238. Engaged Teaching

The past two years have been challenging for teachers to navigate and be excited about. In this episode, Claire Howell Major joins us to discuss what it means to be an engaged teacher as well as practical resources to support teachers on their journey. Claire is a Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership Policy and Technology Studies at the University of Alabama. She is the author or co-author of several superb books and resources on teaching and learning.

Show Notes


John: The past two years have been challenging for teachers to navigate and be excited about. In this episode, we discuss what it means to be an engaged teacher as well as practical resources to support teachers on their journey.


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 Claire Howell Major. Claire is a Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership Policy and Technology Studies at the University of Alabama. She is the author or co-author of several superb books on teaching and learning. Welcome back, Claire.

Claire: Thanks, I’m delighted to be here, John and Rebecca. Thanks for having me again. My second time, so yay.

Rebecca: Love it!

John: We’re really happy to have you back again. And our teas today are… Claire, are you drinking tea?

Claire: I am not. I’m drinking water.

Rebecca: John. I have a supreme English breakfast today.

Claire: Nice. Good choice.

John: Supreme as in?

Rebecca: It’s supreme.

John: Okay, we’ll leave it at that, and I have an Irish breakfast today. So part of the same empire there.

Rebecca: Yeah… [LAUGHTER]

John: That supreme empire.

Rebecca: I was going to say, is it very supreme? [LAUGHTER]

John: It is just Twinings Irish breakfast.

Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss Engaged Teaching: A Handbook for College Faculty, your newest book, co-authored with Elizabeth Barkley, and its relationship with the K. Patricia Cross Academy. Could you first tell us a little bit about the creation of the K. Patricia Cross Academy?

Claire: Sure Rebecca, I would be delighted to. The Cross Academy is a resource that Elizabeth and I developed, in part, to honor Pat Cross, and her many, many contributions to higher education. Pat had just an amazing career in higher education that started really in about the mid 50s. And she finished her work in the mid 90s. And she served in a ton of high level administrative positions: at Cornell, at Berkeley, and at Harvard. And these were really high level positions at a time where it was pretty difficult for women to get high level positions. And she just did an amazing job and was really respected for her work as an administrator, but also for her work as a researcher. And you probably know her Classroom Assessment Techniques with Tom Angelo. It’s a fabulous book that shares formative classroom assessment techniques, and it has been used far and wide. I use it myself on a regular basis, and it’s been around for a long time and is still just a great tool. In that book, Pat and Tom developed a format for the assessment techniques that Elizabeth, Pat, and I used when we co-authored our first book together, Collaborative Learning Techniques. And it also served as the model for several of our later books, including Student Engagement Techniques, Interactive Lecturing, and Learning Assessment Techniques. And those techniques became the basis and the foundation for the Cross Academy. So that’s where it came from, but in addition to honoring Pat for her work, we also wanted to share information with faculty. We wanted to make some of these techniques a lot more accessible, so people didn’t have to necessarily go buy a book. That they could go to an online resource and pull that information anytime, anywhere, and also for free. We just wanted an open resource that could help faculty, and help faculty in short chunks. Each of our videos is about two to three minutes, and so it’s not a huge investment of time to go watch two or three minutes of video to get a great technique that faculty can try out in their own courses, and hopefully find a good use for. So our purpose there was twofold, to honor Pat and her work and also to widely share information that her work was foundational for, and we developed it from there and wanted to share that information with others.

John: At the teaching center here, we shared many resources with our faculty during the course of the pandemic. But the one that was most appreciated by faculty, based on the number of responses, was the K. Patricia Cross Academy resources. People wrote back saying how very useful it was, and how they wished they had seen it earlier and it’s gotten a lot of really positive responses here on campus, and I’m sure everywhere.

Claire: Well, thank you for that, John. I’m just delighted to hear it. It just warms my heart to hear that your faculty have enjoyed it. We have had a lot of visitors to the site, over 200,000 at this point. So I do think we are accomplishing that goal of sharing information with faculty. And we’re always just delighted, and so pleased to hear that people are finding it useful. That they are using the techniques in their own classes… so, just great news.

John: There’s so many other resources out there that describe some of the techniques that you have there, but they’re usually text based with maybe some images, or there may be a YouTube video or there may be some handouts attached to the text and so forth. But what people seem to really appreciate with this, and what we really appreciate with this is… you’ve got all those resources together in a really nice efficient arrangement. And you’ve devised a site where it’s really easy to find this material. You have a number of ways of indexing it. Could you talk a little bit about the ways in which people can access the information on the site?

Claire: Sure, sure. The site currently consists of 50 main videos, and each video is focused on a single teaching technique. For example, quick writes, or digital stories, or case studies and so on, and all of these techniques can be sorted in several different ways. You can search by the activity type, is it an assessment technique? Or is it a group learning technique? You can sort by the problem that it solves, for example, are you having trouble with student engagement? Are you having trouble with student attention? You can sort that way, and you can sort by Dee Finks’ learning taxonomy. So is it for foundational knowledge you’re trying to use the technique for? Are you trying to help students develop higher-order thinking skills? Are you trying to help students learn how to learn? And so the site is sortable in all those different ways, but it’s not just those 50 techniques. Each of those 50 techniques also has an online version. So we developed 50 additional videos, where we say, “Okay, here’s what a jigsaw is,” in the main video. And then in the accompanying video for how to do it online, we would say, “Here’s how you do a jigsaw in an online course.” So we have 100 videos really, because each of the 50 has the online version. And in addition to the videos, because you know, I’m pretty much a text-based person. I love to read, I love to see things in writing, I love books, all of those things. But we also have the techniques in downloadable templates. So in addition to watching the video, you can download a written version that gives you the quick and dirty of: here’s how you do it… provides the rationale for it. It gives an example of how it’s done in practice, a lot of times those examples come from my courses or Elizabeth’s courses. But there’s also worksheets space for faculty to record their own answers. And we also have a blog on the Cross Academy site, which we call CrossCurrents. And the blog publishes monthly, and we have different write ups each month of things that are timely and topical for teaching. And so we might discuss blended learning, for example, in a video or a blog, or another blog might be: “here’s how you can get students to read for class.” So we have all those different features in the Academy.

Rebecca: I love that everything is so bite sized, so that you can curate your own kind of collection of things to share as well so easily because the examples aren’t embedded in other examples. Which is sometimes you know, you might have a video or a workshop on good techniques, but then they’re all in the same thing. You can kind of separate them out, which is really nice. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: Yes, thanks Rebecca. We think so too, and part of that is, we know how busy we are. I mean, gosh, right now especially, faculty are just overwhelmed with teaching, with research, with service, with whatever we’re doing. And it feels like now it’s even more so than, say, pre-pandemic, because there’s so much more emotional labor to engage in. And it’s just a lot of work. So how do you find time to work on your teaching, and that’s one of the things we wanted to do is make everything easily accessible, like I said, where you could learn something new in two to three minutes, or a five- or ten-minute read of a blog post or something like that. So the goal is to make it manageable, and very, very useful and very practical.

Rebecca: And such a great model for what we should be doing for our students.

John: One thing I do have to wonder, though, given what you just said about all the challenges that faculty are facing is… how you’ve been able to stay so incredibly productive with all of these books. I think you’ve written more really good books on teaching and learning than most faculty have ever read.

Claire: Well, thank you. I think that’s a compliment, [LAUGHTER] I’m gonna take it as one.

John: It is. I’m really amazed. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Please teach us the ways. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: I think there are maybe a couple of reasons for that. One, I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English. So my background is in English, and in English you learn to write a lot and you learn to write quickly, right? [LAUGHTER] Or at least in my degree programs that was one of the features, but the other thing is that, maybe because of that degree is, I process by writing. I learn things by writing. It’s how I take in information and understand the world. So a lot of the books I’ve written and co-authored with Elizabeth and other people. You’ve met Todd, and Michael and some of the other folks that I’ve worked with, just wonderful, fabulous folks, but one of the things that I think I try to do is learn something. And when I’m learning something, I’m usually writing stuff down about it, and by the time I’ve written all the stuff down that I’ve learned, then I think, “Well, I can just share this with other people,” right? I’ve done all this work to try to understand something myself, to think through it. That’s something I can share with others, and that’s certainly how the first book that Elizabeth, Pat, and I developed together, the Collaborative Learning Techniques, came about. I was really struggling with collaborative learning. It is hard to do that well. But the benefits are worth it because the research is really clear on that. It helps students learn, it helps develop their learning outcomes, it helps them get along with each other, it helps increase understanding and awareness, it really benefits marginalized students, it benefits not marginalized students. I mean, the research is really clear that it is a fabulous technique. And so I just wanted to learn how to do it and learn how to do it well, and so I started digging into everything I could get my hands on, and trying to pull it together, and synthesizing it. And I talked with Pat Cross about it, and Pat said, “You know, we should use that classroom assessment technique format for this book. And by the way, Elizabeth Barkley is going to be writing this book with us,” and that’s how that got started. Anyway, I think that’s mainly it. It’s me trying to learn and I’m on a constant quest for trying to learn new things, and I just try to share that information when I can.

John: And we all benefit from that . Thank you.

Claire: Thank you.

Rebecca: So glad you’re so curious. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: Yeah, I guess so. I guess I’m curious or motivated by challenges that I’m facing. So either way, either way.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how Engaged Teaching, your new book, relates to the Academy?

Claire: Yes. So I think there are a lot of different ways it relates, but I’ll say this, we wanted to write a foundational, or introductory book for college teaching. So one of the things I try to do in my work is, I’ve mentioned how busy faculty are, I want to put theory and research into the faculty’s hands in ways they can use it to improve their own teaching and learning. And those have been narrow slices, like collaborative learning, like learning assessment techniques, like interactive lecturing, some of those things are pretty focused. And so Elizabeth and I were talking about it, and we decided that it would be really useful to have a foundational text that does basically that. That draws together the theory and the research, but we’re both very, very practical people. We want things that help faculty in their day-to-day practices, that they can take away immediately and use something from. So we had the Cross Academy that have those takeaways. You can use this in your class tomorrow, watch this video, take it to your class tomorrow, or take it to your class in an hour. But we wanted to provide the theory and the research that supports that and some of the broader practical tips. So that’s kind of how it came into being. That we wanted this broader foundational book to give the techniques some context, and to give it some foundation and some grounding in the work. So they do talk to each other. Like I said, the book is the foundation, and the techniques are the very practical: “Here’s how you carry it out.” Although the book has that too, the practice parts, but it’s bigger practice, it’s more like a general tip. Whereas one of the tips might be, “Use small groups in your teaching,” and then the techniques are, “Hey, use a jigsaw,” or “Hey, try a think, pair, share.” So they are connected that way.

John: And you describe those linkages in the book and have a table of how those techniques tie back into the chapters to make it easier to do that cross referencing.

Claire: Yes, that’s right. And we mention the techniques within the chapters where we find them particularly relevant. Many of them can cut across a lot of different chapters. But if you’re reading the chapter on collaborative learning, we mentioned techniques that are on the Cross Academy site that are focused on group learning, and so forth.

John: The title of the book begins with “Engaged Teaching.” How do you define engaged teaching?

Claire: That’s a really good question and I think engaged teaching is a really interesting and important concept right now. You read things in The Chronicle of Higher Education… faculty are disengaged, students are disengaged, etc, etc… I’m not sure I believe that exactly. I know we’re tired, right? [LAUGHTER] I know that we’ve dealt with some things through the pandemic, and it’s taken a toll. But I think the engagement is still there, and I think to be really effective teachers starts with being an engaged teacher. One leads to the other. Being engaged can get you to be effective. So I think of engaged teaching as two things, it’s a foundation and also a process. And the foundation is an intellectual foundation. And that involves the knowing what, the knowing why, and the knowing how, and that’s how each of our chapters is structured. Every chapter you’ll read there’s a “what this topics’ about,” “why this topic is important” (largely drawing on the research), and then “how you can do this particular thing in practice.” So that’s the foundation, the intellectual part of that. And the process is implementing that in key areas of teaching and the key steps that we have to undergo. And that is developing our own knowledge. It means planning a course, it means creating a positive learning climate and choosing and using the appropriate instructional methods. And it also involves continual improvement of our teaching practice. So it’s going through each of those phases of teaching and thinking through the knowing what, the knowing why, and the knowing how.

Rebecca: When I think about engaged teaching, and as you’re describing things, Claire, I also think about reflective practice and how they’re tied together. And the idea that you have to observe what you’re doing to be fully engaged, or take time to reflect on that, to really dig into the research or to know what techniques you want to look into, or to recognize that you’re struggling with something.

Claire: Right, and I think that’s a key point. And I think the idea of reflective practice is kind of an overarching idea of the book. But we also have a chapter on that, on being a reflective teacher and using reflective practice in your teaching. So absolutely, they are definitely related.

John: For our listeners who have not yet picked up a copy of the book, could you provide an overview of the different sections of the book?

Claire: Sure, part one is about foundations of teaching and learning. And in that we start with engaged and effective teaching, and what engaged teaching means, and how that can lead you to effective teaching. We also think through pedagogical content knowledge, and that’s a specialized kind of knowledge that faculty have that no one else has and it’s really important to develop that, and we think about how to develop that. We also talk about student learning, which I think is really important and it’s something we don’t always have formal instruction on in our graduate programs, or prior to teaching our courses. But we think it’s really essential to understand what your views of learning are, and how students learn, and what can be challenges to student learning, and then how they can overcome those challenges. So it is a very foundational: “Here’s teacher knowledge, here’s student learning, and here’s some things you need to know.” Part two is about planning, and that involves thinking about learning goals, objectives and outcomes, everybody’s favorite, right? But those are more and more essential in today’s society [LAUGHTER] they say. We all have to usually do those for all kinds of reasons. For accreditation purposes, because we have to post our syllabi, and other things, and because it is just a good idea to do. The research shows that it helps improve student learning. If you have this kind of clear path laid out and know where you’re going, it helps you know how to get there. We also, in that section, talk about assessing and grading, and we talk about visual elements in teaching which is, I think, an under-thought-through aspect of teaching, but I think it is important to the planning process. And that could be from your syllabi to your slide decks to your online LMS or whatever. There’s a lot of visual content that we share with students that I think we can improve and really think through and do a good job on. Part three is about the learning climate. We think about student engagement and motivation. We talk about community and how to build community in classes, and we also think through and talk about how to promote equity and inclusion in teaching. Part four is about instructional methods, and we cover three big ones there: interactive lecturing, discussion, and then also collaborative learning. And then finally, in part five, we focus on improvement. And we talk about reflective teaching and assessing and evaluating student teaching from beyond student opinions of instruction, right? Some other ways to go about it. We do talk about student opinions of instruction and some of the challenges with those, and some of the benefits with those, but also thinking beyond that, and other ways to assess and evaluate teaching. And then our final chapter is on the scholarship of teaching and learning, and how we can go that extra step in collecting data, understanding data, and sharing that information with other people.

Rebecca: So basically, the textbook that none of us had when we started teaching. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: That was kind of the idea. Yeah, absolutely. I teach a course on college teaching, and this is what I would want my students to know.

John: And it’s everything from the basic theory of course design, implementation of the course, and looking back and seeing what worked, and what didn’t work, and what you could do better. It’s pretty much everything faculty need to do to become an effective teacher, or an engaged teacher.

Claire: Maybe not everything, but we definitely try to cast a wide net and cover a lot of important topics that we hope will benefit people from thinking through a little bit more.

Rebecca: I really love that this particular text includes an introduction to the scholarship of teaching and learning too, because it’s an area that many of us might want to engage in, but are never really exposed to necessarily, at least early on. You might stumble upon it [LAUGHTER] as opposed to it being like formally introduced.

Claire: Right, right, and there’s so much good work in that area. I mean, that field is really growing, and they’re just more and more articles being published, and I think it’s wonderful because so many times teaching is very isolated. We go behind our closed doors, or we sit behind our screens, and we teach our courses, and it stops there, and our students go out, and that’s wonderful, and carry on. But we may have faculty teaching the same courses at other institutions who never hear anything about what we’re doing, and if we can contribute to that knowledge then we can all get better. It helps us all level up just a little bit to be able to hear what other people are doing, and what’s working, or what’s not working, and to have that data I just think is really great. So I hope people will look at that and think, “Gosh, I could do this. I could go out and do an article on my teaching and share that with others.” I think that would be a fabulous, fabulous outcome.

Rebecca: Can you describe to our listeners, maybe a couple of your favorite teaching techniques or other nuggets from the book?

Claire: That is such a hard question, it’s like choosing your favorite child. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: All right, just an example, just an example, it doesn’t have to be your favorite. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: No, no, I’m gonna give you a couple. I have used, I believe, every single technique we have on the Cross Academy site, and so I have personally field tested them all, and I think Elizabeth has as well. And there are some ones that I turn to over and over and over again. Quick writes are one, I think background knowledge probe is another one, case studies I use quite often. There are two that I turn to, I would say, more often than others. And one is the digital story, and that’s where students create videos, and in these videos they describe how their own personal lives connect to the course content. And I like to use these early in a course to help students introduce themselves to each other, and also because it puts them in a mind frame of understanding, “Oh hey, I do have important knowledge and experience that relates to this course,” and that’s pretty good. And I have seen students just produce really, really wonderful, fabulous stories, and it’s really heartening. They share things and it’s just really powerful to see these. So I do love that one. Another one that I really love is a personal learning environment, and that’s where people have digital resources that they can use to learn more about their course content later on going forward. And it’s basically they create a concept map that’s got nodes and ties to the resources that they could use, and it could be people, it could be websites, it could be books, it could be journals that they’re going to consult going forward. But I often like to end a course by having them develop a PLE where they can say how they can continue to learn about the course content going forward. So those are two of my favorites, I think.

Rebecca: Those are good favorites. I like those two.

Claire: Yeah I like them, they’re good. And they work well both online and on site. So they’ve got some flexibility that way.

Rebecca: Just mentally noting like, “Yes, yes, that would be a really good way to end my class.”

Claire: Right?

Rebecca: Yes, maybe I should update my syllabus. [LAUGHTER] Re-writing the assignment in my head as we’re talking. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: Yeah, it’s one of my favorites, and they get really detailed with them. And they have all these mapping tools you can use like Popplet, or Buble.us, or whatever the newest programs are and they make just beautiful illustrations, and get really complicated maps, and do have very clear content sources that they can seek out in the future. And I think that’s great. And I love seeing the people that they choose. It’s really fun to see.

Rebecca: I imagine anything that doesn’t say “just Google it” sounds great. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: Yeah, although sometimes Google does pop up on one of the resources in the nodes. They do mention Google and that’s fair, right?

Rebecca: As long as it’s not the only node. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: No, it’s not. It’s never the only one. So I’m teaching this college teaching course, and I had them do a PLE for this course and they have all kinds of people who were out there talking about teaching. They have all kinds of books that we’ve discussed in class and journals that focus on college teaching, conferences that are related to college teaching. It’s really elaborate and intricate. I never really specify, you could specify how many nodes and ties they have to do, but I never do and they have not yet disappointed. They’re always really very thoughtful and well done, and really nicely mapped out resources.

Rebecca: I’m sure as the instructor that gets to look at all of them your own really expands. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: It does, right, right? Yeah, that’s a good point. They have great suggestions. They really do.

John: I really liked the way you described bringing students into the discussion though, by thinking about how it applies to their life and building the relevance and salience of the material, and then preparing them at the end to become lifelong learners. So you’re really bringing students into the conversation in the discipline in a way that a lot of classes don’t.

Claire: Right, yeah. I think it’s really important, and so I’m teaching this course that I’ve mentioned a couple of times now, online this semester. And students are really great and really open, and there are a few things that I’m doing there that I think are interesting. One of the things that I do is, instead of having them submit assignments, they submit everything through the discussion board, and so they all see each other’s PLEs, they all see each other’s digital stories. It’s sort of like a gallery approach to assignments and I love it, you know? And nobody’s complained about it yet. So I think that’s good. I will say I’m teaching graduate students, I might have a different approach if I were doing undergrad. But at the graduate level, they seem very willing to share their information with each other. And they always say that they learn from looking at each other’s posts, that they always think of things that they would not have thought about if they had just been submitting online. And so I do think it’s very important to have the conversation, and the students involved in the direction. Another thing I think is interesting is that I do a questions and comments section on each module. And that’s all it says, if you have any questions or comments, post. They have no reason to post there, and the first time I tried that I thought, “No one’s ever going to use this,” but they do. They get in there and they post, they post thoughts about readings, they post questions to each other, they respond to each other’s questions. And I don’t get very involved in that unless there’s a question that hasn’t been answered, then I’ll answer it. But mostly, that’s a self sustaining thing where students are just self managing the board and helping each other out and talking to each other without the instructor telling them to, and without a lot of monitoring, so that’s fun. So yeah, students are fabulous. I love involving them. I love hearing from them, and I love giving them a space where they can share and talk to each other.

John: And it sounds like they’re quite engaged.

Claire: They are, they’re great, they’re great.

John: The use of a discussion board for students submitting assignments reminds me of an earlier discussion we had on a podcast with Darina Slattery. She called the activity E-tivities, where all the work in her course… it was also, I believe, a graduate course in education…, was done through discussion board submissions. And she also described some of the benefits that students receive from sharing each other’s work and that collaborative environment. So it seems like a really good technique that I should try too. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: Right, It’s fabulous. I love it, I love it. I recently was revising my course with an instructional designer. He was like, “You know you’ve got all your assignments set up as discussion boards, right?” It’s like, “Yeah, yeah I know.” He’s like, “Do you think they’re going to be nervous about that?” I said, “Well, they don’t seem to be.” [LAUGHTER] They seem to be fine, just sharing away no one’s, like I said, ever really expressed discomfort either during the class, or through the SOI, it has only ever been very positive. I loved seeing what other people were doing, I learned from other people, it was great to be in that kind of dialogue with other people. And so it is an unusual approach, and I guess maybe it’s good to prepare people for it. But they seem to respond well, at least as far as I can tell.

John: But it’s also preparing people who are going to be teaching to work in an environment that’s collaborative so they’re not in their silos making the same mistakes that tens of thousands of people have made in the past, and being able to learn from each other and to share with each other. So, that seems like a really productive strategy.

Claire: It is a great strategy, at least for me and my students. I’m not saying it works in everybody’s class or for everybodys’ students, but it has been wonderful for me. The other thing I do in this course is that each week they create an assignment that’s called “create.” They have to create something, and it’s something for a final teaching dossier that they do. And so each week they produce something, like they might do a teaching philosophy, or they might outline a class session, or they might do something else. And one thing I’ve done this semester is ask them to offer each other improvements, right? Give everybody a constructive criticism. One compliment, one suggestion for making it even a tiny little bit better, because they then assemble all this work into a final portfolio. And so they’re helping each other out throughout the semester. I’m starting to see their portfolios come in, and it does make them stronger. They are doing really great work. They are all very constructive. They’re very kind to each other, and I had to nudge them a little bit at first and say, “No, you need to help them get it better, It will help their final grades if you can help them now.” And once they understood that they really locked into that and really started trying to help each other on their final projects, and that’s been really interesting and good to see as well.

Rebecca: I’ve been able to do something similar in using chat software. So right now I’m using Google Chat. But I’ve also used Slack to submit and share work.

Claire: Mmhmm.

Rebecca: And I find that my students are much more comfortable sharing in that environment where they can have written feedback and share written feedback, because they can contemplate what they say more carefully. And also, it makes a record of it, and they don’t lose it if we have a conversation about it. It’s like documented feedback. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: Yeah!

Rebecca: …or they can go back and reference, and those are things that students have said that they appreciate about an environment like that is that they’re nervous about speaking up about it, but they’re less nervous if they can plan a little bit more about how they approach it or talk about it in these chat environments. Which is funny because I think of chat as something being like, quick, [LAUGHTER] but they treat it more like a discussion board.

Claire: Right, right. Well, I’m doing it on the discussion board so I think it’s similar to what you’re doing. They do seem to appreciate it, they really do. And I think they’ve benefited from it, and I think through the process of offering constructive feedback, they see things they can improve in their own writing as well. So they’re helping somebody else out, and they’re helping themselves out, and I think that’s really fabulous, and it’s so exciting seeing their final projects come in, and how they have taken them and improved them over the semester. It’s really gratifying.

John: I’m having students do something similar, where they’re providing feedback on each other’s work. And in our last class meeting, one of the students said, “I wish the comments contained more constructive criticism.” And hearing it from another student, I think, has helped quite a bit in improving the quality of the feedback, because I asked them to provide constructive feedback to each other, but they were very reluctant to do that in the first round or two. But when other students are saying, “You know, I wish we could get more of this type of feedback.” They picked an example of that, and it seems to be making a difference.

Claire: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so gratifying. You’re just like, “Yeah, y’all are doing it, this is great.”

Rebecca: Along those lines, John, today in my class, we did an electronic whiteboard activity. I teach web design so we were critiquing a website. So I gave them a link to look at, and then to use sticky notes essentially to provide feedback. And then what I did was ask them, “Was this actionable feedback?” And then they were like, “No, not really. I don’t know what this means, I don’t know what this means.” It’s like, “Exactly,” [LAUGHTER] and I heard all kinds of clicks go on. So I think moving forward, as we moved on in the class period today, it was amazing how much better and more clear [LAUGHTER] the comments were, once they realized how vague they were when we took this thing that was outside of us to look at.

Claire: That’s great.

John: So now this book, Engaged Teaching, was written during a period of pandemic. And also I believe there’s been some developments on the K. Patricia Cross Academy during this period. Did the pandemic influence the development of these two projects?

Claire: That’s a great question, John. I think the answer is most certainly, yes. And on the Cross Academy side, I think it’s a very clear connection. We knew that we wanted to develop videos on how to do them online, eventually. So we had our 50 techniques, and we thought, “Yeah, you know what would be really good, and helpful and useful, is if we eventually, down the road sometime, created short videos on… here’s how you would do this online, either asynchronous or synchronous.” And we were kind of going along our merry way and the pandemic hit, and we realized that needed to happen a lot faster than we had originally planned. And so we sort of front loaded that, and got videos out really, really quickly, all things considered. And it was challenging because we do our filming in California, and we couldn’t travel. So there was no going there to do videos, we couldn’t be in a room with a bunch of other people trying to film those videos because, at that time, at least originally, we weren’t real sure how the spread was happening. And we didn’t know a lot about how to contain it, and I don’t think it would be great to be mask on those videos anyway. So we went to voiceovers and did a lot of work through voiceovers and accompanying footage through that, and so that shifted as well. I think as far as the book goes, I think it shifted our focus just a little bit to that concept engagement a little bit more, because we started to realize how important engagement is for faculty, for the life of faculty, for successful teaching, for all of those things. I think maybe initially it started out as the foundational textbook, and then I think we realized the importance of weaving the engagement piece through that, and thinking through, what does it mean to be an engaged teacher? And how do we engage in this work at any time, right? Especially when we’re struggling and we’re tired, and we’re doing things we don’t know how to do. I think that just became a lot more prominent. It was always there, but I think, like the online videos, the plans were there, they got frontlined. With the engagement, it was always there, but it got spotlighted or forefronted and a lot more

John: Is there some type of foundation funding the development of the K. Patricia Cross Academy? Or where does the funding and support for this come from?

Claire: So the funding for the Cross Academy has been 100% private donations, and anonymous donations to this point. So it has been completely funded by the generosity of people who wanted to support this work, to make this project an open project, and not a paid subscription or anything like that. We wanted it to be open and we found people who thought this was a good idea and were willing to support us from that. We could always use more funding, right? And so in part, this book can help with that because all the royalties that we receive from the book are going directly to support the K. Patricia Cross Academy. We’re supported by the SocialGood Foundation, and all proceeds are going directly to the SocialGood Foundation. The SocialGood Foundation is earmarking them for the K. Patricia Cross Academy, and so all of the money will go directly to support the Cross Academy for helping us continue to develop content, blogs, and videos, and continue sharing that information.

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

Claire: Yeah, that’s a great question. And there is always something next at the Cross Academy. We are continually trying to develop that site, and what is in the works right now is a new phase where we are developing an activity bank for college faculty to work through. And these activities will help faculty reflect on their own current views on the different aspects of college teaching in the book that we’ve just published, discuss their ideas with other faculty, and create teaching materials that can help them in their own classrooms, and also develop products that could help them in promotion, and tenure and merit reviews. So that is coming I hope soon. I guess it’ll be 2023, but that is the next phase that we are working on.

Rebecca: That sounds awesome.

John: It does.

Claire: We’re really excited about it. I hope it’s going to be useful for people and really give them the opportunity to engage with engaged teaching a little bit more, to engage with the Cross Academy in ways that can help them improve their teaching… and students’ learning by extension.

John: Well, thank you. It’s always great talking to you, and you’ve given us a lot to think about and our listeners a lot to think about. And we strongly encourage people to pick up a copy of Engaged Teaching. It’s a great book. I haven’t read through all of it, but I’ve read through a big chunk of it in the last few days since my copy came in.

Claire: Well, thank you, and thanks, John and Rebecca for having me. I have totally enjoyed being here, thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. It’s been lovely.

Rebecca: And we look forward to seeing the next round of materials that come out because I know we’ll want to share them.

Claire: Great. Thanks very 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.

John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.