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.
- Cavanagh, S. R. (2023). Mind over Monsters: Supporting Youth Mental Health with Compassionate Challenge. Beacon Press.
- Lang, J. M. (2021). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons.
- Judie Littlejohn (2017). The Metacognitive Cafe Online Discussion Forum. Tea for Teaching podcast. Episode 2. November 8.
- Geerling, W., Mateer, G. D., Wooten, J., & Damodaran, N. (2023). ChatGPT has Aced the Test of Understanding in College Economics: Now What? The American Economist.
- Felten, P., & Lambert, L. M. (2020). Relationship-Rich Education: How human connections drive success in college. Jhu Press
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.