem that you’re trying to fix?” ChatGPT version three had 45 terabytes of information it was given. They say the human brain has about 1.25 terabytes. So this is like asking thirty-some people to come sit with you to work on your problem. One class was a sports management class dealing with marketing. And they were working with Kraft enterprises that has the Patriots, and working on specific activities for their students and developing marketing plans and such. We just sat down with ChatGPT and started at a very basic level to see what we could get out of it. And the things we weren’t happy with, we just rephrased it, had it focus on those areas, and it just kept improving what we were doing. But, one of the struggles that I hear from faculty all the time, because it’s very time consuming, is creating assessments, creating multiple choice questions, true and false, fill in the blank, all these different things. ChatGPT will do this for you in seconds. You feed all the content that you want, and say, “Please craft 10 questions, give me 10 more, give me 10 more, give me 10 more. And then you go through and identify the ones you like, put them into your test bank. It really comes down to the problem that you’re trying to solve.

John: And you also know that it could be used to assist with providing students feedback on their writing.

Stan: Absolutely

John: …that you can use it to help generate that. Could you talk a little bit about that.

Stan: We’re right now working with the academic coaches. And this is one of the areas to sit down. I’m also not only the Director of Instructional Technology and Design, but also my dotted line is Director of Library. So I’m trying to help students with their research. And the writing and the research go hand in hand. So from the library side, we look at what the students are being assigned, and then sit down and just start with a couple key terms or phrases, keywords that we want and have ChatGPT to give us ideas on these different terms. And it’ll provide ten, twenty different exciting ideas to go research. Once again, getting past the blank page. It’s like “I gotta do an assignment. I don’t know what to do.” It could be in economics, I don’t know what to write about in economics, it’s like, well, here pull these two terms together, and what does it say about that?” So we start at that point. And then once you have a couple ideas that you want to work with, what are some keywords that I could go and start researching the databases with, and it will provide you these ideas. It’ll do other things, it’ll draft an outline, it’ll write the thing if you want it to, but we try to take the baby steps in getting them to go in and research but getting pointed in the right direction. On the writing side, for example, I have a class that I’m going to be teaching at the University of Wyoming to grad students. I’m going to introduce ChatGPT. It’s for program development and evaluation, and I’m going to let them use ChatGPT to help with this. One of the things that academic writers struggle with is the use of active voice. They’re great at passive, they’ve mastered that. Well, this will take what you’ve written and say, “convert this to active voice” and it will rewrite it and work on those issues. I was working with one grad student and it was after playing with ChatGPT a couple of times, she finally figured out what really was the difference and how to overcome that problem and now she is writing actively, more naturally. But she struggled with it. With ChatGPT, you can take an essay, push it up into ChatGPT and say, “How can I make this better?” And it will provide guidance on how you can make it better. You could ask it specifically, “How can I improve the grammar and spelling without changing any of the wording here.” It’ll go and check that. So for our academic coaches, because there’s high volume, this is another tool that they could use to say, “Here’s the checklist of things that we’ve identified for you to go work on right away,” not necessarily giving solutions, but giving pointers and guidance on how to move forward. So you can use it at different levels and different perspective, not where it does all the work for you but you could do it incrementally and say, “here assess this and do this.” And it will do that for you.

Rebecca: Your active and passive voice example reminds me of a conversation I had with one of our writing faculty who was talking about the labor that had been involved previously of making example essays to edit of to work on writing skills. And she just had ChatGPT write things that [LAUGHTER] are of different qualities, and to compare and also to do some editing of as a writing activity in one of her intro classes.

Stan: Absolutely. What I recommend to anyone using ChatGPT is start collecting your prompts, have a Google document or a Word document, and when you find a great prompt, squirrel it away. Some of the workshops that I’ve been giving on this, I demonstrate high-level prompts that are probably two pages long that you basically feed this basic information to ChatGPT and it talks everything about the information that you’re going to be collecting, how you want to collect it, how you want it to be outputted, what items are you going to output, and you’re basically creating this tool that you can then call up and say, for example, developing a course, that it will write the course description, give you a learning outcomes, recommended readings, activities, and agenda for a 16 week, all in one prompt. And all you do is say “this is the course I want” and let it go. It’s amazing what problems that we can build this tool just like we build spreadsheets, we build these very complex spreadsheets, to do these tasks. We can do the same with Chat GPT, we just have to figure out what the problems we’re trying to solve.

John: Our students come into our classes with very varied prior preparation. In your book, you talk about some ways in which students can use ChatGPT to help fill in some of the gaps in their prior understanding to allow them to get up to speed more quickly. Could you talk about some ways in which students can use ChatGPT as a personalized tutor,

Stan: I’m going to take you through an example that I think can be applied for students. A student comes to your class. Ideally, they’re taking notes, one of the strategies that I use is I have my notebook, I’ll open my notebook, and I’ll turn on otter.AI, which is a transcription program. And I will go over my notes, I will basically get a transcription of those notes, I can then feed that transcription into ChatGPT and say clean it up, make a good set of notes for me. And it will do that. And then I can build this document and then I can review what we did in class, build a nice clean set of notes, and have that available to me. Over a series of setw of notes, I could do the same thing by reviewing a textbook and highlight and talk about, transcribe key points of the textbook or I can cut and paste. And then I can feed that information into ChatGPT and say, “Build me a study bank that I can build a Quizlet, for example, or I need to create some flashcards on what are the key terms and definitions from this content?” Here you go. Create some flashcards from that material. It could be that no matter how great the instructor is, I still don’t get it. They introduced a term that is just mind boggling, and I still don’t get it. And so I can then ask ChatGPT to explain that at another level. They talk about non-fiction, some of the best non-fiction books or the most popular that are out there getting on the bestsellers list, they’re written at a certain grade level. And I know that I write typically higher than that grade level, I can go ask ChatGPT to rewrite it at a lower grade level. I could, as a student, ask ChatGPT, to give an explainer at a level that I do get to understand. Those are certain ways that you can do this. And you basically can build your own study guides that have questions that have examples of all the materials, so you can feed that material in and get something out, just enhance it. And I think for faculty, this is also an easy way to create good study guides, that you can get the key points and build the study guides a lot easier, just going with the blank page and trying to craft it by hand, can be very difficult. But if you already have all your material, you feed it in there, and then say here, let’s build a study guide out of this year with some parameters, definitely much more useful.

Rebecca: We’ve talked a lot about how to use ChatGPT as an individual, either as an instructor or as a student. Can you talk a little bit about ways that instructors could use ChatGPT for in class exercises or other activities?

Stan: Absolutely. And I’m sorry, some of the examples other folks have actually contributed first, and I saw him and I thought they were just brilliant, but I don’t have their names right in front of me. So I apologize ahead of time. But as an instructor, I would invite ChatGPT into the classroom as another student. We call it Chad, Chad GPT and bring Chad into the classroom. So you could have an exercise in your classroom, ask the students to get into groups, talk about an issue, and then up on the whiteboard, you start getting their input, you start listing it. And then once you’re done, you can feed Chad GPT the same prompt and get the list from Chad GPT, and then compare it to what you’ve already collected from the students, what their input has been. And from there, you can do a comparison, like “We talked about that, and that, and that, oh, this is a new one. What do you think about this?” And so you can extend the conversation by what Chad GPT has provided? …and there I go, Chad, I’ll be hooked on that for a while. But you can extend the conversation with this or if students have questions that are coming up in class, you can field that to the rest of the class, get input and then say “Okay, let’s also ask Chad, see what Chad has to say about that particular topic?” Those grouping exercise we typically do the think-pair-share exercise, well part of that is each student gets to get Chat in that group. So, each group you can have Chad come in where they have to discuss, they have to think about it first, write something down, pair, discuss it, then add ChatGPT into the mix, talk about it a little bit more, and then share with the rest of the class. Lots of different ways that you can bring this into the classroom, but I bring it right in as another student.

Rebecca: Think-pair-chat-share. [LAUGHTER]

Stan: Yep. And that’s that mine that actually somebody was clever enough, they found that. I just happen to glom on to it. But yeah, definitely a great way of using it. It’s a new tool. We’re still figuring our way, but it’s not going away.

Rebecca: So whenever we introduce new technology into our classes, people are often concerned about assessment of student work using said technologies. So what suggestions do you have to alleviate faculty worry about assessing student work in the age of ChatGPT?

Stan: Well, students have been cheating since the beginning of time. That’s just human nature. Going back to why are they cheating in the first place? In most cases, they just got too much going on, and it becomes a time issue. They’re finding the quickest way to get things done. So ensuring that assignments are authentic, that they’re real, they mean something to a student ,is certainly very important in building this. The more it’s personally tied to the student, the harder it is for ChatGPT to tap into that. ChatGPT is not connected to the internet yet. So having current information, that’s always a consideration. But I would go back to the transparent assignment design, and part of the transparent assignment design that is often overlooked is the why. Why are we doing this. If you use ChatGPT to do this, this is what you’re not going to get from the assignment. So, when building those assignments, I recommend being very explicit that yes, you can use ChatGPT to work on this assignment, or no, you cannot, but here’s why. Here’s what I’m hoping that you get out of this. Why this assignment’s important. Because otherwise, it just doesn’t matter. And then when I have an employee that just simply hits the button and gives me something from ChatGPT, I’m going to ask, “Why do I need you as an employee? Because I could do that. Where’s the human element? …bringing that human element into it, why is thisimportant?” What learning shortcut or shortcutting you’re learning, if you just rely on the tool and not grasp what the essence of this particular assignment is. But I think it goes back to writing better assignments… at least that’s my two cents on it.

Rebecca: Thankfully, we have ChatGPT for that.

John: For faculty who are concerned about these issues of academic integrity, certainly creating authentic assignments and connecting to individual students and their goals and objectives could be really effective. But it’s not clear that that will work as well when you’re dealing with, say, a large gen-ed class, for example. Are there any other suggestions you might have in getting past this?

Rebecca: John? Are you asking for a friend? [LAUGHTER]

John: [LAUGHTER] Well, I’m gonna have about 250 students in class where I had shifted all of the assessment outside of the classroom. And I am going to bring some back into the classroom in terms of a midterm and final but they’re only 10 and 15% of their grade, so much of the assessment is still going to be done online. And I am concerned about students bypassing learning and using this, because it can do pretty well on the types of questions that we often ask in introductory classes in many disciplines.

Stan: That’s a hard question, because there’s certainly tools out there that can identify where it suspects it’s been written by AI. ChatGPT is original text so you’re not dealing with plagiarism, necessarily, but you’re dealing with, it’s not yours, it’s not human written. There are tools out there, but they’re not necessarily 100% reliable. Originality.AI is a tool that I use, which is quite good, but it tends to skew, everything is written AI. TurnItIn, they’ve incorporated technologies into being able to identify AI, but it’s not reliable. This honestly comes down to really an ethics issue, that folks who do this feel comfortable in bypassing the system for the end game, which is to get a diploma. But then they go to the job and they can’t do the job. And a recent article that I read in The Wall Street Journal was a lot of concern about employees not having the skill sets that they have, and how to convince students of this, that “why are you here? What’s the whole purpose of doing this? I’m here to guide you based on my life experience on how to be successful in this particular discipline, and you don’t care about that.” That’s a hard problem to fix. So I don’t have a good answer for that. I’m always on the fence on that because it’s hurting the integrity of the institution that students can bypass, but it’s harder. Peer review is another tool, you know, to have them go assess it. They seem to be a lot harder [LAUGHTER] on each other. Yes, this is a tough one. I don’t have a good answer. Sorry.

John: I had to try again, [LAUGHTER] because I still don’t have very good answers either. But certainly, there’s a lot of things you can do. I’m using clickers.I’m having them do some small group work in class and submitting responses. And that’s still a little bit hard to use ChatGPT for just because of the the timing, but it was convenient to be able to let students work on things outside although Chegg and other places had made most of those solutions to those questions visible pretty much within hours after new sets of questions have been released. So, this perhaps just continues that trend of making online assessment tools in large classes more problematic.

Stan: Well, I mean, one of the strategies that I recommend is master quizzing. So master quizzing is building quiz that are 1000s of questions large and randomly drawn from it. And they get credit when they ace it. And then the next week, they have another one, but it’s also cumulative. So they get previous questions too. And you have to ace it to get credit. Sorry, that’s how it is, cheat all you want, but it’ll get old after a while.

John: And that is how my course is set up. And they are allowed multiple attempts at all those quizzes, and they are random drawings. And there’s some spaced practice built in too, so it’s drawing on earlier questions randomly, but, but again, pretty much as soon as you create those problems, they were very quickly showing up in the online tools in Chegg and similar places. Now, they can be answered pretty well, using ChatGPT and other similar tools. It’s an issue that we’ll have to address, and some of it is an ethics issue. And some of it is again, reminding students that they are here to develop skills, and if they don’t develop the skills, their degree is not going to be very valuable. I

Rebecca: Wonder if putting some of those like Honor Code ethics prompts at the beginning or end of blank bigger assessments would [LAUGHTER] prime their pump or just cause more ChatGPT to be used. [LAUGHTER]

John: That’s been a bit of an issue because the authors of those studies have been accused of faking the data. And those studies have not been replicated. In fact, someone was suspended at Harvard, recently, and is now engaged in a lawsuit about that very issue. So the original research that was published about having people put their names on things before beginning a test hasn’t held up very well. And the data seems to have been… at least some of it seems to have been… manipulated or fabricated. [LAUGHTER] So right now, ChatGPT allows you to do a lot of things, but they’ve been adding more and more features all the time. There’s more integrations, it’s now integrated into Bing on any platform that will run Bing. And it’s amazing how well it works, but the improvements are coming along really rapidly. Where do you see this as going?

Stan: November 2022, was ChatGPT built on GPT3 , we’re now into four. And this is only half a year later, basically, that we got into four. I mean, it’s everywhere. For example, in selling books, one of the things that you want to do is try to sell more books. So I went back to Amazon, pulled out all the reviews that I had, sent them into ChatGPT and said “Tell me what the top five issues are.” In seconds it told me it just assessed it where this would take large amount of time for me to do this and it just did it nice and neatly. Everything is going to have AI into it. Grammarly AI is being built into it. All the Microsoft products are going to have AI built in. We’re not getting away from it. We have to learn how to use this in our professions, in our disciplines. With ChatGPT4, it was said somebody had drawn a wire diagram of a website buttons and mastered and text and took a picture of it, gave it to ChatGPT4 and it wrote the code for that website. It’s gonna be exciting. Buckle up, and we had consternation about January, we’re gonna have a lot more coming up. It’s just part of what we do. We have to figure out how to stay relevant, because this is so disruptive. In the long line of technologies that has come out, this is really disruptive. We can’t fight against it, we have to figure out how to do it appropriately, how to use this tool.

Rebecca: The idea of really having to learn the tool resonates with me because this is something that we’ve talked about in my discipline for a long time, which is design. But if you don’t really learn how to use the tools well and understand how the tools work, then the tools kind of control what you do versus you controlling what you’re creating and developing. And this is really just another one of those kinds of tools.

Stan: Well, even in the design world, I’ve gone to Shutterstock. And there is something that allows you to create a design with AI. So the benefit for a designer is they have a certain language, tone, and texture. Their language is vast, and for them to craft a prompt would look entirely different from me, a snowman sticks for arms, it’d be entirely different. But getting the aspect ratio of 16 x 9, everything that you craft into this prompt and feed it in, somebody who does design and knows the language would get something then a mere mortal like me putting that information in. So for somebody who’s in economics, you have a whole language about economics. Somebody who is trying to craft a prompt related to that discipline has to know the foundationals, the language of that discipline, to even get close to being correct in what they’re gonna get back. And students have to understand this, they cannot bypass their learning because they will not have the language to use the tool effectively.

John: And emphasizing to students the role that these tools will be playing in their future careers, might remind them of the importance of mastering the craft in a way that allows them to do more than AI tools can. And at some point, though, I do wonder [LAUGHTER], at what point AI tools will be able to replace a non trivial share of our labor force.

Stan: It’ll affect the white collar force a lot quicker. And I look at it… a nice analogy for the AI was in the Marvel, you have Iron Man, Tony Stark. And it is the mashup of the human and the machine. He’s using this to allow himself to get further and faster in his design, and to do things that we hadn’t thought about before. And I see this tool, being able to do this, that we’re bringing so much information and data to this, it’s mind boggling that suddenly you see a spark of inspiration that you couldn’t get there by yourself without a lot of labor, and suddenly it’s there. And you can take that and run with it. For me. It’s tremendously exciting.

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

Stan: Great question. Right now, I’m getting edits back from my editor for my next book, it’s Strategies for Success: Scaling your Impact as Solo Instructional Technologists and Designers. I’ve been doing this for about a quarter century and mostly as someone by myself, helping small colleges on how to do this, how do I keep my head above water and try to provide the best support possible? So sharing what I think I know .

Rebecca: Sounds like another great resource.

John: Well, thank you, Stan. It’s always great talking to you, and it’s good seeing you again.

Stan: Yeah, absolutely. And also, free book… I’mgonna give a 100, first 100 listeners, but I can go more. Yeah, so there’s a link it’s bit.ly/teaforteachinggpt . And so it’s in that set of show notes to share, but the first 100 gets a free copy of the book.

John: Thank you.

Rebecca: Thank you.

John: We’ll stop the recording. And, and we’ll put that in the show notes.


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.

Ganesh: Editing assistance by Ganesh.


304. ChatGPT Inspired Course Redesign

AI tools such as ChatGPT have the potential to significantly disrupt how we work and how we learn. In this episode, Don Donelson joins us to discuss a course redesign strategy that could help prepare students for a world in which AI tools will be ubiquitous. Don is a senior lecturer in the Miami Herbert Business School at the University of Miami. He is a recipient of the Spring 2016 University of Miami Excellence in Teaching Award and the Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award from the Miami Herbert Business School.

Show Notes


John: AI tools such as ChatGPT have the potential to significantly disrupt how we work and how we learn. In this episode, we discuss a course redesign strategy that could help prepare students for a world in which AI tools will be ubiquitous.


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: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guest today is Don Donelson. Don is a senior lecturer in the Miami Herbert Business School at the University of Miami. He is a recipient of the Spring 2016 University of Miami Excellence in Teaching Award and the Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award from the Miami Herbert Business School. Welcome back, Don.

Don: Glad to be here.

John: Today’s teas are: …Don, are you drinking tea?

Don: I am. It’s the same tea that you’re drinking, black currant, and it’s great.

Rebecca: It’s a John favorite for sure. I have a Tazo Awake tea today.

John: Does that mean you’re woke? That may be an issue down in Florida.

Don: …not in a private school.

Rebecca: It means that I couldn’t make a pot of tea. I didn’t have time. So I had to use a single tea bag. [LAUGHTER] That’s what it means.

John: And I am still using the mug from Australia that Clare McNally gave me with kangaroos all over it.

Rebecca: I like that mug.

John: I do too.

Rebecca: I look forward to seeing it in person.

John: Soon.

Rebecca: Yeah, you’ll be back soon, right? A couple weeks.. I’ve got my grad studies mug. We’ve invited you here today to discuss your plans to revise the graduate and undergraduate core courses in critical thinking and business communication at Miami Herbert. Can you tell us a little bit about this course?

Don: So this course started at the grad level, MBAs in particular, in 2008. That’s what I was hired to teach. And it grew with the program, expanding into specialized master’s programs. And then it went out into the undergrad program. And it’s a core course required for all full-time business students, undergrad and graduate. This past year, we had 46 sections of undergrad courses and 21 sections of graduate courses, about 900 students or so in total.

Rebecca: So a really small situation going on here.

Don: Oh, yeah, very small, [LAUGHTER] no problems with scaling or anything like that.

John: What was the typical focus of this course in the past before this revision that you’re working on?

Don: So the course was called “Critical Thinking and Effective Written and Oral Communication,” and it lived up to its name. It was about those three things. At the time that we started in 2008, we called them soft skills. We don’t use that phrase anymore. We like to call them fundamentals, something of the sort. We think that soft skills sends a bad message. But it’s been overhauled three times, this will be the third overhaul since. And the things that we would do in the courses, from the very beginning, the main evaluations would be based on writing memos and giving presentations

Rebecca: Which should be about the kind of communication you’d be doing in business. [LAUGHTER]

Don: Yeah, it’d be based on hypothetical cases, some non-hypothetical cases, the standard Harvard Business publishing 10, 20 page case on “How did Netflix beat Blockbuster?” or something of the sort.

Rebecca: What prompted this big overhaul?

Don: Well, the accreditation body, AACSB, required program evaluation. And it’s sometimes an annoying task that people do just to go through the motions. But what we found, the first time I went through it, was that we actually learned a lot from going through those motions. And so in my department, at least, we institutionalize curriculum audits on a semester basis. And so, in between the fall and spring semesters, we have a shorter meeting, where we kind of look at what happened in all the instructors, faculty teaching in that space in the fall, what happened and what worked, what didn’t work, and we might make some minor revisions. And then at the end of the spring semesters, we’d have a little bit of a longer meeting. And the last few of those had turned out some opportunities for change.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about what some of those opportunities were?

Don: Yes. So we found that this is a challenging course to get buy-in from the students. And so we still haven’t figured out 10% of what we can figure out about teaching in this space, I’m sure. But one of the things that we’ve seen is that it is somewhat of an innovative curriculum, and one of the challenges with being innovative is students haven’t had material like that before. It’s a core course. And so students have to take it. And there’s always challenges with that. But this is a bit of a different challenge. And so I was talking with John the other day, he has some core required economics courses for business students, and some of the challenges that come with that. But this is a bit different in that those students know that economics is a field of study. And they know that people take economics courses, and there’s a textbook and critical thinking and communication. They’ve been taught kind of as separate. They’ve been add ons in other courses, not as a discrete course itself. And so we think there’s some challenges with that. And really, the challenge that we’ve seen, in addition to that, is that from the faculty view, critical thinking and communication are not separate things, they are one thing. And so critical thinking, I would call it problem solving, is really what we’re teaching. But communication is a component of that. And from the student view, we’ve had a hard time getting them to see those as integrated. And so when they do a memo, that’s an evaluation metric, they see it as: “Well, that’s just looking at the writing and not critical thinking.”

Rebecca: That’s interesting. Some of the things that we’ve done in our design courses around critical thinking and writing across the curriculum, my department, which is art and design, is doing some of those same things. We would do projects and embedded in those projects would be things like memos and other ways of communicating as a way to critically think about the decisions that our designers were making on things. But we would run up sometimes against the same kinds of challenges, like how do you really make that feel practical, that’s relevant, and then also keep it interesting. And it helped, I think, in those cases, because it was tied to a project. So is that a challenge that you face in this particular class is because there are these kind of standalone case studies, and it’s hard for students to buy in or get them into a business space?

Don: That’s one of the things actually I think that’s going to be changed is more of an arc to the course. And one of the things that I’m looking at is more integration of assignments. And so things building more towards the other assignments, and so we have skills building on top of each other. But, ideally, the assignments that they’re doing all build towards one culmination assignment, capstone type project.

Rebecca: Where does this course fit into their other required courses? Is it something that happens in the beginning? or in the middle? towards the end?

Don: So that’s partially an administrative question that is dependent on staffing. We see some students wait until the very last semester to take it, particularly the students who don’t have English as a first language, but they can start taking it as early as their sophomore year. But usually, it’s junior.

John: What’s the difference between the undergraduate and the graduate versions of the course?

Don: So the graduate versions are taken on a quarterly basis, and the undergraduates on a semester basis and so there’s more contact time in the undergraduate version of the course. They use different materials, and they’re more in depth. And so much like you would see with undergraduate economics classes, the graduate version of the economics classes might have similar titles, but go far more in depth into the material.

John: So one of the main issues is that students don’t see the critical thinking aspect of it as being important in their writing. How are you going to change your course to focus a bit more on the development of those critical thinking skills?

Don: Well, this is where I need to go back and add more to what Rebecca asked before about what prompted this because of course, ChatGPT prompted a lot of the revisions as well. And so ChatGPT, AI in general, while it’s kind of an independent axis of revision, we were thinking about some of these other problems well, before ChatGPT even became a thing that people were aware of. But they go hand in hand, really. A lot of the problem that I’ve seen with the writing assignments, and why students don’t necessarily view them as critical thinking and focus on the writing, is because there’s writing for aesthetic, and then there’s writing for substance. And if you’re teaching anything about writing, you kind of have to be teaching both. But when you’re teaching both together, the students tend to focus more on the aesthetic. And they connect it back to English composition classes that they might have taken in ninth grade or 10th grade. And those classes are certainly very important. But they’re a bit different than what we’re doing in these classes. And so I think it primes them to approach the course in a way that is not really conducive to getting what we want out of it. And so with AI, well, it remains to be seen, but it looks to me like you don’t need to be teaching the aesthetics of writing so much anymore in a class like this. And so I’m going to experiment with just not. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: It’s interesting, because in design classes where we were doing some similar kinds of things, aesthetics obviously always come about, because if we’re doing visual design, aesthetics are a part of that conversation. But we would have the same thing. It was like, “Well, that looks nice. That reads nice. It just doesn’t say anything.” [LAUGHTER]

Don: Right. Yeah. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: So it’s interesting that we bump up against these same kinds of challenges across a wide variety of disciplines. And that ChatGPT does offer some opportunity to focus on some different things.

Don: Absolutely.

Rebecca: I’m curious what exactly you’re going to focus on and how you’re gonna leverage ChatGPT in the context of this class.

Don: So I think ChatGPT is an insane, wild, amazing tool. And it’s going to only be more wild, more insane, more amazing next month, [LAUGHTER] or six months from now. But I see it really changing the way that I teach, the way I prepare for teaching. So kind of on the end of creating lesson plans and what it does for me as a teacher and the kinds of things that I can do in a class that I wouldn’t be able to do in a class before without a lot more hours in the day. And then also, from the student side, changing the way that they do assignments. They’re not going to be writing memos outside the classroom in the way that they have in business for decades and centuries. They’re going to be using ChatGPT. And so if, in this course, which is meant to be a practical course, we can’t make it practical if we’re not allowing them to use the tools that they’re not only going to be encouraged to use, they’re going to probably be required. And so if they don’t use ChatGPT in the future, they’re going to have bosses saying, “Why are you spending X amount of hours on this client memo instead of doing something else.” And so we really need to prepare them for that world. There’s been some early research and I’ll get John the citations, but we looked at research over the break between fall and spring, this past year, some preliminary research about the kinds of jobs in the way the labor market is going to be affected in the future by AI and ChatGPT and the jobs that were predicted to be the hardest hit in terms of reduced wages, and just reduced demand are jobs that involve writing and the jobs that were predicted to be the most insulated from Ai were jobs that involve problem solving and critical thinking. And so really, when you look at that research, it doesn’t even give us a choice. Even if we weren’t thinking about making some kind of revisions before, we’d probably need to just on that alone.

John: So is the focus now shifting more to the critical thinking skills and a little bit less on the basic structure of writing?

Don: Yes. And that’s really where even though the impetus for the revisions were independent, in practice, they’re not going to be that independent. And so it really dovetails nicely. And so I’ll give you an example, if a student is writing a memo, where a business is making a decision between two or three different courses of action, and one of the main criteria is the profitability of those courses of action, the structure is kind of guided by the math of profitability. So if you’re not talking about revenues, independently of talking about costs, you’re not proving profitability. And so when we talk about structure in this course, that’s really what we mean. But students very often, because of some of the things I’ve talked about previously, they’re looking at it as far as like the five-paragraph structure. And that’s not really what we mean. And so by being able to focus less on the aesthetics of writing, and more on the substance, I think we’ll be able to undo some of that priming,

Rebecca: …almost like this shift to articulating the decision making…

Don: Yes.

Rebecca: …rather than talking about writing, because articulating, it could be verbal, it could be in written language, it could be in a lot of different formats. But the point is that you thought critically about the issue, and how you made the decision. [LAUGHTER]

Don: Yes, exactly. In presentations, I’ve never had as much of the same problems as we have in the memos. Part of that, I think, it’s because of contemporaneous feedback. My students early on learned that this comment is kind of a trolling comment. And it’s not really meant as a attaboy or attagirl. But, sometimes a student will give a speech, and when they’re done, I’ll say, “I’m very impressed with your public speaking skills.” And they think, at first in the early parts of the class, that that’s a compliment. But they realize that that’s actually not a compliment. What I really mean is “No one would be buying what you’re selling, no one would be buying this stock, no one would be making a decision based on this, but you have very impressive charisma and confidence.” And that’s not really what we’re about, maybe in politics, but that’s a different question.

Rebecca: I’m curious about integrating ChatGPT as part of the process. Are you thinking about requiring students to reveal and discuss how and why they use ChatGPT in particular instances, and how they leverage the tool.

Don: So I think part of it is going to be first showing them how ChatGPT is not a critical thinking tool. And so I think it’ll be kind of walking on the escalator backwards for a bit just so that we can walk forward. It’s not going to be ChatGPT’s here, so you should use it. Go. ChatGPT is like a personal assistant, who is extremely capable and competent, but will do precisely what you tell it to do, and nothing else. The input you give it determines the quality of the output. And so if you go to ChatGPT, and you say, “I’m writing a letter of recommendation for Rebecca, and she was a great student, and she’s applying to law school period,” it’s going to give you about what you would imagine…it’s going to make up some stuff about Rebecca, it might even not get what program you’re in right. It’s not going to use the last name because I didn’t give it one. And it’s going to give you a very fluffy, perhaps disingenuous response. Now if I give ChatGPT a really robust stream of consciousness almost about Rebecca Mushtare was a student in the spring of whatever and she got this grade and she did phenomenal in these areas. And this assignment she really stood out most because of this, this, and this, it might give me a much more usable response that I can then play with. And so I think that’s going to be the first to instruct students on: what it does not do, which is critical thinking. And from there, I think they’ll have to use it however they feel comfortable. We’re still going to have some writing assignments that are scored. But what I’m hoping for is that these changes will make it so that they’re focused much more on the critical thinking parts of it. And so for some students that might look like writing a fairly complete draft on their own, and then putting it into ChatGPT and telling it to edit this for brevity and clean up grammar mistakes or do something of the sort. For some students, it might be much more of a back and forth kind of a conversation with ChatGPT, which I think a lot of students will be surprised to learn that it functions in that way. And when I find myself using it, it’s mostly as a conversation. Like, I didn’t like what you did here, cut that part out and do this again.

Rebecca: It’s funny that we don’t always think about it as a chat tool, despite the fact that chat is in its name.

Don: Yeah, exactly.

John: Before making this major change in your curriculum, have you experimented with any changes in this course recently to put more focus on critical thinking skills before introducing ChatGPT?

Don: Yes, so in some of the sections, especially at the graduate level, since we have so many different master’s programs, when I first started, it was MBA, and pretty much that’s it. Now with where the business world is going, there’s a lot more demand for specialized skill sets. And so we have, in addition to MBAs, we have a Masters of Science in Finance, a Masters of Science in Sustainable Business, so on and so forth. And each of those sections afford some opportunity to take things in a different direction, really, not even just an opportunity, but we kind of want to, to be more responsive to those fields. And so in the graduate sections, we’ve had some isolated ability to experiment with more problem-based learning, which I think ChatGPT goes really, really well with on the faculty end as far as creating problem-based learning curriculum. But we haven’t experimented with the AI component of it yet, really, because it’s so new, and it doesn’t feel like it right now…it kind of feels like it’s 20 years old, but yet haven’t used it. But it’s very new. And so I don’t know about every other institution, but we don’t move at the pace of jets when it comes to curriculum revision at the University of Miami. We move, I think, faster than probably most but still, it takes time. And so we haven’t had the opportunity to do anything with the AI yet. But we’ve revised in the past couple years to focus more on some of the problem solving in some of the graduate sections.

Rebecca: The faculty member in me heard I can use ChatGPT to help me with problem-based learning classes, and I want to know more about that.

Don: Oh, yeah. [LAUGHTER] So if you type into ChatGPT, you have to give it really, really good direction: the who, what, when, where, why…that you are a professor teaching a negotiation class. And it is a upper-level, undergraduate course. And you are going to create simulation practice for negotiation in which you play one role and the student plays the other, and you will create a scenario and interact with the student, but wait for the student’s response after each of your responses. And then at the conclusion, give the student feedback based on what you know about the science of negotiation from a management sciences perspective, as well as a legal perspective. And then you hit go, you will be blown away with what ChatGPT starts to create. And so it will give you a little blurb. A couple of weeks ago, I did something of the sort, and it said, Sally is the owner of a handmade furniture manufacturing company in North Carolina and has been contacted by so and so that owns a furniture retail store. And so and so has been impressed with Sally’s furniture and wants to arrange a distribution agreement. The meeting begins over the phone and so and so ask Sally what her goals are in this arrangement. And then that’s where I would type in and I said my goals are to reach this level of profitability and to have a productive long-term relationship with the other party, and it responded back. So it can create an entire dialogue that you can then ask afterwards, once you tweak it and say, “Well, I liked this part of it. I didn’t like this part of it, write the Python code for this, and it will write the whole Python code and allow you to turn it into a web-based interactive program. It’s really quite wild.

John: So basically, it gives every faculty member the ability to create interactive simulations for their classes, which could be done for pretty much any topic I would think.

Don: Absolutely. In the past that kind of thing was in some courses, probably a bit aspirational. It’s the kind of thing that would probably require some kind of course leave to develop it. And for faculty who become really comfortable with it, it will get to a point where it’s doable within a day or two of a lesson. And so you can on kind of miniature scale, you can do these on a daily basis, really high quality ones.

Rebecca: It sounds like something that we can use in a lot of contexts in higher ed, including if we want to do simulations for interviews for new positions or other things as well, if you’re trying to better understand how someone might approach a problem.

Don: Absolutely. I think that’s a very good application, in fact.

John: One of the things though, that I think has generated some panic for a lot of faculty is the effect that this may have on how we assess student learning. So how can faculty address issues related to the ethical use of artificial intelligence?

Don: Well, I’ve never known any faculty to ever panic over a technological innovation…sarcasm ended. So I think faculty have to assess this on their own, but also part of the community. One thing that I think’s going to be an early problem are faculty doing things in a different way, I think that’s probably unavoidable. And so I say all that as kind of a disclaimer that my approach and what I think our approach is going to be in my department, and even if the disclaimer applies to that, I don’t even know that for sure, is perhaps going to be different than others’ approach. And so since this course is supposed to be so much of a practical course, and the writing is on the wall, no pun intended, well, it’s in the AI software, I view that we really have no choice. And so there’s been a lot of commentary in The Atlantic magazine, a lot of commentary in the higher education journals. And most of that I have seen focused on this question, but using as an assumption that it’s wrong to use ChatGPT. And so the easiest way to make it not a question of cheating is to allow it to be used, and then it’s not cheating. And so that’s the direction that I’m leaning in. And I think, ultimately, for the practical tools, for the practical courses, that’s going to be the direction it goes. But again, I can’t even speak for my own department on that, because we’re so new in this.

John: And that will be an issue, I think, everywhere, as it has been in the past with things like calculators, or smartphones, or even Apple watches, I remember getting all these memos coming in from various places at one point to make sure your students are not using a smartwatch while they were taking an exam, because somehow the answers are going to miraculously appear on that tiny little screen for the test that you’re giving them.

Don: Right. And I think you can’t really separate the assessment design and the student response to the assessment in this. There are going to be some courses, I can imagine, in different disciplines, that they’re focused on more fundamental foundational skills, that it’s going to be more of a challenge for them. Well, I’m not saying that students don’t need to know and learn about the aesthetics of writing; that has to keep happening, but not in this course. And so I don’t know how the faculty in those spaces and really the 9th and 10th grade composition teachers that I talked about before, I don’t know how they deal with it, probably in person assessments, that sort of thing. But for this practical application course, I would view it really as kind of training track runners to hop on one foot. And so that wouldn’t be very practical. And so if you have a cheating or plagiarism or honor code policy that requires them to only use one foot, then it would be plagiarism for them to run on both feet. But that wouldn’t be very helpful. And so I really viewed ChatGPT as the same thing in a practical sense, if you’re plagiarism or honor, code policy defines ChatGPT as out of bounds, you’re training them to run on one foot.

Rebecca: So we’ve talked a lot about the writing component, and really building in stronger structures to focus on critical thinking. One of the other issues that you identified was that students don’t necessarily see the intrinsic value of the course or like get the buy-in. Can you talk a little bit about the ways that you’re redesigning to help with that piece of it as well?

Don: Yeah, and so certainly a lot of students do get that. But it really depends on how intrinsically motivated they are. And I think it requires faculty to kind of sell it somewhat. And so in my courses, I’ve found success with selling it in that way, which I really don’t like to do. And it’s something that a lot of faculty probably think is kind of an icky thing to do. But for instance, I will repeatedly tell students, I’m not here to make myself feel good. I’m not here to make myself feel smart by putting you all down. I’m here to help you all get jobs and to get promotions at those jobs and do well in your careers. And so I will focus a lot on kind of pointing things out as criticism that I also tell them these are not affecting your grade, however, X, Y and Z. And so little things like in a presentation if they go…you know, we have to have time limits for presentations because it’s basic math, we have X number of students, 75 minutes in a class session, we have to have time. And so when it comes to a student has five minutes and they go over, what do you do? I’m not going to take off on grades for that. But I am going to point out for a student that, in some settings, if you’re given a time limit, that’s because the CEO has another meeting five minutes after you start and you will be cut off, not because they don’t like what you’re saying not because you haven’t followed the directions, but because they’ve got somewhere else they need to go. And so a lot of the problem I think, is just students are so focused on grades, to the shock of everybody, [LAUGHTER] that when the things that you’re grading and are affecting their grades are these kind of…and aesthetic isn’t the right word, but they would view grading something like that as a bit ticky tack. And when you’re scoring things like that, it’s much harder to have a serious conversation about the nitty gritty substance, and how, if you’re trying to prove that this course of action is more profitable than the others, and you didn’t provide any support for the change in costs, you really can’t have accomplished your goal. You don’t get the same attention from the students in the same response, if you’re also talking about things like, well, “you went five and a half minutes when you only had five minutes,” or “You didn’t use 10 point font when you were told to use 10 point font and that ChatGPT, with that second example with that 10 point font, if the instructions said 10 point font and the students input the instructions it produce it in the appropriate formatting.

John: And I know in the past, when I’ve graded student papers, I, as many other people do, spend far too much time correcting grammatical errors, reminding them that there’s a difference between singular and plural or the difference between all the various homonyms out there. Might be easier for us to evaluate student work when we can actually focus on the arguments they’re making, and their ability to engage in critical thinking, rather than getting ourselves so tied up in all this minutia, which I always try to avoid doing, but when I see so many errors in student work, it’s hard not to at least correct some of it so that they could become more proficient. In the future, they may not need to have that type of correction.

Don: Yeah, John, I think you really hit the nail on the head there. You really feel like you have an obligation to correct those. And when communication or writing is one of the titular topics of the course, even more so. But I have always felt that you get diminishing returns on the things that you focus on. And every time you’re talking about grammar, you are not talking about the critical thinking, and the grammar does matter. I can tell you that I have lots of conversations with CEOs with HR directors, etc, in the ongoing effort to make sure that my curriculum is responsive to what’s happening in the market. And one thing that I consistently hear is grammatical errors, spelling errors on slides or in cover letters are catastrophic. And it’s not because they’re nitpicky, it’s because the markets are so competitive, that they get a window that’s maybe 5% or less of what someone’s actual quality as a candidate may be. And that’s just something that there’s going to be some other candidate that is just as qualified and equal in every other way that didn’t make grammatical mistakes in their PowerPoints, and so on and so forth. And so it is important, but it doesn’t matter how good your grammar is, how compelling your vocabulary is, if you are missing some of the logical components of the argument, you cannot be correct.

John: And when students get feedback, where they see dozens of comments on it, the easiest strategy is to focus on correcting those small grammatical errors that are riddled through it. You might also have told the student that they don’t have a very substantive argument. But if they’re going to make a lot of corrections, it’s easier for them to focus on correcting the grammar and ignoring the more fundamental problem.

Don: Right. The very first writing assignment I ever did as a graduate student was a 50-page memo and I got back no comments anywhere except for on the front page: “Do you talk like this?” I think probably somewhere [LAUGHTER] in between those two is ideal. But you’re exactly right, that the more that we focus on things like grammar and tense and such things, the less we can focus on the meat and the critical thinking.

Rebecca: It’s funny how that often is the level of polish would be something that goes from someone that’s got like a really high grade to like an excellent grade.

Don: Right, exactly.

Rebecca: Something that’s foundational, that’s often not how our feedback structures work. And even if we keep form and function feedback separate and even weight them very differently. It’s really easy to address the form issues, because it’s almost like a series of checkboxes and it doesn’t require a lot of thought because the critical thinking part’s the hard part. And so it’s funny that even if they’re weighted differently, and to keep the comments separately, students will always flock towards the thing that’s kind of easy to fix. I mean, who wouldn’t? Then it becomes a checklist.

Don: And that’s exactly really kind of where this boils down to me, it’s not to say that those things aren’t important. They’re still very important. But in the world in which ChatGPT is a real thing, which it now is, and will continue to be and only be more powerful than it is, the juice that we get out of spending time in class or in feedback, in office hours, whatever it may be, talking about those sorts of things, is getting much less of a return than it did before ChatGPT. I am not a walking detector of 100% perfect polish by any means. But it seems to me that the product that ChatGPT can produce, in terms of those things that you were speaking about, Rebecca, is pretty dang good and hard to distinguish for me from highly polished products. But again, where it is easy to distinguish is this is a load of crap [LAUGHTER] that is fluff and has no substance to it, but a very polished load of crap, but nonetheless…

Rebecca: It’s pretty crap. [LAUGHTER]

Don: Exactly. It’s very pretty crappy with a nice bow,

John: …which reminds me of some work that I graded just the other night, where spelling and grammatical issues have mostly disappeared in student essay responses since the advent of ChatGPT, but the substance is not always there. And there were many responses that I provided feedback on which said, “this is a really nice response, but not to the question that you were asked to address.”

Rebecca: Yeah, or you spent two paragraphs and you haven’t actually said anything yet.

John: So teaching students how to use ChatGPT or other AI tools more effectively might allow them to be more productive in their learning as well as beyond their college experience.

Don: And might allow us to make for more productive learning environments as well.

Rebecca: So we’ve talked a lot about course content, and what to maybe focus on and not focus on. One of the most important things a course has is its syllabus or course outline. Can you talk a little bit about course policies and the way that you might make change in that realm?

Don: Yeah, so I think you’re gonna have to be more detailed than you probably are used to being in terms of putting language and syllabi, very specific and upfront. And so some of the policies that I’ve seen that I’ve liked elements of and are going to end up including in the syllabi the explicit weaknesses of ChatGPT. It is not a critical thinking device, it will produce responses only as deep or as shallow as you instruct it to. You are still responsible for the critical thinking, essentially, and very explicit in terms of what’s allowed, what’s not allowed. And I think also, it would probably be a good idea for faculty to be putting in explicit language that what is allowed in this course, is not necessarily the same as what will be allowed in other courses, and it is incumbent on students to navigate those differences themselves.

Rebecca: And part of the reason why things might be different across courses is because the focus of those courses is different and really helping students understand that there’s reasons why policies might be different in other classes. It’s not necessarily arbitrary.

Don: Right, exactly.

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

Don: Well, what’s next is I figure out how to do all this stuff, [LAUGHTER] and not just to talk about it.

Rebecca: …and you’re gonna send us a memo, right with that in it. [LAUGHTER]

Don: Oh yeah. Yeah, I’m happy. [LAUGHTER]

John: …or at least have ChatGPT generate a memo explaining….

Don: Exactly. So yeah, what’s next is to put this stuff into action. Of course, as I mentioned, some of the things here have already been experimented with, the non-ChatGPT parts of it at least, but really kind of integrating them and seeing if what I am imagining is what comes to fruition in terms of do these things dovetail as well as I think. I really think that they do. …that kind of pre-existing urge to go more towards the critical thinking element, and really, I think, does dovetail well with the AI, but putting it into practice, it will be over the course of probably all of next year. And so there’s going to be some experimental sections, most of the sections are probably not going to look very different than they did in the spring. And I think that’s probably a very good plan. But there’s going to be some experimenting in some of the sections at the undergraduate level, and part of a faculty learning community on problem-based learning. This course is going to be participating in that in the fall. And so a lot is going to come out of that, I think, as well.

John: Do you think there’ll be much buy in from other people teaching the course?

Don: So, students, by and large, do not like writing. Faculty, by and large, do not like grading writing. And so I don’t think this is one of those political monsters of how are we going to get this through? How are we going to make these changes work? I think there’s probably a lot of people who have nervousness about how you would make these changes. But with those two facts that I don’t think you’d get much disagreement from, I think even across disciplines, I don’t think it should be that difficult for this to be implemented

Rebecca: Well I hope you’ll join us after you’ve implemented some of the things to share some of your reflections and let us know how it went.

Don: I’m happy to.

John: Well, thank you, Don.

Don: Thank you.


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

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


303. Higher Ed Then and Now

Teaching practices have gradually evolved as we’ve learned more about how humans learn. From one year to the next, these changes may appear small, but the cumulative effect is profound. In this episode, Todd Zakrajsek joins us to reflect back on the changes that have occurred in higher ed during our careers.

Todd is an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of a Faculty Development Fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also the director of four Lilly conferences on evidence-based teaching and learning. Todd is the author of many superb books, and has published four books in the past four years. His most recent book is a fifth edition of Teaching at it’s Best, a book he co-authored with Linda Nilson.

Show Notes

  • Zakrajsek, T. and Nilson, L. B. (2023). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. 5th edition. Jossey-Bass.
  • Zakrajsek, T. D. (2022). The new science of learning: how to learn in harmony with your brain. Routledge.
  • Harrington, C., Bowen, J. A., & Zakrajsek, T. D. (2017). Dynamic lecturing: Research-based strategies to enhance lecture effectiveness. Routledge.
  • EdPuzzle
  • PlayPosit
  • ChatGPT
  • Wayback Machine


John: Teaching practices have gradually evolved as we’ve learned more about how humans learn. From one year to the next, these changes may appear small, but the cumulative effect is profound. In this episode, we reflect back on the changes that have occurred in higher ed during our careers.


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: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is Todd Zakrajsek, and I am with Todd here in Durham, North Carolina. Todd is an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of a Faculty Development Fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also the director of four Lilly conferences on evidence-based teaching and learning. Todd is the author of many superb books, and has published four books in the past four years. His most recent book is a fifth edition of Teaching at it’s Best, a book he co-authored with Linda Nilson. Welcome back, Todd.

Todd: Well, thank you, John. Well, this is exciting. And Rebecca may be a long ways away, but I have never been arm’s length from a person who interviewed me for a podcast before.

Rebecca: Isn’t that cool?

John: And we’ve really done that before either at a conference or at Oswego,

Todd: I feel very special.

Rebecca: Well, we can celebrate with our teas. So, today’s teas are:… [LAUGHTER]

Todd: I’m drinking a peach mango that I got from some teas that John brought, which are fantastic.

Rebecca: John, how about you?

John: I am drinking a Tea Forte black currant tea, which I brought from Oswego, in a new mug that was given to me by Claire McNally, when she visited this area last week.

Todd: Love Claire, she’s fantastic.

John: And it has kangaroos on it.

Todd: Yeah.

Rebecca: And I can’t see it. Let me see it, John. Oh, that’s a cool mug.

Todd: It’s a good mug. I got a mug from her university. But I didn’t realize I should have brought it. So I feel bad about that. But it is a podcast. So I didn’t think about what it would look like.

John: That’s true, we generally don’t do a lot of visuals on here.

Rebecca: And I have a blue sapphire tea in my Tea Rex mug.

Todd: Well, that’s a nice mug,

John: We’ve invited you back to talk a little bit about how some of the changes you’ve observed in college teaching across your career have impacted how you teach today. When did your work in higher ed begin?

Todd: Actually, it started when I was a graduate student. So back in 1987. So there’s no reason to try to figure out how old I am. Now I’ve basically specifically dated myself here. I started teaching, I got to teach an introduction to statistics course. And I had so much fun that I taught again the following year. And by the time I left my graduate program, I had taught more courses in that program than any other graduate student had ever taught in the psychology department there. I really loved teaching right from the beginning, when from the beginning, very concerned about student learning, and just getting rolling.

Rebecca: What was it about the teaching, Todd, that really got you hooked?

Todd: Just watching the studentsis. it’s the same thing as it is today, when you have an individual who’s struggling with something, and suddenly they get it and you realize that they may eventually get it on their own, but you realize how much you’ve helped them to move that along very quickly. And facilitating the learning process, I just really love that. That doesn’t mean I was fantastic at it. But I really did love it.

Rebecca: Sometimes the things we love the most are things that we’re not great at to start with.

Todd: That’s true.

John: My experience was similar, actually, I started in 1980, with a course where I had a fellowship, so I didn’t have to teach. But there was a sudden shortage in the department. And they asked me to fill in. And I was planning to go on into research. But it was just so much fun teaching that I’ve never stopped.

Rebecca: I taught as a graduate student too, and taught the whole time I was there. But I started a little bit later in 2003.

Todd: Alright, so that was a couple of years later.

Rebecca: Just a couple.

Todd: Yeah, I had kind of a funny start, I will mention that when I first started that after the first semester of teaching, my students got almost all As and Bs. And the department chair called me in and he said, “I’m not going to have you teach any more courses.” And I said, “why not?” And he says, “Well, you give grades away like candy, we have to have better standards than that.” And I said, “Well, how are you basing that?” And he says, “Well, you know, we looked at the grade point averages.” And I said, “Well, how about if I bring in my final exam, and just walk through it, and then you can tell me how it could change to be more rigorous.” And so it was great. I showed it to him at the beginning. And like the bottom of the first page, the students had to calculate a statistical value, then I had them explain how they came about that number. But if they had used a different test how might it been inappropriately found and what the interpretation might have been, based on the fact that they had done it wrong with a different test. I thought it was important for them to understand how these things can change. The Chair said, “I can’t believe you have your students in the first class actually talk about various tests like that.” And I said, “Yeah, I did. Then we turned the page he says “You did nonparametric tests?” I said, “Well, yeah, we did parametric tests, but then I thought they should know the equivalent.” And he said, “We never do that.” And then he turned the last page and he said “You had them do a two-way ANOVA? You’re only supposed to go through one-way ANOVA.” I said, “Yeah, but we’d finished everything and we still had a week left. And I figured I might as well introduce the next concept to them. And so I showed them how to do a two-way ANOVA and they ended up with all As and Bs. So if you could help me in how to push their grades down and give them lower grades, I’m perfectly happy to do that.” And he then set me up with two courses the next semester, but it’s that reliance on the teaching evaluations is always funny.

Rebecca: Todd, it’s just funny, as we’ve gotten to know you through the podcast [LAUGHTER] it sounds so perfect that that was your first experience. [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Yeah, I’ve lived my entire career on the edge. [LAUGHTER]

John: And those sorts of arguments are still occurring in a lot of classes today about rigor and the need to keep grades lower.

Todd: Yeah.

John: They’re less severe than they were a few years ago.

Todd: Yes, but also looking at how well a person’s teaching based on student evaluations. I mean, we should be looking at authentic assessment. Some things have changed through the years, some things have not changed through the years.

Rebecca: Well, technology is one of those things that has changed.

Todd: Woosh, yeah.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about what tech was like in the classroom when you first started and how it’s evolved a bit?

Todd: Yeah, I know you have some listeners who have been teaching for a very long time. So those of you have been teaching for like 30 to 40 years, just stop and think back about what it was like when we first started. For those of you who have been teaching like Rebecca since 2003, let’s just mention that technology back then was mostly pens and chalk and chalkboards. So back then, of course, there’s technology, there’s always technology, but we were using overhead projectors. This was long before the internet came along to really be used in the classes. LCD projectors were not out yet. Canvas, Blackboard, Sakai, all those learning management systems were not around. We didn’t have any of the ways to email individuals, you couldn’t email your students back then. And there was no ChatGPT to write your papers for you.

Rebecca: But there were calculators that could do all the work for you.

Todd: Yes, but this is the cool part. Back when I started teaching statistics, I’m glad you mentioned the calculators, huge debate back then was whether or not the students should calculate the statistical values by hand using the calculator, because computers had just come onto the scene and we could punch the data into a computer and have a computer run an ANOVA for you. Should you calculate it by hand? Should you run it to the computer? And there was a huge camp that said you should do it by hand or you will never understand a statistical value. And I said, “You know, we’ve got the technology there. Why don’t we have the students use the computer to do the mundane stuff, and we’ll have more time to talk about the theoretical and the important implications.” But even back then we were having the discussions about whether to use the technology at hand or not. Oh, and by the way, we are also hanging grades on doors. So we would figure out the grades, we’d tack it to the door, and then the students who want to know what their grades were for the class would swing by and look at the door.

John: And they were sorted alphabetically, to make it easier for people to find where they were in the grade list.

Todd: Yeah, it was great. We listed them according to their social security number, [LAUGHTER] which was a little different back then. And yeah, we actually did that back then. But as John pointed out, they were listed by number so nobody knew whose number went with whom, except, surprisingly, they were alphabetical on the door. So not only could you figure out Armstrong’s exam score, you’d get Armstrong’s social security number as well. Yeah, times have changed.

John: And it was also back in the day of dittos and mineos as well, which was the only way of disseminating information on paper.

Todd: This is so much fun. We’ll get to some real meat of this thing. But that walk down memory lane has some fun stuff too. The dittos…

Rebecca: I remember dittos, just for the record, okay.

Todd: Yes. So you probably remember, if you dittoed just before class, and you handed it out in class, the students would all pull the ditto up to their face, so they could smell the ditto fluid. And they got that smell. I was running dittos one time in the graduate student office, and I noticed when I looked down because it ran out of fluid, and I had to put some more fluid in, and I looked down and I noticed that the floor was kind of eaten away by this ditto fluid. And then… this is the best part… About a month later, I was digging for something in the closet and I found extra tiles and I thought they should put these tiles down to replace the ones that are all eaten and on the side of the box it said these tiles were long lasting and durable, reinforced with asbestos. So that ditto fluid was eating through asbestos tiles. That’s some strong stuff.

John: …to make it a little bit more friable so that it would disseminate in the air nicely.

Todd: Well, there had to be something to help the faculty members who were running all their own dittos to not mind doing it, and one way of doing this is to have them use ditto fluid, because I’ll tell you, you may not have liked it when you started, but by the end, it was all right. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: It’s funny that we’re taking this walk down memory lane, because on our campus, I was in our historic lecture classroom today in Sheldon Hall.

John: What are some of the other changes that have occurred and how have they influenced how we teach?

Todd: Yeah, so it’s interesting, I did the walk down memory lane and we were chatting about this stuff. It’s all fun, but thinking about how the changes have taken place. I think that’s really important. So there have been massive changes. I think that we tend to forget, it’s so easy to communicate with students now. Heck, people are texting now so that you can text back and forth with students. But think about how that has transcended or gone through time. There was a time when I would have to call and leave a message for a student on an answering machine, and then they would call back and we would try to find a time that we could talk on the phone. If we wanted to have a conversation. I could either leave a note for the student or I could call and leave a message that says least come see me after class. So even having a conversation with a student was difficult, then it became easier with email because you could start emailing back and forth. And now we have Zoom. And the equity in the way that this has changed, just think about the difference of this, if I’m leaving a message for a student, they may not even have an answering machine, if they’re living off campus with limited means back then. So even getting in touch with a student would be challenging. Now I can have a Zoom conversation with a student who doesn’t have to hire a babysitter, who doesn’t have to find reliable transportation, who doesn’t have to drive across town and burn gas, and to do all of those things that it would take to have a 15-minute conversation that in the past would have been really hard, and even four or five years ago would have been challenging. The grades, why in the world would a person have to leave… and I was teaching in very northern Michigan, there were days that the wind chill was 75 degrees below zero… and students would leave their dorm rooms and walk across campus to see a grade on the door. It’s actually physically dangerous. And now we have learning management systems, we could post things for students. Interlibrary loan used to take weeks to get a document that you can now go on and get. People can lament all of these technological changes at times, but we’re actually creating more and more equity within the higher education system as we make certain things easier. Not saying that we’re anywhere near an equitable system yet, but we’re moving in a really good direction. And a lot of those changes are helping us to get there.

Rebecca: I’m thinking about all the times when I get to go to the door or meet after class, it really assumes that students are a certain kind of student, they’re full time, they have time. And our students now are working [LAUGHTER], and where they’re juggling a lot of different schedules and things.

Todd: Yeah, and I mean, we want to be careful too. And I agree with you 100%. But they were juggling back then too. But some of the things we were doing, for instance, I taught a night class. Now I would probably suggest if I was going to teach a class from 7 to 10pm that I would teach it through zoom, because there’s a lot of reasons that it’s good to do. But I had students that I noticed in class, would very quickly at the end of class would start talking to other students and I couldn’t figure out what it was doing because a lot of buzzing and stuff. And what I found was that there were certain students who were uncomfortable, and we were in a very safe campus, but they were uncomfortable walking to their car at 10 o’clock at night. So I started saying to the students, “Hey, I’m gonna park a car… and when we showed up, there were quite a few cars there… but I’ll be under the second light, I drive a little red Chevette, not a Corvette, a Chevette, but I’ll have my car there. If you want to park near me, we can walk out together.” And there were students that were not paying attention to almost any of the class because they were fearful of how they were going to get to their car safely. When you think about Zoom and stuff, it’s even safety factors, I would never have a review session now like I used to at 8 to 9 pm the night before the exam because I’m exposing people to potentially dangerous situations. Now we’d have zoom sessions. But I could tell you 40 years ago, there was no even concept of what zoom would be and how it would work. Even Star Trek didn’t have stuff like that.

John: And there was also, besides the inequity associated with people who were working, many campuses had a lot of commuting students who could not easily get back to campus for office hours. Or if they were just taking classes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and your office hours was on a Tuesday, they’d have to come in that extra day, arranging childcare, or their work to be able to fit that into the schedule.

Todd: Yeah, it really did start to change that system. So we got a little bit more equity, and like you were saying too, the commuting students, the part-time students, the students taking distance courses. When I first started teaching, I was writing… oh my word, remember the correspondence courses? …and you mail away and get a packet of material, you take a test at a local library and, and they talk about distance education being not as good as on campus, but at least better than nothing. And now we’re finally getting to a system where we can stop assuming that those folks who are coming in for part-time courses and stuff are just getting something better than nothing. They’re actually getting something similar to full college courses, which some of those online courses are actually as good or better than college courses that are on campus. But all that’s changing with the technology. It’s crazy.

John: And there’s a lot of research that supports that in terms of the relative learning gains with online and face-to-face, as well as hybrid courses, which seemed to outperform others in a few meta studies that have been done. But those were options that just weren’t available back then. And the early online courses were often designed to be replicas of face-to-face classes, and they probably didn’t work quite as well. But we’ve learned since that, which brings us to the issue of research. During the time that you’ve been teaching, there’s been a lot of research on teaching and learning. While some of it was taking place, it wasn’t very widely disseminated to faculty.

Todd: Yeah, that is true, too. It’s so much easier to get technology out. It’s easier to gather data, it’s easier to write it up. It’s easier to edit it so all of those types of things that are happening now that couldn’t happen before. And as a result, we’re learning a lot more about how people learn, you know, the book I did on the New Science of Learning, looking at a lot of the ways that students learn. And part of it’s just the ease of getting to information. But also part of it’s just being able to investigate how people process information. I used to teach Introductory Psychology back then, we would talk about the stages of sleep. And nobody really knew, for instance, what REM sleep was about, we knew that you had to have it or else it caused some problems. Deep sleep we knew was important, we now have indications that deep sleep for consolidation is necessary for semantic memory. If your sleep is interrupted, you can get eight hours of sleep. But if you don’t get deep sleep, the information doesn’t get consolidated. Procedural memory, how to give shots and kick balls and do anything procedurally looks like it’s more solidified during REM sleep. So again, the different types of sleep are associated with us learning long term, different types of information. We never knew that before all this technology was running around. In fact, back then I gotta say, I remember from my intro psych class being told that you were born with a certain number of neurons, and as you live through life, neurons would die. And if you killed them by drinking or doing something like drugs or something, they were gone forever, and you would never get more. And if you broke a connection, it was broken forever. That’s just simply not true. But it’s what we thought back then. So technology has really allowed us to look better at how people learn, different ways of helping them to learn and different ways they can even study. By the way, before we move on, we now have this physiological demonstration that staying up all night and cramming the night before the test. Even though it gets you slightly higher grades on the test, we now know that because the information is not consolidated that it won’t be there a week later or two weeks later. So we’ve always told students, you shouldn’t do it, but now we can actually show them why it doesn’t work.

John: And the LMS itself has offered a lot of ways of giving more rapid feedback to students with some automated grading with some things to give them more low-stakes testing opportunities. And those were things that we just couldn’t easily do back when you started teaching.

Todd: No, John, that’s a really good one. And we know that one of the most consistent findings right now in all of learning and memory stuff is that the more often you do something, the easier it becomes, long-term potentiation. Which means the more frequently you retrieve information from your long-term memory, the easier it is to retrieve. And just like you’d mentioned, we can now do LMS systems that are set up so that you could do practice quizzes, you could do dozens or hundreds of practice quizzes and keep pulling that information out over and over and over again. That was just not possible before this. And so the LMS helps with that, it helps by giving feedback, really good feedback so that students know what they’re doing well, and what they’re not doing well. And it helps faculty members to design feedback specifically for certain types of projects, and so that I can more easily give more feedback without spending a lot more time on it. So LMSs have done a tremendous amount of work. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that you can have all of the LMS systems loaded with the content. So students can log in and get their information without leaving their house. If there’s fiscal challenges with your class, you can put in articles, the students may not have to buy a book, they could read the articles. And so we’ve got students who were able to come to classes because they can afford to be there. By the way, I remember being on a committee when I was a graduate student, and we were looking at financial aid and different financial systems. And I remembered asking the Chief Financial Officer, I said, “What increase in tuition does there need to be before you start to see students drop off because they can’t afford to be here?” And this was about 40 years ago, but he said $100 for a year, if they have to pay $100 this year more than last year, some students won’t come back. If we look at the price of textbooks now, textbooks can cost $400. So, a book like that is definitely going to make a difference between some students being able to take the class or not. So LMS systems make this possible.

John: And they also make it easier to share OER resources that don’t have any cost for students, or some less expensive adaptive learning platforms, giving all students that first-day access. I remember, not so long ago, when I was still using textbooks in some classes, students would wait several weeks before they got that book. And that put them at a severe disadvantage. And the people who were being put at a disadvantage. were generally the students who came in with the weakest backgrounds because they came from lower resourced school districts.

Todd: Yeah, if they had the resources, they would have the better background foundational material, but they’d be able to buy the books. And you mentioned OERs. So open educational resources are really another thing that are really valuable because back then, before the technology, you couldn’t produce something that would be readily available like throughout the world. And so this project that’s going on now where they’re doing introductory level books in all the different disciplines, you can get an OER introductory psychology textbook that students can log in and read. None of that was possible before the technology. So even the creation of OERs has changed so much.

Rebecca: Well, speaking of digital materials, libraries have changed significantly too over time from having completely physical collections and interlibrary loans and things that take a lot of time to having a lot of digital resources, which changes access to research and materials that you can populate into your classes, but also can aid students in the work that they’re doing. Can you talk a little bit about the change in libraries and how that’s impacted how you’ve taught?

Todd: Yeah, you know, libraries have been fascinating to watch over the last 40 years, because it used to be the biggest challenge librarians had before them was which books to put on the shelves because there was a finite amount of shelf space. And there were lots and lots of books. And so that was the big thing. We used to take out journals that weren’t used very much to make room for other journals. Through time, little by little, they started digitizing all that stuff. And I can remember chatting with librarians, one conversation I had was back around 2001. I said, gonna be interesting, because there’s gonna come a day where there’ll be no books in the library, and the Dean of Libraries said “Well, there’s always going to be books.” I said, “Not always, potentially.” But even if we reduce them, I said, “What is your foresight? How is the library going to change?” And so he had a couple of ideas. But what it basically boiled down to our conversation is, I always felt like a library was like the brain of the campus, it had the books, and it had all of the information that you could go and get. As the books left, and things were diversified in a way that you could find this stuff, you could get all the information right from your dorm room, or from your apartment, when the internet came along, you could get anything you needed, then the library was still a physical space that was in the middle of campus. And what it should become is a learning commons, a place where people go to share and to learn from one another. And I think that’s what’s really changed is individuals still just pile into libraries and use the space, but they use it in different ways. They go there to meet other individuals to work, which they did before. But they took away that aspect of going there for the book part. And it meant all of those shelves got emptied, and they started pushing them out. And you can go into libraries right now that have very few shelves. But they have webcams, they have smartboards, they have spaces where folks can plug in their computers and share with one another. They’ve got screens set up so that you can project and have students sitting around a table, they’ve got Google Glass set up, all of these types of things that bring students together to use technology to learn from one another.

John: And they have cafes to help support that to make it easier for people to gather.

Todd: Yeah, you could swing by and get a cup of tea.

Rebecca: It’s funny, even when I was in high school, my sister and I would rely on going to the library to have access to a computer so that we could even type of paper, because we didn’t have one at home. And that kind of place of having the technology started a long time ago, but it’s amped up quite a bit over the last 20 years.

Todd: Yeah, and I agree completely. And the computers that are there. I mean, even right now, with the books dissipating, there a’re still large numbers of computers. And oftentimes, they’ll even be an area in a library that’s carved out with really high-end computers. But it gives students an opportunity to go. We make this assumption that everybody has a computer and they don’t. But libraries give them that opportunity.

John: Yeah, for those students working on smartphones or Chromebooks, that gives them access to all the tools that students with $2000 or $3000 or $4,000 computers.

Todd: Yes, because smartphones can work for lots of things. But they’re a little tough to write a paper on

John: When I started teaching, and probably when you did too, the predominant mode of instruction, which actually still is often the predominant mode of instruction in many departments, was lecture. That’s changed quite a bit since then. Could you talk a little bit about the shift from lecture-based courses to courses that involve much more active learning activity?

Todd: Yeah, or they just involve a lot more of everything. The concept of flipped classrooms, which was almost impossible 30, 40 years ago, because you really couldn’t get the information to the students. Yes, it was kind of possible, but whoo, if it was hard now, it was really hard back then. But the ability to get information out to students that they can read it before they come to class. But coming back to the lectures… So I’m going to take this moment and those of you who know me know that I’m going to do this, is that we still have no evidence that lectures are bad, but there’s something that we need to really keep in mind. I think this is vital. I do think it’s important for us to be able to talk about buzz groups and jigsaws and fish bowls and lectures and Socratic lectures, discussion lectures, all those different methodologies out there so that we know what we’re talking about when we chat with one another. But I do think it’s time that we stop talking about lectures being more effective than one thing or fishbowls being more effective than something else and look at the components of what is valuable in a learning experience.

John: And a good reference for that is a book on Dynamic Lecturing, which you happen to be a co-author of.

Todd: That is true and in fact that there’s the Dynamic Lecturing. And then there’s a chunk in that about The New Science of Learning. And then there’s a whole chapter in that about Teaching at its Best, because that’s a good point, John, thank you.

Rebecca: It’s almost like you’re trying to slip it in everywhere you are.

Todd: Because the research… people keep talking about one methodology being better than another. Here it is, folks, you can be a hideous lecturer, you can be a phenomenal lecturer. And if you’re a hideous lecturer, you’re not going to learn anything. If you’re a phenomenal lecturer, students will learn from you but they won’t learn all the time, it depends on some student factors. I’ve actually been exposed to group work in flipped classrooms that were awful. And so that concept is we start thinking about and this is why it’s going to come back to the technology, we think about the elements that need to be there, that are necessary for learning to take place. I’m just going to do this, because it’s not the topic I’ll make it very brief, is let’s just go with three things. If you don’t have your attention, as a teacher, if my learners aren’t attending to what I’m saying, if they’re on their phone or thinking about bacon, then they can’t process what I’m presenting. And if you’re having a think-pair-share, if they’re not attending to the person they’re sitting next to, you have to have attention. Number two, they have to have some value. If I’m hearing somebody or I’m reading something, and this has no value to me, it’s really hard to get it into your long-term memory and to learn it. And number three, I have to have a clue of what’s happening, I got to understand some aspects. Now if we think about attention, value, and understanding, now we can flip back to the technology. This is why gaming works. Gaming draws the attention, it increases the value, because you want to win the game, and it has understanding. We have all played games. You open up the old board games, and now it’s digital, where you don’t have a clue what the game is. It’s like, if you advance a player four pieces and the opponent advances five pieces, you have to go back three spaces, unless it’s a Tuesday. When those instructions are that complicated, you don’t understand. So we can use technology to help with attention, we can use technology to help with the value of what’s going on. And we can use that technology to help with understanding. Those are things that were very difficult before. And they allow us to do things like a mini lecture and then shift over to an active learning exercise, and then say, take all this information and create a Zoom session tomorrow that will go over it again. So the technology has really helped us to be able to do all of these things to get at the core of learning, a topic I barely care about. [LAUGHTER]

John: That’s an important one, because people often see this as this binary issue where you lecture or you use active learning. And there are some really effective ways to combine them. And in fact, in that book on dynamic lecturing, it was suggested that lecture can be more important in introductory courses, when students don’t have as much of a knowledge base.

Todd: You’re absolutely right. Discovery learning is a really great way to learn if you’ve got a lot of time. I can just put you into a room with some other people and say, “Here’s some data, and here’s some things we need to know. Go.” And if you don’t have any foundational knowledge at all, it takes forever to figure it out, you go online, you know what to look for, I could do a five-minute lecture, and at the end of five minutes, set it up and say, “Now go and work with your neighbors. In fact, here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to have you each work in small groups in class, I’m going to open up a Padlet. At each table, I want you to go in and add your information or put it into the column that corresponds with your group number.” As an instructor, I can watch everything develop in front of me. While I’m in the room, I can look at my laptop and see it and walk over to a table and say, “looks like you’re struggling a little bit.” I’ve lectured, I put them into small groups, I’ve had them use technology, I’ve created a little bit of competition on who can come up with what and I’ve had a way for me to monitor it and give them feedback. That is so different than what teaching used to look like. So pulling it all together, that’s what we do.

Rebecca: The tools to be able to monitor have been really helpful in my own teaching and being able to get a better pulse on what’s going on and get a nice overview and then be more targeted in how to interact with small groups rather than just kind of wandering around more aimlessly like I think I did initially. [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Yeah, and this is all going to be great until we get our cognitive load headbands that I’m waiting to be developed. So anybody who’s listening, take this idea, run with it, you can make a bazillion dollars and then take me out to dinner or something. I want a headband and the headband has a light and it measures brainwave activity. And then as I’m teaching, if you start to be a little bit like it’s a little bit too much, you’re moving out of that zone of proximal development, the light turns from green to a yellow. And then when it hits red is like when you’re trying to put together an Ikea bookcase and someone comes by and says “What do you think of this?” and you say, “Errr, I’m working on an Ikea bookcase right now.” …that shutting down with that red light. I’m telling ya, that’s going to be the technology we’ll want next.

Rebecca: It would be so helpful. [LAUGHTER]

Todd: You can actually look and see somebody else’s zones of proximal development and their cognitive load. Whoof. Which by the way, there’s a little party game that they’ll do periodically at parties. It’s like if you’re a superhero, what would you want your superpower to be? And I was in a room one time and one person said they wanted to fly and somebody else said that they wanted to be invisible, which real quickly in my head, I’m thinking, what could you possibly gain that wasn’t illegal or creepy if you’re invisible. So aside from that, transporting and everything else, and they got to me, and I said, “I want to be able to see people’s zones of proximal development. If that were my superpower, I’d be the best teacher.”

John: I bet that went over really well at those parties. [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Yeah, my friends all said “You are amazingly smart and quite insightful.” They used different words, but that’s what I heard. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: They didn’t start with what is that? [LAUGHTER]

Todd: As soon as I start talking, most of my friends just shake their head and drink whatever beverage they have near them. [LAUGHTER] So yeah, it’s good times, good times. They’re all impressed. They don’t say it all the time, but I know they are.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that often happens with technology is that it allows us to get things quickly and move through things quickly. But sometimes, as you just noted, learning doesn’t happen quickly.

Todd: Yeah.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about speed and the difference between maybe not having all the technology and all the things really quick versus maybe now where we have it at our fingertips, but do we always want it at that speed?

Todd: So there’s another study that I’m waiting to see. This is an easy study, folks, somebody can run this one quickly. We all know that students are listening to any recorded lectures or recorded material that they have to watch, 1.7 is about the best speed that we tend to see people listening. 2.0 is a little bit fast for some folks. 1.0 is like normal speed, that’s no good, too slow. So what I’m curious about is the space between words and between sentences that our brains, because they move so fast, we can listen faster than somebody can talk. And we have all this other stuff going on is I can be thinking and processing while you’re talking to me. But if I bumped that up to one seven, I think we close the gaps. And I hear it a lot faster. But what I don’t think is happening is the cognitive processing while I’m listening. The active listening component to it. So I think technology can create concerns in those directions. And students who do try to process material too fast… we’ll wait and see.

John: And that’s especially important in flipped classrooms where students do watch these videos outside. One of the things I’ve been doing with those, though, is embedding questions in the video so they can watch them as quickly as they want. But then they get these knowledge checks every few minutes. And then if they find they’re not able to answer it, they may go back and get their attention back and watch that portion again.

Todd: Yeah, I think that’s a really good way to go. EdPuzzle’s kind of a fun technology to use. I don’t know if that’s the one you used.

John: I’m using Playposit, which is a bit more expensive, it works beautifully. I love it, they did just double the price this year, though, it was bought by a new company.

Todd: This is the tricky spot now as the prices are going up. You know, inflation is a terrible thing to waste. Anytime somebody can raise prices now it’s like, “ooh, inflation”. So you know, prices double, inflation is 8% with runaway, now it’s back down around three. But when inflation was 8%, they doubled the price and say, “Hey, we’ve got to,” but yes, it’s some of them are expensive. There’s lots of things that are less expensive. Oftentimes we pay for functionality that help us but the freemiums kind of thing. So stuff that’s inexpensive. I just wanna let everybody out there know just about anything you want to do in class or can think about doing it, there’s a way to do it for either free, or probably under $100 a year, which I know $100 can be expensive for some people, it’s about eight bucks a month. And so things like Padlet that I think might be up around 140 now, so maybe $12 a month, can change how much time you spend doing things, and how much time for students. But yeah, I love the embedded questions to help slow things down.

Rebecca: I think that the cognitive load can happen really quickly if we’re piling lots of information in but not always providing the time to process and use that information in some way in the kind of activities that you were talking about. Or knowing when everybody’s red light is going off in the class.

Todd: Or when people try to do multiple things. I mean, now you’ve got the technology around. So if students are trying to listen to an assignment while they’re texting their friend and have a TV on, I mean, we’re living in an age where there is a lot going on, and people believe they can process lots of things. Evolution doesn’t happen quite that fast. And so I think we have to be careful with that one.

John: One other thing that’s happened is back when you and I both started teaching, the only way students generally communicated their learning was either on typed pages or on handwritten notes. Now we have many more types of media that students can use. And also we’ve seen a bit of an expansion of open pedagogy. How does that help students or how does that affect student learning?

Todd: Wow, that’s really changed a lot as well. Blue Books. Remember the blue books? I think they still sell blue books in the library. They may cost more than the I think it was eight cents when I started, but the concept of writing things down, you turn them into the faculty member, the faculty member would grade them and turn them back. One of the big things that I caught years and years ago was so much wasted cognitive energy in terms of what they produced. I’d read a paper from a student and think this is amazing, and no one will ever see it. It was written for me, I graded it. And now it’s done. I think the technology has changed so many things. One of the biggest things, I would encourage all the listeners, any faculty member out there is, whenever possible, create something that will take the students’ work, the things that they’re doing, and use it to make society better. It’s not that hard. There’s assignments that you can do on Wikipedia. Anybody who wants to complain about Wikipedia, if you don’t like it, I’m gonna go back to Tim Sawyer, who is a faculty member of mine, my very first time I ever did TA work. I was complaining about some students. And he said, “You can complain three times. And after you’ve complained three times, either stop talking,” he was a little bit ruder about that, “or do something about it… just shut up or do something.” And so I complained about Wikipedia for a while, that it wasn’t all that effective. And I thought, well, if I don’t like the page on cognitive load on Wikipedia, I could give an assignment of my cognitive Psych class to go on to Wikipedia and fix it. And so you can have Wikipedia assignments, there’s so many things you could do. Here’s one for you. If you’re doing one on communication, you could have your students go and take pictures or short videos somewhere on campus of something that’s meaningful to them, and then jot down why it’s meaningful, take that compilation of stuff and send it over to the office on campus that does publicity. What better way of drawing students to campus than to have all of these students that have said, I love sitting by the pond because… and in the past, we would have had students write a paper about someplace on campus that you think is effective, put it in the blue book, we would grade it, we turn it back to the students. And that is a waste of possibilities. And so I think we do have lots of ways that we can get the students involved in helping through technology,

John: One of our colleagues in SUNY, Kathleen Gradel, had an assignment for a first-year course, where the students went out, took pictures, geocoded it and added it to a map layer that was then shared with other first-year students about useful resources on campus and their favorite spots on campus, which is another great example of that type of authentic learning.

Todd: Yes, for the authentic learning, there are just so many possibilities because of the technology. If anyone doesn’t have ideas, ask deans, ask the provost, ask the president on your campus, like what kind of information would be helpful, either for the next round of accreditation or for just helping the campus and we can design those things. Another one I did was we took students to the museum. We’d go to the museum, almost any class could kind of find some way to tie museums in, and through the museum, not only would they write stuff that the folks at the museum who did curation would help use, but also just helping the students to see how issues from the museum, how artifacts and things can be used in their own life, to better understand.

Rebecca: When I first started teaching, community-based learning was popular, in fad at the time, and I think having the experience of being a student in a class like that, but then also a faculty member teaching classes like that has really informed the kinds of projects that I do. Maybe they’re not always community-based learning, but they’re often community oriented, whether it’s the campus or even the surrounding community that the campus is situated in to help students get connected. There’s so many nonprofits that need partners and love, there’s always a project that can be done. [LAUGHTER]

Todd: There is. And I used to be a director for a service learning component of the campus. And yeah, there’s just so much out there that we can do to help others.

Rebecca: And students always had such a strong connection. And they didn’t want to fail because other people were depending on them. And so there was a real investment in the work that they did on projects like that.

Todd: I will admit that I’ve never experienced it myself. I’ve never even heard of anybody that if the students are doing some kind of authentic learning, that their authentic learning is then used to help somebody else. I have never heard students say “What a waste of time” or “I hate that class,” or “those assignments are just busy work.” They’ve never used those terms.

John: One common sort of project is to create resources that could be shared with elementary or secondary school students in the disciplines. And again, they can see the intrinsic value of that.

Todd: Yeah. Students could write short manuals on how to learn and then pass that on to the first-year students. And so upper-division students could be helping the lower-division students because not everybody can get a copy of The New Science of Learning, third edition.

John: …available from… [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Available at… used to be Stylus. Since Stylus was sold to Routledge, now it’s available at Routledge. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Given the historical background that we’ve walked through today, what if we think about the future? Where do you see technological changes or learning theory changes impacting the future of higher ed?

Todd: Yeah, we’re living at an interesting time. I like to point out to folks that when you go back to Socrates, Plato kind of time there was a thought that if you wrote something down, it would weaken the mind so we shouldn’t write things down. Luckily, some individuals wrote things down or we never would have known. We’ve gone through several iterations of those kinds of things. Samuel Johnson, I believe it was, who said “With the ready availability of books, teachers are no longer needed. If you want to learn something, you could go get a book on it.” Well, that was a couple of 100 years ago. And we still have faculty members, we have students writing things down, we’re reading, I don’t imagine how you could teach without writing things down and having books. The internet came along, as we were discussing earlier, while we were teaching, we watched the internet show up. And there were people who said, “Well, with the internet, there’s going to be no need for teachers anymore, because students can get whatever they want.” I can’t imagine teaching without the internet right now. So as we’ve gone through each of these iterations, there’s been this fear that maybe we’d be supplanted by some technology followed by “I don’t know how I’d work without that,” it’s a little trickier now, because with generative AI, we’re talking about not just something being available, but actually creating something. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. But there’s some real possibilities that the generative AI ChatGPT, could do things like help students who have writer’s block, get started. And that’s an individual that maybe could produce something really cool, but just can’t get started. I didn’t publish my first book until about seven or eight years ago, because I’m one of those individuals who has a terrible time from a blank screen. I just have a terrible time with that. And so now, I don’t use ChatGPT to actually write anything significant. But I will tell you that I will use it for the first paragraph. That’s all, just one paragraph. And then I completely rewrite that. And there’s no actually trace of it. But it’s something that gets me going.

John: So can we count on more than a book a year going forward? [LAUGHTER]

Todd: No, no, no, no, you can’t. So exhausting. But the concepts that will help students that can do that, I think that’s going to be helpful for them. So there’ll be a type of student who couldn’t have produced before, but now can. We are definitely going to run into some challenges, though, with students who are going to just use generative AI and use artificial intelligence to actually create and to hand something in instead of doing the work. So I do think we’re in a challenging time right now. And I wouldn’t make light of that. There’s actually something that I find fascinating from this. Right now, more than ever before, we can actually have artificial intelligence create something for us, especially in higher education, this hasn’t been done before. The tricky thing is that we were the ones to be able to make that possible, because we learned things. If we let a machine do that work for us, we’re not going to be put into the situation or our students coming along, will not be put into a situation where they’re intelligent enough to do the things that need to be done when they need to be done. And so I do think we’re facing a real dilemma right now. If my students, for instance, always do use some artificial intelligence to create a paper and hand it in, if I can’t catch it, they may end up with an A in that portion of the class. But there’s going to come a day when they’re going to have to write something or be able to read something and tell if it’s written well. And so I’m a little bit nervous, we’re entering a phase where by bypassing some cognitive processing that needs to be done, we may be limiting what we’re able to do in the future. Wrapping this up, though, I don’t want to be the person who says if you use a calculator, you’ll never understand this statistical test. So I don’t know where the balance is. But I do think we’re going to have to have decisions coming up that we’ve never had before.

John: Generative AI is drawing on that wealth of knowledge that has been produced. And for that to continue to grow in the future, we do need to have some new materials being created. So that is an interesting challenge, unless it goes beyond unless….

Todd: …unless it creates it. So that was one I thought about, by the way, sometimes you’re sitting around just thinking about stuff and it’s interesting. I was thinking how do I acquire new information. And the way I acquire new information is I go read articles, I read books, I read a ton of stuff. And then I say I think this is valuable, I don’t think that’s valuable. And then I put it together and say here’s what I’m thinking. And now I’m looking at this generative AI who goes out and scans the environment and pulls these things and then creates something new. It doesn’t have the cognitive processing that I have at this point, but…

John: it’s in the early stages.

Todd: We have some folks who are very concerned out there, especially in European countries that are starting to put some guardrails out, because at the point that it keeps grabbing stuff, and then generating and then it grabs the stuff it generated, then it’s going to be interesting. But as of right now, I just read another article, I think it was yesterday, that they’re going out and grabbing the most popular or most frequently written things and then putting it down as if that is right.

Rebecca: The way that you might prioritize as a human with an expertise in something, is going to be really different than a system that’s prioritizing based on popularity, [LAUGHTER] or like how current something is like when it was last published. That’s a really different value system that really changes priorities.

Todd: Yeah, and I think it changes how we teach. I think the way we teach is going to fundamentally shift because we’re going to have to work with students with all these things being available and explain to them and talk to them about the learning process and the value of the learning process. And keep in mind, this isn’t just about ChatGPT writing papers, everybody’s freaked out about that right now. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that you could get fresh, cleanly written papers that have not been plagiarized at all, we’d be able to do that for 20 years. There are paper mills, I can either write away or contact somebody and say, “Please write me a 10 page paper on Descarte, and they would write it, I could turn that in. What actually has happened recently is that everybody can do it, even those who can’t afford to have a paper written at $10 a page or whatever it’s costing. And so equity comes back again. [LAUGHTER] Now we’re an equal opportunity cheater. So we have to be careful with that. But I think the way we teach is going to change because all that information is going to be available, kind of like the internet on hyperspeed. And then what do you do with that? It’s going to be really intriguing. I think it’s an exciting time.

Rebecca: So Todd, this episode’s gonna come out right at the beginning of this semester. So you’re saying we need to be thinking about how to change our teaching. ChatGPT’s here, what are you doing for the Fall differently?

Todd: Well, I think the biggest thing is what we were just talking about, looking more at the learning process, which has been a big thing for me for the longest time, is explaining and talking through the learning process, I can hand you all this information, but if I hand it to you, you don’t learn. In fact, one of my favorite examples came from a friend of mine, and it was the gym, if you want to get in better shape, I could pay somebody to go do sit ups for me. And then I could somehow log in the book at the gym that 100 Sit ups were done, use the passive voice there, and somebody else did them for me, I’m not going to get in better shape unless I do the situps. So I have to do the work, I have to run, lift weights, do the situps in order for me to be able to gain. We need to just turn that into a cognitive process for our students to really gain cognitively they have to do the work. And so I think more than ever, it’s how do we convince students of that? And for the faculty members who say, “Well, that’d be great, but my students just want the grade.” If that’s the case, we have a bigger problem than whether or not some technology can write a paper for them.

John: So how do we convince students that it is important for them to acquire the skills that we hope they get out of college?

Todd: I think this is probably going to come down to the community building, it’s been there forever. If you really want your students to do the work, the best thing you can do in my view, and that’s why I’m gonna say, Rebecca, I don’t think a lot for the way I teach, has changed. You build a community, you build relationships, you talk to the students about importance of things, if you’re sincere about that, and they get that then yes, there’s going to be some students that are going to mess with the system, they have always been there. But you’re also going to get a lot of students who will say, “Yeah, that’s a good point.” And then they’ll do the work. I don’t teach as many undergraduates as I used to, I’m teaching more faculty than ever because of being the faculty developer. But there were years that I would have to tell my students don’t put more time than this in on your paper, you have other classes, you need to do the work in the other classes. Because, and I’m telling you, I am very proud of this, my students would spend a ton of time on this stuff for my class, because they didn’t want to let me down. And I would say you’ve already got an A, I’m proud of what you’re doing, please go work on your other classes. That kind of scenario happens when you build community. And I’m not saying it’s easy, I would never say it’s easy. And it’s not going to happen for everybody. But it is the foundation of good teaching.

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

Todd: There’s just so much going on right now. I think that what’s next for me is I am still in that headspace of coming kind of back from the pandemic, anybody who says, “Yeah, but the pandemic’s all over,” wait for November, we won’t know, we’re going to see. But I still think that’s next is kind of thinking about how we teach and learn in this environment. So moving in that space, it’s probably not surprising. I’m working on the next book here. One of the things I want to do now is the last couple of books that I’ve done had been pretty heavy books. And now I want to write something that’s a little bit lighter. So it’s going to be more of a quick guide with more narrative and having some fun, I love telling stories. I love having fun with people. So I’m going to try to create a book that’s kind of like a science of learning and teaching at its best but really accessible and more of a story-based kind of way of looking at things.

Rebecca: Who is your audience for that book?

Todd: Anybody who will read it? [LAUGHTER] Anytime I write anything, I have to have the audience firmly in mind and think about who am I talking to. And I really believe there is a pretty big overlap with students and faculty who don’t know specific things. And I’m not saying this in a mean way toward any of my faculty colleagues at all. But there’s a lot of people who aren’t taught about things like long-term potentiation and deep sleep in terms of semantic memory, and looking at depth of processing and those types of things. So the same type of thing we can say to a student, we know you shouldn’t cram, but here’s why you shouldn’t cram… faculty learn a lot from that as well. And so my audience for this book is going to be faculty and students, students, because I think it’ll be more fun to read about how to learn in a narrative form like that. And faculty because it’s more fun to learn when you read in that kind of a format for some people. we’ll see.

John: And if faculty design their courses to take advantage of what we know about learning, it can facilitate more learning.

Todd: Wouldn’t that be cool? We could just keep rolling, rolling. What a great amount of work. I mean, a huge amount of work that faculty do. They’re hard working folks that are just cranking away all the time. Number one, making their life a little bit easier by helping to understand things would be great. And just having a little bit more fun would be fun, would be nice way to go to0.

Rebecca: Hey, anytime you can save time, so that we can have more play in our lives is better.

Todd: Yeah, just to do whatever you want to do.

John: Yeah, ending on a note of fun is probably a great way to end this.

Rebecca: Well. It’s always great talking to you, Todd. Thanks for chatting with us and going on the Wayback Machine.

Todd: Oh, you know, I love the Wayback Machine.

Rebecca: I love it too.

Todd: For those of you who don’t know about that, you should check out the Wayback Machine


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.


302. Flipped Team-Based Learning

Flipped classrooms allow for class time to be used to put content into action. In this episode, Tina Abbate joins us to discuss the team-based approach that she uses in her classes to help develop the real-world skills important in her field.

Tina is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Nursing. She holds a collection of credentials including a PhD, MPA, an MS, and is a registered nurse (RN). She teaches in-person and online undergraduate nursing classes at Stony Brook and conducts research on active learning strategies and the retention of information. She works as a nursing supervisor at two local hospitals.  She is the recipient of the 2023 SUNY FACT2 Award for Excellence in Instruction and was a recipient of the Stony Brook University Award for Excellence in Teaching an In-Person Course.

Show Notes


John: Flipped classrooms allow for class time to be used to put content into action. In this episode, we look at one instructor’s team-based approach that emphasizes real-world skills important to the field.


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: ….and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guest today is Tina Abbate. Tina is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Nursing. She holds a collection of credentials including a PhD, MPA, an MS, and is a registered nurse (RN). She teaches in-person and online undergraduate nursing classes at Stony Brook and conducts research on active learning strategies and the retention of information. She works as a nursing supervisor at two local hospitals. She is the recipient of the 2023 SUNY FACT2 Award for Excellence in Instruction and was a recipient of the Stony Brook University Award for Excellence in Teaching an In-Person Course. Welcome, Tina.

Tina: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me here today.

John: We’re very happy to see you again. We saw you at the SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology (or CIT) about a month or so ago. And our teas today are:…. Tina, are you drinking tea?

Tina: I am. I am drinking a chai tea. Very good.

Rebecca: That sounds nice and warming.

Tina: Yup.

Rebecca: It’s a little chilly here, although it’s summer and it was hot yesterday. It is not hot today. [LAUGHTER]

Tina: Yes, for sure the weather has been very odd.

Rebecca: So I have my tea for teaching mug today. And in it, I think actually a mix of a couple of different black teas because I switched when I had a half a cup left. [LAUGHTER] I’m not sure what we call this today, but it’s a mix of black teas.

Tina: That sounds delicious.

John: Well, it sounds like a great tea to have while discussing blended learning.

Rebecca: A high quality blend. [LAUGHTER]

John: And we’re having a real cold spell here in Durham, North Carolina. The temperature has dropped down to 87 today, and I am drinking a tea forte black currant tea.

Rebecca: That’s a nice summer tea.

John: It is.

Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss your use of active learning tools. But before we jump into that, we were curious about your wide range of degrees, credentials, and certifications. We didn’t even list them all. Can you share a little bit about your pathway into your current position at Stony Brook?

Tina: Sure. Well, when I went back to grad school, I certainly didn’t intend to get three graduate degrees. I had gotten into Binghamton and gotten into their BS to PhD program because I wanted to do research and my ultimate goal was to do executive leadership position at a hospital because I really enjoyed the leadership role of nursing. So just to backtrack, I graduated Binghamton University in the year 2000 and started right in the NICU (neonatal ICU) at Stony Brook and I worked as a NICU nurse for six years. And in that time, I knew that I wanted to go back to school. And like I said, I got into the BS to Ph. D. program at Binghamton. They awarded me a fellowship program. So I moved from Long Island. My daughter was one at the time. And I started my education there at Binghamton, continued it for the graduate program. And about a year into my doctoral studies they had asked if I wanted to teach clinical and I’ve taught in other capacities. I used to teach violin and piano when I was younger and I never really thought of teaching as a career goal for me. However, I was a poor graduate student, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” And I had about six students in the NICU. I was teaching clinical, and, I don’t know, something came over me. I found my professional soulmate, something clicked so hard for me in that clinical that I wanted more. So I continued asking for teaching assignments. And it’s hard to articulate the feeling that you have, but I felt like I found my niche. And so I did clinical instructoring for about six years and then I moved into the classroom setting. So at that time, I still worked as a nursing supervisor, so I enjoyed the leadership role. And Binghamton started a dual master’s degree program, where you get your master’s in nursing with a concentration in whatever you wanted, I chose education. And the other part of the dual degree was a Master of Public Administration. So I was the first cohort to move through that program. So I graduated first with my Masters of Science in Nursing and my functional role was educator. Then two years later, I completed the Master of Public Administration, and then eventually the PhD. And it all just aligned so perfectly in my current career, because obviously I’m an academic at heart through and through. So those degrees have assisted me in that role. I still work in administration. I teach research, I teach leadership and management. So all of the degrees I’ve utilized and I still utilize actively every day. So this pathway was kind of carved out for me, I think, and I just feel very fortunate that I’m able to apply all of the degrees that I’ve gone for.

John: At the SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology, you gave a presentation on how you structure your courses. And you mentioned that you were using a flipped team-based learning class structure. Can you tell us a little bit about how your classes are structured, and what a typical class day would look like in one of your classes?

Tina: Sure. So any class that I’m involved in or coordinate, the structure that I utilize is a flipped team-based learning approach. And this essentially requires students to prepare prior to coming to class. It has some benefits there, there’s flexibility, students can learn at their own pace, it really amps up the student responsibility for learning, as we know, and then it also gives us the opportunity for higher level learning because they’re interacting with the concepts outside prior to class. And the team-based part of it I like is because that increases that collaboration amongst students. We know that nursing healthcare is a team sport, so I like to engage the students in teamwork so that they can collaborate and work on their team dynamics, and their own personal team skills. So how my classes operate is, prior to each class, students complete a set of videos, and they’re interactive videos, they’re accessible videos for all types of learners, and it carries weight in their grade. So basically, in these pre-class videos, students get a little voiceover content from me about a concept, and then they get tested on it using a variety of types of questions: matching, true-false, multiple choice, hotspots, you name it. As they move through the videos, they are taking notes on a note-taking guide. So all the concepts are there for them to just follow along, take notes. So they’re seeing, hearing, they’re doing something as they move through the videos. And that note-taking guide eventually acts as a study guide for them, because they have to take a quiz every single class. So they complete these videos before class. And then I start each class with a micro-lecture review using Kahoot!, which is just a game-based learning platform. And in this micro-lecture review, I’m really drilling down to the concepts and helping these students reconcile any last residual confusion that they may have about these concepts. And then after the Kahoot!, they take a quiz. Now, since they’ve interacted with the concepts so many times prior to taking this quiz, I push the level of the questions in these quizzes. There are 15 questions and I try to push the level as high as I can. And the students are able to rise to the occasion because they are not hearing the information for the first time when they walk into class. They have a vague sense of the concepts, we nail it down, and then they take the quiz. After the quiz, the rest of class is comprised of team-based activities. And that’s how every class looks like for me.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit more about the embedded questions that you have in the videos and how students have responded to that aspect of a flipped classroom?

Tina: Absolutely, I use a program called Articulate 360. Articulate 360 has many different types of functions in it. But I focus more on the storyline aspect of this product, where I’m able to set up these video clips. So if you already have voice overs, you can basically chop up that voice over into different bits, put it into a story, the type of file that they reference there. And then in between each clip, you can embed any type of quiz question that you could possibly imagine. And you can set up different parameters. So for example, I like to elevate the stakes a little bit, so the students, for these pre-class videos, the grade that counts is their first pass. So it’s not like they can retake the video for a higher grade. It’s whatever they get at the end of that first pass of the video is the grade that counts. And they have two opportunities to answer each quiz question correctly. And I also embed a lot of feedback, so if they get the answer wrong, they’ll see a pop up with some review, and then if they still got it wrong, or they got it right, then there’s an explanation that pops up for the right answer. So I do survey my students in the middle of the semester using a Google form. And then at the end using the university platform, and the feedback about the videos has been very positive, they really do appreciate even though it means extra work, I’m still not giving them 20 chapters to read. I’m giving them something that passes along a bit more quickly and has a better chance of sticking in their memories. And they also appreciate the note-taking guide because it also becomes a study guide, not just for the quiz, but for the final exam at the end.

Rebecca: Like I’ve counted four or five layers of countability on that same content. [LAUGHTER]

Tina: Exactly.

Rebecca: We’ve got the note taking guide. We’ve got the embedded questions, and we’ve got the Kahoot!, and then we’ve got the quiz, and then the exam at the end.

Tina: Yeah, so it’s all about building on these concepts, having the knowledge and then being able to apply it in the classroom

John: In your presentation, you mentioned that you were de-identifying the names of students taking the Kahoot!, but maintaining a leaderboard in the classroom. Could you tell us a little bit about how that works.

Tina: So Kahoot is based on answering the questions correctly or incorrectly. And part of the score is how quickly you answer the question. So ideally, you want to answer quickly and answer the questions correctly. So at the end of the Kahoot!, they get a score. And just again, to raise the stakes, students have to hit a certain benchmark of points to receive full credit. And I try to push that benchmark a little bit, not to make it impossible, but just to make it a little bit challenging for them to give them something to work towards. So for example, in one semester, they have to reach 70,000 points to get the full credit, and then it’s prorated from there. So every time I have a class, I load the data into this program that was built by our Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching on campus. One of the computer scientist was able to put this leaderboard, showed me how to upload the files, which are basically just CSV files. And what it does is this leaderboard shows their rank in the class, their total score, and the score for that week, so that they can monitor their progress. And everybody else is de-identified and random words, but they can see their name, and they could see their rank in the class.

John: And one of the advantages, I think, of using Kahoot! is it does provide some practice in developing automaticity. So that students can practice retrieving information quickly, which I would think would be especially important in health-care situations.

Tina: Absolutely. And I’ll have some students that come to me and they just absolutely despise Kahoot! because of the stress. And if you’ve ever taken a Kahoot!, and I have, it is stressful, you have to really think on your feet very quickly, especially since your score is based on how fast you answer the question. So what I tell them from the beginning is if you really are struggling with Kahoot!, and you don’t like Kahoot!, Kahoot is really for you, it’s meant for you, because I want you to think of a situation in a hospital setting. If a patient is deteriorating, we call something called a rapid response. And a team of people flow to the room to address whatever issue it is, perhaps the patient’s having difficulty breathing, whatever, chest pain, this now has become a very emergent situation. And in that situation, you have to be, as the primary nurse or a nurse assisting someone else, you have to have laser focus, and someone may ask you to just go get a piece of gauze. And if you’re new in the role you may be so flustered, just by getting that piece of gauze. So, this is really like a precursor to that. So I tell the students to use Kahoot! as a mechanism to help with your laser focus in situations where the outcome is dependent on what you’re doing.

Rebecca: Another thing that seems really relevant to a healthcare setting is the team-based learning aspect of your course. Can you talk a little bit about how you arrange the team-based activities and also how you set your students up for success on teams.

Tina: So with team-based learning, as we know, it’s simply a collaborative learning strategy and how the team activities look depends on the course. So I can talk to you about my research course. That happens every fall semester, and I have 160 students, this is the graduating class. These are the seniors, they’re in the last two semesters of the program. And what we do in that course is the team-based activity portion of class is working on a project. So I’ll tell you a little bit about the project which is experiential in nature. Stony Brook University is attached to Stony Brook University Hospital. So every year, I pick a unit, I meet with the manager, and they give us a clinical problem to solve. So for example, this fall the students and I will be working with the surgical ICU and the clinical topic is nurse wellbeing. So, as we know, we’re in this post-pandemic world and wellbeing has really moved to the forefront. Things like burnout, compassion fatigue is very prevalent in the healthcare environment and just globally as humans. I think we’re just a little tired of living in this fight or flight for so long. And now we’re trying to come back from this. So this fall semester, the students will be working in teams to find a solution for the surgical ICU for nurse wellbeing. So what we do is we search for articles together, and that’s how they get to their solution. We use a framework we use Melnyk’s seven steps for evidence-based practice. So in undergrad nursing, even though it’s called the nursing research course, the students are expected to utilize the research that has been done on a topic to make changes to their practice. Our expectation is not for them to actually conduct research. That’s a PhD level thing, but according to our essentials in baccalaureate nursing, that our accrediting body tells us what curriculum to teach to the students, the expectation is that they know how to read the research, how to critique it, how to appraise it, how to synthesize it, and how to use the research to develop solutions. So from there, they work in teams of eight throughout the semester, they develop their solution, they put it into a video project, the six-minute video project, and I choose the top two projects. Those top two projects then move on to the implementation phase. So then the unit will implement and evaluate the solution. And in addition to that, we put in for posters at conferences. For example, last year, we had two posters at ENRS. I was assigned the course of research, I was like, “Oh, boy, how am I going to make this interesting?” …because we know that research content can be a bit dry. So I ran the course for a couple years, and I knew that I had to do something with it. And that’s where I started moving towards this more experiential learning opportunity for the students. And so far, it’s been going really well.

Rebecca: So I heard you say something about teams of eight, and I almost maybe had a heart attack, [LAUGHTER] just thinking about how big that team is, and how to manage that. Can you talk a little bit about some of the structures you have in place to help a group that size, which is relatively large, be successful?

Tina: Sure. So teams of eight… that means I have 20 teams in total. And we’re all reviewing the same articles. So then I know the answers to all the questions. And basically, Google Drive is my answer. Every team has their own folder, within that folder are subfolders, I have them buddy up and be assigned to a certain number of articles. As a team, they have like individual and buddy responsibilities, which is clearly articulated in a contract that they review and fill out at the beginning of the semester. So they have individual responsibilities, buddy responsibilities, and they have team responsibilities. And every single class looks the same. So by the second class, they’re already into the mode. I don’t throw them any curveballs, every class structure is exactly the same, so they know what to expect. And they have appraisal forms to fill out. They have tables to fill out as a team to keep all of their literature organized. And the structure that I have in place seems to be working because there’s very little confusion now that I’ve kind of worked out all of the kinks. And I also always keep instructions projected just to make sure that they are apprised of the flow of class.

John: You mentioned Melnyk’s, seven steps of evidence-based practice. Could you give us a brief overview of that framework?

Tina: Absolutely. So there’s many evidence-based practice models out there. Stony Brook goes with Melnyk, and there are seven steps and actually I begin with step zero, step zero is igniting that spirit of inquiry. And that’s one of my main end goals of the course is for them to stay curious about how they can improve practice as a nurse for their patients. So that’s step zero. And then basically, what we do is we take the clinical problem, and then we frame it in the form of a question, a PICO question. And that helps us to find our articles. So once we find our articles, we go through the articles, we decide what we’re going to keep, what we won’t want to keep, then we start to critically appraise these articles, review them, read them, understand them, the students put that information into a literature review table, which is just the main elements of each article. After we’ve appraised all of the articles, the next step is to synthesize all of the articles. So what is the bigger picture? For that synthesis class students do complete synthesis tables. And when they create these synthesis tables, now the beginnings of their proposed solution begin to emerge. So then students put their solution together based on the synthesis table. And then the next step in this process is to implement the solution and then evaluate the solution. And of course, dissemination is always the last step.

John: You also mentioned that you use collaborative testing on exams. I’ve done this with a two-stage exam process where people take the exam individually first and then submit that but then take it again as a group. It also appears to have been and that’s been tremendously successful. It’s also appeared to have been really beneficial in terms of student learning, and it’s just so much more fun to watch the students work in groups on exams, than it is to go over the exam the next day with the whole class. That collaborative exam format has been so much much better than I ever expected it to be. Could you tell us a little bit about how you do collaborative testing on your exams?

Tina: I absolutely adore collaborative testing. If you have to assess students using exams, this is really maximizing the use of exams. So in my courses, students take collaborative exams in teams of three. And as we know, the research says that collaborative testing may decrease test-taking anxiety, the students have to take a large licensing exam at the end of the program. So it may help some of these students with that, like you said, immediate feedback on test performance, it really scales back the number of questions, I don’t even do exam reviews anymore, because the immediate feedback that they get, they’ve reconciled any confusion on the exam, that an exam review is no longer required. It increases student engagement and collaboration. I love how they, like you said, they debate, they discuss, that peer instruction. There are some people out there who can read a book and retain 100%. But generally speaking, you’ll have a better chance of retaining more information if you’re teaching someone else versus reading a book. Of course, that just varies learner to learner. So that could be really something to hone in on when it comes to collaborative testing. So, yes, the traditional way is to take the test individually, and then they take it again, in a team. And in our program, the clinical courses like medical surgical nursing, pediatrics, all of those, I would always recommend to do individual than collaborative because you really want to assess that individual on their performance and understanding of the concepts. And so I teach research, and I teach leadership and management, these are non-clinical courses, I skip the individual part, and take them right to a collaborative exam. So for example, for my research course, the students don’t know who they are paired up with, or in a team with, until about an hour before the exam. They get two articles, a quantitative article and a qualitative one. And then they have a set of questions to answer. Essentially, we’ve been preparing for this type of exam throughout the semester. So they end up doing really well. In my transitions to professional practice, where I’m teaching leadership and management, that is a traditional final exam, multiple choice, select all that apply, type of questions. And again, I actually do it on Zoom, they go into breakout rooms, they share their screen, and they take the exam, there’s a scribe who enters the answers. And also when it comes to accommodations, kind of as a side note, I’ve been able to set up strategies for individuals that do have accommodation so that they can maximize their experience as well.

John: When I first tried this, I was so excited about how the students were reacting with the collaborative exam that I took a short video clip while they were doing it and sent it to Rebecca. She was working with me in the teaching center at the time. It was just a remarkably positive experience.

Tina: Do you notice a difference like I would say an estimate of 10 points between the individual and the collaborative mean.

John: Generally, yeah. And the group one is virtually always higher than each individual score, except in one case in my class, where one student had a higher score than his group, and that’s because during the group discussions the student gave in to peer pressure within the group. I encouraged him to be more assertive when he’s confident about his answer. But that only happened with one student on one exam.

Tina: that’s pretty rare. I just love just watching them engage like that. So I’ll pop into like the breakout sessions, and they’re collaborating and negotiating and it’s just fantastic.

Rebecca: You mentioned earlier about your research class having a project coming up about well being. And I think that’s a topic that we’ve been talking a lot about in higher ed in a lot of situations. Can you talk a little bit more about that project and some of the research that’s going into it and some of the outcomes of it?

Tina: Absolutely. I mean, wellbeing is such a hot topic right now in probably every type of job you could think of. And it’s interesting wellbeing is kind of always been in the background. And I think the pandemic really shoved it into the forefront where it really should have been. That really needs to be, in my opinion, the top priority of any workplace because if your employees are well, it has a positive trickle down effect. So it has gotten to the point now where our accrediting body who tells us the essentials that we need to teach to our students, they have added a wellness component, and we’re adopting these new essentials in the next year. These are new essentials for us to follow. So it made it into the essentials, which is very telling. And now faculty are charged with teaching students, monitoring students, about their wellness and wellbeing. So this was pretty timely, because of the pandemic, the clinical topic that we’ve been doing for this EBP project has been things like compassion fatigue, burnout. And now this year, we’re doing wellbeing. Last fall, we worked with the cardiothoracic ICU. And the EBP project topic was compassion fatigue. And we wove in a lot of wellbeing into the solution, which is actually kicking off on July 1. So this year, instead of doing compassion fatigue, which has a bit of a negative connotation, let’s flip it to the positive. And like I said, we’re working with the surgical ICU, and we want to customize a wellness solution for that unit. So in the meantime, by proxy, I can teach the students about their own wellbeing and their own wellness. So I have a lot of content in there, so that they’re learning about this clinical topic to help develop a solution, but they’re also learning about it for themselves. And I do a few things with them, and definitely evolving this as we move along. And I’m lucky enough that I have the graduating class in the fall and the spring. So I move it through from the fall to the spring semester. So in addition and educating them on the different ways to promote your own wellness, we start each class with a mindfulness activity. I have a sound bowl that actually a student gifted to me, we do meditation, mindful breathing, every class is something different. This year, I’m inviting students to lead some of these sessions. So I want it to grow so that other students can participate and lead us and it’s literally three to five minutes at the beginning of every class, all lights down, devices off, phones flipped down, and we just take the time to be as present as possible. And I also help them keep an eye on their level of burnout. And I give them the professional quality of life survey at the start of every class. And halfway through, I’ll do a comparison of statistics between the different cohorts. Because I have the traditional cohort and I have the accelerated one, we look to see how our scores are doing over time, just to have that educational component to it. And then also the Insight Timer app, that’s an app that you don’t have, I would highly recommend that you download it. It has so many mindfulness type of activities that you can do. There’s a journal, you can track your progress. They have classes, and even the paid version, which is I think, maybe $60 for the year, they offer so many different bells and whistles, it’s really just a phenomenal app to use if you’re looking to promote your own wellness. So the other thing I wanted, I attended that CIT conferences, is I would love to use ChatGPT to develop a wellness assignment. So I’m still thinking about the inner machinations of how that would work. But hey, you know, if AI is here, might as well see if we can use it to promote wellbeing.

John: And it’s nice to have that focus of using ChatGPT positively because this is something that’s going to be part of students’ lives going forward, maybe not this specific tool, but AI tools are not going to disappear and using them for good would be a nice alternative for the concerns that many faculty have about the use of these tools. During your presentation at the CIT conference, you also mentioned using a variety of edtech tools. What are some of the tools that you use in your classes?

Tina: Sure. So I’ve trialed some apps here and there, I’ve used Plotagon. I used Go Animate for Schools, which is now VYOND, just for them to create case scenarios in their leadership and management class. And based on feedback, the one that they really liked is now a bit pricey. So I tried a free version of an app, and it really didn’t go well based on feedback. And that’s how it works in education. You try something out and you survey the students and if the experience over time is really not positive, you need to move on to something else. But things that really have stuck is I told you about Kahoot! and Articulate 360. How I communicate with the students. I use GroupMe. I prefer to communicate with them using that application over Brightspace or traditional email. They join via QR code and I have them all in one group chat and I can post quickly. They could send me direct messages, they could post questions in our group chat. And it just seems to really streamline communication because we’re all competing for their cerebral real estate, they have a lot going on, a lot of deadlines, so I find that this GroupMe app is really helpful. And I also try not to spam them with too many messages, thoug. It really seems to work. And then again, Google Drive, I can’t even begin Google Drive for everything, whether I want to survey them or whatever it is, Google Drive has it for us.

Rebecca: So speaking of Google, [LAUGHTER] you mentioned earlier using a Google form for a mid-semester evaluation. Can you talk a little bit more about that, and how you’ve used that to make adjustments in your class for the latter half of the semester?

Tina: Sure. So a Google Form is a pretty nice way to just give a quick survey to your students, I do that in the middle of the semester. And I have to tell you, that’s where I get my best data, because they are in the throes of it. And my response rate is typically over 90%, as compared to at the end, where they’re kind of just fizzling out, tired, maybe a bit over it, generally speaking. So I don’t get the response rate in the final that I do in the mid semester, when I analyze it, very short, a couple Likert questions: What do you like? What don’t you like? …and if there’s enough of a theme in the qualitative questions, or in the Likert scales, I’m able to make changes prior to them departing from me, instead of waiting for the next cohort to come in. For example, some things that came up was: “It can be a bit loud in the classroom.” So I’ve done something to control the volume in there, because it’s a very active classroom, or we feel like we’re sitting around too long during the TBL activities. So now I have a mechanism for them to let me know when they’re done with their activities, so that they’re not sitting around waiting. So those types of things. If they say, “let’s skip the final exam,” then that’s not anything that I can honor. But I’ve gotten some really good raw feedback that’s helped me evolve my classes. I’m just always so grateful for the student experience, because they inform me where this needs to go. Another way that I use a Google Form is with team-based learning. Michelson says that you should have the team members evaluate each other on their team performance. And typically, this is done at the end. But I like to do it in the middle of the semester, where they’re evaluating each other so that they have an opportunity to remediate, and then by the end, hopefully, their team’s performance scores have gone up. The challenge, though, with a Google Form is it’s very hard for me to share the feedback back to the students, it requires a lot of copying and pasting. And there’s a lot of room there for error, human error. So currently, I do bring in the students that are rated poorly just to give them some one-on-one guidance on how to improve their team performance. But in the meantime, to work around that I did trial a product called Kritik that offers that ability where the students will get their feedback back. But I reached out to our Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. And right now what we’re doing, we have a sandbox, and we’re working on trying to do a Kritik-like type of peer evaluation in Brightspace, using PeerMark. And we’re getting very close to ironing out some of the finer details. So I’m going to finally have an evaluation where every student can see their feedback from their team members based on their performance, so they know what they’re doing well and where they need to improve.

John: You teach both face to face and also online. Do you use many of the same techniques in your online classes that you use in your face-to-face classes? How do you modify your class for online delivery?

Tina: So I do everything the same, except that it’s in an asynchronous format. So students really have to be self disciplined in an asynchronous online type of environment. The online classes that I teach are post-licensure undergrads, so they have their two-year Registered Nurse license, and they’re looking to get their four-year degree. So some of the assignments, we tailor a little bit differently just because they have nursing experience, whereas my pre-licensure students do not. So maybe the assignments vary a little bit, but the structure is the same, using Articulate. I don’t use Kahoot! with them, only because I don’t have them in front of me, but they do have the quiz. And they have the TBL activities and things of that nature. So it’s the same, but it’s just in an asynchronous format.

Rebecca: I know that we mentioned in the intro that you do some research on some of your teaching practices. Can you tell us a little bit about some of that work?

Tina: Sure. So a colleague and myself got IRB approval, and we’re just starting to do some research on this evidence-based practice project that the students do in my class. And we’re just starting off with a cross-sectional study. We have a valid tool that’s been out in the literature that measures their perceived knowledge, skills and attitudes regarding evidence-based practice. So, I’m not building logistic regression models or anything yet, but starting off with a cross-sectional study to understand pre and post, the beginning of class and at the end of their research class, if there’s any impact or change in their knowledge, skills, and attitudes regarding evidence-based practice. So that’s where I’m starting. And I’d like to move on from there eventually.

John: And speaking of moving on, our last question is: what’s next?

Tina: So, I just would like to continue publishing and presenting. And continuing my research. Like I mentioned earlier, I’d like to introduce an AI tool for wellbeing, and Stony Brook just purchased several VR headsets. And because my courses include a lot of content about compassion, wellness, well being, I would love to develop a simulation about empathy. I think that would be a fantastic use of VR, apart from like, typical clinical scenarios. And that’s really my plan for now.

John: Well, thank you for joining us. And when you do have some results from your research, we’d love to have you come back and talk about it.

Tina: Thank you. Definitely. I really appreciate you inviting me. This is a wonderful opportunity for me. Thank you.

Rebecca: Yeah, thank you for letting us use your class as a little case study for folks to think about ways that they could change, improve, and reconsider their own classes. Thank you.


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

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


301. A Return to Rigor?

Some faculty have advocated a return to “rigor” to address perceptions of growing student disengagement in our classes. In this episode, Kevin Gannon joins us to discuss an alternative approach that provides students with cognitive challenges in a supportive environment. Kevin is a history professor and the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence at Queen’s University of Charlotte. He is also the author of Radical Hope: a Teaching Manifesto, which is available from West Virginia University Press.

Show Notes

  • Gannon, Kevin (2020). Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.
  • Gannon, Kevin (2023). “Why Calls for a ‘Return to Rigor’ Are Wrong.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. May 22.
  • Imad, M. (2022). Trauma‐informed education for wholeness: Strategies for faculty & advisors. New Directions for Student Services, 2022(177), 39-47.
  • Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed, New York (Herder & Herder) 1970.
  • Boucher, Ellen (2016). “It’s Time to Ditch Our Deadlines.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 22.
  • Vygotskii L.S. (1984). “Problemy detskoi (vozrastnoi psikhologii).” In Sobranie sochinenii v 6-ti tomakh, vol. 4, pp. 243–432. Moscow: Pedagogika
  • Cavanagh, S. R. (2023). Mind over Monsters: Supporting Youth Mental Health with Compassionate Challenge. Beacon Press.
  • Jack, Jordynn and Viji Sathy (2021). “It’s Time to Cancel the Word ‘Rigor.’” The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 24.

Show Transcript

John: Some faculty have advocated a return to “rigor” to address perceptions of growing student disengagement in our classes. In this episode, we discuss an alternative approach that provides students with cognitive challenges in a supportive environment.


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: ….and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is Kevin Gannon. Kevin is a history professor and the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence at Queen’s University of Charlotte. He is also the author of Radical Hope: a Teaching Manifesto, which is available from West Virginia University Press. Welcome back, Kevin.

Kevin: Thanks. Great to be back with you all.

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

Kevin: I am drinking Cheerwine because I’m in North Carolina now. And this is how we roll in this state. And it’s so damn hot outside, a hot beverage is the most unappetizing suggestion right now.

Rebecca: All right, we’ll let it slide. [LAUGHTER]

John: I would have been tempted to have Cheerwine because it does have that whole North Carolina flavor, which I had never heard of until I came down here, the first time in 1987. But it’s incredibly popular.

Rebecca: What is it?

Kevin: It’s a cherry soda, basically. You got to be ready for sugar. You got to get your pancreas in shape and then prepare to go, but it’s quite tasty.

John: It’s a very inexpensive and popular cherry soda.

Rebecca: Interesting. It sounds like medicine.

John: No, it’s more sugary than medicinal.

Rebecca: Okay.

John: …but Duke, some time before last year, removed all of the soda from the vending machines and every place where they serve beverages on campus. You only have choices of healthy drinks: water, fruit juices, iced tea, they have of course, because it is North Carolina.

Rebecca: Is it sweet tea then?

John: It is not sweet tea, it is unsweetened tea. So I have a Tea Forte black currant tea that came down with me in my new Duke University mug.

Rebecca: And I have an Irish Breakfast tea because it’s 90 degrees outside and I have a hot tea because… I don’t know why. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I would not be drinking tea if I were not sitting in a very nicely air conditioned classroom here at Duke. So we’ve invited you here today to discuss your May 22 Chronicle article where you address the arguments that some people have raised advocating a return to rigor as a solution to what seems to have been a substantial reduction in student engagement Since the start of the pandemic. What do you think is the source of the disengagement that faculty have been perceiving?

Kevin: Well, I think there’s a lot that goes into it. But I will say that I think it’s important for us to remember that there’s: A) no one cause or explanation for it, which leads to B) there’s no one solution that’s going to fix it all. And we know this, I think, but in the day-to-day practice or dealing with this room full of disengaged students, it’s hard to remember that sometimes. And so I think the root cause of this disengagement comes from the fact that we went through and are still dealing with the effects of rolling trauma on a global scale. And we can talk about trauma-informed pedagogy all we want, but it’s not going to erase the fact that trauma happened and for some of our students, and for some of us, continues to happen as well. And of course, what we saw as a result of that was the pandemic laid bare so many of the other things that were already in place that were unsustainable, and didn’t let us hide from those things anymore. So whether we’re talking about the so-called racial reckoning of the summer of 2020, or we’re talking about the ways in which people from different socio-economic groups experienced the pandemic and or healthcare as a result of that. And we’re in an age now of sort of creeping authoritarianism, pseudo-fascism, whatever you want to call it. I don’t think anybody could realistically expect folks to bring all of their cognitive energies to bear in a classroom with all of this going on in the background. It’s like trying to read a book while you’re in the spin cycle of a washing machine. There’s no way. And I think we can talk about creating spaces that are sanctuaries from that, but I don’t think that we alone can solve all of the things that are leading to disengagement. In fact, disengagement, the diversion of cognitive bandwidth, defense mechanisms, these are all things that are actually, I would argue, fairly healthy responses to everything that we’re seeing around us. And we need to have the sort of empathy and understanding of what many of our students and ourselves are going through to allow space for that to happen.

Rebecca: Yeah, sometimes it feels like there’s a request to just snap out of it.

Kevin: Right. One of the refrains I’ve had over and over is we’re not going to pedagogy our way out of like systemic collapse. And so I think Mays Imad actually put it very well, when she talks about learning as a sanctuary. Our classes can be a sanctuary from this, and that’s important. And we should be doing that work and we should be providing those spaces and curating those spaces and nurturing those spaces for ourselves and for our students, but to put all the pressure upon educators to get students “reconnected,” despite everything else that’s happening around us, I just think it’s unrealistic, and it sets us up for failure. And the same is true, I would argue, for K to 12. Teachers, during the pandemic, educators were expected to sort of fill in the gaps of all of the missing social services over and above “just education.” And I think that when we talk about this disconnection, there’s a danger of us moving into that space where we’re being expected to solve systemic problems, when we are not in a position where we’re able to do so. And in fact, we are suffering from the effects of those problems, in many ways the same as our students.

John: And at the same time, I know our campus at least, and I think, throughout the US, we’ve seen an increase in the diversity of our student bodies. There’s many more first-generation students coming into our classes, there’s many students from historically minoritized groups who simply were not generally attending, and those students often come in with less knowledge of, as you note in your article, the hidden curriculum of education. We have to help them learn that curriculum. And that brings us to that whole question of the push to rigor. In the article, you describe two approaches to adding more rigor, one is adding more logistic rigor, and the other is adding more cognitive rigor to classes. Could you talk a little bit about those?

Kevin: Sure. And so when we think about this idea of rigor in the way that we normally talk about as faculty members, I do think that there are these sorts of two camps that rigor falls into, I don’t think that we… and I’m speaking broadly here, and certainly implicating myself, in some of this… I don’t think we always do a great job specifying which one or the other we’re referring to. So it’s very easy for me as a faculty member to say, “I’m making a very rigorous class.” And maybe all of that is one type of this rigor as opposed to a balance. And so I think when we look at rigor, what it basically boils down to is there’s sort of two broad ways in which a course could be challenging, it could be difficult. One of those is what we talk about as faculty as the good stuff and what I call cognitive rigor, complex thinking, higher order thinking, the ability to critically interrogate information, the ability to step outside of one’s own perspective, all of the things that we know higher education should be doing. And then there’s the other kind. There’s, for lack of a better term, I call logistical rigor. And that’s where you see things like inflexible policies, volume of work, not necessarily difficult work, but so much of it that the sheer volume in itself is what makes the difficulty exist for students. The classic story, I keep saying it’s apocryphal, but when I tell this story at various workshops I do at other campuses, people always swear it happened to them. So I think it is real. But the apocryphal story of the big lecture class where the professor strolls out of the first day and says, “Look to your left, look to your right, only two of the three of you will be here by the end of the semester,” like that’s that sort of logistical rigor that I think we see a lot. The problem is, as I note in the article, we often mistake one for the other. We often say that our classes are rigorous. And we think in our faculty braids that they’re cognitively rigorous, but the way our students are experiencing them is actually through logistical rigor. And so if you look at some of the research, and I linked some of it in the article, what really surprised me as I dove into this, were the vastly different perceptions that students and faculty had about a rigorous class. There was an article that listed the top 10 features of a rigorous class according to students. The top five of those were what I would call logistical rigor, the number of pages that were assigned to be written during the semester, the reading load, the pace of the scale of work, none of the good cognitive rigor stuff came in until the bottom five on that student list, and the numbers there were significantly lower. And this is just one study, but there’s a pattern across when we look at student perceptions of rigorous courses, of difficult courses, it’s a pretty clear thread that students are experiencing difficulty as logistical rigor. And so when we as faculty say, “Well, we’re really after these cognitively rigorous courses and that’s what it’s all about.” Well, that’s not what our students are seeing, which leads me to wonder if that’s really what we’re doing. And my suspicion is, is that no, that we’re often creating these logistically rigorous course spaces, and thinking that it’s cognitively rigorous, and of course, those are two very different things.

Rebecca: Well, and I think sometimes that code word of rigor, and I intentionally use the word code here is that it’s often used to weed certain students out and then we wonder why particular disciplines aren’t diverse or don’t have new faces as a part of the fields and disciplines, as if having structure or support or scaffolding is somehow the antithesis of rigor.

Kevin: Right. And this is really the crux of it, and of course, everybody’s brains will first go to STEM courses because STEM fields have really been struggling with this. But as a humanities guy, there are humanities fields, including some sub-fields in my own discipline of history. I would argue philosophy wrestles with this as well, where rigor in this logistical sense is exactly as you put it, the sort of weeding out, its code for “Some of y’all should be here, and some of y’all shouldn’t, and by the end of the semester, we’re going to have that sorted.” And of course, is that what we want to be doing? Is this how we reproduce our disciplines? If your answer to that is “yes,” I would argue that you’re probably in the wrong line of work. So we need to be thinking, what is it that we’re actually doing? There’s a difference between saying “our uses of rigor are counterproductive” and “we should dumb everything down.” Those are two separate things and that’s not what I’m saying. But our uses of rigor are doing the very things that you point out, Rebecca, that we’re putting barriers in front of students, we’re closing off pathways and opportunities for them to engage in our discipline. And given this moment of where we’re at in higher education right now, I think that’s a horrible, horrible strategy. Rigor, it has become such a loaded concept, because it has become this stand in for weeding out or culling or all these other awful metaphors that we use in higher ed to talk about kind of thinning the herd, so to speak, and that language matters.

John: When you were talking about the difference in faculty and student perceptions of making courses more rigorous. It reminds me of the discussion that we often see about active learnin. When faculty are surveyed in terms of the extent to which they use active learning activities in the class and the proportion of time that they lecture. When students are surveyed on the same questions, we get a remarkably different picture, suggesting that faculty are doing a lot more lecturing, and a lot less active learning than they believe that they are. And it might be nice if we could get a little bit more dialogue going back and forth between students and faculty and getting perhaps more student feedback in general. But it does suggest that we’re seeing a disconnect between what students observe and what faculty think they’re doing in their classes.

Kevin: Right. And a lot of times will be talked about, “Well, I do X in my class,” like I know in my own case, there are a lot of occasions where what I say I’m doing is actually more aspirational than actual. I would love to be doing these things. And on a good day, these things are happening. And maybe they’re working. And I get that. There are some days in some classes where the stuff that we know is most effective and most desirable, just doesn’t work the way that we would hope or the way that we would want. But that doesn’t mean that we stop trying. I think there are plenty of opportunities in place for us to have that sort of dialogue you’re talking about with students to see: are the actual experiences of my students aligned with what I think they are? And this is why we do assessment. This is why we do, at least in a perfect world, student ratings of instruction, if this course was designed to get you from point A to point B, and I want to say that you got to point B, I need to be able to prove that. And I need to be able to describe what that experience was like for you as students. And so how do I bring student voice into this. So you could do informal midterm feedback, you cn do weekly reflection papers, you could do check ins with students. The faculty development world has, I’ve seen it referred to as the small group instructional diagnosis, which is a unwieldy term for a kind of guided reflective discussion for midterm feedback and input from students about how a course is going. I think there’s a lot of tools already there that, working together…. and this is the other hard part….working as colleagues, working outside of my old office and department, and with my faculty development people or with other academic support, can I bring these folks into the process where they could work with my students as well, and help me gather that data? Am I doing, in actuality, what I say that I’m doing? What is my students’ experience of this course? And is that in alignment with what I have designed the course to be?

Rebecca: We all hit barriers like time and things that cause us to slip into old habits occasionally. So those aspirational moves certainly occur for all of us. But I also think that that transparency piece about like, “Why are we doing this active learning thing?” or “Why are we slipping into this old habit that’s maybe not the most ideal?” …can actually be really healthy, because then students can also share that and have that dialogue going back and forth so that they know where they’re at in something and vice versa, like we know where we’re at in terms of the classroom.

Kevin: Well, and it’s an excellent model, too. I think modeling transparency with our students in any way that we can about the course design, about the content, about the ways in which we might be collectively engaging with that. All of that is to the good. We want students to understand that learning doesn’t just happen by accident. We want them to get into this place where they’re thinking metacognitively, and to me really the only effective way to do that is to have this sort of radical ethic of transparency. If a student says “Why are we doing x in this course?” If my syllabus has, here’s all the stuff that we’re going to do this semester, and I can’t come up with a good answer to that, that’s a problem. And so this helps, as you suggest, keep us in this place where we’re ensuring that what we’re doing is in alignment with our goals and our values as disciplinarians, in other words, as members of our discipline, as well as effective instructors and human beings. Does this stuff align with what my professed core values as an academic and as an educator are. The only way we’re able to do that, I think, is to be in this place of transparency to model what that looks like for our students.

John: One issue where the logistical question comes up is that during the pandemic, a lot of faculty relaxed deadlines, and sometimes dropped deadlines entirely. And that certainly provided students with the flexibility they needed. But one concern is that some students would end up getting further and further behind in the course. And there’s a lot of research that suggests that without some structure in terms of deadlines, and getting things done in reasonable periods, the quality of student learning tends to deteriorate. What sort of policies might give students some flexibility, but still make sure that they’re progressing through the course, so they can keep up with other activities that they’re supposed to be doing as the course progresses.

Kevin: And so this is the key issue. And so I think it’s important to establish that, when I suggest that rigor, at least as we sort of traditionally used it is actually failing us, is getting in the way of actual learning, I am not suggesting removing structure from a course. And I wish I could remember which of his writings it’s from but there’s this piece of one of the Paulo Freire books or essays that I’ve read, where he talks about what we would call learner-centered instruction. And he basically says if we’re in a rowboat, and I teach you to swim by throwing you overboard, that’s learner centered, but that’s not necessarily helping you learn how to swim in that moment. And his point is structure is a necessary part of what he would call a liberating pedagogy, that it’s not just throw people in and say, “Okay, go learn, you are the agents here.” And so I think it’s important to realize that you can do this work well and meaningfully only if there is a structure in place, but it has to be a structure that’s explicit, that’s decipherable for students. Back to your notion of the hidden curriculum, if it’s hidden, [LAUGHTER] and the students are running up against these sort of invisible barriers without being able to name what they are, that’s a problem. But if there’s structure in the course, where students are able to see “here’s what I’m accountable to, and here’s how I’m accountable to other students in the class,” then you’re in a place where you could do what we might call that desirable level of difficulty. And so I think there are ways to bring in structure and maybe more structure than what we had during the pandemic. Getting through what we got through was a victory in and of itself, and whatever we had to do to do it, we got through it at least relatively unscathed as higher education. I think that’s a really important win to acknowledge. But it doesn’t mean that we have to go all the way back the other way now. And so I’m a big fan of the sort of nuts and bolts level of policies that build in flexibility, but don’t get rid of structure entirely. And so Ellen Boucher wrote a great piece in The Chronicle back in 2016, and had the headline, “It’s Time to Ditch our Deadlines,” which is unfortunate, because that’s actually not what she argues. She advocates for a two-day grace period, no questions asked, for her students. And if you needed more time than that, then you had to have a conference with her and come up with a plan, like “Okay, I can’t get this paper to you on the due date. I’m going to take the two days.” While I need more than the two days we’re going to have a conference and as the instructor, I’m going to work with you and say “Here’s the game plan. Here’s your next step. Here’s what you’re going to be accountable for and when you’re going to be accountable for.” So I’m doing extensions, but I’m not just saying turn it in whenever. I’m not leaving students to figure out “Okay, what are my next steps? What are my next actions?” Because in the case of deadlines, we know that when students are failing to meet deadlines, as you mentioned, this stuff just snowballs, and it becomes worse, and then they just ghost us, because the whole thing has become so overwhelming that the avoidance reflex kicks in. And so something like Boucher suggests where right off the bat, here’s a two-day policy, if you need it, just tell me you’re taking it, I don’t need to hear about whatever stomach ailment you had, or I don’t need the graphic email describing your symptoms. Just tell me you’re taking the two days if you need more than that we got to talk first. And so that’s an example of a policy that has a structure there but still it explicitly packages in that type of flexibility. And I think that’s a good model for where we need to be, understanding that for different students life is happening in different ways. And yet, there’s still we can’t just say “Okay, turn things in whenever,” because as most of us design courses, stuff builds on each other, right? That’s the whole point of scaffolding and getting rid of deadlines entirely or not having that sort of structured accountability in place does prevent the type of things from happening that should be happening. And so I think finding ways to preserve structure but flexibility within that structure, which, I get is… as I listen to myself say that, part of me goes, “Well, that’s a really just kind of wishy-washy answer.” But I do think, in this case, that moderating it, there was a reason we got rid of so much structure during the pandemic, with this recognition that it was absolutely necessary for the way that everybody’s lives were unfolding and happening. That didn’t go away, like people’s lives still unfold and happen in very complex ways. And that’s true for our students and us. So we can’t just say, “Oh, we’re going to swing all the way back, 180 degrees to the other side, and have deadlines by God.” I just think that’s an incredibly counterproductive thing. And I think that the folks who have been trying that are the ones who’ve been seeing a lot of resistance, and not a lot of success in terms of their students meeting those things. And that’s where we hear some of this frustration that’s coming out in the discourse.

Rebecca: I think the other thing that sometimes rubs up a lot against rigor is this idea of relationships between students and other students and students and faculty in the classroom and that sense of belonging… somehow these are like diametrically opposed. It’s not like rigors over here and belonging is over here, and they can’t possibly happen in the same place.

Kevin: Yeah, and doesn’t that speak to what we’ve seen with the sort of debate such as it is over active learning? The conversation starts from an erroneous proposition that you could either do active learning or you could have a “real class,” like you could do this namby pamby arts and humanities, sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya and braid each other’s hair kind of stuff or you could do real learning and manly-man stuff. And I’m exaggerating, actually only slightly. [LAUGHTER] A lot of times the conversation about rigor and challenge starts from this erroneous sense of mutual exclusivity, that you can have a compassionate flexible pedagogy or you could be rigorous, but you cannot do both. When it actuality it’s and you have to have one to have the other. You cannot have a challenging learning experience where your students can actually meet those challenges if you don’t have a compassionate empathetic pedagogical space, because the whole point about rising to challenges is you can’t do it by yourself. This is what the Vygotski talks about the zone of proximal development, learning is social, you need other people around you, you need an instructor, you need classmates. Well, why is that? It’s because we help each other when it comes to the point of really challenging and pushing ourselves cognitively to get to that achievement of that goal, that desirably difficult goal. We cannot do that if students don’t feel that they belong in that space. We cannot ask students to take intellectual risks or to try something that they have never tried before, if they’re at a place where they don’t feel secure in doing so. Because we wouldn’t ask that of ourselves either, if we’re being honest. And so rather than posit: “you could be rigorous or you could be flexible and compassionate,” it’s “you can be flexible and compassionate and then you can be challenging.”

John: At Oswego this fall we’re going to be using for one of our reading groups, Sarah Rose Cavanagh’s book that you reference here, her newest book, which is Mind over Monsters, and you cite that basically as suggesting the importance of bringing both of those things together. And it’s an excellent book, by the way, which I would recommend to anyone interested in addressing some of these questions.

Kevin: Absolutely. It’s a brilliant book. And I think it’s a vital intervention in this very conversation that we’re having.

John: A term that you use in the book, which was a technical term I hadn’t quite seen used in this context, was that many faculty when they tried to introduce rigor, essentially are adding more “hard-assery”, I think was term that you uses rather than actually more cognitive challenge. Why is that happening? Why do people do this?,

Kevin: Yeah, and the phrase I use is performative hard-assery. [LAUGHTER]

John: Oh that;s right. Sorry, I forgot. [LAUGHTER]

Kevin: Well, I’m glad that that resonated, because I’m really proud of that phrase. But I really do think that that is where a lot of the rigor conversation is. My classes are hard, my students write, they read a bunch, they do all these things. And it’s like, “Do they? and what is the result of them doing those things?” It comes back to the student perception of rigor as the more pages I decide to read and write, students don’t talk about what they learned, and they talk about what they had to do. They don’t talk about what they became. They don’t talk about how it made them feel. They don’t talk about how they changed. They just talk about things they have to do. And I think that that’s a really important distinction when we think about the student experience in all of this. And I think it’s very easy for us to say, “Well, I’m doing my job because I’m assigning my students a ton of work, and it’s hard and I grade hard.” And again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be challenging. I think we should absolutely be challenging. But how are we structuring those challenges? Am I giving my students a challenge just sheerly through volume. Is my class just kind of a death march through this enormous swamp land of content that’s just going past them a mile a minute, or Is it challenging in the sense that they are taking the time to be deliberative thinkers, to be critical consumers of information, because those two things look a lot different. And again, especially coming at this sort of not quite post-pandemic stage that we’re at, is a very real desire to bring some structure back, but thinking about bringing that structure back in terms of just assigning more stuff, because from our own graduate school experience, that’s how we structured our very lives. And so if we think about structure, and again, I’m saying we very intentionally here, that’s the first place our mind goes to. And so I brought back structure, because I’ve assigned a whole bunch more work. And now I also get to complain about how students aren’t doing the work, because I’ve built in this sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, it makes me feel good, it makes me feel like I’m “doing my job,” but am I? Are students learning? Is this advancing learning, because chances are, it’s probably not,

Rebecca: As you’re describing these two scenarios, the marching through the marsh, for example, I’m thinking of the really long checklist that accompanies it. And then in this other environment, this luxurious amount of time to contemplate something and wrestle with something and think through it, and how there needs to be space around that sometimes, to really have the time to process and understand what it is that we’re trying to grapple with.

Kevin: On a micro level, we think about this as instructors all the time, when we think about trying to foster an effective discussion in class. We know that asking a good question is the essential piece of having a good discussion. If I ask a complex question that requires a fair amount of cognitive heavy lifting, I need to give my students time, I can’t expect my students to answer it right off the bat. If it’s a good question, there’s going to be some silence afterwards, as students think about and chew on it a little bit before they decide how they want to respond. And it’s true on a course level too. Are we providing space for our students to do this work, to do this processing? Or is it just more, more, more, more, more, faster, faster, faster, faster, in the name of rigor, in the name of structure, in the name of challenging, but it’s really kind of the cognitive equivalent of trying to drink from a fire hose, like what’s really happening there?

Rebecca: Sometimes not much. [LAUGHTER]

Kevin: I have actually stood in front of a fire hose, not willingly, but I’ve been hit by a fire hose. And I can tell you, it’s not pleasant, it hurts and you’re really wet and miserable afterwards. And I would argue that those are not the things [LAUGHTER] we want associated with learning spaces. And yet, this is, a lot of times, where we, and again, speaking broadly, where we kind of lay it…this sort of, we’re gonna fire hose everything out, and it’s up to the student. And I’m exaggerating slightly for effect, but again, not very much.

John: If the solution to the student disengagement is not dumping more work on students and having more students fail along the way, as many people seem to see it, what can we do to get students a bit more engaged with the class? Because that’s been a complaint. I’ve heard from a lot of people at many institutions in the last year or so.

Kevin: So I think there’s two things I would use to answer that question. And the first I would say, engagement’s not going to be 100% all the time. And if we are thinking that it was somehow that way, magically, before COVID, we’re deluding ourselves. And so we have to give ourselves permission to fall short in that category, not every student is going to be engaged in everything at every time, no matter what we try to do, because that’s the world we live in, that surrounds the spaces we’re in. And so let’s be realistic in what it is that we’re after, how do we engage students in a meaningful and at least most of the time kind of way? And that’s where I think we can do a lot. And so there’s a couple approaches that I think hold a lot of promise. One is we do have to be challenging, we do have to provide challenge, people like to meet challenges. If students think they know something already, they’re going to hear it and “Oh, I already know this, I’m already checking out.” So we have to put in this level of difficulty, of mystery, of complexity, but we have to provide support in helping them meet those sorts of challenges. And we have to be clear and transparent about how we’re providing that support. The idea of a safety net under the trapeze artists, the trapeze artists who’s doing incredibly complex and really, really difficult things that they’ve practiced a lot to do, but they’ve had a net underneath them, just in case it didn’t go well. And at a much lower risk sort of way, that’s what we’re doing. I’m asking you to do difficult things, things that you have probably not been asked to do before. You may fall short of the goal, but that’s okay, because here’s the supports underneath you. This is a space where it’s okay for that to happen. And so depending on the type of class and the discipline you’re in, that might look a little different. But when people talk about desirable difficulties, in other words, challenges that people can actually meet, even if it takes a lot of effort, but there is a solution. And again, I reference Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, a lot in this. It takes a while to get there, but you get there and that’s what the important part is. So how do we create teaching and learning spaces where the challenge is centered, but the ways in which students are being supported in meeting those challenges are also at the center. Right now we’re very good at centering challenges. I would argue we’re less proficient at centering those other things. And so how do we support students in meeting those challenges of what should be a demanding education? And so Cavanaugh calls it, in her book compassionate challenge. I suggest in the article that the question we should have as our litmus test is: does this advance learning? Does this thing I’m doing advance learning in the sense of what are the goals? What are the outcomes that we’ve established for the course? Those sort of transformations, those promises, to use Ken Bain’s words, that we’ve made to students? Are we getting there? Do you know how we’re getting there? Are you able to assess as a learner yourself what’s working in getting you there? Those are the sorts of things that need to be at the center of the teaching and learning experience. And if we’re just doing challenge for challenges sake, or that sort of performative hard-assery shtick, our students are not going to be interested in having that conversation with us or with themselves even, about what’s working for them in terms of the strategies they’re adopting, and the things that they’re doing to meet the challenges that they’re faced with on our course.

Rebecca: Thinking about procrastination in relationship to what we’ve been talking about. And sometimes procrastination reads as lack of motivation, or a lack of engagement. And sometimes the reason for the procrastination is that there isn’t the deadline, or there isn’t the structure or there isn’t the milestones to move you along. How do you see the relationship of procrastination to rigor and this idea of engagement?

Kevin: That’s a great question. Because I think if we err too much on the side of the so-called logistical rigor, or it’s like just really hard, inflexible policies and strict deadlines and this high volume of stuff, we’re actually creating the circumstances that procrastination will become an epidemic among students, because what we’re giving is an unrealistic amount of work to do in the time that’s allotted. And it’s very easy to get from there to just sheer avoidance, I can’t do this, I don’t see a tangible way through this, I cannot see myself getting through this gauntlet. So eff it, basically, is how that works. And so I’m going to do other things, whether I’m doing this consciously, or subconsciously, or some mixture of both. That’s like the perfect storm. When it’s all extrinsic motivation and when it’s all insurmountable barriers, at least from the perspective of the student, that’s like the perfect storm for avoidance. And I’m someone who personally struggles with this all the time. My avoidance reflex is keenly developed over the 50 years of my life. [LAUGHTER] And I do not do well with unstructured time. And so getting back to this question of how do we find that balance, I think structure is important, not an overwhelming or a suffocating amount of structure. But there needs to be something in place to help our students fit themselves and their work and their lives into the framework of the course. We need to be able to give them the tools to do that without pre-determining every outcome or stifling every option. But I think thinking about what are the causes of procrastination, what are the effects of procrastination, because one of the things that when folks talk about student disconnection is this phenomenon that we’re seeing more and more of students just kind of ghosting, just dropping out, like they were in class for six weeks, and now they’re gone. And I think a lot of that is things have built up to the point where they seem so overwhelming that there’s no realistic solution in place. And a lot of that is exacerbated by that cycle of procrastination. And so by the time we get to the point where the student is feeling so overwhelmed that they just want to leave everything, which they do, it’s way too late. So we have to be intervening in the earlier part of that process where it’s procrastination that is creating the conditions that this sort of overwhelming volume is going to grow out of a little bit down the road if we’re not able to intervene. So I think thinking about procrastination is the way you frame it in these very explicit and sort of fraught of mind terms is a really important part of all of this.

John: Since I’m at Duke, I’ll mention a study that Dan Ariely had done a while back where he worked with one of his colleagues at MIT at the time, and they were giving students writing assignments where they had to write three papers over the course of the semester. In one class, they had fixed deadlines for submitting these papers that were evenly spaced. In the other section of the course, they were given the option of setting their own deadlines, which could be at any time during the semester. If they chose, they could set them all at the end of the term. And what happened was that students who had either fixed deadlines or who set the deadlines evenly over time ended up performing better than the students who chose to put the deadlines at the end. And I should also note, there was a one-percentage point penalty for each day they were late. So it was a small penalty, but it was a non-trivial penalty. So the logical thing is to put all the deadlines at the end and then try to get them done evenly. But the people who had deadlines later did the work later and did lower quality work. So those deadlines can be important as long as there’s some sort of incentive structure with it. And I think that has helped encourage me to not drop deadlines entirely. Usually I allow some scores to be dropped or allow some deadlines to be flexible, but warn students that if they don’t meet the deadlines they’re going to have trouble with these in-class activities that are going to be done based on the things they were supposed to have done before they come to class. But it’s a challenge. And I haven’t found a good balance

Kevin: That speaks to exactly the type of balance that we’ve been talking about. We don’t have to choose between strict, rigid, inflexible deadlines, or no deadlines, or complete student set deadlines, like the Elen Boucher piece that I referenced earlier. Here’s the structure, here are the deadlines. And then here’s the wiggle room that comes along with them. And so your desire to sort of have the deadlines but to balance them with flexibility in your classes, and to have students understand, this is why you need to have these things completed, or at least aiming for this particular juncture, because you’re going to need it in the next phase of the course, etc. This is all part of what we talked about supporting students to meet these challenges, this is the type of support. Support could be encouraged through our course design, as well as the actions that we’re taking on a day-to-day basis. And so again, I want to be really clear that I think rigor as we’re using it kind of higher education wide, has outlived its usefulness as a word. It has too much baggage, it has been wielded in exclusionary, inequitable, and sometimes very horrible ways. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about challenge. And so I think like Cavanaugh does, and like a lot of other folks who have landed on this idea of thinking about ways that we can challenge our students. And the way to do so is to create structured environments where the structure facilitates rather than suffocate students as they endeavor to meet those challenges.

John: And at our teaching center, we’ve given hundreds of workshops over the years, but never once have we advocated rigor, or even used the term rigor in our framework we always refer to challenge and the benefits of that. And you cited a Chronicle article that was the basis of a podcast episode with Sathy and Jack. And we’ll include a link to that in the show notes.

Kevin: The headline was, “It’s Time to Cancel the Word ‘Rigor’” and playing on everybody’s sort of obsession with the boogeyman of cancel culture. And I think that that got in the way a little bit of folks engaging with the very real truth of the article was that, as Rebecca alluded to earlier, rigor has been wielded rather than used it’s been wielded like a cudgel, it’s been a barrier, it’s been exclusionary. And when we talk about rigor now, I think everything has a history, this is my own discipline talking here, I don’t think rigor with the amount of baggage it’s carrying, I just don’t think it can be constructively used when we’re talking about challenging students. And because students have experienced rigor, defined that way and referred to with that word, to the point where there’s that kind of baggage with it too where it’s sort of the pedagogical equivalent of hazing, as opposed to anything else. It helps us as educators ask ourselves, are my challenges cognitive or just logistical? Are my challenges supported for students? Or am I just sort of asking them to close their eyes and jump off the cliff and trust that no bad things are happening. And it helps me as an instructor hold myself accountable to ensure that again, I’m not doing the things that I would rather avoid and that I am doing the things that I tell students I’m doing to help support their learning. In the tradition of first-year student essays everywhere, look at the Webster’s definition of rigor, it talks about things like extreme inflexibility and rigidity. There are connotations, you know, rigor is for corpses. So I think that it’s a concept that has no usefulness for the questions that we’re trying to answer and the knots that we’re trying to untie at this particular moment in higher ed.

Rebecca: There’s a lot to think about. Thanks. [LAUGHTER] So we always wrap up by asking what’s next?

Kevin: Well, right now, I’ve actually thinking a lot about the course spaces in which some of these things that we’ve talked about play out all the time, and that’s the intro or survey courses. And I think the project that’s kicking around in my head right now, and I’m getting dangerously close to actually starting to write stuff, is thinking or rethinking the intro/survey course, sort of a critical interrogation. What are they supposed to be? What are they actually functioning as in reality? How large is the gap between those two things? And what are some ways in which people are creatively answering some of the problems that the survey course presents in terms of not just teaching but designing effective spaces as well as some of this comes out of my own field in history. We’re wrestling with again this death march through content. World history in two semesters, Plato to NATO in an academic year. Is that really what we’re after here? Or should we be doing something else? And so from my own discipline, I’ve developed an interest in thinking about this and thinking about the ways in which other fields and disciplines are wrestling with similar types of questions, which of course, then leads to the larger question of what is the point of these things? And are we doing the things that we say these courses should be doing? Because of that, thinking a lot about not just teaching and learning, but about first-year student success, about things like just and inclusive teaching, things like student-centered pedagogy, a lot of really interesting and fun things that are kind of swirling around. So the short answer, rather than that very long-winded one is I’ve researching survey and intro courses to see if there’s better ways that we might be doing it.

Rebecca: Sounds like a great project. Maybe you need a deadline so you get started on it. [LAUGHTER]

Kevin: Let’s not get carried away because I am going to take that two-day grace period, I can tell you that right now.

John: Well, thank you. It’s always great talking to you.

Kevin: Well, thanks for having me back. It’s a real treat to be with you two again.


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

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


300. Episode 300 Reflection

This is episode 300 of the Tea for Teaching podcast. Whether you are a new listener or have been with us for all 300 episodes, we are very grateful that you’ve joined us on our podcasting journey. In this episode, we celebrate this milestone by reflecting on what we’ve learned and how the podcast has evolved.

Show Notes


John: This is episode 300 of the Tea for Teaching podcast. Whether you are a new listener or have been with us for all 300 episodes, we are very grateful that you’ve joined us on our podcasting journey. In this episode, we celebrate this milestone by reflecting on what we’ve learned and how the podcast has evolved.


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: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Now that we’ve reached Episode 300, we thought we’d take the opportunity to reflect on some of the changes that we’ve seen in higher education since we launched the podcast in 2017.

John: Today’s teas are:…

Rebecca: I have Blue Sapphire.

John: I heard you just stocked up on a trip to your favorite tea store.

Rebecca: Yes, I was really excited to stock up on my favorite and I have a couple new ones too. So maybe in some upcoming episodes, we can try those out.

John: And I have Bing Cherry Black tea from Harry and David’s which is made by the Republic of Tea. When we first got started on the podcast, much of the focus was on specific teaching practices and techniques and interesting projects. Most of our guests were people that we knew or guests who were within our professional networks.

Rebecca: in the spring of 2020, as we know, [LAUGHTER] the focus shifted to the challenges associated with remote and online teaching, and the challenges facing remote learners and instructors.

John: As we became accustomed to pandemic teaching, we focused a bit more on faculty concerns as we transitioned into the transformed higher ed landscape. Historically, higher ed had been designed to serve the elites of society, and while higher ed gradually became more open and students have become much more diverse, many residual practices have worked against serving the students that we have. During the pandemic, faculty became much more aware of the inequities facing our students as well as faculty and staff.

Rebecca: Yeah, so one of the things that we’ve been talking about quite a bit is this more holistic focus on the needs of our students and faculty as humans, and really generating and creating a much more inclusive higher ed environment. How do you see that moving forward, John?

John: One of the things we’ve talked about is addressing the needs caused by the increased demands on time for faculty, staff, and students. As we developed new teaching techniques and tried to build more structure into our courses, it put much more demands on faculty in terms of redesigning their courses, in terms of paying more attention to the needs of students, and providing students with more feedback. And that has led to issues with burnout, which we’ve addressed in a number of podcasts.

Rebecca: And you’ve never experienced that, have you, John?

John: The day is not over yet. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Well, how do we think about supporting faculty as we move forward with all these demands on their time in trying to prevent burnout? We’ve talked about this in a couple of episodes, but as we enjoy summer and have a little bit of more downtime for some of us… maybe not you, John… and move into the fall, what are some things that we need to be thinking about for our own classes to prevent burnout?

John: One of the things that we’re trying to be careful with when we recommend new teaching techniques to faculty at the teaching center here, is that they change approaches gradually, that small changes, incremental changes, are much easier to accommodate than the type of rapid changes that people had to do when they first moved into remote teaching. And so I think we have to be careful in making sure that we maintain a balance and we don’t burn out ourselves, because we’re not going to be very effective in supporting our students if we’re struggling to get through each day ourselves.

Rebecca: Yeah, we need to be present, just like we want our students to be able to be present and have the supports around them to be present in their learning. I think one thing that we’re also talking about in grad studies in our office is really this increased stress on faculty, and how do we support faculty, but also how do we support graduate student populations through things like accountability groups, or ways where there’s another human for accountability, but also for support, and not necessarily a mentor model, where there’s a power dynamic, but really a peer-to-peer approach to connect people together.

John: And we’re running two reading groups this fall to address some of these needs. One of the reading groups is on Sarah Rose Cavanagh’s new book, Mind over Monsters. And the other one is the second edition of Jim Lang’s Small Teaching. We had done that a few years ago, but we’ve had a lot of new faculty since then. And while we try to reach as many faculty as we can in our workshops, there’s a lot of faculty who are still teaching in pretty much the same way as faculty were teaching a century or so ago. And we’re hoping that by encouraging small modifications in teaching approaches, it might encourage more faculty to participate in introducing active learning activities and evidence-based teaching approaches.

Rebecca: It’s really easy to slip back into past practices when we’re tired [LAUGHTER] and overworked. And it’s not surprising that people have kind of slipped back into assignments and stuff that they’re really familiar with to reduce the cognitive load around new stuff and the many stressors around. So having that added support to help faculty re-engage with some of those ideas is, I think, a really great idea at this juncture. And I love that Mind over Monsters is one of the reading groups as well, because mental health is such an increasing concern, not just for students, but also for faculty and staff.

John: And we’re very much looking forward to both of these reading groups. Among the things we’ve talked about more frequently since the start of the pandemic are the challenges faced by underrepresented and contingent faculty.

Rebecca: I think when we’re introducing new techniques, and we’re thinking about supporting students around mental health, or we’re thinking about evidence-based practices and engaging in active learning, we need to remember that contingent faculty or underrepresented faculty have different barriers or different obstacles in implementing these things… or even more pushback from students and implementing some of these techniques. So we really need to be cognizant of supporting each other and realizing that we don’t all have the same kind of supports in place. I think some populations of faculty are just overly criticized. And when they try something new, it’s not accepted in the same way that a more dominant group’s adoption of those same techniques might be.

John: And that’s true both by students as well as by their faculty peers. And one of the things that’s come up in many of the podcasts we’ve discussed are the biases in both student and faculty evaluation of teaching.

Rebecca: Yeah. One of the things that I think is on the minds of our faculty too, is, as we’ve seen increased diversity of our students, we’ve seen diversity in levels of preparation. And I think those inequities have always been there. But again, maybe it’s more visible now than it had been in the past. How do we work through that in our classrooms, especially in these more introductory classes as students transition into college?

John: Well, I think those inequities have always been there, but they certainly grew with remote teaching, because our students face very unequal resources in their school districts and in their households. And when people are physically in the classroom, they’re at least exposed to the same infrastructure within their institutions. But when students were taking classes from home, as we talked about in many, many episodes, during a pandemic, they had very unequal network access, they had very unequal computing facilities, they may have been sharing a computer with multiple family members, they may have been forced to work. And as a result, the inequities in prior education and prior learning became much more dramatic during the period of remote teaching. And that disproportionately affected students from low-income households and low-income school districts. And what we have to do is provide resources, I think, for all students to be successful. And while we always should have been teaching, or providing resources and support, for all students, those needs have become much greater now, because while we are bringing in a much more diverse student body, we’re also losing students who come in with less preparation at some of the highest rates we’ve ever seen before. And we have to make sure that we’re providing the students that we accept with the support they need to be successful. And there’s lots of ways of doing it, you can build in some additional resources, you can connect to YouTube videos, and such things and provide support to students, you can use mastery learning quiz systems, and many other techniques. But we have to work towards having more faculty building that in because while many faculty are doing these types of things, and trying to build more support and more structure into their classes, it’s not a universal phenomenon.

Rebecca: And maybe even acknowledging that some students in the class are quite literally working harder to get to the same level.

John: The last few years when I’ve been teaching my large intro class, that’s something I’ve mentioned explicitly. I said, everyone here has all the resources they need to be successful. But if you had taken an AP introductory microeconomics course, or something close to that, you’re not going to have to work as hard to attain mastery of many of the concepts. If you have not been exposed to these things, or if your background in working with math and using graphs is not as strong, you’re going to have to work a bit harder. And that’s not a message that a lot of students appreciate hearing. But if we want to get all of our students to the same level at the end, the students who do come in with a weaker background need additional support to get there. And using tutoring when available, encouraging students to come in and talk to their professors and use office hours, all of those things can help but we’ve got a ways to go. What are some of the things you do to try to provide support for the increasingly diverse student body?

Rebecca: Yeah, I think the reality is that what we give each student isn’t the same, because what they come in with is not the same. So I often am trying to assess where students are and then pushing them right at that moment where they’re at, rather than expecting everyone to be at the same point. And I can do that a little more efficiently in a small class than you can in a bigger class. But I think we need to use those smaller classroom spaces to be able to do that so that everyone feels challenged, but also has what they need.

John: My introductory course is a prerequisite for all upper-level economics classes, and most of my students will be moving on to upper-level classes, so they have to reach at least a minimum level of proficiency in the discipline in order to be successful in their future classes. In other classes, instructors can be more flexible, and just try to get the most learning gains in their students, no matter what their starting points were. In my introductory class, at least, I have to pretty much take the students where they are, and try to get them all to the same place, while making sure that they’re all challenged. And that’s a very challenging goal to reach.

Rebecca: …and the difference between teaching those introductory classes versus higher level classes within a discipline, for sure, I think one of the most efficient things we can do is making sure that all students know the most effective ways to learn, because they don’t necessarily know those things coming into college, or even into graduate school. What we need to just remember is learning isn’t something that we just magically know how to do, we need to learn strategies and techniques that are effective.

John: We’ve had a number of guests over the last year or two who’ve talked about books that they’ve provided, or resources they’ve created to help students be more successful. Because one of the things that’s been pretty obvious for quite a while is that the study techniques and the learning strategies that students use are not generally consistent with what evidence suggests is most effective. And as a result, students are not using their time as efficiently as they can, by engaging in strategies that they perceive as being useful, that really result in very little increase in long-term recall… strategies such as highlighting, repeated rereading, and so forth. And one of the things that might be helpful is if we all could shift students a little bit in the direction of using evidence-based learning strategies, and some of that could take place through course design, by building infrastructures that incentivize the use of these techniques.

Rebecca: Yeah, and I think the moment that students realize that they don’t have the most efficient way, or the moment that a student begins to struggle is different, depending on some of that background, that they have. Students that come in well prepared may have never really struggled in high school, and maybe eventually, maybe even in the first year of college, you don’t struggle, but maybe it hits a little later on in their education, maybe not until graduate school. And then other students might struggle the second they get to college, because there’s not as much structure in place as there was in high school. So I think we need to be underscoring these techniques at all levels, and not just in their first year.

John: And one other thing that’s been discussed in many podcast episodes, is the importance of making the hidden curriculum of higher ed transparent to students, so that we don’t expect students to know what a syllabus is or how it could be used, that we shouldn’t expect students to know what is expected on a term paper in a class without making those expectations explicit and transparent to students. Because in general, we see a lot of students coming in, and they see it as a game where they’re trying to guess at what instructors are asking. And many of those guesses, especially for students who have not been in college prep classes before, are wrong. And they wasted a lot of time and effort that could have been spent more productively developing their understanding of the subject matter.

Rebecca: And the reality is that there’s differences between disciplines and between courses. And so the more we can be explicit about expectations within our own discipline, and within our own courses, and beyond the classroom experience of higher ed, because there’s expectations in other spaces as well, like student clubs, athletics, and all of the rest of the co-curricular activities that support student learning are incredibly important. And those are also not obvious.

John: One of the things that we’ve talked about much more on the podcast, and higher ed in general has been addressing much more extensively since the pandemic, is alternative grading approaches. Because traditional grading approaches and traditional course structures generally incentivize students to cram and to focus on maximizing their grades, rather than maximizing learning, so that if we really want students to shift to evidence based learning strategies, it would be really helpful if we could shift students emphasis away from grades and faculty emphasis away from high-stakes assessed activity and shift it more to activities that result in deeper learning, more long-term learning. And we’ve talked to many guests who have shifted to using strategy such as specifications grading, mastery learning systems, portfolio assessments, and ungraving, which has become one of the most talked about topics in higher ed in the last few years.

Rebecca: Yeah. And I think one of the things that comes up in a lot of those conversations is concerns over students just wanting the right answer and not learning and not critically thinking about the subject matter and the knowing of why and how, and doing analysis. And I think every instructor [LAUGHTER] has a desire for some of those kinds of conversations to come out in their classes, rather than just regurgitation of things that they’ve said in class.

John: Part of the issue is that when we get students in college, they’ve already had 13 years of experience in K through 12, where grades were the primary area of focus. And as a result, it’s hard to shift that focus from grades to learning. Besides alternative grading, we might use some other strategies such as encouraging students to be more reflective on their work, to spend some time in reflection-based activities and metacognitive development type activities.

Rebecca: Yeah, I know, this is a space where I was maybe a little hesitant at first thinking like, “Oh, these are just quick assignments that have no meaning,” but quickly realizing actually the value in really good well designed reflective activities that challenge students to think through how and why they learned something and what it is that they actually got out of an activity. And I’m often very surprised about how much learning occurs that is not visible, despite the fact that I teach studio classes, so I’m with my students much more than the average instructor. So I actually do observe a lot of learning. But in the reflection activities, I’m hearing a lot about how students are spending their time or things that they really struggled with and worked through that I wasn’t aware of. It also helps me understand where they’re not aware [LAUGHTER] of their own learning, or where they’re using strategies that aren’t as effective and helps with interventions. I know you’ve done a lot around metacognition, especially in your lower-level classes, but also in your upper classes.

John: In at least a couple of my courses. I’ve been using the metacognitive cafe discussion forum, which was actually the topic of our second podcast, Judie Littlejohn and I jointly developed this quite a few years back. And it’s been remarkably effective. It’s basically a low-stakes discussion forum that I’m using in my online classes, where students will reflect on their learning and share their learning strategies and will also read a bit about retrieval practice and spaced practice and the benefits of sleep in learning. And every time I do it, even though it’s only a trivial portion of the grade, it’s 5% of their total grade for participating in that activity, the students report that it was the most valuable learning experience they had in the class. A large proportion of the students at the end of the terms say they wish that they had learned these things back in elementary school, that they had been using practices that were not efficient and they didn’t realize that because they’ve never been taught how to learn. And it’s something that students have found really valuable. And the other nice thing about it is because, in this particular case, it’s done in a discussion forum, it helps them build community and helps them get to know each other, because they’ll often talk about the challenges they face. In online classes, many of the students have families where they’re taking care of young children, they may be working different shifts, they may be faced with other challenges that normally wouldn’t come up in a content discussion forum in an online class. But when they share that, and they share those challenges, and they share their career expectations, and they talk about how what they’re learning might be useful in their expected careers, besides the sense of connection, it also helps students see the relevance of what they’re doing and sharing that with other students helps build a little bit more intrinsic motivation in learning.

Rebecca: It also seems like there’s a bit of an immediacy in that context as well, because the information can immediately be put into action in a real lived experience and not something that may feel abstract, which sometimes happens within a discipline when it feels like maybe it’s not a thing I’m going to do anytime soon, professionally. So I think this really highlights the reason why we need to help students hook into everything that we’re doing to make it feel like they have a personal, professional, or educational connection to their own goals.

John: One of the topics that I use in each class where I’ve done this, at a point where students face the first really challenging material in the class, is just asking them to discuss how they deal with challenges. They share useful strategies, but one of the main benefits of that is it normalizes the sense of struggle, that when students are struggling with concepts, they often feel that they’re alone on this, but when they hear that other people are struggling with exactly the same issues and exactly the same concepts, it normalizes it, and again, it helps them understand that challenge is an important part of learning, which is not the message that they’ve generally received throughout their prior educational experience before coming to college.

Rebecca: It seems to me like this is the same reason why our reading groups work so well for faculty development as well is this connection among peers, but also that the challenges we experience are not in isolation. [LAUGHTER]

John: One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about the reading group is when people will come up with a technique or describe something they’ve done in class and people in completely different disciplines who might never have considered that will make connections and see how they could do something similar in their classes. That understanding that we’re all facing the same challenges makes it much easier to deal with some of the day-to-day stresses that we might have in our classrooms.

Rebecca: I know that one of the things that has come up in our reading groups, and also in our conversations about the future of higher ed and where we’re going to be going over the next few years is student engagement, and then specifically, the role of AI tools like ChatGPT [LAUGHTER] in the conversation. So if students don’t feel motivated, and they’re relying heavily on these tools, how do we get students to re-engage with the idea of learning?

John: Well, going back even just a little before the introduction of ChatGPT, which kind of hit higher ed by storm in late November of 2022, we did see a dramatic increase in the use of sites such as chegg.com, and various other sites out there, where the use of those tools became normalized a little bit, which made it much more challenging to give online assessments. And I think that’s where most people are concerned right now about things like ChatGPT, because with other places, you could at least locate where answers were coming from. And you could address that with the students and attribute it to the specific sites where they got their answers, which was, again, a bit of a challenge. But ChatGPT is raising some challenges for assessment that are going to be difficult to deal with, because it’s much more difficult to determine who is the author of specific items submitted online for assessment. And a lot of people are struggling with that right now. I know I’ve been struggling with it. In my spring 2023 online class, the quality of student writing on essays improved fairly dramatically over the course of the semester. And that seemed to correlate with the spread of the use of ChatGPT a bit. AI tools are really powerful, and they can be really useful. And they have a lot of potential value in education and in providing support for personal and work productivity. Right now, I think, more people are focused on the challenges, but we’re going to have to start thinking about ways in which we can productively integrate this and prepare students for a world in which the availability of AI tools will be ubiquitous.

Rebecca: And you teach in some really challenging contexts, really large classes in person, a number of online sections, and I know ChatGPT is keeping you up at night. What are some things that you’re thinking about… maybe haven’t resolved… but that you’re really thinking about redesigning or rethinking or retooling in the fall to just respond to the moment that we are currently living in.

John: As of 2020, I had shifted all the quizzing to online quizzes and tests and midterm exams and so forth. I’m seriously thinking about in my large face-to-face class, moving back to at least in in-class midterm and an in-class final exam. I really appreciated the fact that I could let students do it at their own pace, and that it took some of the anxiety and stress away when students did not have this two-hour time limit to complete an exam in the classroom. But with the size of the class, a large proportion of the testing is done with multiple choice exams, or algorithmic questions, and those are types of things that ChatGPT answers really, really well. Not too long ago, someone posted that ChatGPT 4 received a score of a 99th percentile on the Test of Understanding in College Economics (the microeconomics version of that), and those are the same types of questions that I’d be giving students on these quizzes. And while I had 1000s of questions that I had created that students were selecting from, all of those questions now are vulnerable to the use of AI tools, which makes it much more difficult to assess in that large class. Right now, the only thing I’ve really thought about doing differently in my large class is moving back to at least a couple of in-class exams. Now some of the things I was doing, such as polling questions embedded in the class activities and working on problems in class, where students submit that in real time, are generally much less subject to that type of issue. I know there are tools where students can scan the questions and so forth, they get responses back a bit more quickly, but it wouldn’t be as easy for them to do in real time when they’re in a polling environment. One of the main benefits of that is when I use polling, it was always tied with peer-to-peer discussions. And those peer-to-peer discussions is where most of the learning actually occurred from those in-class problem-solving exercises. For my online class, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. One thing I have done in the past is I’ve had students do podcast projects. And again, it’s pretty easy for chat GPT to generate scripts, but these projects are pretty heavily scaffolded. Students submit a proposal and they go through a number of steps to get there. And projects that are scaffolded like that, are probably a little bit less sensitive to the use of AI tools to generate the entire project. What are you thinking about in terms of your classes, or in terms of the graduate program?

Rebecca: I think we’ve talked a lot about the concern over the validity of our assessments and wanting there to be accuracy, not just for our sakes, but for students’ stakes in the value of their degrees moving forward. Part of it, I think, is really engaging in conversations around ethics around these tools, and not necessarily discouraging the use of the tools entirely, or banning the tools. I think that just motivates people to want to use them more, but rather to use them in ways that are productive, or interesting, but are also well documented… [LAUGHTER] like students are disclosing what they’re doing. And we can analyze the use of the tools in particular ways because maybe it could save time in particular places and not take away from certain kinds of learning, as long as we keep the learning objectives [LAUGHTER] up front. And then we assess when we’re using particular tools to determine whether or not it’s taking away from the learning. But I think these are hard conversations to have, and certainly not things that I want to be policing.

John: And I’d much rather not be policing these things. Sometimes students haven’t given me much choice in that. One example that I’ve seen recently is students submitting exam responses that asked him to analyze recent data, where the response said something to the effect: “as an AI tool, I do not have access to this data.” And when a student submits work like that, it’s pretty clear that they haven’t even read the essay responses they’re submitting on that graded assessment activity. And we want to make sure that students do actually interact and engage with their learning materials. Perhaps we can also design assessments that are not as vulnerable to AI-generated text. This semester, with my online classes, one thing I have shifted to, instead of having them discuss general debates or issues in economics, I have them focus on interpreting videos online, for example, where economists are debating certain topics, or doing readings that are not in the training database for ChatGPT, which means it’s much harder for AI tools to generate responses when they don’t have access to the underlying content that’s the focus of the assessment activity.

Rebecca: Would hyperlocal situations or examples also be a strategy because there’d be less widely available information on something like that.

John: Definitely. Information on the local community or the campus community or other local things, information that would just not be part of the training database is a good place in which we can ask students to connect the materials their learning to real-world events so that you maintain that sense of relevance while ensuring that the students are actively engaging with the work themselves rather than using a tool.

Rebecca: One of the things that I’ve used historically in my design classes, and it’s a little easier again, because I teach studio classes and see students more often so I tend to have a hunch as to what they’re working on, because I’m seeing them working on things, is really documenting process and not just using language, but showing through a video and showing steps along the way that might not be as easy to capture as an end product using an AI tool.

John: In general, open pedagogy projects, too, could be less vulnerable to having work being done entirely by AI tools. So videos would be an example, wikis perhaps might be.

Rebecca: I think that things that combine text and image are more challenging to have an AI tool create, at this moment.

John: That may very well change…

Rebecca: …by the time this episode comes out. [LAUGHTER] I think one of the things that I’m hearing us say actually, is that a lot of the strategies to reduce intellectual integrity or academic integrity issues around ChatGPT are also the things that are more likely to engage students and foster their learning anyways because they’re more authentic assessments, they’re probably more project based, they’re probably more long term with milestones along the way. And these are things that students often deeply engage in. And I think when they can connect to their local community, whether that’s the campus or the community that campus is situated in, or even their own hometown, in different ways around the discipline, those are all ways that students get a hunger to want to learn more.

John: And going back to our earlier discussion of the importance of shifting students’ focus from grades to learning, students are using tools like ChatGPT to raise their grades, even though they recognize it does not support their learning. If we can shift students’ focus to recognize the value of learning as improving skills that they’re going to need later in life, that should reduce the incentive for students to use shortcuts to avoid learning material.

Rebecca: If we’re not just looking for the right answer, but the journey to an answer, and even if it’s an incorrect answer, being able to understand why it’s not correct, and allowing that to be the learning is a really different way than our education has historically worked. The future of higher ed seems really stressful, John. [LAUGHTER]

John: It does, but it always has. That’s nothing new. But certainly the last few years have seen a lot of rapid change that… I hate to use the word unprecedented… but that have been relatively unprecedented.

Rebecca: And I think it really does speak to this need to connect with other colleagues, where we can share some of the challenges that we’re facing and brainstorm together to improve our teaching, but also to improve the level of stress we’re experiencing. [LAUGHTER]

John: One of the other things that we’ve talked about, especially within the last year or so is growing faculty concerns over student engagement. When students first came back to the classroom, there was a lot of excitement about being back. But since then, faculty generally seem to be noting that the level of engagement of students has shifted or has changed somewhat. More students are not completing assignments. Students in some classes have been disappearing from class as the semester progresses. And there’s a lot of concern that students are not as fully engaged with their coursework as they had been prior to the pandemic. So Rebecca, how are we going to solve this?

Rebecca: That’s a good question, John. I think one of the things that this aligns with is the higher incidences of loneliness, and mental health. And so finding ways to connect students to each other, and establishing those peer networks, I think, is one of the most important things that we can do in our classes. And it’s something that I’ve maybe always done in some way. But I’m being much more intentional about moving forward, because I’m feeling like even if students are in the same room, they’re still feeling really isolated. And so we have to be intentional about creating those opportunities for students to experience connection and feeling like they want to show up for each other and for themselves,

John: …using more group activities in class where the work of each student depends on the contribution of the other members does help create that sort of pressure on students to be there for their peers, to be there for the rest of their team. And that could be very useful.

Rebecca: Yeah. And I think the key to that, though, is not just assuming that students know how to interact with one another, or how to depend on one another in a team context, but really scaffolding those learning opportunities that really start with making connections and establishing relationships, because it’s the relationship that’s going to cause the pressure to show up for someone. And I think when we’re seeing high incidence of like ghosting, for example, it’s because the individuals don’t feel connected to the people that they’re ghosting.

John: And there have been a lot of studies done recently that show the importance of a sense of belonging in student persistence. So helping students form those connections is really important, because we have so many students who go to college, build up a huge volume of debt, and then disappear without getting the degree which does serve as a signal that they’ve actually accomplished something as a result of their education. And they end up with more financial struggles than they would have had had they not started. So we do want to help students form those connections for their own sakes, for their own future success. And one of the books we used in a past reading group was Relationship-Rich Education by Leo Lambert and Peter Felton. And that summarizes a lot of the research on the importance of building community and building connections, and also provides some really nice examples of ways in which institutions can transform to help facilitate those connections.

Rebecca: As instructors, we have a lot of power in that space to help students feel a sense of belonging. We can do really simple things to make someone feel seen and if they feel seen, they’re more likely to feel like they belong. So personalized messages, getting to know your students a little bit, being approachable, calling students by name, all of those things help students feel like they’re a part of a particular community. There’s so much to still learn and to come together around. And so I know that we’re looking forward to having many more guests and many more conversations to help work through many of the questions and concerns and things that we’ve raised today and have been raised by our colleagues. Now, John, we always wrap up by asking what’s next?

John: Well, what’s next for me is I’m heading down to North Carolina to teach at Duke again next week. And I’m looking forward to this. And this time, I’m going to try avoiding getting run over by a car. So I can actually teach my classes down there and spend some time away from the hospital this summer,

Rebecca: #life_goals. [LAUGHTER]

John: Small goals are sometimes more achievable. And Rebecca, what’s next for you?

Rebecca: This summer, I’m looking forward to doing some more work on our graduate student online orientation, which we put together as we transition to our new course management system in the fall and also working with some colleagues on an accessibility online module.

John: And we’re looking forward to talking to more of our wonderful guests. I’ve really enjoyed the experience of interacting with so many great people doing some really good research and doing such good work in higher ed.

Rebecca: We’re grateful for all of our guests and all of our listeners. So thanks for listening


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.


299. My Professor Cares

Students from marginalized groups often question whether or not they should be in our classes and disciplines. In this episode, Michal Kurlaender joins us to discuss an easy to implement intervention that faculty can use to improve retention and student success. Michal is a Chancellor’s Leadership Professor in the School of Education at UC Davis and is a co-Director of the California Education Lab. She is a co-author with Scott Carrell of a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper entitled “My Professor Cares: Experimental Evidence on the Role of Faculty Engagement.” (This article is forthcoming in the American Economic Association journal, Economic Policy.)

Show Notes


John: Students from marginalized groups often question whether or not they should be in our classes and disciplines. In this episode, we discuss an easy to implement intervention that faculty can use to improve retention and student success.


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: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guest today is Michal Kurlaender. Michal is a Chancellor’s Leadership Professor in the School of Education at UC Davis and is a co-Director of the California Education Lab. She is a co-author with Scott Carrell of a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper entitled “My Professor Cares: Experimental Evidence on the Role of Faculty Engagement.” This article is forthcoming in the American Economic Association Journal, Economic Policy. Welcome, Michal.

Michal: Thank you for having me.

John: Our teas today are:… Michal, are you drinking any tea?

Michal: I am not drinking tea, but I did have some not too long ago today.

Rebecca: Do you have a favorite?

Michal: I’ve come back to Earl Grey. I used to be an Earl Grey person. I left it for a while, and it’s just made a comeback for me.

Rebecca: Nice. It’s a classic. I have Christmas tea today, despite the fact that it’s June.

John: And I’m drinking a ginger peach black tea today.

Rebecca: I have my Christmas tea because we had our presidential announcement today. And it was like celebration tea.

John: White smoke has come out of the towers [LAUGHTER] and we have a new college president here.

Michal: Congratulations.

Rebecca: So we invited you here today to discuss the study of the impact of specific faculty behaviors on historically underrepresented minority student success. How did you decide on this specific intervention?

Michal: My colleague and collaborator Scott Carrell and I do a lot of work to try to understand College Access and Success. And in particular, we’re interested in understanding inequalities in graduation rates at more open access institutions, like the California State University system, which has, across its system, some more selective campuses and some more open access institutions. But in particular, what we’ve noticed for years is that the graduation rates of students of color, particularly male students of color, black and LatinX men, were really much lower than other groups. And this was a puzzle to us, largely because the eligibility to get into four-year colleges, including the CSUs is quite substantial. These are primarily B-plus students who have finished a comprehensive set of courses required to be eligible for the CSU. And so to see their graduation rates lag so much behind other students was really troubling to us. And so that’s why we decided to focus particularly on the CSU system. And we focused on one campus in particular, that’s a less selective CSU campus.

John: What was the intervention that you used?

Michal: We didn’t go in knowing what intervention to use, we actually started with a focus group with particularly men of color at this campus and asked them what their challenges were. In particular, what we learned was that their challenges were not necessarily social or more broadly campus level, they were primarily in the classroom, and that is they felt disconnected from their instructors and from what to do to be successful. These were all students who reported feeling quite successful in their high school, feeling quite connected to their high school instructors who encouraged them to go on to college. Many of them were in competitive fields like STEM and engineering. And then they felt like they really struggled in college, and in particular, how to seek help and how to understand what instructors wanted from them. And so we came in quite agnostic, I would say, about what could work, what is helpful here? Is it more writing centers, more coaching, more nudging? We didn’t know. And what we came out with is feeling quite sure that we needed to tackle the classroom. And in particular, I think what we wanted to think about was this untapped source of potential support or hindrance in that is faculty, and think historically, we know that many times we just think of the classroom as kind of untouchable, and we put other support centers, writing centers, and tutoring centers, and other supports for students. And we kind of leave the classroom alone and leave faculty, including ourselves… we’re both faculty… to do what they will. And instead, here we wanted to really think about, could we intervene with faculty to provide more support for students?

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s funny how we often overlook that particular option given that’s a key touchpoint with our students, right?

Michal: Exactly. So we came out deciding that we’re going to do an intervention that was classroom based, and that was going to try to work with faculty to give students more information about what it takes to be successful in the classroom, how to seek help. And then we decided to pilot that to see if the proof of concept worked. And we piloted it at a large, more selective institution on a small-scale pilot, and found some promising results and then launched it at full scale. This article describes that whole kind of research process as well, which we think is also an important contribution to the literature… to not just immediately do something, but to actually think about the way in which it might function and just really to understand from students what they tell us they need.

John: Your initial pilot used a light-touch intervention, could you describe that intervention?

Michal: So initially, in the pilot, what we did was a slightly underpowered pilot in the sense that we took students who didn’t complete their first homework assignment in a classroom where you have to complete a set number of homework assignments. And you could miss one, but historically, we knew that students who missed the first one often struggled in the class. And so that’s the point of randomization that we took for the pilot. That is we took those who didn’t submit their first homework assignment and to half of them we sent an email saying, “Hey, we noticed you did and submit your homework assignment. Just to remind you to do well on this course, here are some things that might be helpful.” We also provided some information on what’s coming up and reminding of the office hours and how to seek help. And then we did two others. Importantly, the two other emails provided information that showed the students that we knew how they were doing in the class so far. So after the midterm, and before the final, and we found again, it was underpowered, but we found positive effects among the treatment group. And then that was conditional on some other ex post characteristics that we added to the pilot, but then we decided to launch it at the CSU campus that we worked with at full scale across a random sample of introductory courses.

John: For those listeners who are not familiar with statistics, when you mentioned that this is an underpowered test, could you just explain that in terms that…

Rebecca: …Rebecca can understand? [LAUGHTER]

Michal: Absolutely. So they were underpowered statistically, to detect a statistically significant difference between the treated students, those who got the emails, and those who didn’t. And so for that, we need a large enough sample size of treated versus control students, particularly if we’re going to add other kinds of observations about them, like their gender, or their race, or their prior academic achievement. And so when we say something’s underpowered, we might see the positive effect that is better achievement in terms of the final or in satisfactory progress in the course. But that difference may not be large enough in statistical terms to consider it statistically significant, even if the mean differences are actually in the direction that you expect. So to get that, to be able to actually detect significant effects, you need a large enough sample size. And that’s when we launched into the population that we were specifically focused on, which was the population at this less selective campus.

Rebecca: At that less selective campus when you scaled things up, did you keep the intervention the same? Or did it change? What did that scale up look like?

Michal: Great question. So the first thing we did was we really focused on introductory courses. This was also piloted in an introductory course. But we wanted to focus on particularly large classes, especially because the information was going to come from the instructor and we were doing a randomized control trial, that is some students are going to get this treatment and others are not. So the class had to be large enough for it to not be weird that some students were getting it and others were not. If you’re in a classroom of 30, that might be strange if you’re talking to someone next to you, and they get this email from an instructor, but basically what we did is we recruited faculty, we randomly chose 30 large undergraduate courses. And then we recruited those faculty and said, “Will you be part of an experiment with us? …and here’s what you need to do.” And the important thing here is that we’re not trying to dramatically change faculty style in the classroom, we all have our own style, the own way we write a syllabus and what we expect from students. What we wanted, we had several key principles. The key principle first was that faculty need to directly communicate with the students showing them that they know who they are. So it very much said in an email, Dear Rebecca, or Dear John. They needed to provide information that was specific to their class, it couldn’t be quite generic. We provided them some templates, but the goal was for them to personalize them and say, “Here’s this upcoming unit, here’s what to look out for, here’s how I would study for it, Here are my office hours, and so it provided information. So the way we changed it is… it was a semester-long courses. and so we requested that faculty sent a minimum of three emails to students, one after the first assignment or exam, sometimes earlier if they didn’t have an exam, and two later, we wanted it within the first three weeks of the semester, one after the midterm, and one before the final. And the important thing is, in the second two emails, those were further personalized to sort of say, again, “Dear Rebecca, I see that you’ve gotten a 72 on your midterm, it’s not too late to improve your grade in this class. Here are the things that you could do. And so it was personalized also just showing that we know how you fared in this class. And so again, the goal was to let faculty, in their own words and in their own course formats, personalize these emails, with the principal being information to students, personalization to students, and help seeking behavior advice.

John: And this process is a personalization, was this done in a mail-merge type format? Because I would think to scale this intervention would be a lot easier if you did do it either using the tools within the LMS or using some type of a mail merge.

Michal: Great question. So again, this was a grant-funded study and where we could provide some support to faculty, some faculty didn’t need additional RA support from us and either knew how to do a mail merge, it really worked with their course management system, like Canvas or Blackboard and found it very efficient to work on the own. Others you may or may not be surprised, did request our help from our graduate students. And we did provide support including one actually helping a faculty member directly write individual emails for students to support. You’ll probably ask me how the faculty feel about this. And I will say we actually asked them how long it took. It didn’t take more than a minute an email and so we do kind of try to guesstimate the investment on the faculty’s time to do this, and it very much varies on their comfort level with the course management system.

Rebecca: In the scaled up version of this study, did you continue only interacting with students who had struggled and missed their first assignment or is that a shift from the pilot to the big study?

Michal: Yeah, thank you for catching that. No, it is a shift. We did open it up. We believed actually, theoretically, our priors were that anyone could benefit from this. So if you were a B or on the cusp, we have lots of researchers suggest students, especially in introductory courses, some students, particularly first gen students might take a B or a C as a signal that they shouldn’t be in a particular major. We really did want to encourage across the achievement distribution for everyone. As to John’s earlier question, as you scale this up, or as people have talked to me since this experiment said, what if I want to do this, but I teach 400 people, you could one year, one term, try it with your lower achievers, another term, try it with those at that C range, or others. And so we did in this initial intervention want to do it across the board.

John: How large was the sample on the scaled up version?

Michal: It was 20 faculty, some were in multiple classes, we had 22 classrooms overall, and roughly 3000 students.

John: Excellent. How large was the estimated effect in the scaled up version?

Michal: First, it’s important to note, as we’re talking about findings, that our findings are really concentrated on first- and second-year students or new students, and who are from underrepresented minority backgrounds, so URM students, and we find that their treatments are about five percentage points more likely to earn an A or a B in the course by comparison to control students. So again, just important to note, we find overall positive effects for the whole of treated students. But they’re only statistically significant for the URM students that we target, that our intervention aimed to focus on.

Rebecca: Was the impact limited to just the classes the students were in, or was there an effect beyond that individual class?

Michal: Yeah, so that’s a great question, and we do find what are called spillover effects. And that is that those same students, those URM students, had a positive effect of being in the treatment group, even in courses that were not part of the experiment. That positive effect was much smaller in magnitude, it was like three quarters the size of the effect of the actual treated course. But still statistically significant at the ,10 level.

Rebecca: it seems so easy, just three emails.

Michal: Yeah, it does. It takes an investment. But yeah, I think it does beg the question, I think, for me, and maybe this is something that you want to talk about a little bit later. But we do so many things to introduce first-gen students or to get students in the classroom and again to provide support externally, but we do tend to sort of assume that they’ll just survive or just be okay in the classroom without training faculty on how people might experience their classroom differently. And so, again, we do test for other subgroups. I focus on first-gen, because it’s a concept that is helpful for people to think about students who don’t have at home, at least, people to tell them what to expect in the college environment and how you might go to someone’s faculty office hours, and they’re not there, or they’re there, but they’re sort of like, “Yes, did you have a question about the material?” Whereas to know, you could go just to review the material or you don’t have to have a question, you can just show up, things like that. Being able to feel comfortable asking questions in class and others who don’t or just step in at the end of class and sort of say, I found this part of the lecture really complicated, will you be reviewing it again the next day? So things of that nature. And so I don’t think these emails did those, but they sort of remind us that there are things that faculty can do to remind students that they see them, that they see that they’re in a classroom, and that they know that they may be enjoying parts or struggling in parts, and that there are some actions that they can take to be more successful in their classroom.

John: Did the effect size vary with class size? Was there a more substantive effect in larger classes than smaller classes? Because I would think it might be easier for students to feel more lost in a larger section, especially as a first-gen student?

Michal: It’s a great question. We aren’t able to test that, our sizes were all pretty similar, and we didn’t have enough. We actually chose the largest classes that exist in this campus, which don’t get much bigger than 150. I think it is worth testing. Absolutely. I can tell you from the pilot, that, in particular, that was a class of 400 students, and both for the pilot and for the full scale up the types of emails we got, that faculty got back. So that’s one thing we could talk about is how did students respond more generally, and many students emailed instructors back, and in particular, in the pilot, but also in the scale up, we got those emails back from the faculty who were in our experiment, and they very much appreciated the email and said, “No faculty members ever emailed me before,” or “especially in a class of this size,” or “I so appreciate the email. I’m working really hard.” So the first and sort of overwhelming finding from these emails is just gratitude from students that a faculty member emailed them, particularly we noted that in the pilot when the class was quite so large.

Rebecca: Yeah, I can imagine that just something that feels personalized, whether or not it’s super personalized or not, just feels personalized, really helps students feel seen.

Michal: Exactly that. That’s right. I should also say in addition to just grades and you asked me about graduation outcomes, we also included a survey, both in our pilot and in the scale up, to try to get at some of the mechanisms and in particular, we asked questions like, “Did you feel this instructor supports your learning? Did you feel you could reach out to your instructor?” And we do find consistent with our intervention that students in the treatment group reported more positive outcomes on these dimensions.

Rebecca: That’s so fascinating, because it’s so easy. Like it just isn’t that complicated.

John: In your study, you also examined how this effect persists over time, which certainly relates to the graduation thing. What did you find in terms of the persistence of this effect over time,

Michal: We did look at long-run treatment effects. That is, we waited to see what happened several years later, we presented on this paper in the shorter term outcomes. And we tracked these students and worked with this institution closely, we really wanted to know did it affect the outcome we care most about, which is graduation? In other words, we care about student success in a particular classroom, and maybe they’re slightly better grade, or not dropping out of the course. But we really care about their longer term outcome of finishing. Again, for this specific group of interest. We note that the treatment results in that 7.3 percentage point increase in persistence, one semester later, and then a higher four percentage points difference in graduation. So we do find positive effects on the likelihood of graduation.

Rebecca: We’ve talked a bit about the impact on students and how students have responded, how did faculty respond to participating in this intervention?

Michal: First, I’ll just say, again, we had to recruit faculty to do this. And so we do track the faculty who said no, and we did as much reconnaissance work, if you will, to understand that we did need to self select faculty, keeping in mind that if we did self select faculty who just had a proclivity to help students or being this intervention, if anything, we perhaps under reported some of our findings, but we do as much effort to understand how representative our faculty are, which we did determine they are, and in the paper, there’s some details about that. And they represent faculty from a real diversity of disciplines, from music to engineering, across the board, humanities and social sciences, we had the whole range, we had the range of faculty. So you know, “I do this a little bit sometimes. And the two of you are, I would have said, I’d do the same with a student who doesn’t show up or doesn’t complete to sort of track them down. But I’ve never done it systematically. And I’ve always wondered if it even matters.” We had everything from that kind of faculty member to a faculty member that’s like, “Well, I’ll do this, but I don’t think it matters. I mean, at the end of the day, the students who want to put in the work put in the work.” And so we had a whole range in their attitudes. We did offer a stipend to do this, because we did believe it takes time. And we wanted to sort of show that faculty who do have a lot of demands, especially at teaching institutions, that this was going to take some time. And so we haven’t done it again without an incentive, or with an institutional incentive, that’s part of like performance evaluations or something. So that’s yet another thing that in terms of where to take this in terms of where institutions might take this, for our perspective, it was externally funded, they were only accountable to us in their efforts to do this. And so we talked to them multiple times in the term, again, some were in both waves of the study, because we did it over two terms. And then we surveyed them at the end and really got some details from them. Some of this is in the paper around how they felt. And I would say most expressed similar to what you expressed, Rebecca, which is like “Wow, this some emails and I made this difference, especially in underrepresented minority students lives and in their classroom, and it felt really good about the impact.” …keeping in mind, we talked to them also, before we knew the results. And so at that point, they just were sort of documenting how much time it took to do the emails, and what kind of emails they got in response from students and most felt, I would say, humbled by the thank yous that something so small, like an email, got so much gratitude back from students. We did have some faculty that sort of said, this takes a lot of time, and I’m not sure it’s much of a help. In our last survey with faculty, we actually provided them the full scale results and said, “Here’s, by the way, what we learned from the study,” and then asked them to respond or to reflect on that. And many said, “Wow,” like, again, similar to your reaction, “a few emails could make such a big difference, I will be sure to continue.” We ask them directly if they will and we report this in the paper. Most do say that now that they know the positive impacts of this study, they’re likely to continue with these emails.

Rebecca: I imagine the workload for a faculty member isn’t necessarily in drafting those initial emails, but maybe the responses to the emails [LAUGHTER] you might receive back.

Michal: It’s a good question. I don’t know how many continued the conversation once an email was sent, the standard emails, part of the experiment and the student wrote back and said, “Thank you so much.” I’m not sure they continued. We did a lot of qualitative coding, which we don’t report in the paper, we report some but then we did a lot more internally. And there definitely were a lot of hardships described among students who did reply, the extent to which faculty replied with those hardships offering extensions or any other kind of augmentation to their requirements, we don’t know.

John: In an introductory microeconomics course I use the Lumen Learning Waymaker package which actually does automate emails to students based on their performance on weekly quizzes and so forth. And even though the students in the class realized it was automated, they’d still write back to me and I’d respond to it. And they’d often apologize, saying, “I had a bad week and I know I need to work harder.” But it did often start a dialogue that might not have occurred otherwise. And I’ve often wondered how large that effect was, but because it’s automated for the whole class, it’s hard to measure the differential effect of that. So it’s nice to see this result, that that type of approach works.

Michal: Yeah, I think that what you’re describing is exactly right, this sort of feedback. Our whole intervention is built around theories, not just from kind of behavioral economics or nudging or information source, but on the education literature on feedback, and the important role of feedback, and the timing of it. And it’s most useful if it’s not just performative like feedback, like your grade on an assessment like a “C,” but that actually gives you more information about how you’re doing or what to do to improve. And so this kind of thing you’re describing John is exactly right. I think we know that more touch points with students through assessments, as opposed to all hanging on a midterm and final also support students to get more feedback about how they’re doing.

Rebecca:I think sometimes students know that they’re struggling, you get a grade back, you know, if you’re doing well or not, but I think a lot of students need more coaching around what to do to improve or to better understand how the grade is calculated, to just take the time and attention. It’s there. It’s in the syllabus. But sometimes they don’t realize what they should prioritize. And including some of that kind of messaging makes a lot of sense. I know that when I’ve done that with my students, they’ve been really appreciative because they didn’t realize that they were putting all their energy into something that didn’t really matter as much.

Michal: Yeah, that’s right. And I think coaching is a great choice of words around what to do with it. I also think many students come to our universities with really uneven or unequal preparation for those courses. And so I think a lot about students who came from a high school where they took an AP course in economics or chemistry that might as well have been a college level course. Many of these questions are great on a grade curve. And so that C might be an excellent grade for them, given the type of preparation that they had, but they don’t know that necessarily, and they might, to them, signal that maybe this isn’t the right major for them. And so I also think coaching around what to do with the grade when you’re kind of passionate about a subject and not to give up on yourself too quickly. Many are juggling jobs, we know for some, it’s their only work is to get through this term, and others are doing this while working and taking care of family members or whatever. And so that grade that they got often conveys information that we as faculty don’t necessarily know anything about how they’re interpreting,

John: I would think just a signal, as in the title of your paper, “my professor cares” might create a sense of connection and belonging that might otherwise be missing for someone who is a first-gen student who might not feel that they belong in the institution.

Michal: Yes, I agree. And I think there are more and more studies coming out, particularly in social psychology, but elsewhere about the importance of belonging. We know from the K-12 literature that it’s having a teacher who cares about you matters, actually. And again, nothing dramatic happens once you get to college. But we assume it’s completely different, where in fact, I think having an adult or particularly your instructor care, you feel a sense that that instructor cares about your learning, or how you’re doing in their class, irrespective of the grade per se, just that you’re making progress in the class or feeling comfortable in the class, I think is really important. And I think it’s hard to test. And most of the belonging literature has been on survey type research, “I feel like I belong here.” And it’s not as much in the classroom, although there’s increasingly more studies about belonging in the college classroom beyond just a university at large.

John: A while back, we interviewed Peter Arcidiacono, on a paper that looked at the impact of differential grading between STEM and non-STEM courses. One of the things you just said reminded me a little bit of that, because one of the things that was noted in that paper is that many of the people, particularly female and underrepresented minority students who switch their majors out of the STEM fields had some of the higher grades in the class, but it was below their expectations. And I’m wondering if this type of intervention might have an effect of letting them know that that performance in that discipline may not be all that bad. Since we’re probably not going to eliminate grading differentials between STEM and non-STEM disciplines, perhaps some type of personal communication might help preserve some of those connections so we don’t lose as many people in the STEM fields where the returns to education are the highest.

Michal: Absolutely, I think well said. That’s exactly right. And I think that is among the reasons we wanted to get across the grade distribution, not just those who are really, really struggling. And also because we do think that students might give too much meaning from a signal of a grade early on in their academic pursuits where they can get through a certain amount of courses and then maybe where the fun stuff of their major where they really see that utility of a particular course for a future career path matters. And so I think that’s right and I do think Peter’s work and other people’s work looking at the impacts of particular kind of grades and grading distributions or signals of grades, I think, are really important. I think that’s an area that’s blossoming in economics and in other fields to sort of better understand heterogeneity or differences between subgroups around how particular information like an assessment, grade or a test score.

John: One of the things we’ve been seeing in a lot of studies is that many changes in education, such as using more active learning techniques, providing more course structure, benefits all students but disproportionately benefits those students who are historically underrepresented. And it seems like this study just provides more evidence of that, that good teaching practices benefits everyone, but especially benefits the people who are most at risk in higher ed. And those are often the people who can get the greatest benefit by persisting in higher ed.

Michal: Yes, I think that’s exactly right, if we’re really going to address disparities in college outcomes, and I think one really important source to go to is the importance of information gaps. And that would be particularly for first-generation students, for students of color, but also for students who come from unequal K-12 backgrounds. Colleges and universities often know and often are recipients of systematically particular high schools in their states, especially public flagships, community colleges, others, and so they are aware, they offer relationships with those K-12 high schools that are feeders to their institutions. And that is an important source of information that they can provide to high school students as they enter college for a kind of a warmer handoff, if you will, but that also faculty teaching introductory courses can provide. And so I think, again, if our goal is to address inequalities that we see in college outcomes, then I think information, particularly for those for whom their information gaps, is particularly key. Students want to be seen and not necessarily yes, there’s the anonymity of a large lecture hall, that maybe don’t want to be called on. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want to know that your faculty member sees you and knows whether you’re doing well or struggling, or how you feel about the class or how to succeed on the next exam or in the next course in that sequence.

Rebecca: So if there’s other faculty who think, “Hmm, three emails, that seems easy,” What recommendations would you make to those faculty?

Michal: Yeah, I mean, I think what the first recommendation I would make is to try it, to do it. I think thinking about how you communicate in your syllabus that about your forms of communication are important. So if you’re going to do an email, I think one thing that we would have loved to test and if we were to continue further is the format for the information. And so I think letting also students know that you want to hear from them over email or through other means, I think is useful. So first, deciding on the kind of medium like how you’re going to communicate this, I think email makes sense. When faculty start texting students, maybe we’d move to a text them information. But that’s not the case for most of us, so it’s through the course management system or email. I would say focus on again, what we know from the literature on feedback is that for it to be as specific as possible about what students can do with this information, and so that is looking at your syllabus closely, knowing… we typically do as faculty… where students trip up in the material, what’s complex, what’s up ahead. And so giving that kind of feedback as well about how to prepare for the next assignment or exam, what has tripped people up in the past, what you know, might work for them is really helpful. Again, other research has suggested the importance of going to office hours might matter. But that means you need it to show up, you have to think about how you structure your office hours. Incidentally, we did try to track that… quite hard to do whether it actually promoted more office hours in the pilot, we believe it did promote more office hour usage. More broadly, it’s something we’d like to test, the actual help-seeking behavior of students. So I would say faculty should do it if you’re teaching a 400-person class and you can’t imagine doing this for 200 students or even 100 students, maybe start with students who you see as struggling based on that first assignment, as we did in the pilot and see what you can learn from that… maybe do as John suggests, which is kind of get savvy on a mail merge and think about ways to do this so it’s more efficiently done, so that you can reach as many students as possible.

John: We just switched recently to Desire to Learn’s Brightspace platform, and it does have intelligent agents and it does have replace strings so you can automate an email conditioned on the grade on either your overall course grade or on a specific item. And if you do it on overall course grade, (which I just set up, by the way, for my summer class last week), students get an email saying, “I see that you’re struggling, there are some things you might want to try.” It would be nice if I could put in their grade without having to go to mail merge, but I don’t think that would be possible. And I’d like to scale this up. In any case, I’d encourage them to contact me during my office hours or to make an appointment to talk to me. The first iteration of that went out last week. None of the students responded, but it’s a small summer class. So I’m curious to see how this might work. And your paper helped encourage me to try this. I had other reminders out there, but this was one that I thought might be useful, using a specific grade trigger.

Michal: That’s great.

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

Michal: Well, I think our lab and Scott Carrell and I continue to do this work, and in particular, we’re also spending a lot of our time these days doing work at community colleges in California, which serves one in four community college students nationwide. So also persistence outcomes are quite weak at community colleges, historically, and we’ve seen real declines in enrollment at community colleges since the pandemic. And so we are definitely doing some work at community colleges. We continue to track and follow graduation rates, particularly inequality in graduation rates at CSU. And we’d love to launch another intervention. So stay tuned on that. I can tell you, we are quite committed to understanding the college classroom beyond college settings more generally, and so hope that the college classroom continues to be a source of important information for the field about how to better support student success,

John: You’re doing some really wonderful research. And it’s really nice to see some of the attention that this got because your article has been mentioned in The Chronicle. It’s been mentioned in Inside Higher Ed, and I’ve seen people tweeting about it ever since it came out. It’s good to see this research becoming popularized.

Michal: Well, we appreciate it, especially since Scott and I did not succeed on that front, that is becoming those people who do good social media. Other people are better at that than I am. And I’m always a little troubled when I talk to more junior faculty around “Do you need to do all that?” …and 10 years ago or so I would say “No, just do good work and it doesn’t matter.” And now I confess the sort of buzz that some people are better able to develop around their findings in their papers seems to matter and so it’s really nice when it happens to you because we didn’t do it ourselves. [LAUGHTER] So I appreciate my friends Sue Dynarski and others who’ve done a really nice job promoting this paper.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your work with our audience.

Michal: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

John: And we will include a link to your study in the show notes and we encourage our audience to read it.

Michal: Wonderful.

John: Thank you.

Michal: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.


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