194. Minding Bodies

Visualize a classroom. Perhaps there’s a whiteboard in front with students seated. We tend not to think of the outdoors or students actively moving around or engaging all of their senses. In this episode, Susan Hrach joins us to explore embodied cognition and how we can leverage sensory input and physical space to support learning. Susan is the Director of the Faculty Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and an English Professor at Columbus State University. Susan is the author of Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement Affect Learning.

Shownotes

  • Hrach, S. (2021). Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement Affect Learning. West Virginia University Press.
  • Verschelden, C. (2017). Bandwidth recovery: Helping students reclaim cognitive resources lost to poverty, racism, and social marginalization. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Transcript

Rebecca: Visualize a classroom. Perhaps there’s a whiteboard in front with students seated. We tend not to think of the outdoors or students actively moving around or engaging all of their senses. In this episode, we explore embodied cognition and how we can leverage sensory input and physical space to support learning.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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John: Our guest today is Susan Hrach. Susan is the Director of the Faculty Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and an English professor at Columbus State University. Susan is the author of the recently released Minding Bodies: How Physical Space, Sensation, and Movement affect Learning. Welcome back, Susan.

Susan: Thank you. I’m happy to be back.

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

Susan: I’m sorry to say that it’s already gotten hot here and I’m drinking a cold water straight from the fridge.

Rebecca: That sounds actually nice and refreshing.

Susan: It is. We keep cold, refillable glass bottles in the fridge to be able to grab.

Rebecca: Perfect. How about you, John?

John: Well, for the first time on this podcast, I believe, I’m drinking inced tea instead of regular tea. I’ve been in meetings since very early this morning and have not had a break to go down and heat up some water. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think you might have had iced tea one other time.

John: Possibly.

REBECC: I know we have a friend of the podcast who will let us know. Today I’m having English breakfast. So when we hear the word cognition, we tend to think of heads and brains and not necessarily the rest of our bodies. And in your book, Susan, Minding Bodies, you challenge the assumption by introducing us to the term embodied cognition. Can you define what you mean by embodied cognition for listeners and maybe introduce the six principles that your book is organized around?

Susan: Sure, yeah. So the way that I am defining embodied cognition is a recognition that your whole body and your immediate environment really play a role in your thinking process. So internally, your heart rate, your spikes of cortisol or endorphins, your digestive functioning, maybe externally, the position of your limbs and your posture, your prior experiences. And then most importantly, the level of bodily energy that you bring to any moment of perception is all simultaneously at work in cognition. So I read a lot of neuroscience, especially from the past couple of recent decades, is when the embodied cognition work has really taken off. And I came up with these six principles just to provide a framework for understanding it for me and for the book. So the first one is to recognize that our bodies are constantly moving, one scientist explains that we might more accurately think of ourselves like clouds or waves than objects. And because we’re constantly moving, our bodies try to conserve energy. And brains use a lot of energy. So that’s important for our efforts to conserve it. So the way that we partly conserve energy is by engaging affordances around us. So that’s tools, it can be other human beings. And then because we’re such social creatures, and we engage each other as affordances to our thinking, each of us affects each other’s ecosystems of thinking. We can directly affect the other person’s experience or perception of any given moment. The fifth one is that we construct knowledge through embodied experiences. And then last but not least, our bodies reward learning in a physiological way, we experience pleasure when we learn under the right condition.

John: Following up on that, you note that our brains have evolved to conserve energy by basing predictions on past observations, while ignoring most of the input being taken in by our senses. And how does that limit our ability to understand the world around us and to learn?

Susan: Yeah, that’s huge. So this whole default prediction mode was something that it took me a while to kind of revise my own prior understanding of how thinking operates. But basically, your brain is trying to conserve milliseconds of time predicting what it expects to happen next. And it will anticipate what it expects to happen in a way that is also able to override what does happen. So that explains why if you are at the scene of an accident, and different people have different accounts of what they saw, it’s because their brains are literally being shaped partly by what they expected to see. And that’s why some people can be so sure that they saw the witness holding a gun, but there was no gun. Those are all just reflections of the way that brains are not really reliable recorders of perceptions. So the way that you can override that default prediction network is basically to bring a huge amount of energy, bodily energy, to being present in the moment and being very open to your sensory perceptions and also just having enough energy to be really self aware about what you’re encountering. And so having the opportunity to explore something from a different perspective, to connect your prior knowledge to something new. Those are ways that you give yourself the best opportunity to be present in the moment and resist the pull of that default prediction network.

John: And that’s a useful skill, I think, for us all to acquire. And I think we’d have a much better political climate, if we could help everyone get free of those biases or help to escape some of those biases.

Susan: Yeah, you know, it’s really hard. I think it’s most important for us to just know about it and be aware of it. I don’t know that we can completely escape it. This is just how our brains are wired to work. But yeah, I mean, even this new development of like the deep fake news, it’s sort of based on our predictive brains, because we’re not paying close enough attention to the image to recognize the telltale signs of how it’s been faked. And so those attempts to persuade people are relying on the fact that our brains are willing to just jump over the step of being as observant as possible.

Rebecca: In the first chapter of your book, you focus a lot on physical space and how space impacts learning. And you open by noting that a student in a college class is expected to spend about 112.5 hours sitting down and you use the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” Can you explain to our listeners why we should reconsider this?

Susan: Yeah, sure. And I can’t recall exactly how I came up with the 112.5 hours, I suspect I might have gone to the accrediting body’s site in which, you know, they list seat time… isn’t that a terrible phrase?

Rebecca: A very terrible phrase. [LAUGHTER]

John: We should note that while we’re recording this, you are standing to get around this.

Susan: I am, and Rebecca…

Rebecca: Me too. Me too.

Susan: And Rebecca too. That’s right, Yeah, you can find articles about this pretty much every day in the popular press. I’ve stopped saving them, because there’s no point in having it in 500 different places. But the bottom line is, especially in the past 40 years, 50 years, we’ve engineered movement out of our lives in a way that’s been really detrimental to health, even if you get a really intense workout at the gym once during the day, that’s not enough to override the whole day of sitting. And so I don’t like the word exercise as much as movement, because exercise implies that like, “Okay, we’re going to set aside this special time to do this special activity.” And really, what would be better for our overall health is just to get a lot more movement worked into just our ordinary activities. So that’s because human beings evolved over all of these years up until the last 40 or 50, to spend a lot of time walking, moving, being outside, having the normal hours of daylight, kind of regulate our sleep patterns, eating a wide variety of foods that are natural. And so we’ve changed all of that in the not too distant past. And in order to recapture some of that conditions for human health, you have to be a little bit of a weirdo these days, you have to resist the car, you have to say “Actually, I’m going to purposely make myself take the stairs, or I’m going to use my body to transport myself from one place to another,” and it’s countercultural. But if we do work in more ways to move around as ordinary part of our day, our whole health, and therefore our brain health will be more resilient. And they’re just learning about the ways that that impacts our overall aging and resistance to disease, as well.

Rebecca: As a residential campus that’s got a lot of green space and walking space. I know one thing that both faculty and students really missed during the pandemic was walking from building to building, maybe not during snowstorms. But on a nice day, we had a lot of walking in our daily lives and had to find a way to do that when we were working remotely. But now I think a lot of us have been working remotely and found ways to do that, like maybe taking a break from the screen by taking a quick walk or folding some laundry or doing some other things that get your body moving as a part of the work day that I think we’ll all need to be thinking about as we head back in the fall. And just think about how to keep movement or reintroduce movement, [LAUGHTER]

Susan: Yeah.

Rebecca: …whatever the case may be, depending on the circumstances you were in when you were working more remotely.

Susan: That’s right, Rebecca, and I’m glad that you mentioned that just because the environment is not all about just your personal choices that we’ve also paved over the universe, and, [LAUGHTER] in the case of campuses that are not residential, made it really difficult to get around using your own bodily effort. And maybe you’re living in a place where it’s not very conducive. There aren’t sidewalks or safe places to walk in. Those are the harder, longer term challenges that we face as sort of reversing the way that the past half century has engineered movement out of our lives.

John: Yeah, and I’ve been thinking myself that one of the reasons why so many of us have Zoom fatigue is we don’t have those little walking breaks. I know when I’m teaching in a large class, I often use a step counter. And I often would get in a mile, or a mile and a half of walking during an hour and 20 minute class period. But then I was thinking, I was doing that, but those students were stuck in those seats. What can we do to give our students more opportunities to benefit from more motion, rather than just asking him to sit in place constantly.

Susan: Um hmm. That’s right. And I’m so glad that you raised that point, too, because we are the lucky ones, we’ve got freedom of movement in the classroom. And you’re right, your experience of getting all of those steps in during class, I think, is the experience of lots of faculty, and that blinds us to the fact that nobody else in the room has had the opportunity to get those steps. So really, if we can use any opportunities to get students moving around, that’s the ideal use of the space. If we can change up the arrangement of the furniture and get them to help, that’s giving them a chance to be up and about. If we can change their whole experience of the space by leaving the classroom on occasion that will help them to be more alert and give them a little bit of bandwidth recovery. So you’re probably familiar with this bandwidth concept that Cia Verschelden has used in her book: Bandwidth Recovery. It has to do with basically giving students the opportunity to be mindful of how much energy it takes to be a learner and give them opportunities to recover bandwidth that’s getting sucked up by other things, whenever we have the opportunity. Another thing I would suggest is open the blinds in your room. So how many times do we go into a classroom and someone has turned it into a cave, because they needed it to be very dark for the PowerPoint? And so be a stealth natural light provider by resisting the shut blinds, and, if your windows open, open your windows. Fresh air is a wonderful thing to have in a classroom.

Rebecca: So Susan, what about some of the spaces I teach in that have no windows? [LAUGHTER]

Susan: Right, exactly…

Rebecca: That’s where they put all those computer people… in the basement of buildings. [LAUGHTER]

Susan: Yes. Well, I started sending to our print shop pictures that I’ve taken with my phone camera that are of trees and sky and outdoor scenes. And I just get them to blow them up and put them on foam board and hang them as sort of pretend windows, and people comment on it all the time. “Ooh, that’s so beautiful.” When I say “Right, yep, not expensive, not hard.” But it really changes the feel of a room to at least have an image, a beautiful natural landscape, on the walls.

Rebecca: I’ve had the opportunity to teach quite a few classes where we’ve had travel abroad components where we are doing place-based learning and really being able to be outside and walking around and really using our full set of senses. In fact, one of the classes I co-taught with a colleague of mine, Chris McEvoy, the whole framework of the class was around the five senses in India.

Susan: Awesome.

Rebecca: …which was amazing.

Susan: Yeah.

Rebecca: But then I think about classes like my web design class and think “Hmm, I would really love to get around.” So as I’ve read your book, I’ve been brainstorming ways to break down those ideas. But one of the things that we do when we have these travel classes is often alert students to things that they don’t expect, because we’re so used to sitting in a classroom and not moving. So we say things like “there’s a lot of walking, there’s stairs, there’s heights,” all these things that we have to alert students to because they’re not expecting it in a learning situation. So when we start thinking about these embodied experiences, what are some things that we need to do to prepare students and to make sure that students who may have mobility limitations that might not be visible, for example, or maybe someone who’s really sensitive to the sun, there could be all kinds of things that we’re not thinking about, how do we make sure that everyone’s going to be able to participate or be included in these embodied experiences?

Susan: So this is a really important question. And I’ve thought a lot about it too, because inclusivity is so important. And I would say, as a blanket statement, no activity is so valuable that it would override the need for inclusivity. So, that’s first priority, but my approach to movement in the classroom is more in line with UDL, universal design for learning, principles than trying to create extra work for the accessibility office by providing three more things that students need to ask for accommodations for. I really would not want to do that. So every activity that you plan really should have options. You should think it through really carefully, walk it through if you can, be able to describe really transparently and well in advance what to expect. And then think about options. And I needed to do this even for new faculty orientation, because you never know when somebody has twisted their ankle the day before, and they show up with crutches, or somebody who is in their last trimester of pregnancy. There’s just all sorts of things that affect our mobility, that we need to be able to plan for people to participate in whatever way that will be manageable for them. So options, I think, are the key thing. As you get to know your students in your class, you will find out whether there’s somebody who has a really significant reason to not be able to go outside, for example, or that we need to really give plenty of time for this person to be able to move outside of the classroom or even inside of the classroom, I think an atmosphere of respect and encouragement and the way that you build community with your students. Those are all things that should be the bigger context of any activity that you plan, so that it doesn’t become a source of exclusivity in any way, but just something to negotiate, and something to discuss together to figure out what will work. And the other aspect, I would say that’s important here, and I get this from the Faculty Development Center at the University of Pacific where Leslie Bayers and Lott Hill have been doing really great work for years in embodied kinds of faculty development, is to be really clear about the difference between things that are uncomfortable, and things that are unsafe. So they say sitting on a blanket in the grass may, for you, think about this… is it uncomfortable in a way that you could stretch a little bit to try to imagine how this might be an experience that will be okay for you? Or is it actually unsafe, for whatever reason? And that distinction might be important for students, because you’re right, a lot of them as you said, this is not what they expect from a college class. So they need some time to absorb it and to know what to expect.

Rebecca: Susan, do you introduce any of these ideas in your syllabus, for example, or introduce how you might use movement in the class on the first day.

Susan: I do I do. So I started including under the material list, an old towel or blanket, and I tell them why I prefer days where we might be going outside. I haven’t had anybody say that that was objectionable, or that that was going to be a problem. In fact, a lot of them said, “Oh, I don’t need to sit on anything, I’m fine on the grass.” So that gives them just the opportunity to know that if you feel like you’re not gonna want to sit directly on the grass and you bring something you don’t care about getting dirty to sit on. The other thing that I’ve done just this past semester with my class that was mostly online, is that I spent the first night.. we actually did a guided meditation the first night. And so I spent a while telling them that we were going to begin each class with contemplative practices and why, and that I wanted them to feel like they had the opportunity to transition from whatever crazy things were going on in their lives outside of this class to being fully in the moment and present. And that I was very aware of the way that the pandemic has been stressful for all of us, and that I wanted to give them a chance and some space and time to regain some serenity, some quiet, some ability to reflect and that I had done this research to show that their learning would be enhanced. It would be more smoothly facilitated if they were given the opportunity to quiet their busy brains and prepare for the rest of the class just by taking five or 10 minutes at the beginning to do something a little unorthodox. And they were totally receptive. Nobody said, “This is weird. I’m not doing it.” I mean, they immediately were game to kind of close their eyes and listen to the recording of the guided meditation. And there was one student [LAUGHTER] who came in a little bit late that night and we’re all sitting there with our eyes closed in complete silence. And I thought, well, this has got to be an interesting moment, you know… [LAUGHTER] …walking into a class on the first night and the professor and everyone else are just sitting there quietly with their eyes closed, but I was able to explain to him what we were doing afterwards, and they were cool with it.

Rebecca: On the same idea, Susan, I was doing a lot of warm up drawing activities and things in my design classes at the start of class during the pandemic and students really noted how helpful that was for the same reason, to refocus or get into the space of the class and allow them to stop thinking about all the things going around them. So I got a lot of feedback at the end of the semester. about that.

Susan: Oh, that’s great. I think a lot of us have recognized in the virtual environment that you just really have to find a way to begin that is the icebreaker activity almost every time. Like you’ve got to make that transition somehow,

John: As we move into the fall, we’re moving into a situation that’s very different, where many students have not been in the classroom, and people who are going to be sophomores may not even have been on the campus that they were enrolled in. What can we do in our classes in the fall to take advantage of some of the notions of embodied cognition to help our students be successful as they transition into a new environment?

Susan: Well, I would say if you have the opportunity, as you’re planning your fall syllabi, to plan a couple of experiences that would be connected to your content, and perhaps involve taking your students somewhere else on campus than your classroom. That would be one really interesting thing to experiment with. If you have the opportunity to take them to somewhere on campus, that’s even more exciting. But of course, the logistics and the resources might be more time intensive. The other thing people might consider for this fall is having… and again, the natural sciences and the arts are so lucky in that all of their disciplinary work is lab or studio enhanced as well. But for those who don’t have a normal lab or studio as part of their disciplinary context, can you create that inside of your own classroom? Can you bring some objects to explore and have students touch and move around with or draw, for example, smell maybe, in a way that you haven’t tried before. That would give them a really hands-on sensory experience with an object that your discipline values, or here’s another inside of the classroom idea. If you haven’t used those giant sticky pads that you can just stick on the wall, the sheet-size paper with markers, or if you have access, maybe through your Center for Teaching and Learning, to portable whiteboards that you can pass out to each student or just a couple of students per whiteboard, can you think of just one new activity you might try in your classroom that would have them using those tools. So those are affordances for learning, and they give students some sort of more tactile experience that will help the learning to be experienced in an embodied way. I do believe that students are more willing to jot down tentative ideas or be more just free with their initial ideas with whiteboards because they’re just so easily erased, that it feels a little bit safer to go ahead and just jot some things down.

John: We’ve been through this experience where most classes were taught virtually, but it’s likely some of that’s going to be continuing as we move into what we hope to be a post-pandemic future. How can you take advantage of some of these concepts of embodied cognition when you’re teaching students virtually say with either asynchronous courses or synchronous remote classes?

Susan: Right? So I imagine that others have read these pieces about Zoom fatigue. And this is great because the people who work in cognitive psychology have been trying to figure out why is it so tiring for us to be on Zoom all the time, recognize that human beings are not really accustomed to staring straight into each other’s eyeballs, uninterruptedly. This is exhausting for us. And then they also recognize that we are not used to staring at our own faces for hours and hours, and that’s super distracting, and also exhausting. And so I think we’re adopting some new practices that recognize what was a little unnatural about the virtual meeting, the fact that we need a break from looking at ourselves that maybe, I think, some of the platforms now have even adjusted so that the default setting is for you and your little square to be minimized, which is helpful. But just to recognize that it’s important for us to have a break from staring into each other’s eyeballs and planning moments to say, “Please turn your cameras off, because we’re now going to have a little stretch break. And I’ll guide you through twisting in your chair, touching your toes, doing a little bit of chair yoga so that we can bring our attention back to the conversation here.” Those are things that we might now recognize as important to do in synchronous meetings. I think there’s also some attention we could pay in the online universe to space. So students should know that their space matters, the place where they’re learning remotely is worth paying attention to. I think it would be great at the opening of an online asynchronous class, there could be like a special assignment to prepare the space where you’re going to be primarily engaging with the course. Can you think about what will make it a more productive happy space for you? What are you staring at? Where’s the desk facing? Can you change up the arrangement of the room in a way that will make it feel more pleasant for you? Or is there somewhere else you might go outside of your house? And how can you make it into the most pleasant kind of learning space for you? And that has to do with relatively superficial things? Can you think about the fresh air in the room? Do you need to make your bed? Are there ways that you can have that space, give your brain the best opportunity to function. And then also, I think the opportunity to get your students away from the screen through activities and assignments that you design to be done elsewhere is just a really worthwhile thing to try. If you can assign podcasts and tell them, specifically, “I want you to not sit and stare at the computer while you’re listening to this, I want you to do some chores, or take a walk or do something else that requires movement so that you can be absorbing this audio experience while you’re moving your body, and tell them why. Because this is often an opportunity for your brain to be more alert and awake and absorb the material in a different way than it would if you were just sitting and vulnerable to opening three more tabs and doing other things.”

Rebecca: There’s one thing that was sprinkled throughout your book that I was really happy to see but also a really important thing to pay attention to. And that was you open today talking about how all of our systems are kind of connected to cognition and the digestive system and all of these things. So students who might be going hungry are not having nourishment or not having warm clothes to go outside and these other things. So I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about some of these other barriers that students might be facing that are impacting their sensory experience and their embodied experience while they’re learning?

Susan: Yes, absolutely. And I think the number one problem there is sleep deprivation. And so a couple of years ago, we had Roxanne Prichard, from the Center for College Sleep come and give a talk to faculty and staff and also students and coaches at the beginning of the year. And people have told me,I’m not exaggerating, that that changed their lives, because it was so shocking to learn how much we really disadvantage ourselves and our own ability to function best by getting too little sleep. If we prioritize the need for sleep in order for our whole bodies and our brains to function at our best, it really matters. It makes a difference. It improves your performance so that you are able to do things more quickly and more accurately, and you save time that you maybe thought you were needing by getting less sleep. So setting your assignment deadlines at like 5 pm instead of midnight, sends a signal to students that you value, their ability to wind down and sleep in the evening and telling them there’s some great infographics and things availabl… I have a reference to this in my book as well… that will share with them exactly how sleep impacts their cognitive functioning and can impact their grades. I think there’s even been some SOTL work that shows how students GPAs were affected when they change their sleep habits. So that’s one thing. And then of course, their nutrition is another thing. And this is again, you got to be really kind of countercultural, like it’s so easy to just feed them pizza all the time and donuts and soda and what’s in the vending machine on your campus. And you really have to be assertive and challenging to get the whole campus to recognize this is really working against our main mission, which is to help support brain growth. And so we could have trail mix in the vending machines instead of just potato chips and doughnuts. That would be a step.

Rebecca: What’s easy for me as an art and design faculty member to think about how to have [LAUGHTER] embodied experiences in class and how to use our senses. But I don’t think that’s so obvious to faculty and some other disciplines. Can you talk about some ways to use the senses or to have more movement in maybe spaces that aren’t so obvious?

Susan: Yeah, well, I think one of the things that we need to do is just be willing to absorb the notion of flexibility. So even just on the recent past years, I remember looking at some of these designs for active learning spaces where they had a bunch of not uniform furniture. It was like “oh, here’s a grouping of stools and high top tables and here’s some sofas.” And I use a lot of group work, and I kept thinking like, how could I do that unless there’s round tables that each have four or five chairs around them. That’s messing with my sense of what my primary mode of delivery is. And then I had to sort of gradually come around to recognizing that people really like choice and options, and they like to be able to choose where they are in a space and how their perspective is. And there’s really no reason that groups need to be sitting in uniform spaces with exactly the same tables and chairs. You can still have groups and let them choose whether they want to sit on the floor, or perch on sofa arms, or be in some space that doesn’t have uniform furniture, and it will be okay. In fact, they might like it more, because they’ve got this choice and variety in their learning experience. There’s just these tiny things about the space that we inhabit that can help to make the experience feel a little bit different in any discipline. But there’s also practices that might be familiar to people like the concept of the gallery walk or stations where you’ve got them moving around the room to contribute to different pieces of the content on different walls of the space. And those have been recommended as active learning practices for a while now, because they’re opportunities for students to be interacting, but embodied cognition explains in a new way, why they work, it’s because you’re getting people up and moving around. And so I think any faculty member in a discipline, even that has not traditionally been as focused on sensory experiences or movement or objects, it just needs to reflect on what made you fall in love with that discipline yourself. Was it the smell of the books? Was it the handling of the special objects that might seem sort of mundane, like some sort of a measuring tool or something that we wouldn’t necessarily think of as being especially exciting, but offers a more tactile kind of way into understanding the concepts. I think individual faculty members are going to come up with their own really creative ways of figuring out how to bring students into a more direct experience with the thing itself that gets them so excited.

Rebecca: That sounds like a key piece is moving away from just always being so conceptual in our heads and just into some sort of physical realm or space.

Susan: It’s true. And I think part of what we excel at in higher ed is conceptual and abstract thinking and this is why we have achieved advanced degrees and become disciplinary experts, because we’ve moved into this conceptual and abstract realm with our disciplines that we’re now prepared for, because we have also moved through other encounters with our discipline that might have been more embodied. But we didn’t necessarily acknowledge or recognize them in that way. And I think of one of my early experiences in graduate school. And this is going to date me for the technology, but was working with the microfiche or the microfilm. Do you remember those? And it was like this big giant… [LAUGHTER] it was like an X-ray machine or something, you put your head in there. And you have to get the reel from the special library container and put it in and figure out the movement controls to be able to see the thing magnified. And I remember telling my professor, it was a little bit like time travel because you could kind of get lost in these really old documents that were suddenly blown up in front of your face. And she said to me, “Ah, you’re in the right place. You belong here.” I mean, that was a fantastic response for her because I was just thinking, “well, I guess I’m some kind of weirdo. [LAUGHTER] I liked the microfiche.” But that was a very embodied experience of the text for me. And as I got to be more credentialed, I was able to go to archives and actually handle these rare objects myself. And that was like sensory explosion because it was just so exciting to be able to touch these old, old things and see the handwriting and it was transforming.

John: Well, I guess the challenge for us is how we can create experiences like that for our students who may not have those microfilm readers or access some of those objects.

Susan: Yeah, and I think the library, the museum, the archives, the places on your campus, where we don’t normally think of them as classroom spaces. These are the places we need to be taking our students.

Rebecca: So we always end by asking: “What’s next?

Susan: So I should say, I’m really enjoying just having readers at this point and being able to have conversations like this one, because you spend a long time thinking about all of these things in writing and trying to carefully craft the whole message so that somebody will be listening to it. I’m not really looking ahead to a new book or anything, because I’m just enjoying the conversations that are arising from this one at the moment. But I am, and we’ve talked about this briefly the last time I was on the podcast, continuing to pursue a certification in coaching. And so I’ve got a course I’m taking this weekend in somatic coaching, or using embodied principles to help people be able to have a felt sense of the change that they might want to make in their lives, or how they’re in touch with what they know and what they’re figuring out about, where where they are and where they want to go. I’m really excited about that.

Rebecca: It’ll be interesting to see how that work ties with your embodied cognition work, moving forward.

Susan: Yeah. And I feel like I have such a good grounding now in the science of it, that I’m just really excited to hear from other people who have been practicing what that looks like in a one-on-one conversation. What do they actually ask the person who’s being coached to do with their body or to tune into, so I feel like my brain is rushing ahead and predicting, but I’m going to be open.

John: Excellent. Well, thank you. It’s been great talking to you again, and I’ve really enjoyed reading your book.

Susan: Well, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to reach a broader audience and just to talk through some of these ideas, because they are, in some ways, really common sense and in other ways, sort of a radical new way of looking at them.

Rebecca: Yeah, I’m looking forward to processing your book as I’m thinking about my fall classes.

Susan: That’s great.

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

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

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187. Talking Tech

Student use of mobile technology can enrich student learning experiences, but can also interfere with the focused attention that is essential for learning. In this episode, Michelle Miller examine how we can talk to students about technology in ways that will help them become more efficient in their learning and professional lives.

Michelle is a Professor of Psychological Sciences and a President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Miller’s academic background is in cognitive psychology research. Her research interests include memory, attention and student success in the early college career.

Michelle is the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, and has written about evidence-based pedagogy in scholarly as well as general interest publications. She’s currently working on her newest book, Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology: What the Science of Memory Tells us about Teaching and Learning in a Wired World, scheduled as part of the West Virginia University series on teaching and learning.

Shownotes

Transcript

John: Student use of mobile technology can enrich student learning experiences, but can also interfere with the focused attention that is essential for learning. In this episode, we examine how we can talk to students about technology in ways that will help them become more efficient in their learning and professional lives.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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John: Our guest today is Michelle Miller. Michelle is a Professor of Psychological Sciences and a President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Miller’s academic background is in cognitive psychology research. Her research interests include memory, attention, and student success in the early college career. Michelle is the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, and has written about evidence-based pedagogy in scholarly as well as general interest publications. She’s currently working on her newest book, Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology: What the Science of Memory Tells us about Teaching and Learning in a Wired World, scheduled as part of the West Virginia University series on teaching and learning. Welcome back, Michelle.

Michelle: Hi, it’s great to be here.

Rebecca: So good to have you back. Today’s teas are…. Michelle, are you drinking any tea?

Michelle: Well, I’m still on coffee. We have a three hour time difference this time of the year. And so I figure I’m entitled.

Rebecca: How about you, John?

John: I am drinking ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: And I have golden monkey today.

John: …for a change.

Rebecca: It’s expensive. I only drink it on special occasions. I was like, we’re gonna get to talk to Michelle, today. I’m gonna make fancy tea.

Michelle: Well, coffee is the fanciest tea of all.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk a little bit about how to talk to students about technology and why perhaps you might consider talking to students about technology. You teach a course on mind, brain and technology, and you’ve also created the Attention Matters projects that we’ve discussed on an earlier podcast. Could you tell us a little bit about the mind, brain and technology class that you teach?

Michelle: Right. So this has been such an incredible privilege I’ve had, on and off. for several years. Now, back a long time ago, when I first applied for and was competing for the President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellowship honor and award here at Northern Arizona University, one of the things that we got to do as part of our application packet was to envision a dream course. And this was, gosh, around a decade ago that I did this. So the landscape of the research and technology itself was very different. But this is the course that I came up with to say if I could teach one thing, brand new, build it from the ground up, this is what I would do: something that would connect psychology, especially empirical research-oriented psychology, the role of emerging technologies in our lives and the incursions they’ve made into all of our lives, and blend that with some real practical advice and things that would be engaging to college students today at a variety of levels. And so it went in my packet. I was so fortunate to win the award and be chosen for it. And then I came knocking on the doors, and I said, but remember, there was this dream course, I actually was very literal minded. So I said, “Well, I get to teach this now, right?” And my department said “Well, oh, okay, yes, we can work that out.” And it originally was taught as a senior capstone, and it’s been taught in that form, again. Another time it had an incarnation as a freshman seminar, a first-year seminar, and right now I’m teaching it as a fairly large general elective upper division elective, primarily serving our psychology majors and our minors. And so this is a course that I’ve been able to dip in and out of throughout the years. And I actually quote one of the first cohort of students, I got some really choice quotes that I included in my last book, Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology. And this semester, I actually have students reading some early drafts of the book I’m writing right now. And so it’s really been interwoven throughout my professional evolution over the last 10 years.

Rebecca: It’s pretty cool that you got to ultimately teach the class and it’s been going on for so long.

Michelle: Indeed, it is, indeed it is.

John: What do your students think about the role of technology in social media, in their lives, as well as in educational environment?

Michelle: Well, right from the get go, when I got to first design this class, and actually be sitting with a cohort of students every week, and bringing up a new topic, we divided it up into: there’s technologies for learning; there’s the effects of technology on aspects of thinking, like cognition, and so on; there’s several weeks on social media, which we’re right in the middle of right now. So there’s lots of different kind of articulation points where different students can come in with opinions. And so it does really cover that really broad area. So right from the beginning, I was so struck by the thoughtful and sometimes unexpected things that students would say… unexpected meaning kind of counter to what are some real stereotypes about… first of all, that all college students are a traditional age in this kind of lifestyle where you live in a dorm and party on the weekends. And I think most of us know that today’s college students do not fit that mold, and they’re not all that age. But, even students who are in this younger age bracket, to have them really say… like one of the early exercises we do in the course, I asked them to sort themselves on a continuum. We did it on a whiteboard this time via video conference, but in a physical classroom, they’d actually stand on different ends of this… place yourself physically on this continuum: Do you love technology, you want it everywhere, can’t imagine life without it… you hate it, you want to go low tech. And students are really spread across that spectrum. And so many of them have thought… they’ve said, “You know, I noticed I feel a certain way after I’m on Instagram for a certain amount of time,” or “I’ve tried electronic textbooks and I personally prefer paper.” …that’s actually consistent with some of the surveys that have been done with college students as well. So they are varied, they’re rich, and they are very counter to the stereotype that younger people just want technology everywhere in their lives.

Rebecca: What is one of the biggest misconceptions about technology that your students bring up in class that you address?

Michelle: Well, there’s a complex of sort of some interrelated ones that dial into my specialty area, which is cognitive psychology. So naturally, I noticed those really prominently myself. And so those ideas that using technology is going to reduce attention span, it’s reducing even your ability to think. And then there’s a sort of a related set of issues around what has been in the past a very controversial and headline dominating issue, which is the issue of taking notes by hand versus on a laptop computer in class. And that research, in particular, not to go through all of it, but, while the original study that sparked that debate was well designed, the interpretation of it has been just stretched until it screams. That study doesn’t talk about the distraction issue, there’s a lot of things that aren’t addressed in it. But students have come away, they’ve heard this kind of very superficial version of that, by which laptops are bad, and they also have kind of picked up a folk belief that if you handwrite something, it sort of drives it into your memory automatically. And it does not work that way. In fact, if you read the original study, one of the things that they say is that in as much as laptop note taking can be less memorable, whatever you’re taking notes on, It’s because you’re less likely to paraphrase, synthesize, and compress down what you’re hearing. And yet we have other people, they’ve heard these people in the culture say, “Oh, well, if you want to remember something, sit down and copy it, get out that pen and paper,” and that’s not really an effective study strategy. So they’re a little surprised and they say, “Oh, wait a minute, there’s some nuance to that study, and maybe some others that didn’t replicate it.” That study wasn’t talking about distraction on a laptop, it was just strictly speaking about this one aspect of how memory encoding works. Attention span… I probably talked about it on an earlier podcast… This is not a concept that attention scientists usually use. And so right off the bat, that’s a little suspect. And there’s not really good solid evidence that fundamentally, attention is changing. So they’ve absorbed some of those things. And so they’re really delighted to really dig more into those. So I might assign them an editorial or something that ran in a popular magazine or a blog. And then we look at the original research they’re talking about, and we pick up on the discrepancies. It’s not that Mueller and Oppenheimer was badly designed, it’s just they were looking at some effects that don’t always hold up with replication. And that speaks to this idea that the effect size is maybe not that large. Not that, again, anything was wrong with their data, it’s just you have this now you see it, now you don’t quality with some of these effects. And that kind of tells you that maybe this isn’t the hugely overriding consideration. And subsequent studies too have talked about this storage function of notes. It’s neat to think that you remember as a function of note taking without having to go back and study. But in reality, that’s what we do with notes, we go back and we study them. And so here’s this big elephant in the room like, well, are they taking good notes? And if they’re not taking good notes that capture key points, that they are going to want to go back and study actively, then picking up a little bit here or there because it was more memorable during note taking is not as big an issue. So that’s a big like, “Okay, what have you heard? Let’s look at the original research.”

Rebecca: Having the opportunity to talk about these things with students is exciting. And I’m sure the students are really into it, because it connects to their direct lives. And diving into the research makes a lot of sense in the context in which you’re teaching your course within psychology. So it seems like a natural fit there. How might other academic fields adopt some of the ability to talk about these things in their own classes where maybe cognitive science is not or psychology is not, the fundamental underpinning of what they’re doing?

Michelle: That’s, I think, something that I think is really exciting and why I am so excited to be able to share with your Tea for Teaching audience is I’ve really come to believe that that maybe there is something that is more versatile here beyond just the psychology frame and just a senior capstone in psychology. And I think that this is where faculty creativity can come in. I think the fundamental things that I think are so promising… Well, first of all, this is just a topic that is really under discussed, and it’s under discussed in a serious way. It’s not like students have not ever heard anybody critique technology. They’ve heard that. They’ve heard, “Oh, it messes with their sleep that it messes with their social relationships.” They’ve heard a lot of this, but it’s kind of swept under the rug in a way or even treated as “what serious person would ever think about these sorts of things?” So, that said, this is something that, and it’s something that students are doing all the time, even pre-pandemic. Most students do use technology of one form or another and are on one or more social media platforms. And so this is in and out of their lives all day long. So I can only think that there are critical frames and key concepts within a variety of disciplines that could map onto this, even if a faculty member doesn’t have the opportunity, or the interest, to say develop a whole course. Well, perhaps this could be a vehicle for discussing, for example, experimental design. How do you set up a study to really get at things like “What are the impacts of heavy cellphone use?” You do have certain individuals who self select to use technology in a particular way. And that’s something that you see crop up again and again in the research literature. Or if we’re talking about our own personal relationships, classes that have a focus on health can perhaps use one of these sub areas as a springboard for discussion. And so this is just really what I found, is that students who might otherwise be very quiet or, when things are framed in a purely very divorced from reality academic way, they may hang back, but who doesn’t get hooked into a discussion of some of the impacts of technology on our life. So I think it can be a vehicle for those things. And I think that it might be a little bit of a stretch in, say, a physical sciences class where we’re really discussing empirical context. But even there, it can be folded into discussions of effective studying very well, as long as we don’t just have that, again, very superficial tech’s bad, just get rid of it all and do everything on note cards. There’s a lot more to it than that.

John: Students are going to be interacting with technology, not only in their classes, but in their future careers. So having them think about those issues can be a really useful thing to learn, no matter what discipline they’re studying,

Rebecca: It seems like a good hook. It’s something that everyone can relate to, in some context. I was doing an exercise in my own class not too long ago about storytelling, and how brands present stories around what they’re presenting to people. And I use Spotify and Pandora as the examples. I’ve never seen a class so excited, [LAUGHTER] because it was talking about this technology platform that they can connect to. So I can imagine, when you bring up social media or other things that they feel really connected to, it immediately is a hook to talk about anything more complex.

Michelle: Absolutely. And that’s precisely the kind of dynamic that I’ve seen. And if I could throw out a kind of a discipline-specific example, there’s a concept that I really started weaving in more of over the last few iterations of the class. And this is a concept from psychological sciences research and quantitative analysis that really can be very slippery. But it’s a big, big part of contemporary ways that we analyze data. And it’s a concept of mediators and moderators. And so it’s jargony… and essentially mediators, when you have a correlation between two things, and you want to know, does A cause B? Or is there something else in the middle does A cause B causes C, and we have these great techniques for untangling those relationships. And moderators, on the other hand, is the relationship or is the correlation stronger in the presence of a particular variable or for, say, a particular group of people than others? And so yeah, you read that in a textbook and you go, “oh….” and yet, it’s one of the things that we really… I mean, experimental design, and how we can interpret our data is just radically more sophisticated when we can just not say, “Well, these two things happen together, but for whom is this relationship stronger,” and so on? So there are a lot of studies on the effects of technology that have one or more of these involved. And yeah, it just clicks for students when they see it play out in this relatable domain. So, for example, we have a study that I incorporate really early in the course. It’s got a word in the title, “Technoference” in relationships. So it’s a study of your perception that your partner in an intimate relationship uses their phone…. and when you’re talking to them… [LAUGHTER I think, will have a little bit of recognition if we’re in a relationship. That’s part of contemporary relationships, right? And they look at overall well being and how that relates to being in a relationship where your partner’s on the phone all the time. Now, it’s not a perfect study. And that’s part of what we look at. It was only among women who were in opposite sex relationships, and there’s a lot of self report and all that stuff. But you can say that “Okay, now they have a mediator. It’s not that the phone itself is degrading your life’s wellbeing but here’s this chain of causality of when your partner’s using your phone all the time when you’re talking, then you’re not as happy in your relationship. There’s conflict and then your overall wellbeing in your life goes down.” And then, in that context, you go, “Oh, Okay, I get it. Here’s what a mediator is.” And then we can talk about moderators, we can say, “Well, what about individuals who are in same sex relationships? What about men? What about couples who have been together for 25 years versus those who just got together six months ago?” Oh, okay. Now we understand moderators. So yeah, similar to you, Rebecca, I’m just saying, once you bring in some of these things, is not just dropping in sort of pop culture, it’s really taking a substantive look at these things. But yeah, then you springboard into concepts that are otherwise just really abstract.

Rebecca: Do you have some examples of things about learning related to technology that we might be able to slip into any discipline’s classes? …some of the stuff about attention, or good study strategies, or anything that’s maybe mediated through technology, but would relate to anybody.

Michelle: Definitely, the relationship between attention and memory and learning. Now, like I always say, when I’m talking about these topics, memory is not the only important aspect of learning. Learning is not all about memorization. But we now know that when you remember more, we have a broader knowledge base in an area, you’re better able to think critically and think in some sophisticated ways in that area. So that’s all good stuff. So that’s one piece of it. And in order to acquire any new memories, pretty much, for practical purposes, you have to be paying attention. And this is what devices and technologies have been so well engineered at this point to take away from us. So yeah, when you talk about a life skill, you’re going to need this for the rest of your life, no matter what you do. We have to think about, alright, how do we kind of shepherd and be stewards of our own attention. And I think, from a teaching perspective, too, it’s not that we have to constantly entertain students to grab their attention back from whatever it’s wandering off on, or similar that we just have to stand up there and be like, “Well, you have to pay attention… unbroken for an hour and 15 minutes… and all violations will be punished.” There’s different paths between those, but just to share with students that “Yeah, using phones is probably not changing the way our attentional systems work.” They work the way they have for many, many millennia. However, there’s a lot more competition for that now. So having them think about what are their strategies going to be. For some students, they come up with very creative cold turkey types of situations or types of strategies. I had one student say that I put my phone in a dropbox outside at night when I’m studying, and if I want to use it I have to go out there, which may not seem like a big deal, but in Flagstaff, it could easily be three degrees Fahrenheit and ice falling out of the sky, it’s cold out here. So we have students who say, “Well, you know what, I’m gonna be a little bit more subtle. I’m going to use one browser for my classwork and one browser for fun and social media.” And it’s just a little subtle cue that kind of tells you, “okay, we’re in work mode, or we’re not in work mode.” It’s not as much prescribing the answers as getting students themselves involved in saying, “Well, here’s how I’m going to manage this.” So those are some of the things that we would share. And when it comes to learning strategies at work, I’m always going to be evangelizing retrieval practice in one form or another. Lots of ways that that can look… everything from a Kahoot! quiz to sitting and talking with your roommate to try to bat back and forth what you remembered. Lots of different things you can do but, it shows too, there’s a link between you have to put in some active effort for your brain to pick up on that information and store it away in memory if it’s going to. So yeah, there’s sort of a complex of interrelated principles and take homes, there.

Rebecca: The one thing that I was immediately thinking about when you said about phones being really good at taking away your attention. I immediately thought as a designer, what a great example of how to get someone’s attention? [LAUGHTER]

Michelle: Yeah.

Rebecca: …not only to think about how to manage attention and think about what you’re paying attention to, but how do designers actually manipulate that? [LAUGHTER]

Michelle: See… perfect. There’s a cross-disciplinary connection.

John: The importance of attention is a topic that I think all students recognize is a problem. But I don’t think they fully understand quite how much of a problem it can be. Or at least my perception is there’s still a lot of misperceptions about the ability of students to multitask effectively. And I know that’s something that you address a bit in your classes.

Michelle: I do. And a related project that we’ve discussed on some other podcasts is the Attention matters project and I’m happy to report that project is still just perking along like crazy. We still have lots of faculty who are involved with it. So to kind of give a little background on it. Attention Matters was a concept that came out of a great conversation I had with my very smart and dedicated colleague, John Doherty, who’s an instructional designer and a librarian here at Northern Arizona University. And I had been going around and trying to teach a little, almost guest lecture, roadshow for interested faculty to spread these ideas to students of how to study effectively and how to have a plan for not getting distracted in the middle of class and stuff like that. And we talked about it. And we put together an online module that can serve so many more students. This semester, I have several really smart research assistants, undergraduate research assistants, who are in this module, moderating it and helping it run. And for those who know what MOOCs are (massive open online courses), it’s a little bit like that, except it’s specific to our institution. And so, in this, it’s a way of reaching out to students, they oftentimes will earn a little bit of extra credit in their classes for faculty who really want to spread these ideas to their students. They work through these modules that do touch on some of these key ideas about… as far as multitasking, we tend to be very overconfident. You can’t learn by osmosis, you do need that directed attention. Instead of highlighting and passively hoping things soak in, get in there and do retrieval practice. There’s also a little piece of Attention Matters, by the way, that talks about driving safety, which was not really something we set out to do. But I feel like it’s, again, a relatable everyday example that people can say, “Oh, my gosh, I was in a bike accident by a distracted driver,” or “I’m very careful about this.” And students are very adamant, and have strong views that do funnel back to that idea of: if you let it, devices and distraction of all kind can really take over and create some serious consequences. So, that’s yet another way that we’ve been working to bring these ideas to students throughout the years. And yet another thing that’s given us a fascinating window into what students are already doing to cope with these things, and some of their unexpected attitudes and ideas about them.

Rebecca: The thing that a lot of folks are doing is they’re teaching remotely or trying to jazz things up in synchronous online classes is trying to play with the idea of gamification in their classes, which certainly comes from technology, and often from video games and then some experience around that. Can you talk a little bit about how faculty might use gamification in their classes? Or also how that works on students?

Michelle: Yeah, games and gamification has been such a topic for so long in how can we use technology for education? I know it’s funny, when I was doing research for Minds online, I actually went to a Musee Mecanique in San Francisco, as a sort of a background research. It’s this amazing Museum, that’s just whatever the technologies of the time were, and it goes back like 100 years, all these different games, physical games you can play there.

Rebecca: It’s a cool Museum,

Michelle: Oh, you’ve been there.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Michelle: Oh, my gosh.

John: I was too.

Michelle: People have used photography in games and gamification. They’ve used all these different ways of using tech to play. So this is not a modern concept. And so we’ve seen lots of attempts throughout the years to also harness it for learning… some more successful than others. It’s such a deep theme in those connections between mind-brain-learning technology. And so students, here too, they get pretty excited about it. And that’s a good thing for faculty who are looking to use games and gamification. Now it’s another where I think drilling a little bit below the surface is really beneficial. It’s pretty clear to me, from the research and literature so far, that what makes games effective, and what makes them so compelling, you know, elicits the time, effort and attention that you need for learning, it’s not the superficial stuff about the experiences, not the music, and it’s not just calling it a game. It’s not necessarily tacking points onto something, although points and scorekeeping is usually a part of most compelling games, for sure. But there’s deeper things about getting really rapid feedback, there’s the opportunity for friendly competition. And that’s something that I’ve really seen this year, because I’ve also been using quite a few quizzes and polls and things like that in my courses, too, that are remote, is that you don’t have to attach a grade to the game to get some students really into the idea of competition, while other students, there, it’s more anxiety provoking, or it’s just too much because they’re already in so many high-stakes competitive exams, where they can play for fun. And so those are some of the aspects that are important when people are thinking about selecting a game, setting up a game, bringing gamification in some way. It doesn’t have to all be cheesy, let’s make everything look like a video game. But really, that idea too, that mistakes are part of it. While we’re playing a Kahoot and you get an answer wrong, whatever, we’re doing something else in five seconds, and it’s not a big issue like a test question is. So there’s definitely that. And I would say, too, that students here as well, they can be a great source for insight. So talk to your students. Say “What aspects of this game are more appealing? less appealing?” and so on. And games and game culture too, this is something that I really get a sense that they’ve never had a serious, let alone academic, conversation about the role of gaming in their lives. Yet for many students, that’s an important part of their identity. It’s what they do to relax. It’s what they do to socialize now, quite frequently, especially with distancing happening. So, as weird as it might sound, let’s take games seriously. Let’s take games seriously as an important aspect of students’ lives. Let’s take it seriously as a road to learning. And let’s just keep exploring that because the more research that gets done, the more effective and beneficial features we find associated with games.

John: And the most popular games are those that students can work through. And no matter what their prior knowledge with that type of game, as you said, provides them feedback. And that feedback is targeted so that they can use that to improve and the level of the games are set so that it’s neither so challenging that they give up and get discouraged, but not so easy that they don’t have the sense of challenge. And that seems like a really good way of perhaps thinking about how we should design our classes in general, whether we include explicit gamification aspects or not, creating an environment that encourages students to actively want to engage with the material, and where they can see progress and see how they’re advancing. That is, in general, something that I think is a really important thing for us to contemplate at least in course design.

Michelle: Agree 100%, agree 100%. And that’s exactly what makes games compelling. What is about social media that makes people return to it again, and again, and again, hundreds of times in a day? And what features can we extract and adapt in the service of learning?

Rebecca: One of the things we talked about with Ken Bain last week was an example about the arts and how that might change someone’s thinking… an experience with a piece of artwork. So, I used that kind of example, to inspire a little activity with my students this morning. And I asked them, “Can you talk about a piece of artwork that has influenced your thinking?” And I gave them some categories. And I’m teaching an interaction motion design class, but I included visual art, but games were one of my categories. And some of the students put some really interesting examples about how certain games have gotten them to really contemplate interesting ethical questions, relationship questions, really interesting stuff. And they wrote really thoughtful responses. I had them basically write the name of the game and just a sentence about how it impacted their thinking. But there were some really thoughtful responses. And it was really almost surprising to me how deep some of those quick summaries of their experiences had been with games.

Michelle: Yeah, that’s perfect. And without the conversation, you wouldn’t have that window.

John: For many years, we’ve all heard lots of arguments from faculty about whether technology should be or should not be used in classes. The pandemic, to a large extent, has shut those down completely. And that’s been, for many of us, quite a bit of a relief not to have to deal with those arguments all the time. However, as we begin to move back into a more traditional onsite teaching environment where more instruction is taking place in regular classrooms again, what are some of the things that people may have learned about interacting with technology effectively during the pandemic, that may perhaps lead to improvements in how we teach our classes regularly?

Michelle: That is such a meaty question, and I think it’s one we’re going to see so much just rapid development of reactions. it ties into the whole question right now of what does instruction look like post-pandemic or whatever the next stage of the pandemic is? But yeah, what a good time to think about this. And you know, I can look at it too through the lens of faculty experience, I was kind of fortunate to have had my Zoom baptism completely by accident earlier in spring of 2020. Because I had set up this idea of having a lot of guest speakers in one class, and I got a huge response, which is wonderful, but I needed to bring them in. And I had always kind of said, “Well, if I’m going to Zoom, I’m going to kind of sidestep that. I’m going to let somebody else drive.” And I had to get over that really fast. And so I do think that it illustrates the value of some targeted, not totally strategically planned, practice with technology tools. And that’s just the kind of bedrock cognitive processes that, when you have something like being able to just run Zoom, or Collaborate or something like that, or have an online poll, your ability to do that while monitoring a classroom or answering questions, you got to have the practice in first, and our students are the same way. So we can think about, alright, whatever we’re going to have students interacting with or using or if it’s us that are using something, having that practice upfront and expecting that, once we’re on the other side of the learning curve, it looks very, very different. So that is one big part of it. On a much more conceptual or abstract level. I think that, this whole year, we’ve really needed to look at the students and their goals and why they’re there in the class in the first place, wnd why are they taking the course. That’s something I’ve written about in some of the shorter articles I’ve put out this year. I think the pandemic teaching was distinctive for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that you just can’t keep persisting with “Okay, I’m the learning cop here and I’m going to make sure everybody does things because I’m watching you.” At the end of the day. I found if my students… I hope they’re not, but yeah, they are in Zoom, they could be doing other things… they may be minimally attentive, and that is not good for their learning. And I do a lot of things to have a lot of different shifts in gears to bring in gamification. I’ve done a lot of things to do that. But ultimately, if the student wants to check out, they can check out to an extent. And I’m not saying I’m okay with that, but I think that we are going to be meeting students much more in the middle, instead of having a more adversarial relationship to their learning, I’m here to enforce what you have to know. I mean, we have to collaborate to have something like remote teaching the way we’re doing it, to have that work at all, there has to be more of a collaborative approach to it. So I know that that’s a very top-level conceptual type of answer. But I think that in a lot of things, we’re going to be saying, “Well, you know, what, if this is something that helps some students, and if I’ve talked to students about why they’re here, and they’re purpose driven, ‘I am here to actually learn and take something from this class because I need it for the next class.’” Well, that’s a great basis to springboard off of, instead of “how do I write the policy in my syllabus that will prevent any kind of behavior I see as undesirable.” And you know, so many people were already moving away from that, which I think is incredibly fortunate given what we’ve been through in the last year. But this may be, if not a tipping point, something else that pushes us more in that direction of saying, “Well, what are the policies there to do?” Yes, students have to pay attention to learn. And that is very, very clear during remote pandemic teaching, as well as everywhere else. But let’s maybe take some different approaches and have a different philosophy of how we get there.

Rebecca: One of the things that I also hear you hinting at Michelle is that during the pandemic, we’ve all had a lot to manage, we’ve had a lot of cognitive load. And so we have to prioritize, and we have to decide what’s going to win our attention. And so students have the same problem all the time, just like we have the same problem all the time, we’re just more aware of it now. They have multiple classes to balance, they might have family concerns, they might have jobs, and at some point, they’re making choices about what they’re going to attend to, and what they can’t attend to. And I think sometimes we always hope and wish that they’re attending to whatever we’re putting out in front of them. But that might not be the best choice for them at a given moment, based on the other things that are going on in our lives. And we just often don’t think of our students in that kind of holistic point of view.

Michelle: Oh, absolutely. That’s such an eloquent example of this way of thinking, and the things that we have learned and the shift in mindset that we may be on the cusp of. And that’s another thing that really underlies the approach to talking to students about technology that I’ve really come to adopt, which is the same-side instead of opposite-sides stance. Like you said, we do struggle with some common things. I’m caricaturing a little bit, but I think we’re playing off of an older mindset where it’s us, we’re were older, we’re in this position of authority, and here’s how we like to do things. And here’s this young generation, and they think, very alien to us, and they want to do something else, and we’re going to make them come over to our side… saying, look, we all get distracted. In class, I’m frequently saying, “Well, yeah, here’s something unpleasant that happened to me on social media,” even if I don’t tell them all the details. [LAUGHTER] The point is, yeah, I get misunderstandings and hurt feelings on social media, too. I end up in the social comparison that tends to be so toxic on places like Instagram. I get really, really distracted and sidetracked because I’m using the same computer for 20 different things all at once. And so let’s work together to see how we can address those challenges. And yeah, so I think that what you’re describing is, I think, a very healthy way forward.

John: Now that faculty have had a chance to get more insight into students lives, perhaps now faculty will be more understanding of those things in the future, because the classroom environment is somewhat separated from all that it was much easier to ignore those things and maybe faculty will be more likely to treat students as human beings, perhaps in the future.

Rebecca: Are you implying that the classroom is real life?

John: Well, maybe it may more closely resemble that as we move back into more traditional classroom settings.

Michelle: Yes, and I’m all for that.

John: We always end with the question, and it’s particularly relevant now, “What’s next?”

Michelle: As you mentioned at the top of our interview together, I am in the very final stages of completing the Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology book. So I’m really excited to having that book be coming out in the not too distant future. And I’m really throwing myself into a brand new professional role, which is as the Co-editor of the Teaching and Learning Series with West Virginia University Press. Now, this series has just drawn so many dynamic thinkers with so many practical and also evidence-based ideas that we can all use in teaching and learning and so it was a tremendous honor to be invited to take that role on and I’ll be working with the other editor of the series who founded the series and launched it all, Dr. James Lang, who has just been tremendously influential in the area of bringing evidence-based effective pedagogical strategies to so many people in higher education. He’s been this tremendous leader in that area. His writing is also amazing. So what an honor to get to work with him and with West Virginia University Press. Stepping into that role has taken up a lot and it’s been wonderful already. So that is, for the most part, what’s next for me.

John: And I think we could say the same about your writing based on your earlier book, as well as recent comments that Jim Lang made on Twitter about how much he enjoyed the clarity of your writing and your exposition in this new book and how much he’s looking forward to that being released.

Michelle: Oh, thank you, that’s so nice to say and being able to teach students and to talk to students for so many years about these issues was the inspiration that gave me ideas to work with. So, it all comes around.

Rebecca: Well, thanks, as always for joining us, Michelle, and sharing some of your insights and some of the work that you’ve been doing.

Michelle: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

John: Thank you, Michelle. And we’re looking forward to talking to you about this book as it gets closer to coming out.

Michelle: Absolutely.

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

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

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