183. Student Workload

College students throughout the country have reported substantial increases in their workload during the 2020-21 academic year.  Few faculty members, though, intentionally increased student workloads during this challenging year. In this episode,  Dr. Betsy Barre joins us to explore some reasons for student perceptions of increased workload.

Betsy is the Executive Director of the Center for Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University. In 2017 she won with Justin Esarey, the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education’s Innovation Award for their Course Workload Estimator.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: College students throughout the country have reported substantial increases in their workload during the 2020-21 academic year. Few faculty members, though, intentionally increased student workloads during this challenging year. In this episode, we explore some reasons for student perceptions of increased workload.

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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&hellip

John: &hellipand 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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Rebecca: Our guest today is Dr. Betsy Barre. Betsy is the Executive Director of the Center for Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University. In 2017 she won with Justin Esarey, the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education’s Innovation Award for their Course Workload Estimator. Welcome back, Betsy.

Betsy: Thanks. It’s great to be back.

John: It’s great to talk to you again. Our teas today are:

Betsy: So, I’m not drinking tea. I’m having many cups of coffee today. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Well, it’s still warm&hellip

Betsy: Yes, that’s right.

Rebecca: &hellipstill warm, and still caffeinated. [LAUGHTER] I’m drinking Irish breakfast today.

John: And I have ginger peach green tea.

Betsy: Nice.

Rebecca: &hellipan old favorite. So we’ve invited here today to talk about your recent blog post that addresses the impact of pandemic instruction on student workload. Can you talk a little bit about how the pandemic has affected student perceptions of their workload?

Betsy: Yeah, sure. So this issue has cropped up for many of us. I’m sure anyone who’s listening to this podcast has&hellip maybe in the spring, but particularly in the fall… and I think that’s really interesting to that in fall it became an even bigger issue than it was last spring&hellip that we started to hear from students in our online courses, and in our blended courses&hellip not just online&hellip that workload was overwhelming, perhaps even double. And we heard it at Wake Forest. We started hearing it anecdotally. And then I would talk to my colleagues at other institutions who, of their own initiative would bring it up, that they had heard it anecdotally as well, we saw on Twitter folks talking about this. And then we at Wake Forest did an all student survey where we didn’t ask about workload&hellip we probably should have. But it was the number one thing that came up in their open ended comments when we coded those. And so it just reinforced this idea that clearly this is a universal challenge. And it was a challenge across our schools to, so it wasn’t just our undergraduate students, We were hearing in our Divinity School and our law school and our business school. And so something was going on. And it was really intriguing to me, because clearly students felt like the workload was overwhelming. But, and this is what we’ve all said. It’s not as if all of us just sat down and said, “We want to give students a lot more work this semester.” So I was fascinated by it, talked to a bunch of people about it, was thinking about it. I know you all have been thinking about it, and just decided to write some of my thoughts in a blog post. One of the great things in the response to that blog post is lots of folks have come up with other ideas that I think are just as plausible too.

Rebecca: Do you think faculty believe that they’re giving more work to their students?

Betsy: That’s actually a really interesting question, because that sort of premise of my blog post is that, and this was Jody Greene said “No one sat down to give more work to students.” But since I’ve written it and talked to some faculty, there are some faculty who are like, “Yeah, maybe I did, maybe I did give a little bit too much work.” And that’s worth noting. But there are just as many faculty, maybe more faculty who say “Actually I have given less work this semester, and I’ve tried to dial it back and lower the stakes than I have in the past.” And so the fact that there’s that large body of faculty that think they’re doing the opposite, and then the student perception is something different. It’s really interesting.

Rebecca: One thing that you just said, Betsy, about the lower stakes piece, raises an interesting question, because a lot of professional development about going online and using effective teaching practices talks a lot about low-stakes assignments and the ability to check in on things more often. But maybe they’re smaller assignments. Do you think that’s happening more?

Betsy: Well, I think it’s a good thing that it is. And my guess is, that’s part of what’s causing the problem or the challenge&hellip maybe it’s not a problem, but just is causing this sort of disconnect… is that our faculty, particularly many of our institutions, in the summer did a lot of professional development around good online teaching practices, and just good teaching practices in general. And also really emphasized&hellip at least at Wake Forest&hellip we really emphasize this is a pandemic, our students are struggling, let’s lower the stakes on things, let’s be understanding. And so one way to do that is by having smaller low-stakes assignments, so instead of a big midterm, you have multiple weekly check-ins. But of course, our students can interpret that as, “more work,” because if you’re just counting work by counting the number of assignments, then it is, by definition, more work. So, instead of one midterm, you now have five short assignments, that’s five times the amount of work. And so instead of counting in terms of how much time the assignments take, they could be counting and just the overwhelming number of assignments seems like more work. And I think that’s what’s going on, or at least part of what’s going on. And I’ve said to some people that this is actually a good sign that change did happen over the summer, because we didn’t hear as much about this in the spring. People kept their one midterm and their final&hellip at least I didn’t hear about it as much, maybe you two did, but I didn’t hear as much about it in the spring. But then they redesigned their courses in the fall. And the fact that we’re all hearing about this suggests that people actually did things differently. Now, again, it still could be better, but that’s kind of a good sign to me. Now, the question is, how do you dial that back? And how do we communicate with students about it&hellip all really complex, but I do think it’s that breaking big assignments into smaller assignments is part of a contributing factor here.

John: . And we know that students tend to do a lot of cramming, they tend to do mass practice, but we know that spaced practice is more helpful and that we know the benefits of retrieval practice. And that’s something I think that most faculty development centers emphasized with faculty. And I know at our campus, we had more faculty participate than we’ve ever seen. We had more people participate in professional development workshops than we generally see over a four- or five-year period. For the people who were resistant to professional development in the past, they were learning about the benefits of retrieval practice and space practiced, and learning about the benefits of using low- stakes exams, as you were just talking about, and I agree that that’s a good thing. But we know that the practices that students use to study tend to be mass practice, they tend to do repeated rereading, and now they’re being asked to retrieve information. And we know that students believe that that’s less effective, and it’s certainly more work for students.

Betsy: So your point about retrieval practice, and we know students believe it’s less effective to be engaging in this continual retrieval practice, I think is really interesting. And I think that’s what we’re seeing when our students say, “We have more busy work.” So it’s not just that there’s more work, but that’s actually more busy work. And part of what’s going on there is that they think that that practice that they’re engaged in is not valuable, if you are giving assignments that are about practice. And as students see it as busy work, that’s part of us communicating the value of this work, and helping our students understand how they actually learn, and how it will help them on the later exams, I think is really important. That’s not the only challenge. I think busy work isn’t the only kind of challenge. It’s also, I think, for those of us in the humanities, I think what we’re seeing is that the new tools we have available to us make it easier for us to hold our students accountable for doing all the reading, when typically, they wouldn’t do all the reading. And typically students wouldn’t say it’s busy work, but there’s more reading that they have to do than they ever had to do before. And so that’s one hypothesis as well. But I think another point about the busy work and the retrieval practice, moving one exam to 10 short assignments is, and I talk about this in the post as well, is that there is a sense in which that could be adding to your work, in that they have to keep track of it all. And I think our students are not used to having to keep track of so many assignments. So typically, as a faculty developer leading a teaching center, I may have a faculty member come to me that wants to redesign their course. And I make all these suggestions, and they do it and it’s fine. And the reason it’s fine is because, yes, it’s a little bit more work and a little bit more stressful for the students. But it’s only one course. But I think what we saw is that all of a sudden, our students were moving from five courses where there were three assignments to five courses where there are 15 to 20 assignments or more. And that was even more compounding the exponential growth that they felt. So I teach with lots of small assignments, I always have. Students would sometimes say this is more work than in a typical class, but they weren’t upset about it. They didn’t feel overwhelmed by it. That’s because again, it wasn’t five of their courses that were doing it. So it is a really interesting question of when we go back post-pandemic, do we want all of our courses to work this way? And how do we help our students readjust to this is the new workload? or this is going to be the new experience of the new workload? Or do we not want to do that? And I think that’s an interesting conversation for all of us to have moving forward.

Rebecca: I know one of the things that I’ve had in conversations with students, just anecdotally, but also in some of the formal research that I’ve been working on related to students with disabilities, is the time management piece and just trying to manage and organize all the moving parts that are on all these different platforms is complex, but also that moving with more materials online has resulted in more reading and writing&hellip

Betsy: interesting.

Rebecca: &helliprather than other modalities that we might typically use in a face-to-face class like face-to-face conversation, which to them seems really much more time consuming. And it may actually be more time consuming, especially if you have a particular kind of disability.

Betsy: Right. So there are a couple of things to say there. So I did say one of the things I noticed is when you read student concerns about this, they will often say things like “It took me this much time to do a discussion post.” And that’s, I think, really revealing for all of us to understand. We often think, “Okay, the discussion posts are going to take the place of the discussion in class.” But right now, I’m just talking to you two, and I’m not thinking very hard about what I’m saying. And in fact, if you created a transcript of this, which you guys probably will, I’ll be embarrassed to read it, because I don’t think it’s as coherent as I want it to be. And if I were writing a discussion post, I would think very carefully about how I formulate my thoughts and my arguments, and even proofread. And it’s gonna take a lot more time, if I’m actually writing it out. And I think that’s really important for us to acknowledge that discussion posts and a discussion are not a one-to-one replacement. Or if we want it to be a one-to-one replacement, then we need to tell our students, we expect you to treat it as if you’re not actually writing something that’s meant to be thoughtful, we just want to hear your opinions about this. So that’s one piece. But then in terms of your point about disabilities, I think it’s really interesting in that all the best practices for Universal Design for Learning, we can revisit, and I didn’t talk about this in my post, but I should have, so thank you, Rebecca, for sharing this wrrinkle. Because I think it’s an important part of it is that giving students options for how they can do this work will also empower them to do things that they think are most efficient for their time. So if they can do a VoiceThread or make a video, or one of the activities that some of our faculty have found very successful as an asynchronous replacement for discussion, is to just put students in groups and tell them, in your own time, you get together, have a Zoom discussion about the material, record it and send it to me ,that you’ve had that discussion. So they actually have a discussion. It’s just sort of asynchronously done. But in general, giving students options, it’s not going to solve every problem, but it does empower them to have choice, because there will be some students who prefer to write than to speak. But there may be something like “I’m tired of writing, I want to actually just speak.” And then in terms of the material, I think there was this recent meta analysis that just came out like last week about video versus text, which was really interesting. And as a humanist, I’m sad to see this, but it’s not surprising that sometimes video can be better for student learning than a text can be. Because I often think, “Oh, I’ll just give them something to read, and that will be the replacement for a lecture.” But maybe sometimes there’s a way in which they’d rather watch somebody talk about that material, rather than read about it.

Rebecca: Or by extension, just listen to the material, like in a podcast or something.

Betsy: Yeah, podcasts are a great opportunity. And we’ve heard students say, when I’m walking around campus, or when I’m working out, and it allows them again, to expand their schedule where they have more time to do things and no screen time, which is something they really appreciate because there’s so much Zoom fatigue, that being able to listen to something where they don’t read online and then have to watch online, they can just listen to it is a real relief for them. Absolutely. Unsurprising you all like podcasts.

Rebecca: Anything that gets us off the screen, actually, is something that I work a lot to do with my design students, because whether it’s a pandemic or not, we spent a lot of time on the screen.

Betsy: Yeah, fair enough. So you’re an expert at this. Yeah. You’ve thought about this. That’s great. Yeah, for sure and I think we need to think about that more.

John: But I know even for people who are teaching asynchronously before, some people have started using new tools. On our campus, for example, people who used to give students readings as a basis for discussions now are having students use hypothesis for the discussions, which means students actually have to open the reading [LAUGHTER] and actually respond to the text, which can take a lot more time than just skimming over the abstract and responding to it. And similarly, I’ve been posting videos for 20 some years in my classes, but now I’m doing it where there’s questions embedded in it, which means they actually have to watch them now for a small portion of their grade. So I think some of the tools that people are using may provide more learning, may provide more engagement, but also is going to take a lot more time than how people use them before. And you noted in your blog post that many students would be able to get by and coast to get the grade they want without doing a lot of the things faculty assume that they did. [LAUGHTER] But again, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. But it does require more time on average.

Betsy: Yeah, it’s a complicated question. It’s a self report, so it could be even lower than this, but just general self report on how much time students spend each week studying, it’s about 15 hours a week, on average, prior to pandemic, and that is for a full-time student. So imagining 15 credit hours they’re studying, it’s one to one, and many faculty assume or hope that it’s more than one to one. [LAUGHTER] But students are very strategic, they’re learning an important skill and figuring out what does need to get done and what doesn’t need to get done to be able to be successful in a course. And so certainly I appreciate that. But I think recognizing this disconnect is important because it helps us understand why faculty didn’t think they were giving more work, but students actually did have more work because faculty were mistakenly assuming that students were spending 30 hours a week studying when really they were only spending 15. And so being aware of that now helps us have a much more honest conversation about well, what do we expect the standards to be for students, and there are differences across different institutions and different programs. So our graduate professional programs are for folks who are working full time, have different sorts of informal expectations, I think, than others. And so it’s worth it for all of us to come together and to talk about that. But I will say I do think it’s just important to say&hellip I probably said this in the post… but we do know that the more time students spend on a task, the more they will learn. So it’s not just like we’re piling on the hours because we want to punish them or we think that’s just really what rigorous teaching is. It’s that actually we know you’ll learn more if you spend more time thinking about a text or practicing the problems, as you said, John, that this will help you learn more. So you obviously don’t want to expect so much that they can’t do other things they have to do in their life. So that’s the tension. I think my recommendation always be if you have to have a full-time job, you shouldn’t be a full time student, because that’s like too much work. So thinking about how do we calibrate the courses that students taketo how much time they’re actually able to put into it is really important. So yeah, I do think that that’s happening. It’s not the only thing. Again, I also think there are faculty who probably expect too much as well, because we’re not good at estimating how much time it takes for students to do things. I think Hypothesis is a great example. I use Hypothesis in my class, I love it. If you’re a humanist and you haven’t used, or if you have assigned readings and you haven’t used Hypothesis or Perusall go look it up and find it. It’s pretty amazing. But I think that remembering that, yes, it will make them read. So that’s extra time because they’re actually gonna have to read and they’re gonna have to read carefully enough to have good questions. [LAUGHTER] So they can’t skim it, as you said, John, but then all the time it takes to actually read everybody else’s comments, really remembering that and that’s where I as a newbie to online, that was like an aha moment for me when one of my colleagues who’s an expert in online teaching was like, “It’s not just the time it takes for them to write their own discussion posts, it’s also they have to read everybody else’s. There’s extra reading that’s involved.” It’s not just the text itself, but it’s also reading everybody else’s responses and so putting them in groups where they’re responding to fewer people or reading fewer people is a really useful tool. Again, I think probably all of these hypotheses are going on. And it’s worth us being honest about all of them, instead of saying, “Oh, it’s definitely the students,” or “it’s definitely the faculty,” it’s like we’re all in this together, and let’s figure out how we move forward.

John: A nice thing, perhaps, would be to give students information about how much time these tasks take. And it would be nice if there was a tool for that, [LAUGHTER] which I believe that you have created.

Betsy: So yes, we have a tool that actually we made pre-pandemic. But one thing I want to say, because a lot of people have used this tool, and I think sometimes people use it in ways that are asking you to do more than it was intended to do. And that it is very much an estimator. It is not meant to be a calculator, that is the exact amount of time that your students are going to spend on something. And it’s very broad. It was essentially just something that I was interested in creating as I was thinking about how much work I assign students in terms of reading and writing. And the original version of it is very much tilted towards reading and writing. So oftentimes, we hear from STEM folks like “What about problem sets?” And that’s and that’s just the Wild West in terms of how much time students spend on that, it’s much harder to get a handle on it, so it’s not there. But there are places in this estimator where you can add a new assignment that isn’t captured by reading and writing and just give your own estimates for how much time you think students will spend. And the main value of this estimator, I think, is that I found that many of my colleagues, myself included, are just not good at the head math required, we just keep adding these assignments, and we think we have a good sense, but literally sitting down and writing out like “Okay, they have to go to the library to get the source.” Well, it’s gonna take him some time to walk to the library and walk back&hellip like literally things like that, realizing how much time you’re asking your students, and then adding it up can be really valuable. And I would do it sometimes on the back of an envelope, but it was chaos. And so I thought, why can’t we just have a calculator that does that, So we have an old version of the calculator, we have a new version that my colleagues in online education at Wake Forest, Allen Brown, helped us work on to add in discussion posts and video lectures and other things so that it’s a little bit closer to what asynchronous online courses might involve. And it can be a tool for overall assessment, but also individual assignment assessment of like, how much time might it spend for them to do this type of reading or to do these types of videos. And if you disagree with what the estimator says, my favorite feature of the estimator is, you can manually adjust it. So you don’t have to get in arguments with us. Whatever your own assumptions are, you can go in there and put that in, and you’ll still be surprised with what the total amount is probably, at least I often am, that I’m giving more than I realized and I have to go back and make some hard choices. So hopefully, it’s a useful tool for everyone. But as John, you said, one of the best things about it is that allows us to better communicate with our students about what we’re expecting as well. And we’ve heard from so many students who have found it super helpful in the courses that have done this, both students who are struggling, but also students who are crazy overachievers, and who will spend 20 hours on a one-page paper. It’s a real relief to them. Even if they only spend four hours when they’re supposed to spend one, at least it’s four, and not 20. So it helps them manage their time as well.

Rebecca: One of the things that I’ve done, at least on longer term projects, that has worked really well for me and my students is having them keep a timesheet and asking them to divide out tasks. And I pose it to them so that we’re in the design field. So it’s to help them think about how they might price something in the future, so they know how long it takes them. So that’s how you get the buy in. But what it helps me do is see how long it takes them to do certain things. And realize it’s like, “Why did you spend this amount of time doing this thing that was really not important, as other thing was much more important?” And then you can coach the group on those sorts of things, which can be helpful. And along those same lines, one of the things that I run into, and this may fit more into the idea of problem sets or things like this is how much time students will try to problem solve a technical issue that they just aren’t problem solving in the right way at all. And so they could spend hours trying to do something that if they just asked a question… [LAUGHTER] &hellipit would have taken two minutes.

Betsy: Like ask for directions…. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah, so I’ve been reminding my students, especially since the fall, when we’ve been doing much more online,that, if you’re spending more than 15 minutes trying to solve this technical problem, A. take a break, you’re just going in circles, maybe come back and try again. But if you’re spending much more time than that, then that’s a good clue that you need to ask for help.

Betsy: That’s really smart. And really, I think, super helpful. And I think getting feedback from our students about how much time they’re spending is not just good at the individual level of coaching. It also is great formative feedback for adjusting our own expectations. Again, and it corrects the estimator, maybe you put it in the estimator, and has happened to me too. And I realized&hellip because one of the things about the estimator, it’s best about reading, usually, in terms of its reading estimates, but one of the central insights from the reading literature is that the difficulty of a text is just as much about students’ vocabulary as it is about the text itself. So I would guess “this is a pretty easy text for my second year students at Wake Forest.” And then if they’re all taking a lot longer, what I realized is that actually, I misjudged their familiarity with these concepts that would be in this book. That this book is actually harder than I thought it would be. So I need to up it in terms of the estimator to say “Actually, there are more new concepts than I realized that the students are engaging with and it’s going to take more time.” So asking the students is just as important as you communicating with them. It’s a two-way street for sure to get that formative feedback. I also think telling them about time management and struggling with time management. I’ve seen some really good strategies. I know our learning assistant center, who works with students, has some good counseling that they do with students about how do they create a master syllabus or kind of a calendar for when they’re going to do things. And I also saw somebody, I think, shared it on the POD listserv, but a strategy of creating a Google calendar with basically time slots for all of your activities in your course. And then students import it into their Google Calendar and move those around. So you would set it up like two hours for reading this text. And then they could move it in their calendar. And so that works for them. But they basically see the blocks of time that they need to set aside. And if they did that for every class, it would be even better, they could see “Oh, wow, this is 40 hours in a week, I need to set aside time to do this work.” And frankly, we should be doing that even before the pandemic. But we’re learning this lesson now of how to help our students manage time and due dates, and all of that, because it is a little bit more. And again, I also want to emphasize too, not just all the cognitive load of multiple assignments, but learning new tools also takes time. This is kind of your point about troubleshooting, Rebecca, like, if a student has never used the video function on Canvas, they may find themselves spending 45 minutes trying to get the video function to work, when that’s not in any of our calculations of their assignment. We’re assuming they’re just going to record the video and upload it. So being mindful of the time it takes them to learn a new tool in this scenario is also really important.

John: You mentioned the issue of reading tied to students prior knowledge and vocabulary. But that’s going to vary a lot across students. So I know a lot of people, when they include estimates from the calculator, will say this is an estimate of what this is, your mileage may vary and keep track of how long it takes you to do these things, and use that to adjust your future estimates of the time requirements for these tasks.

Betsy: That’s a nice idea too, to say you students adjust. So that’s really smart. I like that a lot. For sure, it varies across students. And especially, I mean, even thinking about students with disabilities is an even more interesting challenge. And there is an interesting question, I’ve had some good conversations about to what extent, if we’re putting that estimate… the average&hellip in the syllabus does that create problems for students who may be slower, they think that there’s a deficit. So you need to be thinking about how you frame it, I think is really important. And to be up front that saying it is expected and that is the normal course of things that we’ll all have different rates and this is a ballpark average. You can even put a range&hellip might be an idea too&hellip of ballparks there, but recognizing and saying it’s totally understandable that there’ll be jeans taking a different amount of time, because again, prior knowledge, not just ability, it’s all sorts of other things. How often have you read in the past? How often have you worked with technology in the past? Any of these things, they’re gonna make a difference.

Rebecca: One of the things that conversations about perceptions of workload lead me to is I wonder what the perceptions of learning are?

Betsy: Yeah, I think this is a great question. Because when we think about how students got “got by” in the past by doing less work, what they meant by “get by” was successfully complete the course and get the grade that they desired. If we actually ask them about how much they learn, I don’t know. I mean, that’s a really interesting question, would they say, “Oh, well, it takes more to get my A now&hellip” so that’s duplicating the workload&hellip “But, oh, by the way, I’m also learning more.” It’d be interesting to see. I mean, it depends on f the primary issue here is that students doing less work before and now they’re doing all the work we expected of them, then I think you would expect a lot more learning. But there could also be these issues of the pandemic, I’m in crisis, I can’t work as quickly. If those are the issues, or I’m overwhelmed by the multiple assignments, and I can’t keep track, then there may not be as much learning happening. So my guess is there’s probably equal levels of learning, it’s totally a guess. But in other words, that there are challenges to this moment that students learn less. But there are also things that we’re doing better than we have in the past that make up for that. But I hope that we get some good empirical data on some of this and think through it, because I do think that these strategies, while they are more work, are also probably likely to lead to deeper and lasting learning as well, if the students are able to do it. There’s also the challenge of students who just give up, and then get overwhelmed, and they’re just completely behind. And then they have no motivation to even do a little bit. And so we want to be mindful of that too. But if they’re able to keep up, I’m hopeful at least, that these things should, at least from the research, they should lead to more learning, but who knows.

John: In terms of student reaction, though, student perceptions of what’s most effective is often passive learning and repeated reading. Fluency illusion makes it seem that you’ve mastered the material without being confronted with some type of evidence that you really don’t know this stuff quite as well. And that all the techniques that we’re actively encouraging in teaching centers are giving students more feedback more regularly about what they know, and what they don’t know. And that doesn’t feel as good. And there was a study at Harvard about a year and a half or so ago, where they surveyed students on how they perceived their learning, relative to the actual learning gains they receive across both lecture-based classes and classes that relied on active learning. And there have been a lot of such studies where in general, the students believe that active learning is not as effective yet the learning gains tend to be significantly greater. So there is a bit of a disconnect between what students perceive as being effective and what actually is effective, which also can lead to that perception of busy work that you mentioned before?

Betsy: Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. I think, and this would be a whole other podcast you probably all have done all these podcasts thinking about this issue of student perceptions about learning. I think part of it is what they’re used to. There’s a lot of things that are going into helping all of us understand how we learn and what works and what doesn’t work. And so I think there is a hope for us to try to sort of bring them along with us, I guess I would say, I guess the valuable insight from the studies is that we shouldn’t take for granted that if students say they’re not learning, and if they aren’t learning, that we need to recognize that they may be. And so part of our job is to help them understand, with hopefully concrete evidence that we can show them, “Look, you’re actually learning here in significant ways” &hellipto help them understand why we are choosing these approaches. And it’s not just because we don’t want to teach or we’re lazy, or what are other stories people tell about active learning, moving forward. So I think part of the way we bring them along is to also acknowledge that sometimes there may be assignments that are not useful, and that there may be sometimes things that are overly burdensome in terms of time. And so instead of just always being “You’re wrong, students, you’re wrong here, let us tell you how it is,” to say, “Okay, let’s listen to our students” and say, “Actually, that assignment, it took more time than it was worth. And so we’re going to think creatively together about things that will work for you.” But also acknowledging that there’s a long literature on how people learn that should inform it, and not just perceptions that make a difference.

Rebecca: I think when I’ve even asked students about some of those things like “What do you wish you had more of?” &hellipthey do realize that when you have those little assignments to hold them accountable, and help them practice, I had students asking for more. In the fall, I had students saying “We had a few of those, those were helpful. We wish we had more of those.”

Betsy: Yeah, there’s no question. We saw that in our survey, too. And that’s the reality of anytime you do a study, it’s an average. On average, students think they’re learning less, but they’re always going to be students who, “Oh, I’m aware, I’ve seen this happening.” And they’ll be students who sort of totally missed the boat. But yeah, we saw that for sure. We saw students who appreciated the check-ins, but the number one thing that we saw from our students on various questions was that they wanted more opportunities to work with each other, which, normally, they don’t like that. And there’s literature, right? It’s like, “Oh, I want to be taught by a teacher and not my peer.” But in the pandemic moment when they don’t get to connect with their peers, like socially. So our students are back on campus at Wake Forest. But there’s lots of restrictions on what they’re allowed to do with each other socially. So especially for some of our first-year students who hadn’t made friends yet, this was their opportunity. Classroom collaboration was their opportunity to make friends. And so yes, it was tied to their learning. But they also really just appreciated it and said, “I want to be able to work more, they helped me understand the material more.” So they were calling out both the sort of friendship aspect, the social aspect, and saying, “Oh, it helped me feel more confident in the material, because I could ask questions.” So I certainly think it’s not a universal story, that students are upset about these kinds of active learning and small stakes things. But it’s more universal. I think that they feel like there’s a lot more work. And so that’s what’s so interesting. Rarely do you have a finding or experience where so many people are in an agreement about this. And so it’s just such an interesting thing that I have not met a person who said, “I felt like I had less work.” That’s kind of interesting. But there was one student in our survey, I think I quoted this in our blog post, that was really interesting, where she said, “The courses are easier, but they’re emotionally more difficult.” So the online courses are easier, but it’s emotionally more difficult and more difficult to try hard for. One of my hypotheses was that being in a pandemic makes our capacity to work lower. And so I think that’s part of what that person was getting at. Everything feels like more work, even if it’s the same amount of work. And I am guessing that it’s both that and also maybe a little bit more work too, that’s going on, I’m going to be curious to see what happens in the spring. We’re gonna do our survey again. And we did have some interventions where we talked about this, but there’s no mandates about what people are going to do. So we’re going to ask our faculty, again, what they’re doing. And then we’re going to ask our students and see if things got better. And hopefully, that’ll make us understand maybe which hypotheses are more or less likely to be true? Who knows?

Rebecca: If anything, at least, this is something faculty and students all have in common. We all feel like we have more work.

Betsy: Yeah, well, [LAUGHTER] and actually, we didn’t even mention this. And I didn’t mention in my blog post, because it was already too long, is some of this switch to low-stakes assignments also increases the workload for faculty. You don’t have to assess it all, but many of us are just used to that, so we look at everything and grade everything. And so certainly, we heard a lot on our faculty survey of “I cannot sustain this for another semester.” So, this semester, we may find that many of them have shifted back to fewer, larger assignments. So I’m not sure. We just heard some anecdotes, but I could see that happening too, for their own workload sake as well.

John: In addition to the trauma of the pandemic and all the issues associated with that, I believe you also mentioned the fact that many students signed up for face-to-face classes and just being in an online environment is going to make them less happy. And if you’re not as happy in that environment, it’s going to seem like more work.

Betsy: That’s right. Yeah. And this is where I had a throwback to my own time tracking that I did. Maybe five or six years ago, I did time tracking of my own time and I was fascinated because I wasn’t very good at predicting what I was spending my time on. If I didn’t like being in a meeting, I felt like it dragged on and on and on. If I was reading a book that was really exciting. I thought it was like this [finger snap]. But actually, if I went back, “Oh, I was actually spending a lot of time” or even just working on a design project, I would just lose hours staying up till however many hours in the night because it’s exciting to me, it doesn’t feel like work. And so my guess is that there’s some of that going on, too. And I will say in our survey, there was a group of students who were really unhappy with online learning in general, not specific teachers, not specific strategies&hellip that they did not want online. And so those students, obviously, if they had that much anger and sadness about being online, I can’t imagine that they would be excited and enjoying&hellip like, just another 15 minutes of online would be a slog for them, you know, and so I’m sure that things are slower, because they’re not enjoying it, because they didn’t choose it. And I think that’s a really important thing for all of us in higher ed to be thinking about is that, just because there are some students who are unhappy with online right now doesn’t mean that online itself is the problem. It’s partially giving our students autonomy and choice of how they experience their courses. And there are some of our students who just really want to be in person. And those students are probably also the people who really want to be socializing with their friends. And they aren’t getting any of that right now. And so they’re doubly upset, triply upset, like many of us, and that’s not a good position to be in to enjoy your work&hellip the work is really work. I’m sure that some of that’s going on.

John: I spent a decade working on our faculty assembly one semester. [LAUGHTER]

Betsy: I like that. Yeah, there you go. That’s true, right. Sometimes there’s something that just drags on. Time is tricky like that. Some of our students also commented on just sitting in their dorm rooms all day on their computer screen all day, and leaving to get takeout food and coming back. And they’re in singles, often&hellip a lot of them are in singles, because we de-densified our dorms, like it’s just not a great mode of existence. And so anything they can do to get away from the screen, as Rebecca, as you said, that I think is a really valuable strategy for all of us to try to incorporate into our courses.

Rebecca: I’ve noticed this semester, in my classes, I have really good engagement. They’re synchronous online, I can see people contributing. But there’s a lot less camera use this semester than there was even last semester with some of the same students. And maybe it’s the winter slog, “Oh, the winter won’t end.” But it’s just also just being on screen and feeling almost like you’re in performing mode. I think it’s some of that, too. I’d like to turn my screen off sometimes.

Betsy: I was just gonna say that for those of us that are in committee meetings all the time with our colleagues, like we’re still with screens on all day. And yeah, I absolutely think that there’s just an exhaustion and awareness that there’s another semester of this, we don’t know when it’s going to end. &hellipreally tough, certainly.

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

Betsy: Well, if I knew what was next for the fall, I’d be a millionaire right now. Who knows what’s next for the fall? I think that’s the biggest challenge for all of us, as we’re thinking about higher ed, in the near term, at least is what’s going to happen in the fall. But I do think with respect to the topic of this podcast, we often talk about when the pandemic ends. It’s going to be like a trickle, I think. There’s not going to be a sharp ending to it. But whenever we start talking about the future of higher ed in a serious way, I do think there’s going to be a very interesting question about how much do we expect of our students outside of class? And what is an appropriate workload? What is the nature of a credit hour? All of those kinds of questions should be on the table because I know for a fact that many of my faculty, even when they go back to in-person are going to want to keep using the strategies. They’ve read the research that we presented to them this summer, and they see that it’s valuable and that their students are learning and so it’s not as if the workload is going to decrease dramatically, I’m guessing, when we go back to in person, so we may need to have larger conversations about that in higher ed.

Rebecca: Thanks so much for joining us, Betsy. It’s always a pleasure.

Betsy: It was great to be back. I love this podcast. Thanks so much.

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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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181. Capstone Experience

Imagine a course in which the faculty member is a coach who guides students through a real-world project with messy data and the problem-solving that comes with it. In this episode, Dr. Kathryn Berkow joins us to discuss how a course with no content can provide students with a rich learning experience full of analysis and insights. Katy is an Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems at the University of Delaware. She is also the host of the On Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Imagine a course in which the faculty member is a coach who guides students through a real-world project with messy data and the problem-solving that comes with it. In this episode, we explore how a course with no content can provide students with a rich learning experience full of analysis and insights.

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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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Rebecca: Our guest today is Dr. Kathryn Berkow. Katy is an Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems at the University of Delaware. She is also the host of the On Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast. Welcome back, Katy.

Katy: Thanks so much for having me on again.

John: We’re really happy to talk to you again. And our teas today are:

Katy: I’m having a decaf Earl Grey.

Rebecca: …good classic. I’m having a Scottish afternoon tea, which is my new regular.

John: And I am drinking vanilla almond tea. It’s a black tea from the Republic of Tea.

Rebecca: I really like almond teas.

John: This is my first, it was a gift from my son.

Rebecca: So we invited you back Katy to talk about your capstone course that you offer. Can you tell us a little bit about the course?

Katy: Absolutely. I love talking about this class. It’s one of my favorite courses to teach and I teach it every spring. And so having the break in the fall teaching my other courses gives me a lot of renewed energy for this capstone. It’s a senior capstone experience for our business analytics minors in their final semester as they prepare for their next steps after graduation. And the students have a variety of majors and a variety of perspectives in the class. And analytics is only their minor focus. And so in course design I have had, I would say, two influences. I have a colleague who designed a similar capstone for our management information system students that relies on semester long projects with an external sponsor. But also, before coming to the University of Delaware, I worked in the financial services industry as a quant analyst. So I worked through lots of long, larger scale, analytical projects. And so I modeled the course after my colleagues set up quite a bit, but I adapt it from my own professional analytical experiences. So when I first started teaching this course, I shied away from saying what I’m about to say, but now that I’ve seen enough students through the course to know that they learn so much over the course of the semester, I feel very comfortable sharing this: there is no content in this particular course, and I think that’s what makes it so much fun. So we spend the complete semester working on a large scale, real, unwieldy project that is truly representative of the type of projects students will face in their professional careers as data scientists. The students work on the project throughout the semester, they report to me or my co teacher as their manager every week. And we provide feedback on performance, suggestions and resources for how to move forward. When the students are stuck, we’ve usually seen something like that before. And we can brainstorm together how to get unstuck. And sometimes all the students need is confidence that the direction they’re planning to go in is a good one. But because there’s no content, the projects can really unfold and be the focus for all of us throughout the semester, and each student team gets a unique experience. So the two important things that I really want students to know after finishing this course, are: one, that there’s no perfect answer to a complex problem… there are only a degrees of good, better, better than that… when it comes to analytical solutions, which I’m sure is true in so many areas; and number two is that each unique problem needs its own thoughtful solution. We’re not trying to teach students in this class how to think about every problem, just how to think analytically now that they have the analytical tools. Not what to do in every situation, but how to think through each complex new situation they face.

Rebecca: Do students in this class all work on this same project, or do you have small groups working on projects.

Katy: So each student team is working on a project throughout the semester, and this semester, for example, I’ll have 42 students in the class working on nine distinct projects.

Rebecca: Do the students define their own projects, or do you have a predefined project.

Katy: So I create the projects for them with community members. Because there’s no content in the course, the project is the critical design component. So each year, I start getting ready months in advance curating these projects for the semester. In the past, we’ve worked with our own athletics department on a variety of projects, a large retail banking institution, a service provider of home repairs, a few local nonprofit organizations, and lots of others. And so the variety is exciting, because the students all have different interests as well. And I tell these organizations that all I really need from them is a sufficiently challenging research question. I mean, everybody’s got lots of questions, but we have to really hone in on one theme, and then enough data to support finding an answer to that question, perhaps. It’s not been too challenging to get project sponsors interested, because I’m offering free analytics. [LAUGHTER] And so I might contact someone through a friend of a friend and say, “Here’s a few naive questions, I think we might be able to help you answer if you have the data,” and people generally seem excited to have an introductory conversation. So, for example, some of the organizations that we’ve worked with want evidence of program efficacy. They might have survey data or some measurement of before and after metrics on the students or participants in the program. And we can use that data to answer questions. Others have said we want suggestions for how to price the seats in our new stadium which is super open ended and they’ll provide some data about ticket sales, for example, and so it’s a very open ended data-driven question but it’s not standard. And sometimes those non standard questions are even more fun. So I write up a project description after a couple of meetings, discussion, thought with the project sponsor. That might be two to five pages, it’s not a lot of information, and then I get the data into a format that students can work with, which sometimes is me doing nothing to prepare the data. I do want the students to struggle a little bit with formatting the data since data cleaning is a big part of learning to be a successful data analyst, but I provide lightly processed data and a project description to the students as their starting point. So, I ask them what project they’d like to work on after introducing the projects to them on the first day of class and I try to fit students to a project that they’re most interested in, but really sometimes i’m surprised that some projects are more popular than others and it’s not the ones that I expect

John: Paul Handstedt has a book called Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World and what you’re doing sounds very much like what he’s advocating. Giving students really challenging problems where there’s no clear solutions, is a really good way of helping them pull together all the things they’ve learned. So in a sense the content is really everything they’ve done up to the capstone but you’re giving them an opportunity to apply it in ways that they’ll need to, if they’re going to be successful in their career

Katy: Absolutely. Completely. Because I did read that book and really felt inspired and I think I was already doing this style of course at the time, but it made me feel like I was headed in the right direction, that giving students this opportunity to try solving a problem that has no answer and most of the problems they try to solve in their careers don’t already have answers or we’d just be using those existing solutions. And so it is really good practice I think for whatever’s next especially in the field of analytics. Ee don’t know what the technology looks like or the methods are going to look like as we move forward and so they really need to be able to think critically about ethical concerns, methodologies, how to work with their data in a really honest and skilled way that can be applied to lots of wicked problems.

Rebecca: So, it sounds like in a process like this, which sounds similar to kinds of courses that I also teach, you act more as a coach rather than more of a traditional teacher, kind of coaching them along on how to respond to the data, respond to what’s happening in the moment. Is that correct?

Katy: Absolutely, and that’s something that I love about this class. I know a lot of your guests have talked about removing themselves from the sage on the stage position and becoming the coach or cheerleader in an active environment and that is one of the things I love most. When students are excited and driving the questions, I get even more excited to talk about what those answers might look like with them.

Rebecca: Do students have the opportunity to talk to your community partners or is it always through you?

Katy: So we staged the course in three sections and we have three presentations associated. So, the students will get started, spend maybe three weeks or so working with the data, getting to know it, generating some questions and some initial discovery points, and then they’ll present those results to their sponsor. And actually teaching online has been much easier for the project sponsors because they can easily attend presentations and provide feedback. Usually in that first round, the discovery period, the students present something and the sponsor can say, “Oh, let me explain that.” It’s sort of a back and forth where there’s a lot of sort of correcting any misunderstandings or answering questions. Phase two, the students are working toward what I call an initial solution. This solution might be a basic model that makes some assumptions that are maybe not appropriate, but just to get started. And it underscores what I love most about the class which is the idea of iterative solution. Presentation three is going to give them an opportunity to refine the solution, completely abandon what they did for presentation two, or improve it in a way that makes it more realistic, more robust, more an answer to the project sponsor’s research question. So, absolutely, the students get to interact with their project sponsors during those presentations where they are leading the show, they’re having the conversation, they’re hearing the direct feedback as though the project sponsor is their manager in that moment. And then I can sort of serve as a liaison, saying “I think what you’re saying is this,” “maybe we can put that on our to-do list,” and sort of just offering the support to both sides, to help everybody come together for a solution

John: How do you assess the contributions of individual students in the group project?

Katy: This will be the fourth time we offer this class and this has evolved quite a lot. A few things have remained the same. Those presentations I mentioned are a clear part of assessment in the class. But each week, I require that each team submit a status state. And that will be a highly detailed list of achievements toward answering their research questions, and also a list of highly detailed to-dos for the next week. So, even though it’s not a class in project management, they’re getting that scope of accountability for moving their project forward. And I require that each student’s name appear next to achievements, and next to to- do items. And that gives me an opportunity to really see what’s happening. But we also have weekly meetings. The students, instead of meeting in a classroom setting where the entire class is together, I’ll meet with each group for maybe 30 minutes. If they need more time, certainly, we can have an office hours setup. But 30 minutes is usually plenty for us to discuss anything from the status update, for them to get feedback from me, and for me to say things like, “It doesn’t really seem like we’ve done enough this week, what’s going on team?” …just like their manager would say in real life, maybe they haven’t had a chance to have that really, in-person accountability conversation before. The need for that is very rare. Most of the time, I’m saying things like, “Wow, I’m so blown away by what you’ve achieved this week. How can I best assist this week with your to-dos? What do you want to talk about in this meeting?” but those are the three components. I recently transitioned to specifications grading, which has been a ton of fun in this particular class, because the senior students are so independent and really prepared to graduate, that this gives them a lot of flexibility. So I require excellence in answering the research question as the C-level component. So the team grade is the C, do a great job on this project. And then I can add in individual components that will scale toward a B and an A. So for this semester, for example, the students will earn a B if they complete a data ethics module where they have to think and write about some ethical dilemmas in data science. They write reflections on visiting speakers who are analytical professionals that we have come to class via zoom, and they evaluate their own performance. And then to earn an A, I ask that the students take on a particularly challenging component of answering their team research question. And I don’t give a lot of guidance there except to say, discuss it with your instructor so that everybody’s on the same page. So I can help them determine what is sufficiently challenging to be truly deserving of an A, because every project is so different, I don’t want to spell out what they need to do. But an example would be if you’re working toward a C in the class, you could work with a team member to generate a model that answers a particular, say, sub question of your focus. But if you’re working toward an A, you need to be maybe developing that model on your own. The one thing that I do promise students is that there will be no surprises. I know it sounds like there’s some looseness in the specifications. But we’re talking about it every week in our meetings. And if students are not on track to earn that excellence, C-level grade, then they know about it with plenty of time. And I’ve really never had to give students much more motivation than “Hey, I haven’t really seen much from the team this week. Let’s talk about those to-dos for next week.”

Rebecca: It sounds like those meetings are really important in terms of processing learning, not only just moving the project forward, but also just processing “what are they learning?” …and how might they move that forward in the future, not just in their projects? And you also mentioned some sort of self-evaluation or reflection, can you talk a little bit more about that component?

Katy: Oh, sure. At the end of the semester, I ask them to do this performance evaluation of themselves in much the same way that I have to write one in my role and have done in the past. It gives them a little bit of practice self reflecting. I’m not really judging performance based on their performance assessment. I’ve already seen what they’ve done in the meetings. When they speak with confidence about something complicated, I know that they’ve learned a lot. So I really just ask them to be honest, and say, “What do you feel like were your greatest growth points? What do you feel like you still need to work on as you head into a professional role as a data analyst?” And I also ask for feedback about the course. {What were the elements that you felt contributed most to your growth this semester, and what things didn’t contribute anything?”

Rebecca: What have your student responses been to working on these projects.

Katy: So ever since the first time the course was offered, the students have expressed sincere appreciation for the help in making a transition from student to professional. It seems like by the time this course pops up in their schedules, they are really ready to start becoming more independent, and squeezing into a seat in a classroom just doesn’t feel comfortable for them anymore. So they express that this course and other capstones like it that are problem based really give them an opportunity to be in the driver’s seat and have more independence in their senior spring. Many also have said that they’ve learned the skills of analytical thinking, data cleaning, planning, modeling, but now they’re seeing for the first time how those things go together in a sequence and on a complete scale over much more time. This isn’t just a week long project where everything is abbreviated and if they’re going into an analysis role this is going to be what their career is like. So, I couldn’t be happier than to hear those two things. It makes it feel like a success. But, I’d also like to add something really selfish here. I get so much personal fulfillment from teaching students, at any level, but this class really gives me the opportunity to stand back and coach as you said earlier, Rebecca, rather than be that sage on the stage in front of the class with the slides. And I just get so much enjoyment from seeing students take off, watching them steer the ship for the first time, getting their answers. I also teach them at sophomore levels, the intro course, and so i’m lucky enough to see them again at the senior level and just saying that it makes me feel really proud is such a dramatic understatement because seeing them ready to leave the University of Delaware and become professionals… it’s really really fulfilling in a selfish way.

Rebecca: My experience with classes like that, too, is that students really appreciate the opportunity to try out this pretend career for a moment. [LAUGHTER] It’s a safe place to try that rollout and understand where they fit in the bigger picture or what specific role within an area or field might be a good fit for them in a way that an internship doesn’t, because it’s maybe a little more flexible or you have more of that direct contact with the faculty member during that process instead of just in the work environment. I’ve had students that have said that in those scenarios they’ve really appreciated that opportunity to fail without repercussions.

Katy: Yeah that’s a great point. It’s like we’re the coach but we’re also the bumper in the bowling alley… that we’re just trying to keep them on track and rolling forward. And I think what you said is true, especially as I think about what their roles might look like… different positions as data analysts… maybe they’re the best at doing the analysis, building the models, or maybe they’re the best at communicating the results and being the liaison between people who are super analytical and people who are not super analytical. So, this class, just as you said, gives them an opportunity to try on the different hats that might be available and see where they fit best in a comfortable supportive environment.

John: When you mentioned watching your students grow from seeing them as sophomores to seeing them as seniors, I have very much the same experience. I used to teach a wider variety of classes but in recent years, since i’ve been working in the teaching center, I primarily see them just as freshmen in a large intro economics course and then I see them generally as juniors and seniors in any econometrics class and in a capstone course, and seeing the change in them and seeing how they become confident with their material and seeing the work that they’re able to produce is really impressive. It’s a really nice feeling.

Katy: Absolutely and when you’re talking to people from other universities or if you’re talking to a panel during accreditation, it’s really, really nice to be able to speak to the entire scope of the educational process. When you see them one time as sophomores, or even one time as seniors,you only get that point in time feedback, but when you get to see the whole development process it just makes you so proud of what the students are learning and you have just such appreciation for all that your colleagues do along the way as well. It just makes it feel like there’s a symphony happening here and that you can see it much more clearly.

Rebecca: So, Katy, you’ve talked about this is the fourth time you’ve taught it. So, the first two times I believe were in person, then you had a time that started in person that shift out not in person. I imagine this time is remote.

Katy: Absolutely.

Rebecca: So, can you talk about that transition or transformation?

Katy: Sure. Last spring we were in person for five weeks and then we transitioned online and I was actually having one of my group meetings with students when the email came out. So, the email came out announcing that we were closing maybe at like 4:55 and we were meeting at five. So, I corralled the team into my office and I said “What’s going on? Just read it out loud. Let’s get this out in the open.” And it was so helpful for me to see the students processing the information live because I was processing it too but thinking in the way that they were thinking in that moment was so helpful to me. One student, for example, raised this question of “But i’m supposed to be on spring break when they say we’re coming back to school…” And i’m just like “Uh huh, let’s take it one day at a time. this is obviously new information for all of us.” But that’s how she was processing and the next student said “Are we going to not have a graduation?” …and I don’t know the answer to that. I said “Well I don’t know if this is going to be two weeks oor three months or longer, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time.” it was just so fascinating to hear what was happening in their minds. One of the questions that came up was “What’s going to happen in this class?” …like they felt almost more concerned about this class than some of their other ones transitioning online. And I said, “Well that you certainly don’t need to worry about. I feel less concerned about transitioning this particular class online than I do my other ones. Because all we do is have conversations. We have conversations together in this small group, we have conversations as a class where we’re listening to a speaker, and we have conversations with your project sponsors. And we can do all of that on Zoom.” I was lucky enough to have had some experience with Zoom beforehand. And so I just felt really confident that there might be one or two things I had to think through, but that most of the things that we were doing could easily be achieved via Zoom. So it was the other classes that were more, I’ll say, traditional in delivery format that I was worried about. So this, I feel like the students are getting exactly the same experience, they just don’t get to shake their project sponsors hand, which, you know, is a little bit disappointing. The networking component is really nice in person, but it’s not necessary. And I think meeting in these small groups, I still get to know the students just as well, and really can serve in the capacity of whatever they need, whether it’s mentor, thinking about helping them to find a job, or just project mentor, whatever is needed, I can do via zoom, because it’s in this sort of small group protected setting. And so it has been maybe the greatest challenge to transition other courses, not this one. So I really feel good about how this one has transitioned online,

Rebecca: I was shaking my head up and down the whole time you were talking, Katy, because I felt the same way about my project based courses. And in some ways, some of the logistics got so much easier being online. There’s some classes that I do that were project based, for example, our Vote Oswego project that I do with a political science faculty member in the fall, we do things with our classes together, it was so much easier to find a space we could all fit in on Zoom, we could easily get in and have the space to go into small groups without getting too loud. And some of those logistics actually were really fine online. And then even with some other projects that we were doing, having our community partners join us more easily, in a lot of ways, by being on Zoom, rather than having all the logistics of going to campus in person and finding a time that’s going to work, because there’s all the travel time involved and what have you as well.

Katy: Absolutely. One of our visiting speakers comes from Denver every year, just to be with us. She happens to be a graduate of the University of Delaware and loves spending time with our students and giving back in that way. But when I had to call her and say, “Hey, we don’t need you to come all the way to Denver anymore, we’re going to be virtual,” maybe that was a relief. [LAUGHTER] But now it just opens the door. I’ve heard a lot of your guests say it opens the door for so much flexibility in the future to just bring in more voices into the classroom and have an opportunity to learn from just a variety of different people because the commute time is zero now.

John: Going back to your point about students being a little anxious of how the course was going to proceed, I had a very similar experience with my capstone course compared to another more traditional type class. I met with them on the Monday before the shutdown began, and it wasn’t announced and there had been no discussion, at least that I had heard of on campus. But it was pretty clear that campuses all over the world were shutting down. So it was pretty clear we were going to as well. And I said “We should be prepared that this might be our last time meeting in person.” And they said, “Well, what are we going to do? How are we going to keep doing all these meetings and keep going?” And they wanted to make sure the class would be successful. I said, “Well remember how I told you, if you couldn’t be here sometime, you could just come in on Zoom? Well, that’s what we’ll probably be doing in the event of a shutdown.” Most of them had laptops there, I said, “Go to the Zoom website, create an account, [LAUGHTER] just so you’ll have it there, because you may want to create your own sessions for work within your groups.”And they downloaded Zoom to their smartphones and to their laptops. And I said,”Let’s just try connecting and just make sure you mute your microphone so we don’t get any feedback issues.” And they were pretty relaxed about it. And nothing really about the course changed other than the fact that they were meeting over a computer. They were doing all the presentations, they were doing all of their group work in breakout rooms instead of gathering tables around. And actually in a lot of ways it was easier because when they were meeting in small groups in the physical classroom, they were all looking over the shoulders of the people who were actually doing the writing at the time. And it was just so much easier for them just to share the screen and discuss it from wherever they were and have a much clearer view.

Rebecca: I think it’s really interesting that both of you are talking about how concerned the students were about being able to fulfill that particular class or that particular project and I think it really attests to probably their commitment to that project. And Katy, in your case, it might be just because it’s somewhat high stakes, right? There’s a client or a partner involved that you want to satisfy and it feels really satisfying to do real work for real people. And I’ve had this experience as well with community based projects that students just are all in on those kinds of projects, and just don’t want to see them fail at all.

Katy: That’s true. I’ve never had a problem getting students motivated. I told you once in a while, I’ll say like, “What’s happening this week?” and then you hear there were some tests or something like that. But honestly, the students are highly motivated all semester, because they’re getting to interact with those project sponsors during the presentations. And they’re going to be accountable to that person’s face or group of people during the presentation. And so sometimes I worry, as we get closer to the end of senior spring, that students are going to lose their motivation, and it really doesn’t happen. You know, they’re tired by the end, they’re ready to be done with the project, because this might be the longest project they’ve ever worked on. But they really deliver. And they always really impress me, I don’t feel any stress at the end of the semester with grades, because they, number one, they know what’s happening. We’re very clear all semester long about where their grade is headed, but also because they’re driving it. And this is a group of students who’s elected to have a minor in addition to their major studies. And they’re just highly motivated. Most of the class is earning an A by the end because of the excellent work they produce.

Rebecca: Sounds like a really fun class to teach.

Katy: I have so much fun. The hardest part’s the project. Once the projects are made, the rest is easy. I just show up and ask questions.

Rebecca: Mm hmm. I love my projects classes,

John: Is there any type of artifact that the students create that they can share with potential employers as a demonstration of what they’ve learned.

Katy: I would say I always encourage the students to include their project on their resume. But I do ask students to sign a nondisclosure agreements for their project sponsor. Tthat makes everybody feel more comfortable. Sometimes the data is sensitive if it’s got, for example, young children participating in a program, and other small businesses might not want to share their data. And so I have the students sign something. But I tell them, if you’re interviewing, you can certainly describe your involvement in the project in a loose way, you can talk about the specifics of the modeling you did, and how you contributed to the client’s end goals without saying, “Oh, I worked for this specific company.” And they also do create an executive summary. So that’s an artifact. They share their presentation slides, of course, with their customer, and they create an executive summary. But the goal of that artifact is to deliver information to their project sponsor, and not necessarily to serve as a portfolio. When I offer this class in the graduate level, where I have professional students who might be working, I don’t also ask them to work on a project for another organization. They collect their own project from publicly available data, and they generate a description of what the impact they could have studying this publicly available data might be. They create a digital portfolio using a WordPress blog. And then that’s something that they could really share as an artifact. So if it happened to be publicly available data they were studying, then they could certainly share that with a prospective employer.

Rebecca: It’s also a great opportunity at that capstone level to have conversations about the way that the profession works. Whether it’s nondisclosure agreements or copyright or whatever it might be related to what you’re doing. These are important times to have those conversations before the students graduate and move into their professional lives.

Katy: Absolutely. Because the data in our classes is often either… I’ll call it simulated, which is just made up by me, as an example, or some publicly available data that’s already in a nice format. So, it’s good for them to have the exposure to working with data that is just in a different format, because it comes from a different place. Or to see that not every dataset looks the same as the one your teacher might have curated in your sophomore level introductory course,

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

Katy: So Monday is the start of our semester at the University of Delaware. So what’s next for me is diving into nine really exciting projects this semester with our seniors this year. So I’m really excited about that. But for the course overall, there’s going to be a big change coming up. And that is that I mentioned we have minors in business analytics in the course. We recently added a major in business analytics. So I think the exciting thing to look forward to is that we’ll have an even greater mix of students coming up either next spring or the following spring that will include people who have had even more training in analytics during their time in the University of Delaware, and it’ll increase the variety of solutions that we can provide to our project sponsors. So that’s really exciting, as is being part of a growing program. But in addition to that, I’d like to concur with many of your other recent guests who have said that they’re focused on what the future looks like in their classrooms. Certainly what’s next is going to involve some changes. And it seems like there are lots of opportunities to reimagine our courses when we have the option of being in person, but also using the new tools we’ve learned for engagement and flexibility. So in the broader sense of what’s next, I really don’t know, but I’m thinking about it a lot.

John: Our students got an interesting email. For the first time since I’ve been at Oswego, we had about a foot of snow and it was coming down pretty quickly and instead of getting a notice that classes were canceled, they got a note that all classes will take place remotely today. [LAUGHTER] So one change is, I think, for those students who used to look forward to the occasional snow day in upstate New York, those days are probably gone pretty much everywhere.

Rebecca: It’s not just the students that look forward to those days. [LAUGHTER]

Katy: Absolutely, I agree. But you’re right, that’s a big change. And we’re seeing that at the University of Delaware as well, our winter session courses were not affected by snow.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much, Katie, for joining us and sharing other great stories from your classroom. There’s so much to learn from your practice and I’m glad that you were able to join us again.

Katy: Well, thank you so much for having me back. I really enjoy talking with both of you. But also I enjoy learning so much from all the guests that you talk with on your show.

John: And I really enjoy your podcast as well and am looking forward to hearing more episodes. And this sounds like a really great project you have there.

Katy: Thanks so much. Yeah, I hope everyone will check out the On Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast and I’m hoping to put out a second season this spring.

John: And we will share a link to that in the show notes.

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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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180. Google Apps

Cloud-based collaborative software can support active and engaged learning in both synchronous and asynchronous contexts. In this episode, Dr. Kathleen Gradel joins us to explore how a variety of Google apps can facilitate collaborative learning. Kathleen is a Professor in the College of Education at SUNY Fredonia. She is a recipient of a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and a SUNY FACT2 Award for Excellence in Instruction.

Transcript

John: Cloud-based collaborative software can support active and engaged learning in both synchronous and asynchronous contexts. In this episode, we explore how a variety of Google apps can facilitate collaborative 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 Dr. Kathleen Gradel. Kathleen is a Professor in the College of Education at SUNY Fredonia. She is a recipient of a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and a SUNY FACT2 Award for Excellence in Instruction. Welcome, Kathleen.

Kathleen: Hi, John. Hi, Rebecca.

Rebecca: Hi.

John: It’s good to see you again.

Kathleen: It’s good to be here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Kathleen: I am drinking diet pop. That would also indicate where in the country I’m from, because I’ve just called it pop.

Rebecca: I picked right up on that, Kathleen.

John: …and I am drinking Spring Cherry green tea. As we’re surrounded by about a foot and a half of snow, I figured the spring cherry would be a nice mood to set here.

Rebecca: When you said it, I was like, you need to dial that up a little. [LAUGHTER] I have my Scottish afternoon tea in my T-rex mug because I need it today.

John: And Rebecca is holding up the T-rex mug by the microphone so you can all see it.

Rebecca: Yeah, it was for you guys.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about some of the ways you’ve been using Google Apps in your classes. In a prior discussion, you recently mentioned that you were using the new Google assignment tool, which now has LTI integration into learning management systems. Could you tell us a little bit about the Google assignment tool? …because that was new to us.

Kathleen: For Google Classroom aficionados, it’s still fairly new. But it was a feature that the classroom people just totally glommed on to. And it gave a whole lot of functionality for distribution of assignments and built- in feedback, which was inherent to the classroom kind of stream, but added a little more LMS-ish stuff to the Google Classroom. So now it’s available to the rest of us. I saw an announcement early on that it was coming. And I was, “Oh, this is so exciting.” And I sent the request to our LMS administrator, I usually get a “Oh, no, that’s not going to work or won’t work yet or won’t work now,” but because it’s considered part of the education suite, the first answer was not “No.” So that was great. Because it already existed in Classroom and Classroom was part of our education apps suite. It looked like a possible. And then the second thing is, but usually these integrations don’t work very smoothly. And they tried it and I, of course, was the guinea pig. How exciting. And my first reaction was, “Oh, no, it’s not working.” And I’ll explain to you that the one glitch that I see happening with it, but this is what it does: it automatically, especially in our LMSs, if you had a template of something in a Google Doc, and wanted to distribute it, one copy to each recipient, each participant, each student, you could do it any number of ways. But it’s not a simple click, it wouldn’t work that way within most of our LMSs either. We’re in Moodle, you’re in Blackboard. So we’d have to think about how do we get that template out to students, so they could use it and then submit it as a “assignment” within our LMSs. So when I share this with faculty, they went like this: “this is like magic.” And I said, “Yeah, it does feel like magic.” So what happens is, once the integration is there, depending on the name of whatever your resources or activities are in your LMS, you add it. And then in the background, you have your instance, whatever your assignment is, it could be a table that students fill out, it could be writing prompts, it could be almost anything. And as soon as you click to distribute it, it goes out to everyone who is in that section of your LMS without you’re doing anything. When they open it, it automatically renames it using their name, whatever name they have in your LMS and it becomes editable by them. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, I certainly have, people don’t rename their files. And then they forget how to share them to you when they’re ready to share their wonderful work. So what happens is the student or whomever interacts with their own doc, they click to submit it, in the little assignment screen. And then they’re actually asked to click “Submit” twice. As soon as they do that, they no longer have editing rights to that doc. You then automatically get it and have commenting and editing writes to the doc. They don’t have to share it with you, which is usually the downside for using Google Docs. My experience with students is they forget to do that. So there’s always that extra, “please share it with me: or whatever. So it eases the distribution part. And it’s almost like playing take a turn or play tennis. So it’s my serve, your serve, my serve, your serve. So as soon as I serve it to them, they then get it and I don’t interact with it till they send it back to me. So It really does feel like ping pong or tennis. My husband says I’m horrible at both. But I’m pretty good at this, because I get a signal that it’s in there by taking a look at my assignment in the LMS. They also, as soon as I give feedback, get an email reminder. And it appears in their dashboard as graded or they’ve gotten feedback. So that whole back and forth thing that happens, with practice, it works well. To gear somebody up to that level, often, that exchange sometimes takes a few extra steps. So I love that. The other piece that is really cool is it has a built in commenting. So I can create boilerplate, g eneral kinds of feedback, click on it, and then it will paste it right into a commenting bubble in my Google Doc. So if you’re like me, I have a lot of instances of where I go like this. “Could you give me an example of that?” or “Great start, can you finish this item?” Those common ones, I can put them right into individual feedback. And I can also use it for overall feedback. And I can grade with it, I can grade as well as give feedback within it. And, at least in Moodle, the integration ties right into the gradebook.

Rebecca: Now you’re talking magic. [LAUGHTER]

Kathleen: So for formative stuff, it makes all kinds of sense as most any interaction in a Google Doc would be, because we thrive on that. However, if I want to give them 10 points for that instance, and offer them opportunities to upgrade, it feels like a very natural prompt.

Rebecca: There’s a built in rubric option as well, right?

Kathleen: You’re right, Rebecca, yeah, you can either import one, or you can create one right within the assignment. So I think from the instructor side, or from the facilitator side, the ease of use is dramatic, especially if we want to keep students not thinking they’re in a different world because they’re in Google versus the LMS. So because it launches so well from the LMS, and because they’re actually viewing what I call their dashboard, but the view of the activity is embedded right within your LMS. It doesn’t just look like an external link sitting there that they will click to go to Google Drive. So it has that look and feel of just being part of it, which I think is a piece that sometimes helps ground students in thinking, “Okay, you want me to be in Moodle? Here I am. Oh, no, you’re setting me to Google Drive.” And so keeping that focus, I think. is helpful for both of us, the instructor and the students. We’re experimenting with how it would work with groups set up in the LMS, and distributing to groups. One of our biology instructors is is playing around with it, and one of our business people is experimenting with using one single assignment for the entire semester as a reflective journal. So what she’s doing is creating what would be a template, which has virtually nothing in it, just their name, and the name of the assignment is in the Google Doc. And then she’s providing weekly writing prompts within the LMS. This week’s reflective journal writing prompts are these three questions. So she’s not putting them into the Google Doc, she’s asking them to bring them over. And then they’ve done the first one already. They add their input, they click to submit, she gives them feedback, and then because of this really cool feature is able to change the grade within the assignment itself. So initially, the first assignment was 10 points, when she goes back into grade, she can actually grade the second week and up the points to 20. And give them both feedback and their cumulative grade right there. So she has a good pedagogical reason to do this, because she wants them to like in week three, go back, “Okay, now look at what you were thinking in week one. Let’s reflect on that, and see where you stand with that same thing.” So she doesn’t want to have to have them go refer to different docs. And I said that iterative use of a doc is “Oh, wow, super duper.” It’s great that this tool can help her to do that. And they’re not having to submit one after another after another.

John: If students are engaged in large writing projects, it sounds like that could be used to scaffold the project too, where instead of submitting things in stages, they’re just building it as they go at each stage, when they add more to the document.

Kathleen: Right. And a lot of us do have that submit your idea, then come back and do a elevator talk, five bullet points, and then come back and do an intro piece. I think you have to be strategic about where does that sit in the LMS. So that’s one thing that this business professor has thought about is, rather than embedding it into one week, or one module, she’s taken that assignment, she’s put it in our Moodle at the top in a separate section that she set up as common assignments, so that they know to go there to get it not to the particular week. So I think thinking about where it’s going to fit. Because it’s a unique bird.

John: I could see that working with Google docs, could it also work with Google sheets or Google Slides as the base document?

Kathleen: Yes, one of our math instructors is going to do it with this sheet. Now, when we first introduced this, only about a month ago, I tried it out with my graduate class in the fall, a group of people that were I would say, not technically very savvy,and very distracted because they are graduate students, and they’re working and they’re worried and everything else. So adopting a new tool is not their cup of tea. So I tried it with them, and they didn’t miss a beat. When we introduced it to the campus, some of the questions were, “What would be the right Google tool to use with this?” And it was such a wonderful discussion, because we really have some good decision making about “Well, what is the right thing to do? Did you really want to share that whole Google Sheet with everyone? Did you really want them to have their own? Did you really want to collect data, put it into a viewable Google Sheet, rather than whatever?” So teasing through some of those: “What do I want to do? How do I want to do it? And why? With what level of access?” That was a very, very healthy discussion. Ultimately, you start with the end in mind, what do you want to end with? Do I really want an individual something coming in from every student? If I don’t, then maybe this is not the right choice. For example, I can still easily share templates with groups of students or with students by just posting a forced copy link, and have them make a copy and do the routine kind of sharing. It really depends on how I want to use the activity.

John: For those who are not familiar with that really powerful forced copy link, could you just explain to people how they might do that with the share link that they might otherwise have view or edit or comment access on?

Kathleen: This is where you have to buckle your seatbelts because it’s always done better visually, John. So, let’s see how good I am at painting a picture. So I always say, look up at your browser window, when you have your Google doc open, look at your omni bar. And then you see that very long, long, long series of letters and everything else that is the url for that Google doc. When you look at it and go all the way to the right, you’ll see that the last four letters, this is where four letter words really come in handy. The last four letters in that string, are e-d-i-t, edit. So what you want to do is put your little mouse at the very, very end, by the T, and delete those four letters, replace it with this four letter word, copy, c-o-p-y. So then you take that, I usually just take it, do a Ctrl-C (copy). I open up a new tab to make sure it works. And I paste it in there. And when I do that, automatically a screen pops up that says “Do you want to make a copy of this, blah, blah, blah, whatever the name of the doc is, or whatever it is doc, slide deck, whatever.” And when you click to do that, it makes an automatic copy of whatever that original looked like. And then what I usually do is I shorten it. So I take it to bit.ly or one of the other shorteners. And I don’t have to do that, but then it makes it a little bit easier if I’m actually going to display it. One caution to that is, if you’re dealing with teacher educators whose internet service is delivered through most of our regional BOCES, the BOCES do not like short urls, because they will actually ask you to plunk it into their lengthener, because they want to make sure that they’re not being sent to somewhere that is not as desirable. They want to be able to see where they’re going. So for some of our teacher educators, we say, “Just a reminder, you’re not getting somewhere and it says we don’t like short urls, blah, blah, blah.” The forced Copy Link, though, I can’t tell you how many people have said, “You have changed my life.”

John: I used that just this past Monday night in a class to give students a template for a document that we’re working on. And they would just kind of amazed by that. They asked how they could do that, because it was a really nice technique.

Rebecca: What you’re describing Kathleen are so many things that I’ve done in my classes that the workflow would be much easier. I was just doing an assignment this semester with my students where they’re doing an online digital sketchbook really using Google Slides. And the first assignment is “Give me your URL.” I have to make sure I have commoent privileges, and then you have to resubmit it if I don’t. And then the next week now we actually start the sketchbook. So each time it was an assignment, and I have them just resubmit the same URL each time in the LMS. But this workflow that you’re describing would be much more efficient. And I’m sure there’s many other examples where that workflow would make sense as well. So that’s really exciting to me. Are there some barriers that students face [LAUGHTER] or that faculty face using this technique that we should be aware of?

Kathleen: I’ve run into a couple of things. Number one, this does not feel like Google for people that are or Google people. People that have glommed onto Google, and they know the things that Google will do, this feels like it can’t be working in the LMS, I can click and go to Google and do all those things I would want to do. So, there literally is I’m not sure this is working. The other thing we’ve experienced, regardless of being hardwired or on WiFi, is when you click to submit, there is a delay. When you click to access, there’s a slight delay. And so when I’m presenting on this, I say something like this, “Remember, it’s magic. And sometimes it takes a second or two for the magic to work. So we’re all going to cross our fingers.” And by then it’s loaded. I think it is just the crossover between the LMS and Google world that’s happening, and all the scripting behind it. So that’s the one piece, because with some of our click happy people, it may not feel as fluent as they want it to be. The other thing we’re running into is students are reporting that they can’t see where to click to submit. So right now, there are very few examples of Google assignments, the standalone version out there. As far as demo videos, most of them are how this works in Google Classroom. So if you’re trying to use a ready made demo video, rather than creating your own, there are not many instances of it. I think the problem is that people don’t have their viewing window wide enough or deep enough and they’re just missing the bottom of the screen and they’re looking for a place to submit. It uses an iconic blue button to submit but then it also resorts, and we’ve all seen this in Google, that little blue link button, and you have to click twice: the blue button and then the blue link. So I think those are things that probably they’ll fix as time goes on. I think they’re getting used to this not living in classroom, because that doesn’t exist in classroom. So those are the two things that we’ve seen so far.

Rebecca: It sounds like some of the same problems that students may already face using an LMS across screen sizes, because they’re not fully responsive in terms of design in working in different browser window sizes. That’s a problem that I think students face regularly on different screen sizes with our LMSs. I face it as an instructor in Blackboard all the time, where I have multiple screens open. So I have one that I’m grading kind of narrow and I also can’t find the submit button because I have to scroll to get to it.

Kathleen: Now, I don’t think those are horrible things to deal with. And I also think those are good things for users to learn. Because this is not the only time they’re going to run into it, as you point out. So I don’t mind getting through those hurdles. The other hurdle is this. I don’t know about your campus, but ours, even though we’ve been at Google campus since way back when, getting help from our ITS folks, as wonderful as they are getting help on the Google side, especially on something as new as this tool… not there. So the students end up asking the instructor, which I think is great, because our early adopters are hitting on it, are playing with it, whatever. But a more naive instructor may assume that students can get the help that they need, not just about this app, but plenty of the Google stuff. There’s help at Google. But because it’s pretty new, not the depth and breadth of help that would exist, will exist probably, in just three months from now.

John: Several years back, I think it was about six or seven years ago, I was teaching a collaborative course with someone in Mexico where we had students from Oswego working with students from Mexico. And they were collaborating by using shared Google documents. And one of the things that the students universally at the end of the course said is that one thing I’m taking away from this is how easy it is to work with other people either synchronously or asynchronously when you have these shared documents. Could you talk a little bit about some of the ways in which Google facilitates collaborative work?

Kathleen: First of all, I have to admit, I never use the Google search tool. DuckDuck is my favorite, because I don’t have to worry about ads being generated based on what I search for. So I love everything else about Google, though. And that’s the primary thing, which is ease of collaboration, whether it is a small group, a larger group, or just the student and me. I’ll give you a couple of examples. So with our freshmen, I was involved in the relaunch of our freshman seminar until we grew it enough so that it would be embedded in all the majors. And most of the students came in and said: “Yay, we’re Google.”

Kathleen: I think they really thought the search engine, and some of them had used Google d ocs before, but primarily, for example, to do their senior paper. So they could go back, it was automatically saved. They knew those features. They didn’t know a lot of the other features, including looking at feedback, using the feedback, and making changes in their work, whether the feedback came from a friend, someone in a study group, or their instructor. So what I often try to do is tease students into the value of using that input within slides, within a Google Doc, for the greater good… for either the good of the group or the good of their own selves or to earn the grade they want. So, from an academic perspective, having something where you get a chance to basically brainstorm live with other people doing something is very cool within the safety of a zone. So I was never a basketball player, I was always a manager. The joy of zone defense is that we have a canvas, and we have a canvas that is going to automatically capture all of the things that we think about. When you think about Google that way, for me, it opens up the world beyond “what do we just say in this last two little seconds that just evaporated into thin air?” So I can capture a whole lot of things in a Google something that is our joint work, including chat, including commenting, including live edits, if that makes sense and if I’ve given people permission to do it. So I usually started with the freshmen using Google Slides, because the zone is very limited. Everybody gets a slide, or three slides. But they’re there’s until we say, “Okay, now, we want you to go in and look at the next person’s which is the next slide, and use the commenting tool to plus them or to ask them where they got that image or whatever.” So teaching them some reasonable conventions around academic collaboration and sharing made so much sense within the Google environment because it was kind of controlled, and it was within a zone. And the way that we did that is by having them build their own memes. And that’s a feature that I wanted to talk with you about as well, because Google has changed their mindset about how the Explore tool which is a built-in find it and use it kind of research tool within Google. When I search for an image within a Google slide, right within the slide, and I bring it into the slide, my choices of images will only be Creative Commons licensed images, images that are licensed for some level of reuse. For me, this is a way to ease in, to scaffold students into, some very complex digital literacy concerns that I want them to get acquainted with, but not become masterful at initially. So I said, “So freshman year, we need to build some memes for next year’s class: ‘How do you survive freshman year? What’s the first-year student gonna do?’” Well, the first thing they did, 99% of them was leave the slide deck, go out to the big world of Google search, bring in images of athletes that were licensed, of the minions which are licensed, of Disney which are licensed and they put them in there. And I thought this is exactly what I wanted to happen. They didn’t follow directions. That was okay. So the prompt for their peers was to go in to their friend’s slide and ask them: “Where did you get this image? And can you make sure you put the link to it in the speaker notes underneath the canvas of the slide?” And then we darkened our screens, and we talked about it. I said, “Where did everybody find it?” Well, they googled, you know, blah, blah, blah… Well, hmmm… let’s pull up some of them. So, give me one. And I would say, “Oh, quick close the door, because the Disney cops may come and get us. What are we going to do with this one? Mickey Mouse? Minnie Mouse? I love them to death. These are licensed images, you have to pay to use them. Alright, give me another one.” I did a few together. And I said, let’s go back to the drawing board and take a look at what you found and talk to each other. Where did you get them? Now let’s try another way. So let’s go in, insert the image from within the slide deck. Now go to your friend, show them what you did, go to the image itself and let’s take a look at the license. Now most of my students were like this: “Why are you doing this to us” initially? Three weeks later, we have some new people join our class. And I said the main thing, “Can you help our new students understand how you got that license and confidence that the Disney cops or the whatever cops aren’t gonna come and get you and we are being good digital citizens. And we did it by putting our heads together, collaborating. They were like this, “You won’t believe what we did.” They explained it. Now, the first hit on it was very, very, very problematic. Because they had always done that. They always just searched in Google. So I was trying to capitalize on the Google tools, which is feedback within the slide deck. And also ways to then go back and use that feedback and say, “Oh, I did it. Now I can resolve it.” That practice of using the feedback to inform your practice and then get rid of the prompt but I know I can open it up again. So for me that’s a learning process. So that’s an example of using the slides where the canvas is limited, but the potential is great. So it doesn’t have to be a picture. And lots of times I asked students to build things using, for example, Google Slides to create content that the course then uses. So they end up with a joint product that they’ve each contributed to. But they each get authorship, ‘cause I make sure that they put their names and then I will often ask, “Let’s look at the licenses, which license do you want to pick for our products? Do you want to pick one that people can use this and change it, use it just period, use it and make money off of it?” “Oh, no they shouldn’t make money.” But that kind of process where they build together and then we use it for a purpose is so easy with some of the Google tools.

Rebecca: I love that you’ve described this iterative process of learning how to give and receive feedback and use the different collaborative tools in Google because I think we tend to just assume that our colleagues and our students know how to collaborate with us in these digital environments. But we often need to introduce how and that there are different ways: you can use the suggest mode, you can use the comment tool, you can type right in. So I love that you have such clear boundaries and scaffold them through that process. I found the same thing to be really important in the work that I’ve done with my students, and copyright… it’s so important in the design world, in what I’m doing, so we do some very similar kinds of exercises, thinking about this copyright piece of it too.

Kathleen: And the live chat piece can be very helpful. A lot of students will say, “I don’t really want to come to your office hours, but can you visit me in my doc? Can you take a look at my doc?” And I’ll say, “Absolutely. Want to join me there during office hours?” Well, they’re not attending office hours, they’re in their doc. So we go in, and I will do commenting for different purpose. But I’ll open up the chat stream, which they’re of course way familiar with. I’m almost 70. They’re totally into chat, not necessarily with their instructor. So I’ve had some interesting conversations within docs and within slide decks, sometimes I’ll be in there and I’ll be chatting and somebody will say, “Can you believe all the hard work we have to do in this class?” And another student will say, “Hey, Gradlel’s here.” [LAUGHTER] It’s kind of interesting to use the things for the purpose that you want them to be used at that time.

John: One of the things I’ve been doing with group work in synchronous classes is I’ve been sending them to breakout rooms, and creating a Google slide deck and assigning them to create something, often something different on each slide for each group. But the nice thing about it is, while they’re in the breakout rooms, I can have the slides open with a panel on the side, and I can see which groups are working and which groups aren’t. And then I can choose to go visit them just to check to see how it’s going. And sometimes they’re talking about something entirely different. Sometimes they’re actively discussing it and just haven’t put anything down yet. But it’s a nice way of monitoring what’s happening in the breakout rooms in real time, especially for things that might take a little bit longer. And that’s another really nice feature about doing this in a synchronous online class.

Kathleen: That’s a really good example. And I bet, John, you do this before you start something as serious as that, is make sure the introduce that practice in a lesser valence activity, I find that the middle school person in all of us comes out, when we’re first acquainted with the thing, like I’m going to go in and change the font to all pink on your slide and see what you do. So I’ve seen a lot of that. So that zone defense conventions or whatever is important to get them underway with it. I think your example is a great one, starting things out synchronously, and then building on it asynchronously where you can actually capitalize on individual contributions, as well as group contributions is an important thing for them to learn using the tools. So respecting who’s done what, when, where that thing is in the learning curve, and where my contribution is, and taking ownership of making it the best it can be, taking feedback to fix it or whatever. So, I think that is a great example.

Rebecca: I think one of the things related to that, Kathleen, that I’ve shared with students that they’ve been amazed by is that you can see the history of a document. They just have no idea. How did you magically know that I was the one that did X? [LAUGHTER]

Kathleen: Right.

Rebecca: So you know, you can capitalize on the magic of that initially to just know who’s doing what, but just so that they can see especially if they’re collaborating in a small group, they can see what’s happened since last time they were in the document can be really helpful.

Kathleen: We have, in education, we have a literacy technology class, which is kind of laughable because that should be embedded in every class, but I teach it. They will be in small groups to do certain products. And I point out the ways that I will know and they will know how they have met the accountabilities by both the setup of the Google doc where I asked people to do a visible initial for some of their contributions and I show them the revision history and I also ask them to do constructive peer reviews of different sections. So we have the comment stream working. And so all those things, when you think about it, can fit so well into that learning cycle that we often have difficulty capturing when we’re not in a tool like a Google doc. So all of those things, I think it’s so important for them to learn that there are things that are going to help them work with other people, be responsible, and end up with a product that they can share of theirs and/or others, and then correctly attribute the work. So I think it’s that “got to do it 21 times until you get kind of good at it.” So we have a lot of opportunity in a regular length semester to do that, using various tools. The other thing that happens with at least my students is they think it is just tool specific. And that is what is a really nice feature of a lot of our Google stuff is the actions are very similar across the different things. So across sheets, across slides, across docs, the basic actions, commenting, making copies of, and finding out who did what, those are all the same kinds of things, even though they look different.

Rebecca: in my classes this semester… and I did this last semester, too… I invited students to use the comment tool on my syllabus, which I provided as a Google doc. And that was really interesting. And I encouraged them to ask questions about things on the syllabus or indicate things that they were excited about. And there was a healthy mix of both. I told them that they had to make a comment. So it was a healthy mix of students making positive comments about things they were excited about, as well as asking rich questions by requiring them to make a comment of some sort. If they didn’t have a question, they had to provide something. And what’s been really interesting is that they seem to think that that’s still an open invitation, which is great, I’m still engaging, I get the notifications, little questions come up about assignments, as things become more relevant to them as the semester has been going on, which has been really interesting to continuing to have a conversation about the course. But that was one way that I introduced commenting as a way of using this collaborative environment from day one. And it’s worked really well.

Kathleen: And it also showed the value of joint thinking around something that kind of looked like a finished product. Because our syllabi did look pretty finished. I think that piece too is kind of underneath the surface and showed how brave you were too, Rebecca. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Well, I also know that, since the pandemic, I’m even more aware of how quickly things can shift and change. But in the kinds of classes that I teach, I tend to be really responsive to where students are at. And so what’s on the schedule may very well change. And so I just keep it up to date. And I use the syllabus as the place to do that. So everyone has a complete copy of what we’re doing. So it is something that’s regularly revised, at least parts of it.

John: I know a number of our faculty have moved to a liquid syllabus approach where they’re creating a website and letting students know that it will be revised based on circumstances and based on how things are going, where they’re asking students regularly for feedback. And certainly putting it in a Google doc is a good way of doing that.

Rebecca: My advanced students this semester, through our brainstorm process. decided they were all going to work together on a project. And so that really kind of threw some things in my syllabus out the window, because the structure I had in place wasn’t gonna work for that. I was open to their idea. So now we’ve had to go in and edit and adjust as a result of their proposal. But I think it’ll be a really exciting opportunity for those students.

Kathleen: One group of honors students a couple of years ago… and our Honors Program is across years. So I had freshmen all the way to seniors. And I asked them to construct the syllabus. And there were 15 students in the class… 15, 17… something like that. And I just set them at it, because we were going to use a project-based learning approach anyhow in the course. And I wanted an assessment of what our baseline was. Thank goodness for Google docs. However, what they did is they created their own, they divided into little groups on their own, then they created separate Google docs, and then had this problem of how do we merge them. And I was very, very happy to see them using Google docs in their small groups so efficiently. And it gave great context, as we got to the point of how do we make this into one, not only by building consensus, but also creating a joint product that now is that five armed tree octopus. How do we do that? So it was perfect. It was a whole course on digital literacy and digital growth, so it was a perfect baseline. And we couldn’t have done it without Google. There’s one other kind of hint or maybe pandemic smart suggestion related to Google, and I’m not sure that this is possible on all campuses… I know it’s possible within your own private instance of Google… is turning offline mode on. Notice I said that slowly so I didn’t trip over all the words. Having the ability to work on a doc that sits on my stream on my home computer and then sync back to drive as soon as I log back on, I have found to be a very powerful solution given just people’s reality of being able to access and fight for bandwidth at home and wherever they are. Our campus took a long time to turn that on.

John: I actually don’t know if it’s available here, because I have it turned on on my personal account. And I’m prevented from doing it on the other, I think it may be turned off at our campus, I’m not positive,

Rebecca: I have it turned on on my app. But I don’t know if that’s different for my campus account

Kathleen: Before we started the actual podcast where we’re talking about some of the challenges with respect to Google on our higher ed campuses. And that would be one is taking a feature that has a whole lot of potential functionality, and convincing whoever it is you need to convince on your campus that that needs to be toggled on, and the rationale for it. I think it took a very, very long time. And then when they turned it on, they didn’t tell anyone.

Rebecca: Well, the big rationale there is the word equity.

Kathleen: Yeah. and then, thankfully, they had done it before the pandemic hit. And the reason I’m saying thankfully, is because there was a sufficient, let’s call it herd mentality, not herd immunity, herd mentality, so the people could help each other in the absence of direct support from an already overstretched IT department. So the more we have little worker bees around able to do things and help each other, I think the better off we are. So, there were enough people that had turned certain things on, not turned other things on, and their fear, rightly so, is that the floodgates would open and the individual user wouldn’t know to not do that, and then have everything on their local drive rather than up in Google. So that’s a piece, though, that I have found to be very helpful, especially when I get students in our area. Well, you’re remote, too, you’ve a lot of rural areas. We have folks that literally have very limited stable internet access. So let’s recognize that, and then it doesn’t mean that you can’t still work, you can’t do certain things, but you can resync when you get back on.

John: And whether that’s enabled on your campus or not, you do have that option with mobile devices, and many of our students are working with mobile devices. I used to use that when I was traveling. And I might not have network access if I was on a plane or if I was on a train, or just in a place where there was a dead zone, and it’s really convenient. We’ve talked a little bit about using Google slides and Google docs. But one tool that both Rebecca and I use quite a bit is Google forms. One of the nice things I like about forms is when you’re having students submit a variety of things, they automatically get stored in a folder, and you can share the spreadsheet created back with the whole class, so they all have access to the work of the rest of the class in a really convenient format, without ending ability. Could you talk a little bit about some of the ways in which Google forms might be used effectively?

Kathleen: Well, I like your idea, especially when people are doing independent or small group projects that are housed in Google. Actually, they could be housed anywhere, let’s pretend they were doing padlets or anything else that generated a url. Just by collecting those through a Google form, the work is done for you. It’s done for them. As soon as they submit, it’s done for you. And then you have your master spreadsheet, which you can then easily adapt. So you can either share the whole thing with them to view or filter certain data out of the spreadsheet or make instances of it so that different groups can use different things. Again, have in mind, what do you want to end up with, and what level of access do you want students to have. So if anyone wants to collect joint data on anything, don’t share the spreadsheet with more than two people that you trust.

John: Specifically, the way I used it was I have students doing a podcast project and they submit their audio file, they submit a transcript, they submit an abstract. And also they answer a question about whether they want it posted publicly or not. So all the podcasts are shared within the class, but only some of them make it out into the rest of the world. And it’s their choice. And sometimes students will have multiple submissions, because they may have a few drafts with feedback. And I’ll just delete any first drafts of that and then make a copy of the spreadsheet and share that with the whole class, where that way they can get all that information from all the students either on individual pages or in just the spreadsheet itself.

Kathleen: Right. So the more complex the contribution, the more forms is a tool of choice. I also use it as a hook. So we think of forms as a survey tool. It actually has a quiz function built into it now. Originally, it didn’t. On a broader scale, though, just finding out what people know before they step into new content can help them get grounded: “Oh, I’m not the only one who does or doesn’t know this stuff or has done this stuff before” So, it can ground them. Most essentially, for us as instructors. It can drive what we end up doing the next class or for the final assignment or whatever. Ad I also think that we need lots of opportunities for students to take a look at what are the data telling us, regardless of whatever topic it is. So I will often create a Google form where they, at the beginning of a synchronous class, or even before coming to class, or in an online class or remote class that may tease into “what’s your experience with this? And what’s your favorite thing, or whatever the thing is.” And I usually start with easy things like “what’s your favorite app, and why?” Because they always want to tell, and then it’s the data are all collected automatically. And in Google forms, I don’t even have to go to the spreadsheet, the beautiful charts are automatically created. So I can actually, without anything, just click, show them, or I can share it so they can see, especially if I have made sure to not ask for students’ names. And we can use that as a pivot to what we’re going to do next. So that piece in that learning cycle… before, during, after… it’s perfect for things like muddiest point, like “What was the thing that was most confusing about this class?” Instead of having just a conversation, even though we may have a conversation, that’d be something visual that people can look at and say, “Wow, most people’s said the most confusing thing were my directions. Let me work on that. What would have helped?” I think there’s also this thing of, we’re asking people to put skin in the game. And that’s part of my whole mindset, I want you to put skin in the game during… I will too. I’m also going to listen to you. And here is an example of how I’m going to do it. So forms has been my favorite tool for that purpose. I’m also showing them they can use it in different ways, not just as a quiz, not just as a collector, but also as a way to gather information and then use the information for certain things. Do I have students create quizzes using Google forms? Yes, I do. If they’re going to build content, they’re going to want to know what their content users think of it, or what they learned from it. So instead of going to an external tool, I will usually drive them right back to Google to do it. Google forms is one of my favorite go-tos. And most students have used it.

Rebecca: I’ve used it a lot for self assessment, as well, for students, there’s a lot of great opportunity for scales and things like that, as they’re looking at their own work. Or in my advanced classes, where we run more like a design studio, I have them do like little performance reviews at different points of the semester to kind of mimic what the professional world might be like. And that’s worked really well. It gives me a great way of seeing where everybody’s at all at once at a quick glance, I can have one-on-one meetings with students. They also have like a little checklist of things to be paying attention to. So it works on a lot of different levels. So I found that to be really particularly useful. We use it for accessibility purposes for the work that our students design with a little checklist and going through and checking each thing and marking whether or not it passes certain tests as a self check before they submit their work.

Kathleen: That’s very nice. For my online classes, I use a holistic rubric. And I just use a scale function in Google forms. That is the last thing they do at the end of the module, they self assess on our five criteria that I use across every single module. And I ask them to point out the things that they think they really did well on, the things that they ran into as problems, and how they tried to address those problems. Then I use that information when I give them feedback. I also want them to get in that process like you… self reflection, we’re gonna live and die by it as we go forward. So again, that practice, and your right, forms is the way to do it.

John: And you mentioned the muddiest point, I often will use that generally as some sort of an exit ticket at the end of the class. But, a nice thing about using that is, if you teach a large class, as I used to a decade or so ago before the pandemic began, where I didn’t want to get students turning in three or four hundred sheets of paper for me to scan through, you can just put up the form with a QR code on the screen or a bitly, a short URL that they can type in, they can do it right from their mobile device. And it just takes a couple minutes. And you can quickly scan through the spreadsheet just to see what sort of patterns there are. And you can then address that the next time the class meets and it allows you to scale that technique to a larger level without putting a lot more work on yourself or on the students.

Kathleen: Thanks for mentioning QR codes. The first time that I put a QR code on a slide deck for my freshmen students, they didn’t know and I said you have seen these on bananas and ketchup bottles and other stuff like that and on billboards and whatever. But we never saw it on anything for school. And all they wanted to do is get their phone out. And here’s a slide deck in front of them. But I loved it because as soon as it’s in their device, they have it. So I usually, even though that url is there, it was way cooler to just scan the QR code. And sometimes I would go to slide two, and they wouldn’t see the QR code. “We didn’t get the code.” “Okay, now this happens to also be in our LMS” …and I loved it because if they’re flipping through that slide deck while we’re using it in class… if I told you to do it, you wouldn’t. Thank you for doing it. The lure of the QR code, right?

Rebecca: Do you have any other Google favorites that you want to share before we wrap up today?

Kathleen: Just a couple of teasers. People don’t think about these. But some students say to me, the only way I learn well is by YouTube. Well, thank you. I’m on YouTube. So here we go, haha. And you’re going to be on YouTube in this class, too. But one of the things that I encourage students to do is build their own playlist of things. And lots of times that feature they use all the time, but they don’t use it for their academic work. So I actually ask them to build playlists about certain things for each other to use online for survival, your best way to get through a tough book. What are your best study skills? And then in content areas, when they’re doing specific things related to their major, I ask them to find, rate and vett pre-existing videos and put them into playlists, and then do an infomercial that tells people why this list of videos makes sense. So I asked him to use pre- existing content, but get better at using it and vetting against things like duration, captioning, and transcripts that don’t have a lot of errors and then stuff like that. So, trying to get them to use a tool that they say they like an awful lot. I use playlists as well. And of course, have playlists that are built into the courses. But I really want them to do though, is build their own because that shows that they’re actually using stuff that they would normally use anyhow, but putting it into more of a package of purposeful use, and then share, share with each other. So another collaboration, I think the other couple of things that are underused…alerts, Google scholar alerts, and alerts, when at the beginning of a semester, if I know that they’re going to have a long-term project, let’s generate keywords. Right off the bat, I want you to read a couple things, generate some keywords, and I want you to create a Google scholar alert for yourself for these things. If you do it today, I promise you, unless it’s something really obscure, you will get some things coming to your email box that will help you as you move ahead. Again, it’s not to become a master at it, they’re going to need to do that over time in order to be effective. But I think it’s way different than kind of the scatter approach to let me search in Google and look at the five like… ‘cause I know you’re only going to look at the first five things anyhow. So at least now you’re going to get some regular stuff in that are key things that are key to your interests or your priorities. I also have used and asked you this to use the custom Google search engine. Most students do not understand that that little search bar everywhere is a custom Google search tool. So when they are creating content, I ask them to create often, not often in a class, but at least in every course, as they share content, I asked them to create a custom Google search tool for their users. And they’re in awe that they’ve created their own little search bar. And it has in it only the things that they put into it. And I use this as an example of how they need to be very careful, because think about the very few things that you’re allowing people to search and get results from in your custom Google search. Does that say anything to you about what happens when you use Google? What’s happening to what not being exposed to you? What is happening to what’s being exposed to you? This constant reminder about data and tools, data and tools. And for elementary teachers in particular, who are working on differentiating content for students with very differing ability and skill levels, that’s been a really functional thing. So I asked them to do a lot of background work to do good selection of resources. And then when they tailor the stuff for their students, for example, using the custom Google search engine helps them kind of put a icing on top of the cupcake. So, that’s been kind of interesting. And I think the other piece is Google Maps and Google are underutilized. And on our campus block, despite all kinds of reminders that we do have several GIS courses and we have other courses that would use Google Earth and Google Maps within our Fredonia identity, if we have those available. So people that are committed to using those tools actually go back to their personal, which is not what our campuses want to encourage. So I think that we have a long way to go in the Google world to advocate for tools that are functional and explain that functionality to the people that are making decisions.

John: One other tool that I know we’ve talked about before that you’ve used is Google jamboard. Could you talk a little bit about how you’ve used that?

Kathleen: I’m going to say 10 years ago, I scrambled around I was like, “Where can I find a flexible, viable online whiteboard that doesn’t make me sign in and pay at least something or that will allow lots of users or that has a limited number of tools so the learning curve is short. And now we have it. So Google jamboard, not the one you pay $5,000 for that sits in a room, not that jamboard. But the Google doc version basically, is a wonderful addition to the suite. So jamboard is a Google Doc that facilitates typical online whiteboard functions. But otherwise, pretty much acts like a Google Doc, I can share it, I can unshare it, I can share it to individuals or groups of users. I can capitalise on the functionality of the device because of the app that works. on that device. The mobile app of jamboard is slightly different, and really cool than the desktop version, or the one that would run on your computer. Similarly, on Chromebooks, there’s a slight difference, because it’s paying attention to the device that it’s on. So, for example, writing is often difficult depending on the type of math you have, and if you don’t have a stylus. So on the mobile version, there’s an option to choose to convert your scribbles to text and it will automatically convert your entry to a readable text version. So, there’s some really nice device specific nuances that you don’t often see with a tool like this. So what’s also neat… easy to duplicate, easy to export. And for people that really want to have custom, not just the blank whiteboard, you can either use templates that are readily available as backgrounds, you can easily create your own background, bring it in, and then that serves as the frame for people to contribute to. Otherwise it works pretty much like any kind of regular online whiteboard. There’s sticky notes, there’s doodling tools, there’s writing tools, not a lot of colors, but enough to play with. John, you mentioned breakout rooms… perfect solution for some of our breakout rooms for our synchronous meetings, because you can easily click to duplicate right within that one jamboard. If you have five breakout rooms, dup, dup dup dup, and then you say you’re in jamboard one, you’re in jamboard two, breakout room three has number three, and everyone has access to them, you can then click to turn off editing, and then use it as a piece for people to talk about on and on. They can’t use a commenting function per se, but you can build it into the instructional flow. So it can be as great as brainstorming, or it can be as structured as the old four corners activity that we do in cooperative learning, like go to corner one if you are a high end user, go to corner for if this is a brand new thing to you. So you can do that with sticky notes and other things in a structured kind of way, or you can have people generate concept maps or move things around or have it so that the range of generation to addition, like generating from scratch or adding to, or subtracting from, is very easily done. And without a lot of time commitment on your part. I encourage people to try it. Don’t overuse it, just like any tool. Like “Oh no, we have to get creative here.” We don’t want that kind of a response, right? Again, though, a great way to capture the ideas, then that URL is shareable in any way. Also, you can capture everything, bring it down as a image file or as a PDF and use it in other ways. So I’ve used, for example, a jamboard… I call it a stream, but a jamboard frame and started one-on-one instance one meeting, and then we can come back to it on the second meeting. See where we were in our thinking, for example, at the end of the last frame, somebody’s points for that. I actually use that four corners thing a lot in jamboard, use that as a reference point as we move into the next class activity or the next meeting. I’ve done it with faculty and faculty development, they think it’s really cool. And they want to play an awful lot, which I don’t mind because it is pretty engaging…and another way to collaborate, very different than the typical text kind of contribution… which is a good way to trigger people whose brains don’t quite work in a text linear fashion.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for so many great ideas and a wide range of thinking about Google in the classroom in a way that maybe folks haven’t thought of before. We always wrap up by asking what’s next?

Kathleen: What’s next is trying to figure out what will happen to changing grades in a google assignment in the LMS gradebook. We’re experimenting with that, as far as the people that want to use a single thing and change the grade base. That’s a piece that we’re working on. And the other thing for me, at least, what’s next is following up with people that are doing some really great fun things with jamboard and trying to get a kind of informal community of learners around using that tool, because we have everything from biology to business [LAUGHTER] playing with it and I think those examples are going to really be important to hook other people in the disciplines that aren’t quite so much of early adopters. So for me, those are the two next steps.

John: Well, thank you. I’ve learned a lot from you over the years with all the workshops you’ve done at the SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology, and just from other conversations and working with you on various committees and things.

Kathleen: Thank you. Both of you are excellent at this, and great ideas. Nice to talk.

Rebecca: Thanks for coming. We appreciate it.

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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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179. It’s Been a Year

A year ago, our campus announced that it was shutting down for a two-week pause so that the COVID-19 pandemic could be brought under control. To help faculty prepare for remote instruction, we released our first episode of many on March 19, 2020, with Flower Darby. We thought this would be a good moment to pause and reflect on this journey.

Show Notes

  • Flower Darby (2020). “Pandemic Related Remote Learning.” Tea for Teaching Podcast. Episode 126. March 19.
  • Todd, E. M., Watts, L. L., Mulhearn, T. J., Torrence, B. S., Turner, M. R., Connelly, S., & Mumford, M. D. (2017). A meta-analytic comparison of face-to-face and online delivery in ethics instruction: the case for a hybrid approach. Science and Engineering Ethics, 23(6), 1719-1754.
  • Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies.
  • Lang, J. M. (2020). Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do about It. Basic Books.
  • Linda Nilson (2019). “Specifications Grading.” Tea for Teaching Podcast. Episode 86. August 21.
  • Susan Blum (2020). “Peagogies of Care: Upgrading.” Tea for Teaching Podcast. Episode 145.  July 22.

Transcript

Rebecca: A year ago, our campus announced that it was shutting down for a two-week pause so that the COVID-19 pandemic could be brought under control. To help faculty prepare for remote instruction, we released our first episode of many on March 19, 2020, with Flower Darby We thought this would be a good moment to pause and reflect on this journey.

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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 teas today are:

Rebecca: I’m drinking English Afternoon for the first time in about a year. Because I’ve been home, and working from home, I’ve been drinking pots of loose leaf tea instead of bag teas. And so I’m bringing back the comfort of a year ago.

John: And we still have in the office several boxes of English A fternoon tea, but they are wrapped in plastic. So I’m hoping they’ll still be in good shape when we finally get back there …once this two week pause that we started about a year ago, ends.

Rebecca: Yeah, when we recorded that Flower Darby episode was the last time we saw each other in person.

John: Well, there was one other time…

Rebecca: Oh, when you dropped off equipment.

John: I dropped off a microphone and a mixer for you so that we could continue with this podcast. Actually, I think we saw each other from a distance because I left it on the porch because I had just come back from Long Island where infection rates were very high.

Rebecca: Are you drinking tea, John?

John: …and I am drinking Tea Forte black currant tea today.

Rebecca: A good favorite. So John, can you talk a little bit about where you were at mentally and just even conceptually, in terms of online teaching and things,when the pandemic started a year ago,

John: We were starting to hear about some school closings in other countries and in some cities in the US where COVID infection rates were starting to pick up and it started to look more and more likely that we’d be moving into a shutdown, in the week before we were to go to spring break. I was teaching at the time one fully asynchronous online class and two face-to-face classes. When it was looking more and more like we’d shut down I talked to my face-to-face classes about what options we’d have should we go online for some period of time. And I shared with them how we could use Zoom for this. And we had already used Zoom a few times for student presentations when students were out sick or had car trouble and couldn’t make it into class. Because they were actively using computers or mobile devices every day in class, anyway, they all had either computers or smartphones with them. And I had them download Zoom and test it out, asking them to mute their mics. And very quickly, they learned why I asked them to do that. I wasn’t very concerned because we’ve been doing workshops at our teaching center for many years now with remote participants. And we’ve been using Zoom for at least five years or so now. So I wasn’t really that concerned about the possibilities for this. And I thought the online class would go very much like it had and the face-to-face classes would work in a very similar way… for the short period that we were expecting to be shut down. I think even at the time, many of us thought that this would be somewhat longer, but I wasn’t terribly concerned at the time, because infection rates were still pretty low. And I think we were all hopeful that this would be a short-run experience.

Rebecca: And also maybe the fact that you’ve taught online before didn’t hurt.

John: Yeah, I’ve been teaching online since 1997, I believe. And so I was pretty comfortable with that and I wasn’t concerned at all about the fully online class, I was a little more concerned about the students who were used to the face-to-face experience adapting to a Zoom environment.

Rebecca: I had a really different experience because I was on sabbatical in the spring working on some research projects related to accessibility. Because of that, I was able to quickly adapt and be able to help some communities that I’m a part of, related to professional development. So I stepped in and helped a little bit with our center and did a couple workshops and helped on a couple of days with that. And I also helped with our SUNY-wide training too, and offered some workshops related to accessibility and inclusive teaching at that time. And the professional association for design locally, we had a couple of little support groups for design faculty.

John: I wasn’t too concerned about my classes, but I was a little bit more concerned about all the faculty that we had who had never taught online. And so, as you just said, we put together a series of workshops for about a week and a half over our spring break helping faculty to get ready for the transition to what we’re now calling remote instruction.

Rebecca: At that time, too. I had no experience teaching online, I’d used Blackboard and things like that before, but not to fully teach online. So for me, it was a really different experience. And I was helping and coaching faculty through some of those transitions too, not really having had much experience myself. So I had the benefit, perhaps, of seeing where people stumbled before I had to teach in the fall. But I also didn’t get any practice prior to fall like some people did with some forgiveness factors built into the emergency nature of the spring.

John: I think for most faculty, it was a very rapid learning process in the spring and instruction wasn’t quite at the level I think anyone was used to, but I think institutions throughout the country were encouraging faculty to do the best that they could, knowing that this was an emergency situation, and I’m amazed at how quickly faculty adapted to this environment overall.

Rebecca: One of the things that I thought was gonna be really interesting to ask you about today, John, was about online instruction, because you have such a rich history teaching online, and there are so many new faculty teaching online, although in a different format than perhaps online education research talks about. Many people taught asynchronously for the first time, but there’s also a lot of faculty teaching online in a synchronous fashion. There’s a lot less research around that. How do you see this experience impacting online education long term.

John: I don’t think this is going to have much of a dramatic impact on asynchronous online instruction in the long term. Online instruction is not new, it’s been going on for several decades now. There’s a very large body of literature on what works effectively in online instruction. And under normal circumstances, when students are online and faculty are online because they choose to be, online instruction works really well. And there’s a lot of research that suggests that when asynchronous courses are well designed, building on what we know about effective online teaching strategies, they’re just as effective as well designed face-to-face classes. However, a lot of people are trying to draw lessons from what we’re observing today. And what we’re observing today, for the most part, does not resemble what online education normally is, primarily because the students who are there, and many faculty who are there, are there not by choice, but by necessity. And one of the things that has come up in some recent Twitter conversations, as well as conversations that we’ve had earlier, is that many online students in asynchronous classes have been asking for synchronous meetings. In several decades of teaching online, I’ve never seen that happen before, and now it’s very routine. And I think a lot of the issue there is that, in the past, most online students were there for very specific reasons. So they may have had work schedules that would not allow them to sign up for synchronous classes. Some of them are in shift work, some of them were on rotating shifts where they couldn’t have fixed times of availability. Some of them would have large distances to commute and it just wasn’t feasible, or they were taking care of family members who were ill, or as part of their job, they were required to travel. In most of the online classes I’ve had in the past, there were some students who were out of state or out of the country. I had students during the Gulf War who were on a ship, the only time they missed a deadline was when their ship went on radio silence before some of the attacks down there. They simply would not have been able to participate in synchronous instruction in any way. And I think a lot of the people who are now taking asynchronous classes, strongly prefer a synchronous modality and are disappointed that they’re not in that. And I think a lot of what we’re seeing is a response to that and I think we shouldn’t ignore all the research that has come out about effective online techniques in light of the current pandemic, because this is not how online instruction normally has occurred. And people are in very different circumstances now in terms of their physical wellbeing in terms of their emotional well being and just general stress.

Rebecca: Yeah, during the pandemic, many more people are in isolation, and might really be craving some of that social interaction that they might not expect out of an online class traditionally, especially if it’s an asynchronous class. But if you’re just alone, and you’re not going out of your house, there might be more of a desire during this one moment of time …this one really long moment of time. [LAUGHTER]

John: During this two-week pause? [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah. One other thing, I guess, is important to note as we’re talking about research and what evidence shows is that hybrid can be really effective with the combination of in-person instruction complementing some asynchronous online instruction. And of course, in that traditional research, hybrid really means this in- person and then asynchronous online, this synchronous online thing wasn’t really a thing prior to the pandemic. [LAUGHTER]

John: Right. And we can’t really draw too many conclusions about this giant worldwide experiment that’s being done in less than optimal conditions without really having a control of normal instruction to compare it to. And yeah, several meta-analyses have found that while face-to-face and asynchronous online instruction are equally effective, hybrid instruction often has come out ahead in terms of the learning gains that students have experienced. Certainly, we know a lot about hybrid instruction, face-to-face instruction, and asynchronous online, but not the modality that larger of our students are in. One other factor is that when people signed up for online classes before, they did it knowing that they had solid internet connections, they knew they had computers that were capable of supporting online instructional environments. They had good bandwidth and so forth. That’s not the situation In which many of our students and faculty are working right now, because faculty and students often do not have any of those things. And they’re often working in suboptimal environments that are crowded, where there’s other people in the household sharing the same space. And it makes it really difficult to engage in remote asynchronous or synchronous work as they might have when they chose to be in that modality.

Rebecca: I do think that, during this time, though, into kind of forced online instruction, although there are certainly people who don’t like that they’ve been forced to be online, and they prefer to be synchronous or in person, I think there’s a cohort of people who thought online education wasn’t for them, both faculty and students, who have discovered that it actually really does work for them. And even me, although I teach web design and do things online, you’d think online education would seem obvious to me. But in the past, it hadn’t really occurred to me. Our education tends to be in person, and you tend to replicate what you’ve experienced. [LAUGHTER] And although I have taken some online courses related to design and technology and coding in the past, it hadn’t really occurred to me to consider some options. And I think what we’ve discovered is some of our courses work well in this modality and some don’t. Some of our courses are better positioned to be potentially online or work well in that format, and could help with some collaboration pieces, or some other things that we might be doing. It might support the work that we were already trying to do in person.

John: And I think now, all faculty have gotten much more comfortable with a wider variety of teaching techniques and teaching tools than they would have experienced before. For many faculty, just having dropboxes in the learning management system was something new, moving away from paper assignments was something very new. And suddenly, faculty were asked to use a wide variety of instructional tools that they had been very careful to avoid doing in the past. And one of the things that struck me is how many of the people in our workshops who’ve said that they were perfectly comfortable teaching in a face-to-face environment, and they just didn’t see the need for, or they didn’t think that online instruction could work for them. And now that they’ve tried all these new tools and these new approaches, they’re never going to go back to the traditional way in which they were teaching. So I think there are going to be a lot of things that people have learned during this that they’ll take back into their future instruction, even if it is primarily in a face-to-face environment.

Rebecca: It may also be some changes in technology policies in the classroom as well related to just seeing how helpful technology can be for learning, but also where it can be distracting. So I think there’s some reconsideration of what that might mean.

John: While there haven’t been so many things that I’ve enjoyed during the pandemic, one of them is that this whole issue of technology bans have pretty much fallen to the wayside. I’m not hearing faculty complaining about students using computers during their class time now. And that’s a nice feature, and perhaps faculty can appreciate how mobile devices can be an effective learning tool. And yes, there will have to be more discussions such as one we’re having in our reading group this semester, where we’re reading Jim Lang’s Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What We Can Do About It. There’s a lot of discussion about when technology is appropriate, and when it’s not in those meetings. But I think faculty have come to recognize how ed tech can be useful in some ways, at least in their instruction, whether it’s in person or whether it’s remote.

Rebecca: I think it’s also important to note that how some of the synchronous technology, video conferencing technology like Zoom, has some advantages, even if our class is not synchronous online. It could just be an in person class in the future. We’ve seen the power of being able to bring guests in easily without having to deal with logistics of traveling and the scheduling considerations that are often involved with that. We don’t have the disruptions and education related to snow days and illness, both on the faculty and student side. Obviously, that depends on how severe the illness is, right? [LAUGHTER] Professional development has worked out really well online, although we’ve done online or had a Zoom component where you can kind of Zoom and being all on the same platform at the same time has been really great, being able to take advantage of breakout rooms and things like that. We’ve seen record numbers attend, and then also with advisement and office hours. It can be really intimidating to have to find an advisor’s or a faculty member’s office and you have to physically go there. And then it’s kind of intimidating. What if the door’s shut? What if they’re look like they’re busy? [LAUGHTER] There’s all these things that can get in the way that online or Zoom calls can just remove some of those barriers and also allow for more flexibility because now you don’t have to plan for walking across campus which might take some time. Or you might be able to squeeze in something at a time you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

John: And a lot of our commuting students are commuting from 30 to 60 miles away, and it was not terribly convenient for them to have to drive up to campus at a time that was convenient for their professors just for the chance of sitting there and talking to them for a few minutes. So, the access is much easier using Zoom or other remote tools.

Rebecca: We should also get real. Zoom fatigue is a real, real, thing. It’s about 4:30 right now that we’re recording. We’ve both been on Zoom calls since early this morning. And kind of constant. Our students have been as well. There’s no let up, there’s no breaks. We don’t get the little stroll across campus to the next meeting. [LAUGHTER] There’s none of that. One of the things that I am experiencing, as someone who’s definitely introverted, is this performative nature of being on camera all the time. And I know our students are too. And John and I were talking about this a little earlier today, that, in the fall, I had tons of students participating with their cameras on and their microphones on, and even in the beginning of the spring, but there’s something about the dead of winter in Oswego, that kind of Doomsday nature of it, it’s gray here. And then the black boxes just kind of emphasize it further. And they’re not as visible as they had been before. And I think it’s partly because it’s so performative, and you’re being watched all the time. And it’s not necessarily not wanting to participate or feel like you’re present. But really, it’s just a little much.

John: And neither of us pressure our students to turn their cameras on. We welcome that, we invite them to do that, but we know there are some really sound reasons not to, because people are often working in environments that they don’t want to share with their classmates or with their faculty members. And they may have bandwidth issues and so forth. But it is really tedious to be talking to those black boxes. And as Rebecca and I talked about earlier, both of us are also creating videos. So, we get to talk to our web cameras a lot, and then we go to class, and we talk to our students. Most of our students, I think, turn their microphones on. So we get to hear them one at a time. But it’s challenging to be talking to people you can’t see all day long.

Rebecca: I think it’s particularly challenging for faculty, because there’s more of an expectation for faculty to have their cameras on both in class and in meetings than students. So I think there’s an extra level of fatigue that’s happening with faculty and staff, because it’s more performance more of the time. Some days, I really feel like I wish I could be a student and I could just turn my camera off.

John: I have a night class that meets for about three hours. And typically when we met face-to-face, we’d take a 7 to 10 minute break in the middle of that. I asked the students if they wanted to do that the first two weeks, and each time they said “No.” I said, “Well, if you need to get up, use a restroom, or walk around, please do it. But what I wasn’t considering is the fact that, while they were doing that, I was still here interacting with them the whole time. And that three-hour session can be a bit challenging by the end of it, particularly if you’ve been drinking a lot of tea.

Rebecca: That’s actually important to note that, kind of unusually, John and I are both teaching three-hour classes, that’s probably not the norm for most faculty. I’m teaching studio classes. So for one class, it’s three hours of time, two times a week, and you’re teaching a seminar class, right, John, that’s three hours?

John: Yes, that meets once a week.

Rebecca: These longer sessions, we can break up by physically moving around the classroom and things when we’re in person, it becomes more of a challenge online. And I know that I’ve been thinking more about the orchestra of it all and changing it up in my classes. So we might do something in small groups then may do something as a big group, we participate in a whiteboard activity, then we might do something else, then we take a break, then we try to do something that’s off screen for a little bit and then come back. And so I’ve tried to build in some opportunities for myself as well to be able to turn my camera off at least for a few minutes during that three-hour time or take a little bit of that time during breakout sessions or whatever, because I need a break too. Our good friend Jessamyn Neuhaus has mentioned this to us many times before, that we’re not superheroes, and we should stop trying to be superheroes. And this seems like a good moment to remind ourselves of this as well. I know for me, it’s like I need a snack, I need to go to the bathroom, I need a drink. I would do that in a physical class. I take breaks then. So I’ve been making sure we build it in, and actually even padding it a little bit and giving people longer breaks than I would in person.

John: And our campus, recognizing the challenges that faculty faced with this last fall, put in two wellness days where no classes were held, and people were encouraged to engage in activities to give them that sort of break. I’m not sure about you, but I ended up spending about seven and a half hours of that day in meetings that were scheduled by various people on campus.

Rebecca: Yeah, and students also said that they ended up really needing that time to just catch up, because the workload in terms of student work hasn’t reduced, but being on screen has increased for most people, and you just need some time away. So, it ends up taking more hours of the day, just in terms of logistics, if you actually going to give your eyes a break and things. I did a little survey of my classes and they said they spent a lot of that time kind of catching up, although maybe the pace of the day was a little slower.

John: Going back to the issue of cameras being on, one of our colleagues on campus did a survey of the students in her class asking why they chose not to have their cameras on. And the response seemed to indicate that a lot of it was peer pressure, that as more and more students turn the cameras off, they became odd to leave them on. So I think many of us have experienced the gradual darkening of our screens from the fall to the spring,

Rebecca: I found that there’s some strategies to help with that as well. One of the things I did last week was invite students to participate in a whiteboard activity online indicating what they expected their peers to do so that they felt like they were engaged or part of a community. What should they do in a breakout? And what does participation look like in an online synchronous class? And they want all the things we wanted them too. They said, like, “Oh, I want people to engage.” And we talked about what that means, that it might mean participating in chat, it might mean having the cameras on, and things like that. And that day, right after that conversation, so many people during that conversation turn their cameras on. So in part, it’s about reminding, or just pointing out that it’s not very welcoming to have not even a picture up.

John: And this is something you’ve suggested in previous podcasts to that, while we’re not going to ask students to leave their cameras on to create a more inclusive environment, you could encourage students to put pictures up.

Rebecca: Yeah, we feel as humans more connected when we see human faces. So we feel much more connected than looking at black boxes. [LAUGHTER] So I’ve definitely encouraged my students. On the first day, I gave instructions to all the students about how to do that. And then when we had our conversation the other day, when I was starting to feel the darkening of the classroom and more cameras came on, I also just invited and encouraged everyone else. If you can’t have your camera on, or you have a tendency not to be able to put your camera on, that’s not a problem, but we would really welcome seeing your face or some representation of you as an image.

John: What are some of the positive takeaways faculty will take from this into the future?

Rebecca: It’s been interesting, because we’ve had far more faculty participating in professional development opportunities, initially out of complete necessity, like “I don’t know how to use Blackboard” and starting with digital tools and technologies, and then asking bigger and more complicated questions about quality instruction online as they gained some confidence in the technical skills. So there’s some competency there that I think is really great. And that’s leading to faculty wanting to use some of these tools in classes, it might mean just using Blackboard so that the assignments are there, and the due dates are more present, and just kind of some logistical things to help students keep organized. But also, there’s a lot of really great tools that, as we mentioned earlier, that faculty have discovered that they want to use in their classes. So maybe it’s polling and doing low-stakes testing in their classes during the class. I’ve discovered using these virtual whiteboards, which actually logistically work better than physical whiteboards in a lot of cases in the things that we’re doing, because everyone can see what their collaborators are doing better. So there’s a lot of tools that I think faculty are going to incorporate throughout the work that they’re doing. But also they’ve learned a lot more evidence-based practices. And maybe you want to talk a little bit about that, John,

John: At the start of the pandemic, the initial workshops, were mostly “How do I use Zoom?” But very quickly, even back in March, we also talked a little bit about how we can use evidence-based practices that build on what we know about teaching and learning. In the spring, there wasn’t much faculty could do in the last couple of months to change their courses. But we did encourage them to move from high-stakes exams to lower-stakes assessments to encourage students to engage more regularly with material, to space out their practice, and so forth. And at the start of the summer, we put together a mini workshop for faculty on how to redesign their courses for whatever was going to happen in the fall. And it was basically a course redevelopment workshop, where we focused primarily on what research shows about how we learn and how we can build our courses in ways that would foster an environment where students might learn more effectively. Our morning sessions were based primarily on pedagogy and then in the afternoon, we’d go over some sessions on how you can implement that in a remote or an asynchronous environment, giving people a choice of different ways of implementing it. By the start of the summer, people were starting to think about doing things like polling, about doing low-stakes testing, or mastery learning quizzing, and so forth. And people started to implement that in the fall. And then we had another series of workshops in January. We normally have really good participation, but we had, I believe, over 2000 attendees at sessions during our January sessions. And during those sessions, we had faculty presenting on all the things that they’d learned and how they were able to implement new teaching techniques. And it was one of the most productive set of workshops we’ve ever had here, I believe. And what really struck me is how smoothly faculty had transitioned to a remote environment. At the start of the pandemic and during spring break, we were encouraging people to attend remotely and yet faculty mostly wanted to sit in the classroom with us, and we wanted to stay as far away from those people as we could. But about half the people attended virtually. Butwhat’s been happening as people were getting more and more comfortable attending remotely and we’ve been offering the option of people attending virtually since I took over as the Director of the teaching center back in 2008, I believe. However, we rarely had more than a few people attending remotely. And it was always a challenge for people to be participating fully when they were remote while other people were in the same room, which gave us some concerns about how this was going to work in the reduced capacity classrooms that many colleges, including ours, were going to implement in the fall. And we knew we didn’t really have the microphones in the rooms that would allow remote participants to hear everyone in the room and vice versa. Once we switched entirely online, where all the participants in the workshops were in Zoom, it’s been much more effective to have everyone attending in the same way, so that we didn’t have some people participating in the classroom and others attending remotely. And I think that, combined with faculty becoming more comfortable with using Zoom, has allowed us to reach more faculty more effectively.

Rebecca: One of the things that I saw so powerful this January, in our experience on our campus, was all of the faculty who volunteered to do sessions and talk about their experiences and support other faculty experimenting with things. And I think it was just this jolt that caused us all to have to try something new, that was really, really powerful. We all get stuck. Even those of us that know evidence-based techniques, we get stuck in our routines, and sometimes just allow inertia to move us forward and replicate what we’ve done before because it’s easier, it saves time, and we have a lot on our plates. And it’s really about being efficient, because we just have too much to do. So it was nice, in a weird way, to have that jolt to try some new things. I heard some great things from faculty that I’ve never heard from before I learned some things from some other faculty. And it was really exciting. And the personal place in my heart that I get most excited about, of course, is how many faculty got really excited about things related to inclusive pedagogy, and equity, and accessibility. We offered, on our campus a 10-day accessibility challenge that we opened up to faculty, staff, and students as part of our winter conference sessions. And we had record accessibility attendance… never seen so many people interested in accessibility before. But that came out of the experience of the spring and the fall, and people really seeing equity issues and experiencing it with their students. They witnessed it in a way that it was easy to ignore previously. And so I think that faculty, throughout this whole time, have cared about the experience that students have and want students to have equity. They just didn’t realize the disparity that existed amongst our students. And the students saw the disparity that existed amongst students, which was a really powerful moment, really disturbing for some students who had to share that moment with other people, but also a really useful experience for faculty to really buy into some of these practices about building community, about making sure their materials were accessible. And all of that has resulted in a much higher quality education for our students.

John: It was really easy for faculty to ignore a lot of these inequities before, because the computer labs, the Wi Fi, the food services, and library services, and lending of equipment provided by institutions, compensated for a lot of those issues, so that disparities in income and wealth were somewhat hidden in the classroom. But once people moved home, many of those supports disappeared, despite the best efforts of campuses in providing students with WiFi access with hotspots or providing them with loaner computers. And those issues just became so much more visible. It’s going to be very hard for faculty to ignore those issues, I think, in the future, because it has impacted our ability to reach a lot of our students. And it has affected the ability of many of our students to fully participate in a remote environment. But going back to that point about people sharing, I also was really amazed by how willing people were to volunteer and share what they’ve learned in their experiences. Typically, when we put our January workshop schedule together, we call for workshop proposals from people. And we typically get 5 to 12 of those, and they’re often from our technical support people on campus. And it’s rare that we get faculty to volunteer. And normally we have to spend a few months getting faculty to volunteer so that we get maybe 20 or 30 faculty to talk about their experiences. We had about 50 people just volunteer without anything other than an initial request, and then a few more with a little nudging, so that we ended up with 107 workshops that were all very well attended. And there were some really great discussions there because, as you said, people were put in an environment where the old ways of doing things just didn’t work anymore, and it opened people up to change. We’ve been encouraging active learning and we’ve been encouraging changes in teaching practices. But this pretty much has reached just about everybody this time in ways that it would have been really difficult to reach all of our faculty before.

Rebecca: It’s easy during a time like a pandemic to just feel like the world’s tumbling down. And there’s no doubt about that. But it’s a time where I’ve also been really grateful to have such great colleagues. Because not only have we seen faculty supporting each other and using new technology, the advocacy that they’ve demonstrated on behalf of students who really had needs has been incredible. Likewise, for faculty, we’ve witnessed some really interesting conversations amongst faculty about ways to reduce their own repetitive stress injuries and other accessibility issues that faculty are also experiencing, equity issues that faculty are experiencing, caregiving responsibilities that are making things really challenging for faculty. But there’s a really strong network of support amongst each other to help everyone through and there’s no word to describe what that means other than being grateful for it, because people have been so supportive of each other. And that, to me, is pretty amazing.

John: Faculty have often existed in the silos of their departments. But this transition has broken down those silos. It’s built a sense of community in a lot of ways that we generally didn’t see extending as far beyond the department borders. There were always a lot of people who supported each other, but the extent to that is so much greater.

Rebecca: So we’ve been talking a lot about this faculty support. John, can you give a couple of examples of things that faculty have shared that have worked really well in their classes that they weren’t doing before?

John: One of the things that more and more faculty have been doing is introducing active learning activities and more group activities within their classes in either a synchronous or asynchronous environment. And that’s something that’s really helpful. And as we’ve encouraged faculty to move away from high-stakes assessment, and many faculty have worked much more carefully about scaffolding their assignments, so that large projects are broken up into smaller chunks that are more manageable, and students are getting more feedback regularly. Faculty, in general, I think, have been providing students with more support, because when in a classroom, you were just expecting students to ask any questions about something they didn’t understand. And sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. But I think faculty realize that in a remote environment, all those instructions have to be there for students. So in general, I think faculty are providing students with more support, more detailed instructions, and often creating videos to help explain some of the more challenging parts that they might normally have expected students to ask about during a face-to-face class meeting.

Rebecca: I think previously, although faculty want to be supportive, they may not have been aware of some of the mental and emotional health challenges that students face generally, but have been amplified during the pandemic. Students who might experience anxiety or depression and how that impacts their ability to focus, their ability to organize themselves and organize their time, all of those things have become much more visible, just like those equity issues. And so I think that faculty are becoming more aware of that emotional piece of education and making sure that people feel supported so that they can be successful. And even just that kind of warm language piece of it, and being welcoming, and just indicating, like, “Hey, how are you doing? I really do care about what’s going on with you.” And having those chit chat moments sometimes even in a synchronous online class, open up that discussion and help students feel like they’re part of the community and really help address some of those issues that students are facing.

John: And I think a lot of the discussion is how can we build this class community when we move away from a physical classroom. So there have been many discussions, and many productive discussions, on ways of building this class community and helping to maintain instructor presence in asynchronous classes, as well as helping to maintain human connections when we’re all distanced, somehow.

Rebecca: I think that also points out the nature of some of our in-person classes and the assumptions that we made, that there were human connections being made in class when maybe they weren’t, or maybe there wasn’t really a community being built, because students may also not know each other there. So I think some of the lessons of feeling isolated maybe themselves, or seeing their students feel isolated, has led faculty to develop and take the time to do more community-building activities. So that there is that support network in place sp that students are able to learn, the more supported they feel, the more confident they feel, the more willing or open they’re going to be to learning and having that growth mindset.

John: And we’re hoping that all these new skills that faculty have acquired, will transition very nicely when we move to a more traditional face-to-face environment in the fall.

Rebecca: …or sometime ever… [LAUGHTER]

John: At some point, yes. [LAUGHTER] But one thing we probably should talk about is something I know we both have experienced is the impact on faculty workloads.

Rebecca: It’s maybe grown just a little, John, I don’t know about you, but there’s some of it that has to do with just working in a different modality than you’re used to. So there’s some startup costs of just learning new techniques. Then there’s also the implementation of using certain kinds of technology that are a little more time consuming to set up than in person. So, the example I was giving to someone the other day was, I might do a whiteboard activity in person that requires me to grab some markers and some sticky notes. That’s my setup. But in an online environment, I need to have that organized and have designated areas for small groups. And I need to have prompts put up. And there’s a lot of structural things that need to be in place for that same activity to happen online, it can happen very seamlessly online, but there’s some time required to set it up. So there’s that. We’ve also all learned how low-stakes is so great, and how scaffolding is so great, but now there’s more grading. And somehow, I think there’s more meetings.

John: Yes, but in terms of that scaffolding, we’re assessing student work more regularly, we’re providing them with more feedback. And also going back to the issue of support materials, many of us are creating new videos. And when I first started teaching, it was very much the norm for people to lecture. And basically, my preparation was going into the cabinet and grabbing a couple of pieces of chalk and going down to the classroom and just discussing the topic, trying to keep it interactive by asking students questions, giving them problems on the board, having them work on them in groups. But I didn’t have to spend a lot of time creating graphs with all the images on my computer. I didn’t have to create these detailed videos and these transcripts and so forth, that I’d share with all my students now. And there’s a lot of fixed costs of moving to this environment, however, we’re doing it. That has taken its toll, I think, on all of us, as well as the emotional stress that we’re all going through during a pandemic.

Rebecca: I know one of the things that I’m concerned about is the ongoing expectation of time commitments that are not sustainable… period.

John: It’s one thing to deal with this during an emergency crisis. But this has been a really long emergency crisis.

Rebecca: And I think we’ve all seen the gains that students have had or felt like it’s worth the time and effort to support students. But it’s also time to think about how to support faculty and staff who have been doing all of that supporting and we need a reprieve… like, winter break wasn’t a break, summer break wasn’t a break, there isn’t a spring break, wellness days weren’t a break. Everybody just needs a vacation.

John: Yeah, I feel like I haven’t had a day off now since the middle of March of 2020.

Rebecca: I think one of the next things we need to be thinking about is: we created a lot of things that we could probably recycle and reuse in our classes, and so there were some costs over the course of the year. But perhaps they’re not costs in the future because we’ve learned some things. There may also be some strategizing that we need to do about when we give feedback or how detailed that feedback is with these scaffolded and smaller assignments so that we can be more efficient with grading. We’ve talked in the past on the podcast about specifications grading and some other strategies and ungrading. So maybe it’s time to think a little more or more deeply about some of these things now that we have them in place. How can we be more efficient with our time and work together to brainstorm ways to save ourselves time and effort and energy and still provide a really good learning environment?

John: Specifications grading is one way of doing it. But having students provide more peer feedback to each other is another really effective way of doing that. We’ve talked about that in several past podcasts, but that is one way of helping to leverage some of that feedback in a way that also enhances student learning. So it’s not just shifting the burden of assessing work to students, it’s actually providing them with really rich learning opportunities that tend to deepen their learning.

Rebecca: I know one strategy that I’ve implemented this semester, that definitely has saved time, although I just need to get more comfortable with my setup, but just I need to practice it, is doing light grading and the idea of having a shortlist of criteria. And then that criteria is either met, its approached or it doesn’t meet. And it’s a simple check box. And essentially, the basic rubric is what it looks like to meet it. And either you’ve met it or you haven’t. And that’s a much more efficient way of…

John:…either you’ve met it, you’ve almost met it, or you haven’t…

Rebecca: Yeah. And so that’s worked pretty well for me this semester. And I think it’s helping me be a little more efficient. And then I say like, “Okay, and ‘A’ is if you have met all of the criteria, ‘B’ is if you’ve met a certain percentage of the criteria, and approach the rest,” that kind of thing. The biggest thing for me is just getting used to my new rubrics and not having to like “Wait, what was that again?” when you go to grade it. But, I think, with practice, next time I go to use them, it’s gonna be a lot faster.

John: Going back to the point you made before, a lot of people have developed a whole series of videos that can be used to support their classes. Those can be used to support a flipped face-to-face class just as nicely as they do in a synchronous course, or a remote synchronous course. So a lot of the materials that faculty have developed, I think, while it won’t lighten the workload of faculty, can provide more support for students in the future without increasing f aculty workload as much as it has, during the sudden transition when people are switching all their classes at once to this new environment we’re facing. I know in the past, when I’ve normally done a major revision of my class, it’s normally one class that I’m doing a major revision on. And then the others will get major revisions at a later semester or a year. But when you try to dramatically change your instruction in all of your classes at once, it’s a tremendous amount of work.

Rebecca: I think another place where we’ve seen a lot of workload increase is also an advisement. There’s a lot of students that are struggling, many more students have questions about what to do if they’re close to failing, whether or not they could withdraw. what it means to leave school or come back to school, we’ve had the pass/fail option. So that raises a lot of questions. There’s a lot of those conversations that certainly we have, but they’re just more of them right now. And I would hope that as the pandemic eventually goes away, then some of that additional advisement will also start to fade away as well. We’re just drained. We imagine that you’re all drained too.

John: We always end these podcasts with the question, “What’s next?”

Rebecca: God, I hope there’s a vacation involved. Our household is dreaming about places we can go, even if it’s just to a different town nearby, as things start to lighten up, just to feel like we’re doing something… anything.

John: The vaccines look promising, and the rollout is accelerating. And we’re hoping that continues. And let’s hope that a year from now we can talk about all the things we’ve learned that has improved our instruction in a more traditional face-to-face environment.

Rebecca: The last thing I want to say is I hope everyone has, at some point, a restful moment in the summer, and we find the next academic year a little more revitalizing.

John: I think we could all use a restful and revitalizing summer to come back refreshed and energized for the fall semester.

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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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178. Teaching for Learning

As we again begin planning for the uncertainties of the fall semester, it is helpful to have a rich toolkit of evidence-based teaching practices that can work in multiple modalities. In this episode,  Claire Howell Major, Michael S. Harris, and Todd Zakrajsek join us to discuss a variety of these practices that can be effectively matched with your course learning objectives.

Claire is a Professor of Higher Education Administration at the University of Alabama. Michael is a Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist university. Todd is an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of Fellowship Programs in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Claire, Michael, and Todd are the authors of many superb books and articles on teaching and learning in higher education. In June, they are releasing a second edition of Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: As we again begin planning for the uncertainties of the fall semester, it is helpful to have a rich toolkit of evidence-based teaching practices that can work in multiple modalities. In this episode, we discuss a variety of these practices that can be effectively matched with your course learning objectives.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Our guests today are Claire Howell Major, Michael S. Harris, and Todd Zakrajsek. Claire is a Professor of Higher Education Administration at the University of Alabama. Michael is a Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist university. Todd is an Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of Fellowship Programs in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Claire, Michael, and Todd are the authors of many superb books and articles on teaching and learning in higher education.

Rebecca: Welcome, Claire and Michael and welcome back, Todd.

Todd: Thank you, Rebecca.

Michael: Good to be here.

John: Thanks for joining us. Today’s teas are:

Todd: I got myself a nice hibiscus tea, in my favorite little mug.

Rebecca: Awesome.

Michael: And I have a nice regular Co’ Cola.

Claire: Chocolate milk, signing in here. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think that might be a podcast first, Claire. [LAUGHTER]

Claire: I’m 12, basically. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I’m drinking Scottish afternoon.

John: And I’m drinking ginger peach green tea. We’ve invited here today to discuss the forthcoming second edition of Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success, which forms a nice acronym of IDEAS. The first edition provided faculty with a large variety of evidence-based learning activities that faculty can adopt to enhance student learning. These were grouped into eight categories of teaching approaches, lecture, discussion, reciprocal peer teaching, academic games, reading strategies, writing to learn, graphic organizers, and metacognitive reflection. What will be new in the second edition?

Michael: Thanks, John, for the overview and also for having us here today to talk about this. We’re very excited about the second edition. I think we’ve got a great team here, I so enjoy working with Todd and Michael on it. Basically, we’ve kept the same structure that you mentioned before, we have the same eight categories. We have the same structure within each chapter where we move from research to practical tips and specific ideas that people can use in their own classes. The idea is that it is a very broad kind of technique that we include when we include the techniques and when we talk about the research. So it is something that people from all disciplines and fields could in theory use for their own classes. Now, in practice, people have to make decisions about what will work best for their learners at their institutions and their disciplines and fields. So that part has stayed the same. We have updated the research from the first edition to the second. So it’s five years later. So we have included many new research studies to support the message and what the research shows us about what works well in higher education, what has been shown to change educational outcomes of learners, what can faculty do in particular that will help student learning. Another thing that is new in this edition, and I think this is really timely right now, is a focus on online learning. So in the first edition, we talked a lot about how these would work in in-class or onsite settings. In this edition, we go that next step and say, “Here’s some of the theory about what it means to do this online and here are some techniques.” And then within each specific idea, we say specifically, here are some tools that you can use to implement this in an online environment. So we have spent a lot of time working through that. We know how many people have shifted from onsite to online or hybrid courses and how important this is for successful teaching right now. So there’s a big focus on that.

Michael: One of the things as we were going through working on the online elements of this. that’s only become that much more important in light of the pandemic, is understanding the ways to blend the in-person technique and technology together. And that’s something, I think, as we’ve certainly gone through the last year everyone has done that in a much more detailed way. But I think what we’ve in part set out to do here, because we started working on this before the pandemic, is there elements of technology and teaching that faculty should be including afterwards after the pandemic is over? …And so one of the things I think readers will be able to take away. This is not a book written in response to the pandemic… that we can take these various techniques, take technology, take the understanding of your learners and context, as Claire mentioned, and then together figure out what is the best activity in your setting. Think that’s, as we set out identifying the various techniques throughout the book, is understanding that no class, no instructor is going to be comfortable with everything. So we’ve tried to give what I like to think of as a broad menu for faculty under each of the broad topics but also in terms of individual strategies and techniques that faculty can use in their setting. And the hope is, if you need an idea to use in your class that day, you can pick this book off the shelf, and somewhere in there, it’s going to be something that’s gonna work.

Rebecca: I think we really love the mix of both the research and the practical aspects of the book. I think sometimes either it’s just practical, or it’s just the research, and it’s hard to bring them together. So having everything in one place is very handy. [LAUGHTER] Faculty like that. We like convenience for sure. One of the things that I’ve been doing some research on recently is some students complaining about this online environment being so text heavy. And so I’m kind of curious if you could talk a little bit about maybe some of the research on graphic organizers and some of the strategies because that’s a visual way of handling some information in a time where students are feeling really bogged down by text.

Michael: I think to your first point, this is critically important. As we first started talking about this book in the very, very early days, one of the things we wanted to do was to bring together both the research literature, what do we know from the scholarship, but also what are the practical things that faculty need to know how to implement these ideas. And so we very much kept that. That DNA was part of our very early conversations, and is still part of the second edition. And I think one of the things that we found in terms of writing the book, and I think, as we’ve heard from folks who’ve read it, subsequently, is to be able to have access to the research for faculty, those of us who are in teaching centers, and faculty developers, we live this stuff every day, we know where the research is, and what the most recent findings are. For most faculty, whether at an institution focused on teaching, or even researchers, that access is much more difficult to find, right? It’s spread out in hundreds of journals, most of which just folks in the disciplines don’t necessarily read. And so trying to bring that out, and also insights from related disciplines. This is very difficult to access all this literature, because it’s spread out in so many different outlets, it’s in books, it’s in journals, it’s in places like podcasts, there’s all these places to get the information. It’s really difficult, I think, for a faculty member with a limited amount of time to dedicate to course planning and preparation to find all these resources. So that’s what we wanted to do was bring that together, but also remembering that faculty need to be able to take all that information, I think it’s all of us have worked with faculty, we found that they want to know that it’s researched-based, and what those research findings are, but then they want to quickly get to: “Now, what do I do with this information?” And so that’s the way we’ve set up the book is we’re going to go through the literature, if you want to do a deep dive there, all of that information is there. But then we also want to be able to provide some really tangible tactical things for a faculty member to do. And so as we designed all the ideas and thought about the updated literature, that’s still the core tenet of what we want to do.

Todd: Next. I think the second part of the question,you said, Rebecca, was the visual aspects, specifically. So, I thought Michael covered it really, really well. But there’s a whole section in the book with graphics, of course, and just so many different ways you can use the tools that are out there: concept mapping right now, and doing word clouds, and setting up different ways for people to share a space and to drop in photos and images. And there’s a lot of them in there. And I like what Michael said in terms of there’s so much information, it becomes really overwhelming. So my educational technology list is 118 different educational solutions right now that are being used. And so what we try to do in the book was spread out not all 118 of them, but we spread them out. So if you’re interested in concept mapping, here’s a program called Cacoo. And if you want to do word clouds, there’s the traditional WordClouds. But there’s also AnswerGarden, which gives you a little bit more opportunity to put some text in there. But. lots of things on graphics.

John: Going back to that division of teaching and research and practical tips . The research is not just on the general principle of how these things work, but specific studies of how the individual tools or the individual approaches have been used, and that I found really helpful. In the new addition, is this most appropriate for people teaching synchronous courses, or you mentioned that there’s the addition of online components, are the online components primarily asynchronous online, or synchronous online, or some combination of those.

Todd: Actually, that’s great, because this was a really exciting project to do. And one of the things we did to update the book was we went in, and actually, there’s not 101. The title of the book is 101 Intentionally Designed Activities. I would challenge anybody who wants to sit down and rattle off 101, I want to hear you do it. Because when Claire and Michael and I got together we did, we said yeah, 101 sounds great. And we got up to 100. And then everything started to sound like a variation on something we’ve already done. So the hundred and first one is actually a do it yourself intentional. Isn’t that great?

Rebecca: It’s perfect.

Todd: Take your information and apply it. And the reason I bring this up is that means there are 100 in there, 100 different suggestions we have of how to engage your students. For this second edition we went through and we came up with one synchronous and one asynchronous way of doing each one of those. So this book actually has 200 different ways to engage your students in synchronous and asynchronous classes. And I got to tell you that I was really impressed with the team here. To be able to pull that off is really, really challenging. Some of them are very easy. If you want to basically do a small group discussion or post something, you use Padlet or something is really easy. Some of them became really interesting. So for instance, Kahoot! is a great adaptation to something like a Jeopardy type of thing. But then how do you do something like Jeopardy in an asynchronous course, where it’s going across time? So we’re digging through and Kahoot! It turns out has a way of doing that. So, really excited about having different ways of doing this in both synchronous and asynchronous class.

Claire: John, you mentioned how much research there is about the individual techniques. And I just want to share that there is so much research being done in education right now. It’s just blossomed as a field of study, and that’s wonderful. But I think Michael alluded to the fact that faculty members don’t have time to sit down and read 1000 studies, but we do, right? We did. And so we’re sharing that information. We’ve synthesized and collated and culled out what didn’t look like such a good study, or trying to make it into something that’s accessible for faculty who are busy and may not want to read that much educational research… I don’t know, hypothetically. So we are trying to say, “Okay, here’s what it says,” and then definitely apply it to practice. You also mentioned the distinction between onsite and online. I think that distinction is becoming a little more blurred than it used to be. When I teach an onsite class anymore, I’m still having my learning management system set up, there’s still stuff that I’m doing through the learning management system, there’s still stuff I’m doing online. When I teach online, I still have, maybe not face-to-face meetings, but I have Zoom meetings, I have these synchronous ones. And it just is not such a hard and fast distinction, I think. It’s like “I do this with people in the room in real time, or I do this through the technology.” And I think we can use things in all kinds of settings, and that’s what we’ve tried to share a little bit. And I do want to give a shout out, or a special credit to Todd on this. Because there are some things that, like he said, just one technique, how would you do it on every one? I’m like, “Oh, well, that’s an assignment, you submit that through your LMS.” And Todd’s like, “No, here’s 47 different other ways you can do that.” [LAUGHTER] And it’s like, there are some really creative ideas, I think, in there about different tools that you can use to do things in different ways. And so it’s not all just submitted as an assignment through your LMS. There are a lot of really cool tools out there, and to go back to Rebecca’s point, can make things more visual and more creative. And I think that involves students in ways that producing more text may not. It’s like “Oh, wow, I get to make this beautiful, professional looking product and share that with others.” And that causes or at least creates an opportunity for engagement in ways that others can’t. So yeah, we tried to share some good ideas about how to use technology. And that technology might be in an online class, or it might be in a hybrid or hyflex class, or it might be in an onsite class where you use technology in a way that supports onsite learning.

Rebecca: I really need to know what strategies were the most difficult to come up with across platforms or cross modalities. I must know. [LAUGHTER] You have to share.

Todd: There was one that took me about four days to get to and so here’s one for you. One of our onsite ones that we did was Pictionary, you know, drawing. So you divide your class into two teams, and somebody takes a marker and starts to draw. And then of course, everyone has to yell out an answer. Do that in an asynchronous class, that becomes challenging. But I stumbled across a program… actually, I shouldn’t say stumbled across, I’ve used it a couple times. But as I was thinking about this, after a couple days, I was thinking, “No, you got to turn that a little bit.” So there’s a program on there called Formative. And Formative is something that you basically come up with an image that you start and you draw like a circle or something and you present that to the class, And then each class member draws what they see of that, and then you can get feedback on that. And it suddenly occurred to me as instead of having people guessing back and forth real time that way, what you could do is provide the basic image for the class and then say, “Okay, I want everybody to draw something and submit it on this date. And then the first person who can figure out what it is, you basically write in.” And so it’s a way to do kind of Pictionary in an asynchronous way. But that was one of the trickiest ones.

Rebecca: That’s funny that you mentioned that particular thing, Todd, because I’m teaching a class this spring, a new class for me, where I was trying to come up with a way of doing Exquisite Corpse, which is a folded paper drawing, where one person would draw a head and then you try to do the body and then the next person does legs or something… something like that with my class. And I came across an example of having different boxes, essentially in a whiteboard app, for each student. And I’m going to do pet robots. And so everybody draws one part of the robot, the nose, and then you pass it to the next person. And then you say, like, “Oh, draw the head,” or whatever. So it’s a way of doing that. But that took me a good few days to come up with a solution.” [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Yeah, it does.

Michael: Well, I thought I knew a lot about technology. And as Claire said, Todd would pull something out that never ever heard of before or heard of, but I never thought to use it in that way. And I think that was one of those challenges is, anytime you’re writing a book, you don’t want to be obsolete by the time it comes out. And so it’s always tricky with technology, because websites change and services change and the ability to do different things change. But I think what we were able to do in the end was, even though it may reference a particular website or software, the underlying design principle will hold even as we get different technology over time. And I think that was one of the things we struggled with five years ago, because I’m just not sure technology across all 100 ideas was there. But I think now we’re at the place where you could at least have some semblance of how you would do this, even if that particular service was no longer available.

Todd: I really liked that you said that because the one that I’ll have to admit, one of the very first times I did exactly what you’re thinking of here is I love doing gallery walks in classes, the traditional gallery walk. And I’m sure the listeners know, but you set up four or five flip charts, you put students in groups, smaller groups, each groups in front of a flip chart, they respond to a prompt, different prompts for each flip chart, and then you rotate and you keep rotating until you come back essentially to the first one. and I thought about it for a little while and thought this would work out really well on a Jamboard. So you go to Google Jamboard, and you set up five boards and people go through it. But just like Mike was just saying, if Jamboard goes away, alright, let’s do it with Padlet. And if Padlet goes away, alright, we’ll do it with something else. So once you think this is a way through technology to do this, then it becomes actually fairly easy to find other ways to do it.

John: For faculty who are reading this for the first time, and they see now 200 techniques, maybe only 100 of which might apply for their courses, they might be tempted to try a lot of those. Would you recommend that people who are redesigning their courses or restructuring their courses try doing many new things all at once? Or should perhaps they use a more gradual approach?

Claire: I think the answer to that question depends a lot on who the faculty member is. I think some faculty members want to go all in and try a lot of new things. I think some might do well trying one new thing, and seeing how that works, and then trying another use thing. I also think that again, it depends on who your students are, what your discipline is. A lot of our techniques, though, are things that can be done in addition to other things. Like you might lecture for 10 or 15 minutes, and then do a think-pair-share. Or you might do a punctuated lecture where you stop and say “What are you thinking about right now?” …or something like that. So these are ones that can be incorporated into what faculty are already doing for the most part. So I really think it depends on what the faculty member wants to accomplish and what works best for their particular situation.

Michael: I agree with Claire, I think there’s a notion of, depending on how many times you’ve taught the class, for example, there may be a different freedom to innovate in different ways. I think the other part though, is we have to be careful if we talk about teaching innovation in this way, is beginning with the end in mind. Changing something for the sake of changing something is not a good idea to use one of these techniques. The idea is: know what you’re trying to get the students to learn. What is the content you’re trying to get them to learn? And then look for a technique that best gets you there. Certainly, as I talk to faculty, and think about ways they might do something different in class, you’ve got to start at that point, then decide what is the most effective way to get your students there. Now as much as I love all of the ideas in the book, they’re not all going to work in every situation, even if you were game to try them all. And that would probably not be an effective way to teach class. But if you know what you want your students to learn… and then we always preach backwards design, there’s a reason we do that. We start there and get them to “what we want to know” and then figure out what’s the best way to do that. And I think that’s, to me, when I think about using these activities in my own classes and as I talk to other faculty, is if I know what I’m trying to convey, I can then say, “Well, now I need to go look for a game because this might be content that’s a little dry, or I know from the past that students don’t enjoy it as much. So maybe a game would be a good thing to spice it up a little bit.” Or if I know this is really important content, and they need to understand it in a very specific way. Well, now let me look for a lecture activity that I can convey that content. So I think that, if you know what you’re doing, then you can use the book and we’ve got the full menu available to you. But if you don’t know what type of restaurant you’re going to, the menu is going to be gibberish.

Claire: I absolutely agree with that. I do want to follow up with one thing though. I would say for the person who is, and surely nobody’s still doing this, lecturing for 50 minutes without a break. Even if you don’t know why you’re going to stop every 15 minutes to do a short thing, like maybe an interpreted lecture or pause procedure or something like that. Even if you don’t know why, go ahead and do it, [LAUGHTER] because it will help your students learn better is why. That’s the answer. We all know about human attention span and all that good stuff, but also just varying the activity a little bit and giving them something to reset their attention span will be really, really helpful to their long-term learning. So even if you don’t have the perfect learning goal crafted out, if you could just stop every 10 or 15 minutes and give them something to do, something short to reset their attention span and get them back on track, they’re going to be able to listen to you more in that next lecture segment. So I absolutely agree with Michael, the one caveat is just stop every 10 or 15 minutes and do something different.

Todd: I love what you just said there, Claire, but I’m not even sure its attention span. I don’t think it’s attention span. And I mean, that is part of it. But cognitive load.

Claire: Well, that’s part of it, too. Yeah.

Todd: Anytime you’re trying to learn something new, how many times have you start to watch a video, a YouTube clip on how to do a change your carburetor on your lawnmower or whatever, that you have to stop after about three steps and say, “Whoops, wait a minute, what was that stop again? We’re the experts and we start spewing all this information. And I love that Claire said that. And I live by backward design. So, I love that one too. But the one thing we know from all the research, that’s the most clear thing out there is that putting something with a lecture always enhances learning. If you’re only doing the lecturing, and then you put something with it, it always does better. My biggest fight over the last three or four years, the research doesn’t actually really say it’s lecture versus active learning. If you read the research, the titles will say that at times… people argue that all the time. It’s not lecture versus active learning. The research is lecture alone versus lecturing with active learning, and lecturing with active learning kicks butt all the time. So I love that.

Rebecca: There’s a lot of faculty who are now teaching online synchronously, which is, you know, a newer modality that’s not written about quite as much. And John and I’ve been talking about that a bit the past few months on our podcasts.

John: …certainly, since March.

Rebecca: Yeah, I guess it’s coming up on a year. But I know one of the things that faculty are struggling with is ways to do some of these activities and build community online as part of that and get students connecting with their peers. Can you talk about some strategies that might be in your book that we could point faculty to looking into more?

Michael: You know, it’s such a great question, because I think if I think about all the way back in the beginning of March, when we had faculty on our campus that have never heard of Zoome before, we’d had Zoom for a while, but most people had never had a reason to really use it. This is the single biggest challenge I think our faculty have faced. For some getting in the learning management system was a struggle, but we could get past that fairly easily, at least to a threshold to be successful. Learning what to do… and I think to some extent, it gets to Claire’s answer about lecturing, we still have a number of faculty that do lecture almost exclusively. And so, as soon as the pandemic took hold and we moved online, we had faculty that were just lecturing the entire time. And particularly, I think this is somewhat better at least for some student populations, you know, the internet capabilities and things. We were all just overloaded, right? Yeah, and nobody could get on and constantly got the messages about connectivity problems, and Zoom and all the rest. And so faculty started recording lectures, then what happened, at least with our students, there was no reason to go to class anymore, I can watch that lecture and put it on two-times speed. And I can get out of class in half the time I used to. We’ve had a lot of conversations with faculty about how to make that time important. And especially for some faculty who are concerned about, “Well, once I record all my lectures, you don’t need me anymore.” Well, if all you’re doing is doing those recorded lectures, we probably don’t need you anymore. But do the thing that faculty are best at. It is building communities. It’s encouraging curiosity and creativity and all those things that get those of us in teaching, really jazzed to get up in the morning and go to class, be it in-person or online. And so I think for me, and as we’re thinking about some of the techniques, the more complicated the modality gets, whether we’re talking about something like hyflex or synchronous online, I think in some ways, that’s where getting back to the basics can be helpful. So using some of the lecture and discussion techniques, where you take a break and change as we were talking about just a minute ago. I also think breakout rooms… and I know this is something I think Claire’s talked about before… breakout rooms can sometimes be an extra layer of complication we may not need. And so thinking about the ways that small group discussions can be had in Zoom, or any online platform, but I think that at the end of the day, for me, it’s when we’re using complicated technology, and it may not be complicated technology wise, right, but different modalities that we’re not always comfortable teaching in, and none of us would have designed in an ideal setting. We’re clearly far from ideal. But if we can take some of those basic ideas… think-pair-share as an example. That’s one that we’ve been using for forever. Can we use that in an online platform in a way that you’re not trying to do too much technology. We had faculty early on who were trying to use every piece of technology in every class session, and they couldn’t remember which login, and then this would crash and that would crash. It was just too much. So using the basic functionalities, some of the discussion techniques where you can use the chat window, I think many faculty are probably not using some of those basic functionalities as much. So I think that’s, to me, as you’re looking at the various techniques, if you can make it easier, the more complicated the student situation is. If you know you’ve got students that are working all day and come into class at night, then maybe being super technical in different software packages… that may not be the time to do that. If you’re working with traditional 18-year olds who are savvy using a lot different technology than maybe you could. And I think that’s for me been one of the lessons of the last almost year now is can we get back to basics, and then let the technology help us to reach our students, build a community, build their engagement, use Zoom to access office hours and some of those kinds of things in which I think we’re finding our students are having much more engagement with, if we can get them to show up. So that’s to me, if we can get back to the basics, then it would be helpful, I think, for both faculty and student learning.

Claire: I’d like to pick up on this too. And that’s in part, I’m a mom, I have a 10th grader, the 10th grader is in the room right next to mine, I can’t help but overhear sometimes. I try to stay focused on my work and not pay attention, but the house is only so big. And so I’m just hearing things, and some of his teachers…..well, they’re all wonderful people… they’re lovely, lovely people doing excellent work and a pandemic. But some of them will talk for the full 60 minutes of the class. And I’m going to tell you, my kid who is a wonderful, lovely person and a really, really good student, like you might expect… both of his parents are profs, we’re nerds, we’re a nerdy family. So he does well in school, he is not managing to stay focused for those 60 minutes. I will see him get up and go to the kitchen, maybe walk through, there may be a little pacing. It’s just not happening. And then there are other teachers who will do some of the things that are in our book to mix it up. And he is in there. He’s engaged. He’s talking to the screen, talking to the teacher, he goes into breakout rooms, they’ll ask a question like, “What did we talk about last week,” like “Today, I learned…” “What did we talk about last week? And why is that important today?” Or they’ll say “Okay, so what do you think is gonna happen in this experiment that we’re about to do in chemistry?” …so like an anticipation or taking a guess kind of thing. They might occasionally go into breakout rooms to work a problem or to compare their notes for the session. They might break out and do some kind of jigsaw activity where they work together and then they teach each other. They might even do just a quick prewriting, they’ll say, “Write for a minute, and then we’ll take their responses.” And it is like night and day, he doesn’t leave the room, he is focused the whole time, he is able to maintain that attention and engagement. It’s not just attention, like Todd said, it’s more than that. It’s the ability to hang on, to concentrate, to process, for his working memory to really be able to stay with the whole thing. And so I think that what we can do is use some of these techniques when we’re teaching these synchronous things. So we’re not just giving everybody Zoom fatigue. So we are giving them good educational experiences, and not just 60 minutes wall of sound from the teacher, because that’s just not the best way. They’re not going to learn the best in that kind of situation.

Todd: Well, I heard a learner recently put it in the way that really helped me out. She said “I think about classes as to whether or not I could spend the entire class period ironing or not.” [LAUGHTER] And she said, “If I could stand up and iron an entire load of clothes while class is going on.” And all I could conceptualize in my head is “Oh, that’d be the same as like watching a soap opera or a television program while you’re ironing.” And she said, “Yep, if I can do that, I don’t need to be in class, I can just look at the recording later.” But just like what Claire was just saying, if you’re doing all those things, my goodness, it’d be interrupting your ironing all the time. [LAUGHTER] Make them do something. One of the things so fascinating about teaching is that you’re constantly straddling a line that has cut points of boredom and frustration. You got to be above boredom, you got to be interesting enough or present information in an interesting enough way that people will attend to it. But you can’t do it in such a complex way that they’re frustrated by it, because they just can’t get it. And so how can you take a learner and engage them, but not frustrate them? And that’s what you have to always be looking for techniques or ways to do that.

Michael: You know, it’s funny you say that Todd, because right before we started recording, I went out, and I’ve got a sixth grader and he was in the kitchen and getting some peanut butter cookies my daughter made this weekend. And I said, “What are you doing?” And he said, “I’m getting some peanut butter cookies.” I said, “Okay, what are you supposed to be doing?” Oh, I’m in class.” The laptop’s upstairs. He’s downstairs in the kitchen. And he had his headset on and was listening. But I contrast that with other times when, like Claire, I go past and he’s in class and when he’s got a notebook out and he’s working. His art teacher right now… because I think in some ways, certain disciplines are kind of naturally inclined to go this way…. With art, he’s got different media out, he’s got his markers, and his crayons and colored pencils and different type of paper, and he’s doing this stuff. And then he’ll be in another class, and he can go to the kitchen and get cookies and not miss a thing. And while yes, we’re all doing the best we can, I do hope when we come out of this, there’s going to be some lessons we take away from it. And one of those being: if we can just hit record and walk away, that’s maybe not the best thing for an hour class or even longer for those who have longer classes. But if we can engage students, if we can stop for a minute, if we can make them think, if we make them do something, the combination of those two things. It’s hard right now. If somebody was trying to do active learning for an entire 60 minute class, that also would be really hard to do right now given everything. But this blend, as Todd said earlier, the research shows when we can put lecture and active learning together and put some of these different techniques together, that’s where I think we’re gonna see some benefit. And I think that’s true whatever we were teaching, if we were talking about K-12, or higher education, or anything in which you are trying to communicate.

Todd: And that made me think of something else too, real quick, that I just heard a session done by someone who works at Zoom. And keeping in mind, Zoom is not static. For those of you who are using Zoom, it’s changing all the time. So they have now changed how the reaction buttons are used. They’ve got them set up in a much more easy format, they have some things that stay there until you take them off, some things that don’t, there’s all these other techniques too. Closed captioning, Zoom has finally got it, it just was launched, I believe, yesterday, or the day before it came out. I got students who have babies, they can’t have the sound on. I mean, that’s a new thing that’s good. They’ve got another one now and they blur out the background. And here’s what I really love about this with the guy who was explaining it, he said, “We’re now gonna have the capability instead of virtual backgrounds to blur the background, we did that for a more equitable situation for students who are uncomfortable with their housing situation. I was blown away that that’s the reason the guy said they did it, not because “Oh, here’s another thing that people would like.” So again, the technologies keep changing. But we as teachers, it’s what Michael and Claire both said too is we as teachers have to decide what to do and why, again, back to backward design.

Claire: And I’d like to pick up on the point too that, I think right now, making connections with other human beings is really, really important. And that’s not just watching your teacher on TV, that is actually having some kind of meaningful exchange where you get to talk to another human being. And a lot of people haven’t left their houses not much since March, or they’re not in class, they’re still online, just making that human connection is absolutely essential. And some of our techniques allow for that. They’re putting people together where they’re connecting, either through discussion or group work or something else. And I think those things, even if they’re just for a brief period of time, are probably some of the most important things we can do right now.. is give them that space and time for exchanging ideas and sharing and making that contact.

Todd: My gosh, and I know we got to move on.. this question we’ve been on it for a while, but Claire, that was such a great concept. I remember, a student in one of my classes from almost 30 years ago, and it was a night class, she kept dozing off. And I kept walking by her desk and saying, you know, “Maybe you better go splash some water on your face,” and I walked by again, and “Maybe you should just like walk around the building once real quickly.” And at the end of the class I talked to her real quickly and I said “How are you doing? I’m really concerned about you.” She said, “I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry. I almost didn’t come to class tonight, because I just worked a double shift and I’m absolutely exhausted. But this class is the only time during the week that I feel like a real valued human being.” You know, what Claire said, even without the pandemic, a lot of individuals are in home/life situations. They’re in jobs where they’re not appreciated by their colleagues. I mean, it’s one time during the day that students can feel like they mean something. And so even more so in the pandemic, but yeah,Claire. I’m glad you said that. I hadn’t thought about her for a long time.

Claire: Nice. Yeah, it is connections. It’s very important and very meaningful. And students, I truly believe they really appreciate those opportunities all the time, but especially right now when their opportunities are more constrained than they might normally be.

Rebecca: Not just students as faculty…. [LAUGHTER]… the interactions too. I remember last semester there were times when I had some really nice deep conversations with some of my students and it was like, “Wow, alright, this is the first time I’ve had a conversation with someone who’s older than three.” [LAUGHTER]

Claire: …outside the immediate family… it’s lovely.

John: We thought we’d ask each of you to share one of your favorite techniques that are in this book,

Rebecca: …or most impactful for you

Todd: …comes down to a lot of different things. But sometimes I’m actually gonna jump in and say it’s kind of a combination. It was one that I didn’t actually do, but it was one I just saw, but a technique… these techniques are so cool. Having a person open a Google form. We’ve mentioned Google forms several times in the book, but asking a quick question for the Google form of “What do you think about this?” The learners then typed what they thought, the individual was able to take those very quickly, download those into a word cloud, and then presented the word cloud. Now we’ve got AnswerGarden as a word cloud that we mentioned on a couple of the IDEAS, and Google forms is something else we use in it. But the ability to capture that information and turn it into a visual that quickly was just one that I thought was really amazing.

Michael: I think my favorite is one, it’s called “Houston, we have a problem.” And it’s taken from Apollo 13, of course. And it’s that great scene in the movie where the engineers have to figure out how to get the oxygen thing working on the spaceship. And so they have all this stuff. And you can’t give them new supplies and new tools, because they’re halfway to the moon. And there’s this great line: “you have to make this fit into that using just this.” And so what I love about this is it’s fundamentally problem solving, but it brings together knowledge and skills. And so you give students, and it can be different depending on whatever class of course, it can be a set of terms or methodologies or equipment or whatever it might be, but the students have to take these things and figure out how to use them. And I love the notion of that. I use versions of it in my own classes, the notion of having students take something, even things that might be out of the context of the class, or even the discipline, and figure out how to make it work. Because I do think fundamentally, to me, it gets to what you do when you leave us. The academy’s this great place where we can play with ideas and information and learn skills, but it’s somewhat sanitized, it’s hard to really get to the messiness of what students are going to face when they leave us. And that, to me, is such a great activity where you’ve got to figure out how to get to a solution, and you don’t have all the information, you may not have everything you need to solve it. But you collectively as a group have to come. So I think we called it a game, I’m not sure if it’s entirely a game, there’s probably a game element to it. But I just love the notion of students having to work together and kind of fight to a solution.

Rebecca: Michael, did you say that you do this in some of your classes?

Michael: I have,yes. Probably my favorite way to do it is for research design, actually, and give students a variety of different data sources and analytic techniques, and a question they’re trying to solve. And so they have to decide if I’m going to use this quantitative data or I’m going to use this qualitative method or I’m gonna use a survey, and they’ve got to figure out how to do it. Amd I usually do it in a fairly compressed amount of time, because what I’m trying to do is quickly think about the tradeoffs in making methods decisions and research develop. And so they can’t do everything they want to do. But they have to figure out how am I going to be able to answer this research question. And so it’s real simple where I usually give them like index cards with terms in them, but then they have to work through and figure out the way they would do it. And what’s often is impactful is to see how the other groups, for the same question, how they got to a different way to get to the answer, then it opens up some great conversations about the methods and rigor and validity and trade offs in research. And it’s kind of a fun way to learn about those ideas.

Claire: I like a lot of those. And it’s really hard for me to choose. But I’m gonna say jigsaw, just to pick one out of a hat, really. And I think jigsaw… I mentioned it earlier, it’s where you create base groups, and students work in base groups to study something and learn about it, and to decide how to teach each other. And then you recombine groups, one person from each base group joins the team. So they then teach each other what they learned in their base groups in their jigsaw. And I think it’s a wonderful technique to encourage collaboration. And it involves students. It engages them. I have a story about it. I teach a college teaching course. And I remember one year early in my teaching of this course, I wanted them to know about the history of college teaching, I thought it was important to have them understand where we come from and how we’ve gotten to where we are. So I created this lecture. It was so long ago, y’all, that it was on overhead. Remember the clear overhead slide you put on the overhead projector, it was like that. And when I teach, one of the things that I do that’s pretty useful is, at the end of every class, I take notes on how things went, and then I put it away, and I pull it out the next year I’m teaching or the next time I’m teaching the course. And so I had created this lecture about the history of college teaching, about pedagogy in higher education. And I gave it, and the next year I came back and I looked at my notes and it said “This was bad. [LAUGHTER] This was really bad. This was bad for you. This was bad for them. [LAUGHTER] Don’t do it.” I had no memory of that at all. I thought, “Oh, good, I’m gonna give my lecture. I’ve already got it done and everything.” And so I… [LAUGHTER] …I pulled back and said, “Alright, what I’m gonna do is a jigsaw with this.” So I gave each group a period of time: y’all got the colonial period, y’all got the antebellum period,” and so forth. So there were four or five periods, I don’t remember how many I divided it into, and they got together and then they taught each other. And they broke out into their new groups, taught each other. They were using games to teach each other. I think they busted out like Jeopardy and Pictionary and all these great things. They were so engaged and into it. And they learned so much more, I promise, through that jigsaw than they ever would have through my lecture. And it was just a really good and useful activity. So that remains one of my favorites for that reason. But I also want to add that I like a lot of the metacognitive activities. It’s one of the best ways to improve the learning, right? But I think it’s something that we don’t always think about doing. And so things like wrappers or even opinion polls, or the “today I’ve learned…” “what’s the most important thing you learn today?” They take so little time and can really, really deepen learning

Rebecca: And that’s only three or four out of 200. [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Well, I gotta say, while we were chatting about that, and Claire was talking about, I just pulled up the chapter that we just finished. And if I have it right here, there’s 14,000 words in that chapter. That was the metacognitive chapter. So this is a pretty dense book in the sense of there’s tons of stuff, but if anybody’s interested, we have 14,000 words on metacognitive strategies, [LAUGHTER] the research behind it, and how to apply it.

John: And that’s something that most faculty tend to ignore. So, including that I think is really, really helpful. The evidence on that’s overwhelming.

Claire: It really is. And I would say maybe not dense, like I don’t think it’s a real dense read. I think it’s chocked full of goodness, right? Here’s a lot of… [LAUGHTER]

Todd: Well, that’s a good point.

Claire: …rich… information rich, yeah.

Todd: I’m actually curious to see how the new books gonna look, though, because when I was looking to the as we were going through updating everything, the standard out there is you’re supposed to change 20% of the material, I think we added something like 30% new material over and there was nothing to take out, because there was nothing in there that was outdated. Nothing we’d written from the first edition was no longer valuable. So the previous book plus about 30% new. So it’s gonna be a very meaty book. But it’s a good resource… not meant to be read from cover to cover. It’s just meant to open it up to what you need.

Rebecca: So when can we start reading this book? Exactly.

Todd: The book will be available in the latter part of June.

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

Todd: In the universe, or…

Rebecca: However you really want to address this, because there’s a lot…

Michael: Todd, do you wanna go first?

Todd: Sure. I think what’s next is just to get through spring. Michael brought it up too, and we’ve kind of touched on it. This is really hard…. the pandemic, with everybody shifting to everybody, we know months and months and months ahead of time that we’re going to do this…” We all want to get back together. So for many of us, UNC Chapel Hill was right at the lead of this one, is students arrived on campus, and seven days later, they shut it down. And then spring came along. And it’s like, “Okay, but now we’re going to be able to be face to face, right?” And we’re still doing either online teaching or emergency remote teaching. The differentiation, of course, the online teaching is a very thoughtful process where people put together this whole package of how you deliver education and emergency remote is we just do the best we can with the time we got. So I think the “what’s next” is to get through the spring, take the summer, I wholeheartedly believe in the fall we’ll be closer to being back together in classrooms. And then I think it’s coming back to what both Clair and Michael have said, is pulling the essence of some of the really cool things we’ve learned and embed those into classes for faculty members who have never even considered teaching online a year and a half ago or a year ago, to now implement those strategies. And so I think that’s what’s next is: how do we find some good out of all of the garbage that’s been happening? And that’s what I’m looking for. Pathological levels of optimism. I think we’re going to get through it and then we’re going to be better off in the future than we were in the past. I’ll use one quick example of this because I work in a medical school, flu rates are almost non existent this year. And I knew that was going to happen six months ago, because nobody took flu that serious… I shouldn’t say nobody, a lot of people didn’t… 30 to 50 thousand… it’s hard to get these numbers, sometimes 30 to 50 thousand people a year die from the flu. And now what we’ve got is a whole population that knows we should wash our hands, stay home when you’re sick, and don’t be in each other’s space all too much and wear masks when you need to and because of that I think next flu season is going to roll around and I think people are going to put their masks and stand back, and we’re going to see flu rates with maybe 20-30 thousand people less dying every year. So with teaching, with health, I think down the road is putting new practices into place.

Rebecca: Sounds like a lot of metacognition might be going on.

Todd: I’m a metacognition nerd. [LAUGHTER]

Michael: So I agree with Todd, I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from the pandemic, and what’s going to happen afterwards. I think the other really negative implication of the pandemic is that this moment of equity and inclusion has been too easily forgotten, I think, in corners of higher ed, myself included at times. We’re so trying to get through the day that this reckoning that’s happened, I worry that those of us in higher ed have forgotten it. And so we absolutely need to take some lessons from the pandemic for teaching. But I also think we’ve got to continue to work on the inclusion in our classrooms, be it an in-person classroom or an online classroom. That work is gonna take a lot longer than the pandemic, I suspect, but is equally as important.

Todd: Boy, Michael,I’m really glad you just said that, because this whole thing has shown a huge light on the inequities in our systems. I think the inequities are huge. And I really do hope we can, at least with the big flashlight on there, maybe we can sort a few things out. But I’m really glad you said that.

John: Those inequities became much more visible to faculty with the shift to remote teaching, it was really easy to ignore these differences when everyone has access to the same computer labs, the same wireless network, the same study facilities and some degree of food security with meal plans on campus. But when students dispersed and went home, all that broke down, and faculty suddenly had to become aware of that, and faculty are attending workshops at rates I’ve never seen before. Our attendance has just skyrocketed. And a lot of people have come to appreciate backwards design and building new things into their classes. So I’m really optimistic about many of these things. But we certainly need to do a whole lot more work on equity and inclusion issues.

Claire: I think one thing I’ll say is that faculty aren’t typically taught how to teach, it’s not something we usually take classes on in graduate school, it’s not something that we receive a lot of training before doing it. Most of us have to learn through trial by fire, or we have learned by watching our own teachers, growing up, going through grade school and high school and college, we figure out what works by being participants in it. So I think the result of this is a lot of us haven’t had, again, that formal education in how to teach. We don’t have the research grounding, the theoretical background, and a lot of times when we’re just starting, we don’t even have the practice. So what this pandemic has done has changed that, because we’ve shifted to a new modality that most of us have never engaged with before. Most of us hadn’t taught an online course, or an emergency remote course, and so we’ve had to figure it out on the fly. But what I think this is done is put it in the forefront. All of a sudden teaching is something we really have to think about is something we really have to figure out because I’m doing it in this whole new way, and I can’t just bank on what I suspect works, I have to figure out this new system. And so I think we do have a lot more people thinking about it. I think we also have more institutions investing in professional development in ways that we haven’t before. And we have more faculty participating in professional development than we have before. And so I think it has highlighted teaching in a way that it hasn’t been for everyone for a while. And I think that’s good. If we’re looking for some kind of silver lining here, I think we can say that, all of a sudden, people are at least more often really aware of teaching and thinking about what makes good teaching. And when you have to plan out an online course, it really makes you think through the process. I know we went in March to emergency remote teaching, but a lot of us were teaching online in the fall. And so when you have to think through a whole course in this new way, you really have to think through the process from start to finish. And I think it changes the way you think about teaching, to teach online. And I hope in good ways, like Michael’s saying, I hope that we can learn from what we’ve done and figure out, “Hey, this is stuff that works really well” or “This is stuff that maybe doesn’t work as well,” and that we can take that back into whatever teaching mode we are in in the future. So I do think that there has been a big shift, and I think that’s going to stay with us. I expect we’re gonna see more things done online going forward. And I don’t want to say completely online. I am absolutely not saying higher ed is going online. I’m saying people may use some of the pieces of online activities that worked well for them. They may do an online assignment if they never did before, or they may have a Z oom virtual office hour or something like that. So I think there are going to be some things that we take from this experience.

John: And I think Todd has a book coming out on that, which we discussed in a podcast that was released on January 27.

Todd: Oh, Creating Equity-Based Digital Learning Environments. Oh yeah, I remember that.

Rebecca: Maybe that one? Yeah.

Claire: I want to add too that, I think faculty… I want to believe this… have become more aware of the need for compassion in their classes. I mean, it’s easier when everybody seems healthy and well to say, “You know, no late assignments,” or whatever, and “it’s in the syllabus,” and my late policy is this. But I want to think that people understand that people are sick, or caring for sick people, and that life circumstances are changed, maybe they have their little kids at home with them. I think it’s important to be compassionate for students and to understand their needs. And I think this is highlighted, in addition to equity and inclusion, just some more issues, that people have lives. And they’re different when they’re not on campuses, and that we can be compassionate and kind to people. And that doesn’t make us any less rigorous or whatever. It just means that we’re kind and compassionate, and I think our students will learn more when we are more aware of them as humans.

Todd: we’re seeing that in the POD network, and the Lilly conferences, the stuff you just brought up, Claire, anything dealing with mindfulness and compassion, those types of things. People are just swarming to those sessions, they just love those things. Because it’s vital right now.

Claire: You know, sometimes students will, when I send out something, and I’ll say… I just sent out a note to a student today, and said, “Oh, your assignment didn’t come through, I think you didn’t respond to a peer, so it didn’t come up in the gradebook. I just want you to know, I’m not going to count off late, please just get it done.” It’s just like, “Oh, my gosh, thank you so much for reaching out. I so appreciate it.” It’s like: “who hurt you?” You know… [LAUGHTER] This should not be like this. And this has happened time after time, where I’m just like being a nice human being to say, “hey, you missed this,” or, “hey, don’t forget this,” or whatever. And it’s just this overwhelming response. And I don’t think it needs to be that way. I think we need to show students that we do care about them and understand their situations and just want them to learn. And that doesn’t mean I’m a softy, I don’t want to say that we don’t need to expect them to work hard and do the work and show up and all that. We absolutely do. We just need to understand their circumstances as well.

Rebecca: And not assuming that mal intent. I think sometimes that’s what was happening before the assumption that “they did it on purpose”, or they’re skipping out or something rather than just being like a reasonable human being who made a mistake or forgot something.

Claire: Or you hear the thing, “Oh, their grandmother died. How many grandmothers do you have?” Well, it doesn’t matter how many grandmothers you have, you know, it’s like stop being that way. Maybe they do actually have three grandmothers or maybe they have situations that they don’t want to tell you about. Give them the benefit of the doubt until you can’t, I think. But that’s me. That’s me. Not everybody feels that way.

Todd: Here’s the quick teaching tip on this one I’ve just stumbled in this years ago, and it worked out really well. For me, I will have eight to 10 kind of general “rules.” Just don’t lie to me. Just be honest about stuff. And when I ask you a question and for those types of things, I’ll just say, “Here’s 10 things.” And I did this with face-to-face classes a lot. And I’d say now get into groups of four and come up with two or three things for each group that you’d like me to consider. What are some additional things you’d like me to consider. And the reason I brought this up is because of what you just said, Claire with the “who has hurt you.” The very first time I did this, I just thought this would be a neat way of showing them. It’s a communal organization. I have expectations. So do you. One of my students started out by saying, “If another student starts to attack me, don’t come to my defense. But please moderate the conversation. I can fend for myself if you’ll control the situation.” I thought, well, that’s a really good one. The next one was “If we provide an answer, and it’s wrong, please don’t call us stupid.”

Claire: Oh my gosh.

Todd: And I thought to myself, they’re not making this up. They’re saying things that have happened to them. And so again, the quick teaching tip is on your first day of class, it can be online or it could be face to face, is just “Here are some of my expectations. And now I’d like to hear what are your expectations.” And that’s where you find out who’s hurt them and you address it.

Claire: I’ve also heard of people doing like “life happens” passes the you get one assignment or two assignments or whatever, it is no questions asked. Use the card when you need it. And I don’t need to see your doctor’s note. I don’t need to see anything. Just you have your passes and use them as you will. And I think that’s a fine way to handle it. Or you can just listen to them and say, “Okay, you can have an extension.”

John: Well, thank you. This has been a fascinating conversation and it was great talking to you. And we’re looking forward to the new edition of your book. Your first edition was invaluable as a resource. And this sounds like it’s going to be even more.

Rebecca: It’s like next setting, level up. It sounds like.

Claire: Thank you.

Todd: Yes. Thank you both.

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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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177. Blogging in Unexpected Disciplines

Maybe you’ve seen professional development sessions about digital portfolios or blogs and thought, “that is not relevant to my classes.” In this episode, Dr. Kathryn Berkow joins us to discuss how she has used blogging in her Business Analytics class to allow students to share their learning journey. Katy is an Assistant Professor of Management Information Sciences at the University of Delaware. She is also the host of the ON Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast.

Show Notes

Transcript

Rebecca: Maybe you’ve seen professional development sessions about digital portfolios or blogs and thought, “that is not relevant to my classes.” In this episode, we look at one example where blogging has been used to share students’ progress on business analytics projects with an audience.

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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 Dr. Kathryn Berkow. Katy is an Assistant Professor of Management Information Sciences at the University of Delaware. She is also the host of the ON Cultivating Student Engagement in Higher Ed podcast. Welcome, Katy.

Katy: Well, thanks so much for having me. I’m a huge fan of your podcast.

John: And we’re fans of yours.

Rebecca: Our teas are:

Katy: I am drinking tea today, I just made a cup of something called Scandinavian detox, which is an herbal caffeine free blend.

John: And I’m drinking ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: Oh, back to an old favorite. Me too. I’m back to the Scottish afternoon tea… just delivered.

John: We’ve invited here to discuss how you’ve been using blogs in your business analytics class. Could you first describe the class in which you’re doing this?

Katy: Absolutely. So I teach business analytics at the University of Delaware. And the course that we’re talking about today is a reformulation of a traditional second course in statistics, and it’s for sophomores and juniors. So this is a required course in the business school for most business majors. For some, it’s their last statistics class they’ll ever take. And for others, it’s creating the opportunity to introduce perhaps more study in analytics. There’s a wide range of students in the class, lots of different majors, lots of different interests. And the topics that we focus on, are sort of three-pronged instead of a traditional two-pronged approach. So we focus on introducing a programming language, which is always a topic that introduces some fear for many students. We talk about statistical modeling, which also brings some fear. And the third, the part that introduces the reformulation of the class is the communication around the results of building a statistical model. And the potential impact on the research question and what the potential is for using these analytics. We really want to connect the students to the impact that their analytics could have on an organization.

Rebecca: Statistics isn’t necessarily the first topic that comes to mind to meet a blog assignment. So can you talk a little bit about how you decided to introduce blogs into your course?

Katy: Absolutely. And I completely agree with you, Rebecca, this didn’t come on suddenly for me. There were two things that were happening concurrently. The first was, I was experiencing a lot of frustration with my multiple choice homework assignments. When I started teaching the course, I had traditional exams, and these multiple choice questions. And there was always a problem with the multiple choice questions. I’m not putting enough time into writing them well, and generating the multiple questions for each topic that’s going to create that ability to randomize selection for different students. And there was always a problem, you know, a student would email and say, like, “I think I got this wrong, but I don’t know why.” And we would discover that there was actually a problem with the question. But the second thing that was happening as I was becoming more and more frustrated with my homework assignments was that I attended a workshop about digital portfolios. And it was the kind of workshop where you go to several sessions over the day, and you have a great choice. And this was one that I was like, “Well, that sounds interesting, but I’m not sure it’s going to be useful for me,” just like you said, I’m not sure that’s a statistics class was an obvious digital portfolio class. But I just kind of listened, I loved the idea and filed it away. They were giving examples of using it for writing courses or art classes to feature students’ work. But eventually, this moment came where I realized that the two could absolutely go together and highlight the communication in my class that’s missing from the multiple choice homework questions. The students were not getting practice at communicating the impact of their results, or the meaning of their results, in multiple choice questions, really. So the idea to create a space for them to not only report results, but to talk about them in their own words, really made me excited. And I just immediately started developing this new assignment, knowing that I was taking a risk, but I was really excited about it.

John: And so as they’re reporting this, is this something they’re doing over the course of the whole project?

Katy: Yeah, absolutely. So the way the project begins, that first week of the semester, I have students select their own data set of interest from some resources I provide. So an example of that would be like I send them to Kaggle. As a first source. Kaggle.com has lots of publicly available data that people have put up on the site to share. And I’ll have the students select a data set of interest, and work with that particular data set all semester long. So they start by generating an interesting research question to them. And you know, I’m just asking them to put some context around. So some students will select something very serious. Last semester, some students wanted to work with COVID-19 data, which is so relevant and interesting, but others did not want to work with COVID-19 data, they wanted to work with something that was maybe feeling like more of a break from what we were experiencing. So, a lot of students choose sports related data. And whatever the students choose, they’ll work with that data set. The intention is for them to work with that data set all semester long, and apply every skill to that data set and report out. So, there are a variety of different topics, and I also include In my syllabus that we should just be conscious that we’re not all going to choose the same type of data. Some of us are going to choose very serious topics and we should all treat the discussion of those topics in a serious way, and some of us are going to choose some things with a little bit of levity like studying the winners of the bachelorette and what their characteristics are like, and that we should appreciate the levity in that too, and just appreciate each other’s choices.

Rebecca: One of the things that I know that I’ve appreciated in doing projects like this in my class, is the ability for students to practice that professional communication and have an audience. Can you talk a little bit about who the audience of the blog is, and whether or not it’s public facing?

Katy: Oh, sure. So the blogs are intended to be public, because they’ll submit the links to their posts as their homework assignment. And then we use Canvas as an LMS. So Canvas loads those assignments right up, and I can look at them right away, which is great. But because the blogs are public, I also include some notes about that in my syllabus, pointing out that you wouldn’t want to report personal information, for example. You can keep it as private as you’d like to, in that you don’t have to identify yourself as the author if you don’t want to. But I encourage them to keep a professional tone, especially if they want to use this as a potential portfolio to share with future employers as evidence of their study and their work. And I tell them, they can spend as much or as little time as they’d like making it look beautiful, with some really beautiful images. Some students choose not to do that at all and it’s just a plain white background with a title. And that’s fine, too. So I tell them, I am their audience, but that they should consider that this is a public space, and that they might have a broader audience. But I also include in the syllabus, if anyone is uncomfortable with the idea of a public facing blog, they can request a different option. I’ve never actually had to offer that option. But I would offer like, let’s create a Google Doc that is more like with chapters instead of a blog with individual posts.

John: What platform are students using? Do they get to choose our own? Or are they all working in one platform?

Katy: So, I suggest WordPress because it has a free option. And because that’s where I built my example blog, which I’m happy to talk about as well. And I can provide more detailed instructions and troubleshoot with them a little bit more easily. But if they want to choose Wix or something else that they’re more comfortable with, I’m completely fine with that so long as they know that I’m not an expert in any of these other platforms.

Rebecca: Do you want to talk a little bit about that example you just mentioned?

Katy: Absolutely. So the example blog that I built was sort of my first experience with understanding if this could work in the class. As I was trying to formulate what we would do, I was writing my own version of the blog, which later turned into a resource that can help students as an example. So I selected a data set about understanding diabetes, and its relationship to age and blood pressure. And this is a very common data set on Kaggle. So I was writing. The goal is for students to take each topic that we learn in class, and there’s about, say, 15 topics over the course of the semester. So if we learn to build a basic regression model, the students will then apply the basic regression code that we’ve learned in class, and we’ve seen a couple examples and apply it to their own data set. So now I’m thinking about COVID-19 and I want to understand the relationship between, say, rates of cases and age groups, something like that. So they now have my example blog to go to and read and see how I structured what I did. And they’ll say, “Okay, Katy built her model relating blood pressure to age, and I’m going to do something similar.” And one of the reasons why I like creating the example is so that they can see where they’re going. But I also really liked that it serves as sort of a textbook support where we don’t have a textbook in our class. So in the later, more complex topics, I also write a lot about how I’m interpreting my results, and why, so that they have a little more support as they try to make those interpretations. And of course, if they’re having any trouble making those connections, they can always come to office hours and ask questions. But those who have used the example blog as a support really report that it’s useful.

John: You mentioned that you don’t have a textbook, but I’ve seen on your website that you have created videos that serve as a substitute for a textbook.

Katy: Yes, as we’ve transitioned to online remote teaching, I had actually been very lucky to have had experienced teaching online before. And I wasn’t using those videos that I had used in the online version of the class in my on campus class at all. But there have always been students not able to attend class for various reasons. You know, “I’m an athlete and I’m going to be traveling, I’m going to miss class” or “I’m just sick and I’m going to miss class.” So for lots of reasons, students have needed an additional resource and, without a textbook, that’s always been a concern. So I wanted to provide those additional supports but, of course, as I’m sure you’ve considered before as well, does providing the video reduce my attendance in class? There’s this constant struggle. But as I have been doing this online remote teaching, I think that I don’t care, I just want to provide all of the resources, so that every student can find this material in whatever way is easiest, most flexible, most accommodating to their lifestyle. And so that means putting out the videos in what I’m calling a digital textbook. And I can also refer it to students even when we’re on campus as an additional support if they need it after class.

Rebecca: How have your students responded to working through this information in this way? And have they had the opportunity to look at each other’s blogs and comment and do some peer feedback as well?

Katy: That is a great question. I have not incorporated any peer feedback of the blogs into class… except this semester, as we were doing the remote teaching, I was meeting in small groups, so the students would watch the videos from the online class. And then we would come together in conversation. And the only peer feedback that I’ve ever incorporated is having the students present their issues as they work through their blog posts during these small group sessions, and then having others weigh in. And I found that to be so rewarding, it was just so much fun to have them identifying each other’s problems. And there were lots of students in each group studying similar types of data. So one student is studying hockey, “Oh, I’m also studying hockey, did you find this…” and so it really was fun to make those connections. So in that way, we have had some peer oversight and I think I’d like to find ways to continue that kind of small group discussion about the blogs. But overall, the feedback on the blogs has been positive. The way that I know that is I’m looking at course evaluations, I would say, in maybe 40% of my course evaluations, students are mentioning the blogs in general. So, not everyone by a longshot. And when they do mention it, it’s in two ways, in general: 1. I really loved the blog posts, or 2. the blog posts were really hard, but I knew I was learning. And so seeing comments like those, it really makes me feel like I’m achieving the goal of helping the students to get to a place where they’re ready to apply the skill in a new setting. So that’s the beauty of the blog, that it captures what we really want them to do, which is to get into their professional setting, ready to apply it to a new situation, because they have my example blog, they have their example blog, they can remember how to do this given those skills.

John: You provide students with a sample blog, but do you give them any other guidance on what they should include in their blog post?

Katy: Absolutely. So in each problem description, so for each blog post assignment, I’ll give a bulleted list of items that they should include. But in addition to that, because I probably go on a little bit in my bulleted list, I also provide a rubric. And Canvas, as an LMS is really helpful in this way, because I can include the rubric right in the assignment and tell students how I’ll be calculating the points for each assignment. So I can have one point for including an image showing the results, I can have one point for correctly interpreting the intercept, etc. So the students will know as they’re writing, what are the things that I’ll be looking for. But even better than that, they can also see where their blog posts needed improvement. So after it’s been graded, and by the way, it’s very easy to grade in Canvas, because it can take me just a few minutes to read through a post and know whether the student has done the five or six checklist items in the rubric and just click, and I’m done in just a few minutes per student, which is great if you have a large number of students say whether it’s 50 or 150. It’s relatively quick. And I’m very lucky to have the help of a TA with that. But the beauty of the rubric in canvas is that the students can see which buttons I’ve clicked so they can know “Okay, I got a five out of six on this post. And where I wasn’t effective was at describing what the meaning of the intercept was. So now I can go to tutoring or to office hours or talk to the TA about how I could change that for a project or an assessment.”

John: How many posts do they have to make as you’re working through the project.

Katy: So the students will work on a post for every topic over the course of the semester, which ends up being 14 topic related posts. I also have them create a welcome post that’s just “Hey, I’m here blogging as their first assignment…” that just officially sets up their blog and creates their first post walking them through the process. And they create one additional post about “data and impact” I call it so they report which dataset did I select? Why? What’s the potential impact? So I have them create a research question they’ll be focused on through the semester and describe what impact it could have. Now this is a business analytics class, but I think of it more like an organizational analytics. So even if you’re studying the bachelorette, you can position yourself to think about, “Okay, I work for Netflix, and I’m trying to understand, is there a theme here? Do we need to have more diversity and inclusion in our bachelorette or bachelor? So what are the dynamics around the situation we’re studying?” And obviously, some things lend themselves more to a traditional business analytics context than others. But I want the students to know that any organization can have any research question. So you can create that context. And then they do a final post with conclusions at the end of the semester.

John: Do you have a generic rubric that works with all of the posts? Or is there one for each of those stages?

Katy: Great question, John, you’re pointing out that there was quite a bit of setup on the front end of this. So it was good that I was really excited about it when starting the experiment, [LAUGHTER] because I had to build that example blog, I had to build each of the 17 total assignments, and that kind of semi-custom rubric to each one. So each one includes the requirement that an image must be posted, for example. But, if we’re studying linear regression assumptions, I’m going to have one point associated with each assumption that needs to be tested correctly. So there is a lot of customization. However, after creating, because these are so generic or agnostic to the material the student is studying, after creating that first batch of assignments, I’ve been doing this two years now, I have never needed to change it. And I really haven’t had any issues with these assignments when it comes to “this wasn’t clearly enough defined,” for example, because while the students do tend to become frustrated with open-ended assignments, they hear me say, a lot of the time, business analytics is an open-ended kind of structure. It has a lot of art, and a lot of science. And I can’t answer the questions, always in a direct way because your real life is not going to have direct answers to every question. And so over the course of the semester, I do find students tend to get more comfortable with this ill-defined nature. But they also have the support of specific rubrics to give them some sense of structure when possible.

John: Would you recommend this approach to other faculty outside of the more traditional writing fields?

Katy: Absolutely, but I won’t pretend to know how. What I would say is that I encourage just hearing what other people are doing, like I get so much value out of listening to your podcast, and to Bonni Stachoviak’s podcast, just hearing what people are doing in their classrooms that’s engaging their students, because one of the reasons I created my own podcast was to generate more sharing, because what happens in our classrooms is so opaque to others. As I told you, I attended that session a couple of years ago, maybe three or four years ago now. And I didn’t really think it applied. And I know we all say like, “Oh, well that’s not for me,” or “that’s not gonna work,” I just feel like the more ideas we have circulating in our minds that you know “don’t work,” and the more issues we face on our own in our own classes about, especially now, how to engage students under these changing circumstances, I just feel like having a glossary of ideas that you can pull from and maybe adapt to your own class is so helpful. So I think there are lots of potential applications to this, that I could see. In fact, I use this in my other courses. So I teach a capstone course at the senior and graduate level. And when we’re not using proprietary data related to an organization, which I do in my senior capstone, like in the graduate course, I do have students select publicly available data, I also use a blog reporting structure. So I did need to develop a similar framework with rubrics. But it creates this sort of agnostic space where no matter what project you’re working on, you can report out on that topic, and all you need to do is share a link with me and then I can see your status update for the week. And you can really tell a lot by how students are writing about what they’re doing. Now in, say, a finance class where there’s a correct answer to every question, I’m not sure a blog is going to be a perfect fit. But it’s just really nice to have it as one option for reporting something because probably there’s going to be a report or a reflection or writing assignment in some space, where digital reporting is a really nice way to reduce paper, make our classes much more streamlined for remote delivery or flexible delivery as we move into the future. I do think it has a potential for tons of applications that I certainly haven’t thought of yet. But I really like this delivery method in class.

John: And you mentioned reflection, and that’s something that’s useful in any discipline, and that’s one way in which it could be fairly easily integrated. You’ve made my life a lot more complicated this week, because I’m supposed to be preparing my syllabi this week. We’re recording this in late January. We’ll be releasing it a little bit later. And when I saw the description of what you were doing, I was thinking this is something I should try this semester. So I’m probably going to be trying to implement some of these ideas in my econometrics class this semester.

Katy: Well, that’s great to hear. I hope it works.

John: I hope I can get it all together.

Katy: Well, I’d be happy to share anything by the way, like if you want to see my example blog or if you want to see an example rubric or an example assignment description, I’d be happy to share any of those things.

John: That would be very helpful. Thank you.

Rebecca: It is funny that sometimes we get these really great ideas to try out these new things, and John and I certainly experience this frequently. As podcast hosts, we’re exposed to so many great ideas, and then we have so many. But it’s really great, even though that sometimes there’s a lot of time involved in the setup of these things, they often play out in saving time over time….

Katy: Absolutely.

Rebecca: …presuming you stay with it, right? [LAUGHTER]

Katy: Well, absolutely. And that’s one of the things that has been the neatest for me, because one of the issues with the multiple choice questions is that they were so specific, and there was so much opportunity to make a mistake, missing a dollar sign or writing the wrong variable name. With the blog assignments, they’re so open ended. All I’m saying is: “Apply using linear regression with two variables to your dataset.” How can I get that problem description wrong? I can’t. So the beauty of the blog is that the nature of the description of an assignment is so open ended, but so directly flowing from what we did in class that the students really know how to accomplish each step.

Rebecca: I’m sure they also can see the practical application and how all of this skill sets not only from the statistics part of it, but also from the blog component of it, or the digital reporting of it, is practical for their future careers and things. And I think that tends to give students a little bit more buy-in to these kinds of assignments.

Katy: I think you’re right. And it achieves two other critical things. One of them is that it brings the sort of inherent motivation that we know is so important for student learning right up front, the students are choosing what they want to study. So they’re going to have a lot more excitement. And honestly, I see that when I’m talking to them. I don’t know anything about professional hockey, but when my students are working with hockey data, and that’s the area that they have the greatest interest in, I see them light up when I ask questions about like, “Now, how did you make this interpretation? Why do you think this is related to this?” So inherent motivation is a big deal. But the second thing that is a really fun byproduct is that having read what students are doing and having spoken to them in office hours, it brings up a ton of fun examples to talk about in class. So I might remember that Adrian is working on, you know, the COVID-19 data, and I can sort of bring that up casually in class. We found this weird thing that happened in Adrian’s dataset, and why do you think this is happening? Or what do you think is a good solution to this problem that Adrian’s facing and we can talk about things that I had never imagined would come up in class just because of a quirky dataset that was publicly available.

Rebecca: I could see how that also puts students in the position of being an expert or a co- teacher in some ways, which I can see as being another motivating factor.

Katy: Absolutely. That’s such a great point, because they’re also experts in each other’s conversation. So in the small groups that I was doing in the remote teaching in the fall, one student would say, “Oh, well I bought him an idea for your data set based on our conversation last week.” And even if you just watch hockey, and you’re not working on a hockey dataset, but you really like it, you can be an expert in someone else’s space. And clearly I can’t, because I’m upfront with the students about what I know and what I’m interested in and what I’m not. So like, I don’t watch a lot of hockey. so you have to help me understand. And that sort of puts me in a backseat in the same way it puts them in the front seat.

John: Earlier, you mentioned that one of the motivations for doing this was that you wanted to move away from multiple choice tests. Have you eliminated multiple choice tests from this course?

Katy: So yes, I have… sort of. In the remote teaching environment, I have relied more on team projects and multiple choice quizzes. I was trying to model after folks I’ve heard on your podcast and others say that having smaller-stakes quizzes is much more inclusive, gives students more of an opportunity to learn and to course correct, and so I was having these multiple choice quizzes. But I’m finding that the multiple choice quizzes are really an obstacle for students. And I am as frustrated as they are with them. They’re doing great on the blogs, but they’re not doing as well on the multiple choice questions. And I suspect it’s because of the poor design in the multiple choice questions and not because the students don’t know what they’re doing. They couldn’t do a great job on the blog if they didn’t have the skills. So as we head into the spring, where I’ll be teaching remotely again, I am planning to drop the multiple choice quizzes completely. That’s not to say I’ll never use multiple choice questions again. In my in-person class, I have used multiple choice questions or a multiple choice final as part of assessing students. But for now, it seems that the multiple choice quizzes really have not been effective. So this semester, I’m going to be grading students on their blog posts, team project, and participation, which is just an interaction metric

John: Are the team projects the same as a project they’re reporting on the blog?

Katy: Oh, great question. So when I assign a team project to students, it is on a data set that I’ve selected. So at the beginning of the semester, they are downloading a folder of lots of different data sets that they’ll need for examples working through the course skill videos that we’ve talked about. And I’ll choose a data set that they might not have seen yet and write some questions that are somewhat open ended, “build a model,” and I’ll try to randomize across teams like which variables they should use in their model. So they’ll all be predicting sales, for example, but they might have different predictor variables. So team one is going to choose variables, 1, 2, 3, etc. So they’re all working with something a little bit different, but they’re trying to end up in the same place: predicting sales. And these are totally open ended. But they get to work together, and that helps. And I’ve also been using specifications grading in this class over the last semester, which has been a lot of fun. The students have started to appreciate it toward the end of the semester, though, maybe I shouldn’t have selected a semester that was so much in transition to experiment with that. [LAUGHTER] Maybe it created a little stress at the beginning. But by the end of the semester, the students were saying things like, “I really liked that I could choose my level of interaction with the course.” The reason I bring this up is because I would require revisions in team projects. So every team had to score 100%, which of course is alarming to students until you say, “there will be revisions required until you’ve scored 100%.” So I want us to move past these topics, but we are going to make sure that we learn them. And I think that was a really neat experience for me to be able to coach students through finally getting mastery, which I have never done in class before. If a student didn’t master a topic, we just move on and maybe there will be an opportunity down the road. But it really was nice to see students come to a place where they had achieved a particular benchmark.

Rebecca: Were your collaborative assignments done during class time, or were they outside of class?

Katy: So this semester, I allowed students to have an entire day that they could complete the assignment anytime between 12am on that day and 11:59pm. I also encouraged my international students to do it during that 24 hours, but to make sure it was done during that eastern time 24 hours. And they could work on it during the class time, during the scheduled class time. Because it was a day that we would have had class, but they didn’t have to. So they had the flexibility to choose a time that worked for them. If it was late at night, great. If it was early in the morning, great. Or if it was during class time. That’s fine with me too.

John: We’ve really been enjoying your podcast. And you’ve mentioned this a little bit. But can you tell us a little bit more about how you decided to start this podcast?

Katy: Absolutely. First, I want to thank you both for listening. I’m such a fan of your podcast and others that are similar. And just like the digital portfolio idea, the possibility of creating a podcast has been in the back of my mind for a while, listening to some others like yours. So just as I have learned so much from hearing what others are doing via podcasts like yours, I just feel like I can’t get enough examples of creative ideas that people are using to engage their students. And not just big ideas like “Oh, implement a new grading system.” But small ideas like “Oh, I spend the first minute of my class engaging my students in this way,” or “I have this micro assignment that we do only occasionally but builds community.” And as I mentioned before, what we do in our classrooms can feel so opaque. It’s really that I just wanted to contribute in a time when we can all use more sharing of the things that are working for us, and not every idea is perfect for every person. But just more sharing of what’s working so that we have more options to choose from when teaching feels so different and so challenging to so many of us right now. And so the podcast is generating, selfishly, tons of new ideas for me, which even if that’s the only thing that comes out of it, that’s enough. But it’s also doing the service of drawing attention to the great ideas around me at the University of Delaware this semester, and hopefully, in a broader sense in the future. And so I just really appreciate being able to feature great ideas that are happening around me that might not otherwise be heard about except in documentation of excellence, for example.

John: And often those are only seen by a few people on review committees and sharing it more broadly, both within your campus and across the whole academic community, raises the visibility of that work much more extensively.

Katy: That’s my hope because the more people I talk to, I just feel so impressed by the exciting ideas that I’m hearing from different people and to be able to amplify their voices. I couldn’t be happier to be able to do that.

Rebecca: Well, you’ve talked about some really exciting things that you’re working on. But we always like to raise the ante by asking: what’s next?

Katy: So next, for me would be a second season of the podcast. I’d really like to incorporate more ideas from a broader range of places across the University of Delaware, but also bringing in others from outside just to add to the discussion. And also, I’m really thinking a lot, listening a lot to your podcast, and thinking a lot about what the future looks like in my classroom. I will have taught remotely now for…. this will be my second semester in the spring teaching remotely. And I’m learning so many things about how we can make learning more accessible to more students under the current circumstances. But I think a lot of it applies to what our future looks like. So I’m really not sure when we go back in the fall, I’m hopeful we’ll be back in the fall safely, but I’m really not sure what my class is going to look like. I can’t imagine that I’m just gonna slide back into what I used to do without incorporating some new things. And finally, I am expecting a baby in June. So there is a new chapter ahead for me that will bring some other fun changes. And so that is what’s next.

John: Congratulations.

Rebecca: Congratulations. Yeah.

Katy: Thank you very much.

Rebecca: …definitely exciting times on so many fronts.

John: Rebecca had that experience fairly recently.

Katy: Oh, congratulations.

Rebecca: Yeah, my daughter is three and a half now, but yeah, it was a great adventure and continues to be a great adventure. So I know you’ll have a great time.

Katy: Yeah, I’m certainly looking forward to understanding all the things that are ahead and totally different and maybe they’ll also inspire some new ways of thinking about learning from seeing it through a different set of eyes

Rebecca: It definitely did for me. [LAUGHTER]

John: I think it does for everyone who raises children. And actually Josh Eyler, after watching his daughter learn and experience the world…. it inspired him to study more about learning, which is ultimately the source of his book on How Humans Learn.

Katy: I think I heard him talking with you about that on your podcast.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much, Katy. This has been a great conversation.

Katy: Well, thank you both so much for having me. It’s really been a pleasure chatting with you.

Rebecca: Hopefully we’ll have you back in the future to hear more about the fun things you’re doing in your classroom.

Katy: That sounds fantastic. Thank you.

[MUSIC]

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

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

[MUSIC]

173. Pseudoscience

In an era of conspiracy theories and fake news, our students come into our classes with misconceptions and misunderstandings about our disciplines. In this episode, Kristin Croyle and Paul Tomascak join us to discuss how a first-year science seminar class confronts pseudoscience. Kristin is a Psychologist and Paul is a Geochemist. Kristin is the Dean and Paul is the Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at SUNY-Oswego.

Show Notes

  • Shermer, M. (2014). Why People Believe Weird Things. Naturalist.
  • Zener cards – American Psychological Association
  • Huff, D. (1993). How to lie with statistics. WW Norton & Company.
  • Van Der Kroon, C. (1996). The Golden Fountain: The Complete Guide to Urine Therapy. Wishland Incorporated.

Transcript

John: In an era of conspiracy theories and fake news, our students come into our classes with misconceptions and misunderstandings about our disciplines. In this episode, we discuss how a first-year science seminar class confronts pseudoscience.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our guests today are Kristin Croyle and Paul Tomascak. Kristin is a Psychologist and Paul is a Geochemist. Kristin is the Dean and Paul is the Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at SUNY-Oswego. Paul also had been the Associate Director here at our teaching center at SUNY Oswego before he entered the Dean’s office and Rebecca joined us as Associate Director.

Kristin: Thank you.

Paul: Hi, John. Hi, Rebecca.

Kristin: We’re happy to be here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Paul: I have a special tea for you. I have a tea that has a best buy date of March 2000. A special tea.

Kristin: Does it have flavor still?

Paul: In a way… Yeah, It’s got a special flavor. [LAUGHTER]

John: A vintage tea…

Paul: Yeah.

John: …a good year.

Kristin: And I have coffee in a Christmas mug because the Christmas mugs are still out.

Rebecca: Mine are out year round.

John: And I have Prince of Wales tea.

Rebecca: And I have Big Red Sun.

John: …for a change.

Rebecca: Ah, it’s a little switch up. It seems sciency… It’s what I had open.

John: We’ve invited here today to discuss the first- year seminar course you both offered on “How to Think about Weird Things: science confronts pseudoscience.” First, could you remind our listeners a little bit about what the first-year seminar courses are here. We’ve done some past podcasts on them, but it’s been a while since we talked about that program.

Kristin: The first-year seminar course at SUNY Oswego is a relatively new initiative started just before I came here in 2018. But that’s before I came to SUNY Oswego, so I’m allowed to be wrong on dates before I started. It was initiated by our Provost, Scott Furlong. And the first-year seminar courses, the way that we envisioned them, is partially as passion topic courses for faculty, but also as a transitional experience for new freshmen so that they can have an experience in which they have both some social bonding, some interesting and challenging and really fascinating materials to talk about in course, but also some built-in experiences to help them connect to their new university and transition into kind of the college student way of functioning and being in a supportive atmosphere. So both academic challenge and excitement along with kind of the adjustment to the new university culture… Oh, and those are all taught in classes of 19 or less, so that there can be a strong peer-to-peer experience. And they also have writing intensive experiences involved.

John: What are some examples of pseudoscience that you address in your classes?

Paul: I’ve been teaching this course prior to the first-year seminar series for some years in a variety of different places: as an upper-level Gen Ed course for non majors, as a honors course, because the topic just transcends level, and it’s something that everyone can get something out of. And every time I’ve taught it, I’ve ended up emphasizing different things. And that persists. At one time, I was adamantly avoiding talking about conspiracy theories, because conspiracy theories are just bollocks. It’s a zero-sum proposition, there’s really no way out of it. There’s no good dealing with the topic. But given the fact that conspiracy theory is something that we all really need to be talking about nowadays, it’s something that I’ve brought in little by little, but it’s still dicey. You can talk about creationism, and have some strong things that you can bring up as, this is why this really is not tenable in there, lots of things you can talk about in terms of cryptozoology or psychical ability, or persistence of life after death, consciousness after death. And there are scientific things that you can point to with these. But with conspiracy theories, it’s always going to be “Oh, well…” there is always an “Oh, well” out of it. And so that’s a hard one to grapple with in any real constructive way.

Kristin: Well, one of the things that attracted me to the course…. Actually, let me tell you about how I got into it. As Dean, I wanted to get a stronger connection to the students. It’s good to have the experience in the classroom, especially at a new university for me, because I can see what faculty were going through in terms of: setup your course shell… What are the policies that you have to include? What are the students like in the classroom? How do you submit your grades? …all those kind of technical aspects also that Deans know. I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen Fall 2020 if I had perfect foresight about what that would have been like, but still… not necessarily as my first experience teaching at Oswego. But I still think it was valuable. But one thing that attracted me to the courses when I was thinking about what courses to teach, intro psych was actually my first choice because I enjoy hanging out with freshmen. It was my field. But then I thought… these freshman seminar courses, and I got a chance to talk with Paul on a regular basis in previous years, he was teaching a bit about all the interesting things we were talking about. And I think that course is fascinating, but as a psychologist, some of the things that really attracted me are pseudoscientific beliefs, particularly about interventions and treatments and the way people are scammed the way that having an understanding of how the brain and body actually work, and what evidence for treatment looks like versus people who are charlatans who are taking advantage of people who are in vulnerable positions. That’s the part that really hooks me into pseudoscience and why it’s so important to teach students about it. But with that, as a hook, you’ve got all kinds of possibilities, because it’s many of the same thinking errors and misunderstandings that open you up to paying thousands and thousands of dollars for getting your future read repeatedly. It’s the same kind of thinking errors that opening you up to those and some other things that are not necessarily mainstream.

Rebecca: So how do you overcome some of those thinking errors, or help students overcome their thinking errors?

Paul: I’m going to say “um” a lot and I’m going to pause a lot, because I know that it’s something that John enjoys editing out.

Kristin: But you should totally leave that…

Rebecca: Um….what do we think about that? [LAUGHTER]

Paul: When I teach this class, there are a number of things that I emphasize. But I emphasize that we are on some level, all scientists, we are all critical thinkers. And in order to get through life successfully, you have to be able to do these things. And I like to draw the horizontal line on the board on the first day and say, on this end is complete gullibility, complete credulousness, you’ll accept anything as truth. And on the other side is complete dismissiveness, complete cynicism, and you won’t accept anything, regardless of how well it’s shown to be acceptable or true. And that it’s important that you understand that there is a spectrum. And that being skeptical doesn’t mean being dismissive. It means that you ask questions, it means that you don’t accept things at face value, especially if they don’t really smell right. And if something has the taint of, “Well, this is too good to be true” …it probably is. And you’d be doing yourself a favor by looking more closely at things, getting some more information. So I try to disabuse students of preconceptions by asking questions and by forcing them to ask questions. And even with things that seem to be “Well, that makes sense, so yeah, I’m going to buy into it.” Well, why does that make sense? What’s the physical reality that underlies that, that makes you think that that is the way it should be, the way it might be? And where do you get your information? And that is a very productive line of inquiry, where you start to break down the “Well, I heard it from this person…” Well, what does this person know? “Well, I heard it from this website.” Well, let’s go to that website and look and see if there’s anything that we can connect to. And is this someone who’s just manufacturing information? Or do they have links to somewhere where you can say, “Wes, this is verifiable on some level.” So it’s good regardless of whether you’re talking about something that’s way out there or something that’s not so way out there. It’s good, basic, critical thinking.

Kristin: And one of the things that I think is very helpful is repetition. I went through a lot of topics, but in each case, there is this harking back to what kind of thinking errors might be present, what kind of scientific errors might be present. And as they start to do that over and over, they get better. For example, one of the early topics that I talked about was alien abduction. When we talked about alien abduction, we talked about how does memory formation work, we talked about sleep, the sleep cycle, hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations and sleep paralysis. We talked about false memories, and how false memories are formed, and that they are experienced in the same way as real memories. If you have a false memory, it’s not like a different thing for your experience. We talked about all of those kinds of normal processes, as well as, unfortunately, the role of hypnosis in creation of false memories, which has a lot to do with beliefs and induction. I say, unfortunately, as a psychologist, it’s horribly embarrassing for the field. it really is a terrible thing. So we talk about all of the scientific contributions, and then we talk about “Okay, now the experience of alien abduction.” How does hypnosis fit in there? How do sleep paralysis, and hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, fit in here? Those are hallucinations as you’re falling asleep or waking up…it feels very real, but are actually more like a dreamlike state. How do all of this fit in? And then we look at an account of alien abduction and say, “Okay, what do you see here?” And then they can identify some of the thinking errors, like “Okay, here’s this part… looks like a false memory.” But sure, they’re really upset because it feels real. This part here, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. There’s no extraordinary evidence, so they can start to identify both how do we separate the science from the non-science and then where can we start to identify thinking errors. And as we do that topic after topic, they get better and better and better at it.

John: In all of our classes, following up what Paul said, students come in with models of the world and those models aren’t always accurate… or we often have better models that we’d like to share with our students. But it’s important to break them down. And you’ve talked a little bit about how you can provide them with evidence to help them perhaps modify their models of how the world works. But, what do you do with those students who are really resistant, who really deeply believe in some of those pseudo science principles?

Paul: Yeah, this is something that Michael Shermer talks about in one of the books that I’ve used as a quasi textbook has been Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things. And in the later editions of the book, he has a specific chapter, that is “Why Smart People Believe Weird Things.” Because, again, early on in the class, there’s something of an inclination to think of, “Well, I don’t think crazy things like that, and it’s only the gap-toothed yokels that believe in alien abductions or that believe in whatever it is.” But it’s important to understand that this is not something that’s limited to people who aren’t smart. There are plenty of people who are genius-level smarties who believe, not just weird things, but things that are patently out there. And so getting students to accept that, “Okay, we can talk about this as a group, because we’re not just pointing out that you’re a dummy, these are things that lots of people believe, and there are reasons why they believe them other than just being morons.” So the idea that preconceived notions are things that aren’t necessarily rooted in ignorance, or rooted in stupidity, but they’re rooted in misinformation, they’re rooted in being told something by someone you trust at some point, and not questioning it. So I think creating an atmosphere that people can feel good about talking about these things, and not just sitting there going, “Oh, I hope he doesn’t talk to me about this, because I actually believe in ghosts,” is useful. And I’ve had students in class who are ghost hunters. And we’ve gone through an entire lesson on why some of the classical ghost hunting techniques really don’t make sense when you analyze them. And I’ve had a student say, at that point, “Well, we don’t really do that, what we do is this,” and everyone in the class looks nervously at one another, that “Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t realize that they were among us.” But, they are among us, because we are them. They are us, we all have an equal opportunity for believing weird things.

Kristin: One of the things that I also talk about is different ways of knowing. And that when you say science proves X, Y, Z, it has to meet a scientific standard. But if you say, for example, my faith tells me X, Y, Z, that’s a different way of knowing. And it’s not subject to the same kinds of proofs, it’s subject to different proofs. An example that we explicitly talked about is angelic visitations: are angels real? If you say science proves that angels are real, it has to stand up to scientific scrutiny. And in many religions, that would not only be a weird thing to say, it would be antithetical to their religious perspective. As soon as you start saying science proves my religion is correct, it becomes in some ways, a non-religious argument, and that it’s perfectly fine to have different ways of knowing different aspects about the world. But if you say science says this, this is the way the world works, because scientists have proved it, then you can subject it to scientific scrutiny. Another example is intuition and personal experience, that there are aspects of intuition and personal experience that may tell you certain truths about yourself or your relationships with others or whatever. And you don’t have to have the kind of scientific scrutiny in order to believe that you understand the way that your relationships work. But that’s a different way of knowing, it’s a different aspect of the world, and we do talk about that explicitly. And it’s fine with me if students choose to hold two ideas in their mind at the same time, they say, “Well, perhaps this idea that I have doesn’t actually make any scientific sense. I still believe it right now.” But I have some faith that if they continue this process to continue to analyze different ideas using the same skill sets: How does this make sense? What are their thinking errors? Is there an underlying explanation that makes some scientific sense that fits with the way that we know the world works. If they continue to do this, that eventually some of those closely held beliefs, which are scientifically disprovable, that they will start to kind of chip away at the edges there.

Rebecca: I know both of you are big advocates of active learning. Can you talk a little bit about some of the activities or exercises or things that you have students do as part of this course.

Paul: One of the classics, when we talk about psychical ability is pairing students up and having them basically test each other and their clairvoyant skills. So you give them the set of five Zener cards with the star and the squiggly lines and the square and you have them run through a series of “Okay, I’m projecting an image to you, you write down what it is.” And that’s good from a couple of standpoints. One is that it’s active and people are taking part in it, two is that people can understand: “Okay, if I really wanted to do something to show that there is something viable here, what would I have to do differently? Why is this test flawed?” And we talk about the development of good scientific tests. And that’s very productive, because there’s a lot of situations where you can say, “Well, you know, you’re still not controlling for this…” Okay, and the series of sort of nested tests that you have to go through in order to get to something that everyone would say, “Okay, I will accept the results of this” gets to be pretty complex. The other thing that’s good about this on a basic level is that it regresses to the mean. And regardless of the number of students, the number of tests, occasionally students will cheat and you can talk about that. But aside from cheating, you end up with a bunch of people that score exactly what statistics would say you should get and you can talk about one of the big things that I like to emphasize is not to let people use numbers to try to prove something to you that isn’t accurate, basically lying with statistics. A former student in the class sent me a book at some point, this little book called How to Lie with Statistics. And it’s a great medium to talk to students about things that are mathematical in a world where people are fearful of math, and they hate math. And this is a good application of mathematics, sort of basic mathematics to show something that is easy to wrap your head around. And it’s something as well in Shermer’s book, he talks about going to Edgar Cayce’s Institute, and doing this sort of mental ability test or psychical ability test. And he does the same thing. And he tries to convince people that “Well, just because you got 5 right out of 25 doesn’t mean that you’ve got some exceptional ability,” and he draws a bell curve, and they talk about it. And in the end, the person still doesn’t accept it. But it’s a good experiment to run, it gets people thinking about something that is not necessarily easy to think about otherwise.

Kristin: I’ll start by saying that I have huge sympathy for all the new faculty that started in Fall 2020 and were trying to build new courses while coming up with different teaching techniques. I was challenged this semester, this last semester, to build the course while trying to adapt to what was an unfamiliar form of teaching for me. Paul was very gracious in sharing materials. But, you know, when you teach the course yourself has to be rebuilt because it’s your own thinking, and your own style. Just for disclosure, though, I had intended the course to be a hybrid course in which we met with our faces, at least, three times a week, sometimes in the classroom altogether, and sometimes all online together. But as the semester went on, it did not work that way. I ended up having some students that always want to come face to face (a small number), and some that always ended up being online. So it was not the course I anticipated. But that’s okay. I know that we all experienced that. What my students responded to the most enthusiastically ended up being analysis of web comments. So I would often bring in slightly adapted web comments, I would correct for grammar and, you know, readability …say here is this diatribe this person and removing their identity and things because it’s about analysis of argument and they would go to town on it. Here’s this diatribe about astrology, it runs from how scientists are paid to debunk astrology all the way down to how you should stop being sheep and see the truth in front of you and everything in between, with all kinds of false analogies that don’t make any sense in the middle, all that good stuff. They loved that. And I loved it too. We all loved it, because that’s what I really want them to be able to walk out doing, to be able to see kind of something that looks like a well argued and well written diatribe against the world who doesn’t understand and to be able to look at it and say, “Oh, wrong, wrong. wrong, thinking errors, misstatement, false analogy, ripples in a pan have nothing to do with how stars move, and all kinds of different things. [LAUGHTER] So we ended up doing a lot of those kinds of similar things. I think one of the last things I did in the last homework that we worked on together was on a manifestation website service, you sign up for $1,000, you get these courses, and you can manifest wealth in your life and their analysis there was really excellent. It was excellent about why this might appeal to people. What is wrong with all of these arguments? It doesn’t matter how many incredibly well done video anecdotes you get from individuals who have manifested wealth in their life, that that’s not gonna transfer to other people. So lots of analysis of web comments.

John: With social media, there’s a very rich source of data that could be used for this.

Kristin: Exactly.

John: Could you tell us a little bit more about the course structure and what you’re doing in these classes?

Kristin: I have avoided student presentations in class for 10 years, because I usually find them to not be a good use of course time, let’s just say that. But Paul was using student presentations, and I put them in for this course and they were awesome. So, I have completely changed my opinion. But part of it is also that I was teaching larger classes in the past. So figuring out how to integrate student presentations in a way that is a useful use of everyone’s time, but the student presentations in this class were fantastic. They were typically on a specific pseudoscience topic that we wouldn’t have spent a lot of time in class on. But it gave them an opportunity to again, have this kind of repeated, “Here’s a thing that you think is really different.” Like. maybe… maybe not… Chromotherapy, you know, does exposing yourself to different colors of light effect different organ functions beyond jaundice, and beyond seasonal affective disorder where there’s clear evidence… if you look at blue light, or red light, or whatever. People go “Hmmm, I’ve seen videos on this on TikTok… well, wait a minute, doesn’t make any sense.” And here are the arguments, a little scaffolding from a student presenter, here are the arguments about why this doesn’t make any sense, then students popping up with other arguments. And having that experience repeatedly, of student presentation after student presentation, I have worked them like you know, three or four weeks, it gave them more experienced practicing. And honestly, some of those topics are fabulous to talk about in class. Although I allowed students to select their topic out of a menu so that they didn’t have to know what was pseudoscience right at the beginning of classes. No one selected urine therapy, though, I was hoping given how much success Paul has had in his classes with that.

Paul: Urine therapy is number one.

John: Could you elaborate on that a little bit, Paul?

Paul: The student response to the class has been really good historically. And I will occasionally, and sometimes out of the blue, receive a book in the mail from a student. This person that I had never heard from after the class, student says: “I was in a bookstore, I saw this and I thought of our class, and I thought you might like it.” So that’s always really nice. But it’s especially nice when the person sends you the definitive book on urine therapy, because my library was not inclusive enough of that topic. So now I have something that when a student chooses, or pulls the short straw, on urine therapy, I have something I can give them as a resource for this topic.

Rebecca: A whole book….

Paul: A whole book. I think it’s called the Golden Fountain. I’m not kidding. When I do the course and I have students do some sort of presentation, I will, so that I don’t run into the problem of a student doing something that they already know a ton about, I’ll have them draw them at random. And from the start, I’ve got the little hat with pieces of paper in it, and I’m telling them: “Who’s going to draw urine therapy?” …and it’s hotly contested. And it’s great when the student comes in to give their presentation that day, and starts out with a long pause and says, “This really makes me sick.” [LAUGHTER]

John: I’m not sure if I should ask, but what is urine therapy?

Paul: Well, I’m surprised being a man of the world that you are not well aware of this, John, but by consuming your own urine, you’re able to tap into a great deal of vitality and essential nutrients, etc, perhaps some reparations to your chakras as well, through consuming your urine. There are people out there who will attempt to get you to pay them money to teach you how you should be doing this. But it comes down to drinking your own urine and having that basically cure any disease. And you can take it purely internally, you can rub it on your skin to produce a healthy skin tone, you can use it in your hair. There are certainly people out there who will claim that it is a cure for cancer. And that’s sort of the bar for all pseudo-medicine is when are we going to get to the end, this cures cancer. And sure enough, there are people out there. It’s usually a sad case where the person had cancer, they went through a number of different treatments, nothing was working, and they hit on this and suddenly they’re cancer free. And it’s a good place to talk about correlation and causation. It’s a good place to talk about how we design clinical tests for medications, vaccinations, whatever. When an agency says “Yes, this is demonstrated efficacious or this is demonstrated safe…” what does that actually mean? Well, it has to go through a certain process, which is not some random process that someone hands over some money and “Okay, yeah, you’re good to go,” that these are real things. So that, I think, is another area in which I’ve significantly improved over. I think I started teaching this in 2006. I talk more about anti-vax. I talk more about clinical trials. I talk about the placebo effect, and Kristin has actually helped me a lot with that. Because she knows about things that I didn’t know about when it came to placebo effects. So there’s a lot of good stuff there that, again, it’s science, but it’s not something that you need to have a degree in something to understand and to be able to then apply in your own life.

John: In terms of the placebo effect, there’s two things that just really struck me in terms of fairly recent research. One is that the strength of the placebo effect seems to be growing over time. And secondly, that the placebo effect still seems to exist, even when people know they’re taking a placebo. Any explanations of why that’s happening?

Kristin: Isn’t that fascinating? I just think that’s amazing. No, no explanations. I have great admiration for the power of the mind.

John: Mystical powers? [LAUGHTER]

Kristin: Well, for example, there is excellent research that says that people who have even late-stage cancer will survive longer, if they have social support. That’s not placebo. That’s because your mind and body are constantly one system and that we survive in a social environment… just one reason the pandemic has been so difficult… and that people survive and thrive better when they’re in a supportive social environment. Totally not placebo. But it is, in some ways, our traditional Western medical approach would see that as a psychological or mental intervention. It’s amazing. Although the early psychoanalysts, they did some strange stuff, and claimed some strange things, Freud and his students, some of that early work, it really does demonstrate if you believe that something is going to be very different. Hysterical pregnancy is a great example. People who believe that they are pregnant strongly believe that they are pregnant who are not actually pregnant, show many physical signs of pregnancy, including abdominal distension and ending of periods. Sso there’s a lot of different things that the mind can do. Unfortunately, only that only takes you so far. But that is definitely something that I talk about in class, as well as the waxing and waning nature of many illnesses, and how that opens people up for charlatans to take advantage of them. Multiple Sclerosis is a great example, where there’s unpredictable often waxing and waning symptoms. And people with MS have been targeted for many, many, many, many years for completely wacky, expensive, invasive, painful treatments because of the waxing and waning nature. And if their experience is that it has healed them, it’s hard to say that’s not your experience. But it is easy to say there isn’t any scientific evidence that this would help anybody else. They’re taking your money, unfortunately. And I also talk about how parents with children with significant developmental disability are often also at a point of desperation, where they’re sometimes ripe for this kind of thing too. One of the students in my class presented on hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatment, which of course is a great treatment if you have the bends after scuba diving, but is not effective for autism, though there is a market to sell people, these chambers for $20,000 to have a chamber in their homes so that they can put their child who has autism in the chamber on a daily basis, which for one thing is expensive and not effective in any way. But it’s also potentially also really scary for a child who doesn’t understand what is going on being shut up in the chamber every day. So, beyond the improved understanding of how the world works, there is, also real harm being done by some of these things. And we’re talking with students about the importance of a control group. Why does having a control group make all the difference? And talking about that repeatedly as these other examples come up, I really believe will help them to understand the world better, and become better consumers and self advocates.

John: One of the things you just mentioned is the importance of a strong social network and of human connections. How did you nurture that in this somewhat challenging circumstance of fall 2020 during the pandemic?

Kristin: That was really hard, because it’s something that I have never struggled with in class before. And it was a real struggle this semester. I don’t know if that was the case for you too, Paul, or Rebecca. But this is something that I consider to be an easy and normal thing in my teaching. But this semester, it was really a challenge to have students make peer-to-peer connections. I feel fairly comfortable that they felt a connection with me. And I certainly felt a connection with them. But getting them to connect peer to peer was a challenge. And I attribute that to first, not ever having done it this way before. I think if I had another chance I could do it better. Just like any kind of teaching, the second time around is usually better than the first. But part of it was that I was so responsive to students who felt like they needed the face-to-face interaction that I continued to meet face to face every day with them with a chunk of students on Zoom. And it would have been, given my teaching style, it would have been a better experience, I think, for all of us if we’d stayed in one together format more often, if that makes sense.

John: I think this is a problem we all faced, that student peer-to-peer connections were challenging, both because of the modality and because of the circumstances in which we’re all living right now. Paul?

Paul: This past fall, I taught a different course. And it was an upper-level honors course. So these are students who… they’re high achieving, they had figured college out. And it was, for me the easiest of all scenarios, because they were on task, and not that they weren’t necessarily happy with the way that the world was going, but from an academic standpoint, it was a fairly easy scenario to adapt to.

Rebecca: I wanted to circle back for a minute about the diversity of topics that you addressed in class, and what you’re using as hooks, and the value of the different kinds of topics as hooks for students. So there’s some that I think fit in the category of very outlandish, which are probably really easy for some students to really get into… find fun… and then there’s also some of the medical things that you’re talking about that I think students might relate to more directly, and they can see how it fits into their lives. Can you talk a little bit about how you chose the topics and how your students may be related to those topics?

Paul: Certainly, when you’re just talking about science, it is harder with a mixed audience of students who aren’t necessarily buying in from the start. In previous incarnations of this class, it was nominally a natural science course, but realistically, it was being taken by everybody. When I taught it as a first-year seminar course, there was a fair number of psych majors. But really, it was a complete mixture. So, I felt obligated to present a certain amount of science. Here’s a big idea in science, why do we think this? What’s the evidence for this? Why is this important? Why should you care? So I was able to get to things like creationism through the door of “Well, how is it that we know that the earth is as old as it is? And why is it that this is not just something that was handed to us, and we believe it, but it’s something that’s objectively demonstratable?” And beyond that, when you start talking about biological evolution? And okay, why is it that we believe that this is at least a reasonable description of what’s going on in nature? Okay, here’s some stuff that’s a little bit dry. But the end goal is being able to say, “Yeah, I can accept this beyond just having it handed to me.” Evolution is a good one, in that it integrates a lot of different things. So you can bring in the purely biological, you can bring in populational, you can bring in geological and physics, and you don’t have to dwell in any one particular spot to try to make the point. But nevertheless, there are portions of the class that are somewhat more pure sciency, and I try to front load those in the course to keep the carrot out there of “Oh, we’re going to be talking about psychical abilities soon, and we’re going to be talking about UFOs soon,” because that’s fun stuff and ghost hunting and all that. But yeah, the science is a critical underpinning for the course and trying to get it so that it’s not just: “Here’s the scientific method, memorize this,” …to have it be science is a process that we all are invested in, and when you stop investing in it, then there’s trouble. And I think that the past year has really underscored the fact that that’s something that everyone should be… certainly every college educated person… but really everyone, should be understanding of the fact that science is a critical tool. And it’s not just the sacred tablets that have been handed down from the clouds, it is something that has objectivity, and there are processes… and what makes a scientific paper. We keep talking about, “Well, this vaccine test was done, and it was published in The Lancet, or it was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Why do we care? Is it just we paid more to get our article in this journal that people quote? No, it’s that these journals actually have a high bar for what they accept as publishable. And if it’s published in there, it means something. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be true a week from now. I think in dealing with science, it’s good to emphasize that it’s not just something that is dusty books sitting on shelves. But by the same token, there’s an inherent danger when you expose the fact that we don’t know anything for certain. And it’s nice and comfortable to think that when you drop the apple, it’s going to fall at a certain rate. And when you get up tomorrow morning, the sun is going to be rising in the east. But when it comes to it, the more contentious the scientific question comes, perhaps, the bigger the scientific question becomes, the greater the likelihood that we’re going to continue to develop our understanding of things and rooting out the question of “Well, that’s just a theory.” Well, it’s not just a theory. If it’s a theory in science, it means something. It doesn’t mean that it’s a hunch. It means that this is something that we’ve put an awful lot of effort into, and awful lot of thought into. A lot of people have had their eyes on this. It’s not just one really smart person saying, “Okay, this is the deal.” …just the process by which we have to go in order to get to the point of saying, “Yes, we accept this as the way things work, whether it’s biological evolution, or whether it’s the verifiability of vaccine, or whether it’s anything.”

Kristin: And one of the things that you’re touching on there, I think, is also an important theme that comes out: that science is a continuing investigation, that it’s very comfortable for students, especially in K through 12, to think about scientists having answers instead of being an ongoing investigation. And typically the things that are taught in K-12 are the things science has answers for, not the things that are continually being investigated. So it can be scary for students who have that background to be confronted with news that our understanding of a virus is changing over time, because that’s the way understanding works. It changes over time as we learn more and more. This theme keeps coming up throughout the semester as well saying, “Hey, this is what we understand now. The state of our knowledge is this. The door isn’t closed to the state of our knowledge to be different in the future. It also gives us a good opportunity to bring in the importance of diverse voices as scientists. So one of the things that I talk about in my class is the roots of psychological assessment and intelligence testing, and how some of those roots have explicitly racist foundations among people who were explicitly racist and some probably unintentionally racist, but having racist impacts. And some of that is clearly because there were only white men doing work at that time in that area. And when you have only one perspective, it leads to one group of answers, that if you have a more diverse group of scientists who are studying a question, they expand the definition of the question, they expand the definition of what is possible evidence, the answers that they come up with are different and better answers because of the nature of scientific investigation. That it’s not just we have a question, and here’s the answer. It’s we have this question about the world, what does the question mean? Is that the right question? Is there a bigger question? How can we investigate it? Let’s look at different evidence, let’s expand our understanding. As part of that, we also talked about the foundations of photography, and what happens when you have only white people creating photographic film and processing. And what happens when you expand that into a more diverse group of people on a more diverse group of images, the same kind of idea. Although I have to say the horoscope and astrology stuff was the stuff that got the most excited,

Paul: Ah ha, the fallacy of personal validation. [LAUGHTER]

John: But I think we can also generalize what you were just talking about in that all of our disciplines involve in ongoing investigation, and that students come into our classes, thinking of them as these defined bodies of knowledge that they just have to memorize. And it is a bit of a shock and adjustment to students to see that there are many things we don’t know. And that takes a while to get them comfortable with that idea and accepting that idea.

Kristin: And that it’s not a flaw in the scientific process or the state of knowledge, the fact that it’s changing. That’s not a flaw, that’s actually a feature. Yeah, that’s a tough one.

Paul: And one of the things that I specifically talk about in the whole science, you know, what is science? What is pseudoscience? …is where things go wrong. And we talk about fraud. There are a number of times during the course where we’ll talk about “Well, this was published in this journal, and it was wrong.” And let’s see what happened later. And we talked about retraction and things like that. So the self- policing nature of science, when it’s working, right, it’s the best way to get to the point of feeling good about an explanation for something. It doesn’t necessarily mean that something is proved or something is fact. But we have this process in place, and as long as it’s a topic that people feel is important enough to have lots of eyes on it… well, there’s going to be no way of hiding that one set of results that doesn’t seem to agree with everybody else’s. And those things get found out, they get basically debunked, and the science moves on. So the idea that science is fallible, the idea that science isn’t perfect, it’s something that has to be embedded in that. But by the same token, because of the nature of the process, we can say that science is about as good as we can do when it comes to understanding and this was Carl Sagan… all that.

Rebecca: We always wrap up by asking what’s next?

Kristin: What’s next? What’s next… I’m looking forward to spring semester. I’m looking forward even more to the next fall semester. I think we all are in that position. I really do appreciate the experience that I have with my students and I’ll teach again next year, but since the universe is paying me to be Dean, I have to do that work as well this spring.

Paul: Well, my life has been leading up to this podcast. So really after this, there’s not a heck of a lot left for me. Now, it’s nice to know that CELT wasn’t destroyed by my being part of it once upon a time, and it actually seems to have improved since then. That’s a nice job.

John: Thank you. I think this is a fascinating course. And teaching students to more critically analyze what they read and hear in social media and in their social network is a really valuable skill. So I’m glad you’re working on that

Rebecca: It really does seem like what college is all about.

Kristin: Well, thank you. It was a lot of fun. And throughout the whole semester, I was grateful to Paul for the scaffolding that he gave me. He was able to answer all kinds of questions and gave me interesting materials to work off of. So thank you, Paul.

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

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169. Statistical Simulations

Abstract concepts can be really difficult for students to grasp. In this episode, Matt Anderson joins us to discuss how simulations can be used to make statistical concepts more tangible. Matt is a lecturer in the psychological sciences department at Northern Arizona University. He was a recipient of the 2020 College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ Teacher of the Year award at NAU.

Show Notes

Additional simulation resources:

Transcript

John: Abstract concepts can be really difficult for students to grasp. In this episode, we look at how simulations can be used to make statistical concepts more tangible.

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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 Matt Anderson. Matt is a lecturer in the psychological sciences department at Northern Arizona University. He was a recipient of the 2020 College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ Teacher of the Year award at NAU. Welcome, Matt.

Matt: Thanks very much, John. It’s a pleasure to be here. And I’m really excited to be talking about the use of simulations in introductory statistics classes.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Matt: Today’s tea is lemon ginger.

Rebecca: Well, that sounds good.

Matt: Yeah, that’s a fave.

Rebecca: How ‘bout you, John?

John: I have Christmas tea…

Rebecca: Aha.

John: …with a cinnamon stick.

Rebecca: That’s only because I was drinking it last time.

John: You inspired me to buy some Christmas tea, which I’ve been drinking for the last couple of weeks.

Rebecca: I almost sent you some. And I have a Scottish afternoon tea today.

John: We’ve invited you here today to talk about how you’ve been using simulations in your courses. But first, could you tell us a little bit about what courses you normally teach?

Matt: Absolutely. My main mission is to teach the labs for the undergraduate statistics courses, the introductory statistics courses that are taught within the Department of Psychological Sciences. And so I teach about six to eight of those a semester. And I think it might be useful to just contextualize the labs. They’re one-credit labs, and they’re embedded in four-credit, introductory statistics classes. And all of our faculty use the same schedule, and we use the same textbook, and so there’s a lot of coherence among the sections that we have. So, the thing I love about the lab the most is that, because I’m getting all the psychological sciences majors, I have a chance to meet almost all of them. And I have a chance to do that early in their academic trajectories. And that provides an opportunity to get things on their radar for those who are going on to graduate education such as the graduate record exam and things like that. We have a little bit of a focus on SPSS in our lab, in addition to the normal course content that we would see aligned with the textbook. In addition to the course faculty teaching the lecture portions, and I’m teaching the labs, we’ve got some wonderful tutors, and those tutors come from our Academic Success Center. And we’ve also got a tutor who’s a second year graduate student in our Master of Arts in Psychological Sciences program who adds a lot to the course delivery. So it’s a really wonderful place for me to be teaching. I feel very well supported, and I love the mission, even though I understand that statistics may be, to be contemporary, not everybody’s cup of tea. [LAUGHTER]

John: So how many students are there in these classes? And what level are they? You mentioned they’re fairly early in their career, are they mostly sophomores?

Matt: Well, it’s a mix. Yeah, I think that the tendency is that we’ve got sophomores and juniors, we do have first-year students, and we also have seniors, but most students are sophomores, or juniors. And in each section, I’ve got maybe 30 students. So you can see when I’m teaching eight of those, that’s a lot of folks. And that’s complicated a little bit by the online delivery that we’re using right now as well. I also teach a thing called an undergraduate teaching apprentice class. And in this very small class, I’ve got students who are interested in learning more about the science of teaching and learning. And we focus on statistics, and they have applied assignments where they might help me with our learning management system. I think I’ve been inspired by all of the great simulations out there, and I’m going to add an assignment related to those as well. And then I also teach a fully online statistics lab for undergraduate students who are transfer students, who might not have had a lab experience when they took their lecture. And so this uses the same materials that we use in the face-to-face labs or the labs that we use for our basic introductory classes.

Rebecca: So, you participated in a redesign of your introductory statistics classes, can you talk a little bit about this redesign, maybe where it started, and now where it’s ended up?

Matt: The redesign that I was involved with had to do with the lab portion of the class. And it started around 2013, when I was hired to teach the labs for these courses, and also for our research methods in psychology classes. And up to that time, the labs were taught quite capably by graduate students, but there was variability in content and delivery and things like that. And so it was in the interest of the department to consolidate those into a single uniform experience. And that’s what I had the pleasure of putting together. And so what I started doing was building these what I called lab modules, and they would be used in each of the classes. And when I first started doing those, the version I used on Thursday was much different than the version I used on Tuesday. And there’s a lot of evolution that took place. And teaching eight of these labs a week, it was nice to have some development take place that was meaningful over the course of a single semester. And right now that lab manual is still being used. It’s fortunately not something I have to stand at the copier and print, but it comes in a bound book through our NAU bookstore. And it’s got modules that are aligned with each of the chapters in the textbook that we use, as well as very specific freestanding modules related to things like SPSS assignments and power analysis, and a little bit of Excel that’s built in there as well. And the fun thing about putting this thing together, I just loved the creative process. And I benefited enormously from the input from instructional designers at NAU. We’ve got some just phenomenal folks there who had some really important insights to provide that we put into the lab manual. So, it’s got QR codes, for example, in it. And so if a person gets to a particular part in an SPSS assignment and can’t remember how to do this, they can just use the QR code to see a very short little tutorial on how to do that. And I think being able to build those kinds of resources in something like this, make it interactive, I think is useful for the students and for me. It’s a really fun part of the creative process.

John: When you started working with constructing these labs, did you start using simulations right away? Or was that something you’ve gradually been adding since then?

Matt: Well, I started adding them soon after I started building them. But it wasn’t until maybe a year later that I started embedding simulations in as assignments. I was one of those students who really struggled, I probably shouldn’t say this out loud. My first stats class, it was very abstract. It was early in the morning, which complicated things for me. But, what I found was that I really benefited from seeing things to help marry these abstract concepts to real data. And about the time that I started teaching, there was a series of videos that were put out one was called “The dance of the P values.” It was by Dr. Geoff Cumming and it had a beautiful simulation attached to it. And so I was just starting to learn R at the time. And so I started seeing if I could replicate his findings using R and was able to, and that gave me a little bit of encouragement about building them. And at the same time, in 2014, our mathematics and statistics department helped host a International Conference on the Teaching of Statistics here in Flagstaff. It’s a huge international event. And it brought people together who were just marvelous at explaining and had these beautiful simulations. And they also talked about how to teach courses using R. And I just found that whole thing inspirational, in addition to having the pleasure of meeting some of my colleagues in the math department that I might not have met otherwise. And so that opened a whole new window into what simulations are out there, created by these really incredibly bright and capable and devoted teachers to the introduction of statistics and psychology,

John: I have to ask, what does “The Dancing P values” do as a simulation?

Matt: Well, they don’t actually dance. They do move. This is very similar to the way that I dance I suppose. But what it shows was that with small sample sizes, the P values just really were not consistent. And that was a message that was really central to what he was trying to put across. And the way that it was articulated and illustrated, I thought, was really compelling.

Rebecca: And who can argue with that title. That’s the hook. You have a good stimulation with a good hook, you got your attention.

Matt: It is a hook, right? Yeah, even if you didn’t have an interest in statistics, there might be dancing involved. Yeah.

John: And p-values is a concept that students often have trouble with. So, having that practical application, I would think would be helpful.

Rebecca: For those that aren’t familiar. Can you describe what R is?

Matt: Yes, R is a statistical software package that was built from the ground up to do stats and represents statistical graphics. It’s incredibly powerful. It’s free. And it’s also open source in the respect that people build these things called packages for them, which extend their capabilities quite a bit. And so if you can think of almost any esoteric statistical procedure that you would like to implement in your own lab, for example, there’s probably a package out there to do that. And the thing that I liked about it was that it was able to be paired with a thing called Rstudio, which I thought was a nice integrated development environment, which has some additions that allows you to take some of the things that you do on your local machine and put them on the web. So it was really a nice match between what I wanted to do in the lab and what I wanted to put out on the web for people to be able to see.

John: How do your simulations use R.

Matt: That’s a great question. They basically are simulations that I’ve built in R in this add on called Shiny. And so the students don’t see any R code at all. That said, in the labs themselves, I do think it’s useful for them to be able to interpret statistical output from different software packages. So I do give them some R output and ask them to make meaning out of it. But I don’t ask them to do any coding at all.

Rebecca: Can you talk about the difference in students experiencing simulations versus different kinds of exercises you might have had them complete prior to introducing the simulations into your course.

Matt: Maybe right now, I should just define what I think a simulation is. And so this is a very wide net. And I think it’s basically any visualization that allows you to “What if?” questions, to explore and demonstrate connections between abstract concepts and real data. Some of the simulations that I’ll talk about allow you to do statistical inferences as well… so, incredibly powerful. So I think these simulations and the use of the simulations exist across a continuum. I think there are some environments, such as the one in which I am operating, where we use simulations to try to reinforce critical points. So, Central Limit Theorem comes to mind. But there are also some courses where they build the entire semester around the use of simulations, they start them very, very early in the course, leveraging people’s natural inquisitiveness and their desire to see patterns and use that over the course of the semester to develop this deep understanding, not only of the details regarding statistics, but the big picture, how these things are all wired together.

John: Going back to Rebecca’s question, how have students responded to the use of the simulations compared to what you’ve done earlier in some of these lab assignments.

Matt: One of the simulations is one that’s done by the Rice virtual statistics lab. And it’s one that has to do with sampling distributions, which for me, when I was learning it and teaching it and for students still, a difficult concept. Imagine, if you will, just this normal population at the top of your screen, and then three boxes below, and the box immediate below, you have the mean of a sample that’s drawn. And then below that, it gets pushed into what emerges as a sampling distribution based on that sample size. And then the fourth box, the one at the bottom, would allow you to do a different sampling distribution. So you can do two at once, if you will. But this is visually really appealing, because it allows you to see the random sample being taken and where that winds up being put and how those samples aggregate to develop the sampling distribution. So that’s one that I built an entire assignment around, because you can predict some of the values of the sample distributions based on the math. And so it was nice to be able to put all those things together, I think, and the added beauty of this is that you can take that normal parent population, and you can make it one that’s non-normal. And you’ll see when you rerun the sampling distribution that you wind up with, in most cases, a very normal looking sampling distribution that allows you to run those inferential statistics. So it helps connect some of the dots that might not be connected otherwise. And so, while I don’t have any p-values myself to evidence how successful this has been, I have heard a lot of “a-has” when I’m talking to students about this, which to me is the Holy Grail. And they seem to get it with these simulations. As I researched simulations in preparation for this particular conversation, that was something that was echoed in all of the presentations was just the students really getting it and being able to leverage previous knowledge and being able to put all these things together so they can anticipate what happens in the future, when they do other simulations.

Rebecca: There’s something really powerful about being able to observe something and make that rule for yourself rather than just being told the rule that you have to follow. Otherwise, it seems really arbitrary.

Matt: Rebecca, that’s absolutely true. And it’s kind of fun to see these things played out with real world data that is much more compelling to students.

John: Inferential learning about inferential statistics.

Matt: [LAUGHTER] Absolutely, yeah.

John: But those are things, again, that students do have trouble with. They have trouble understanding that the estimators themselves have distributions. And this should make it a whole lot easier for them to see it. I’m getting a lot of ideas here, because I’m teaching an econometrics class this spring, and many of the things you’ve mentioned are things that my students have trouble with.

Rebecca: As someone who just learned some statistics this January, I’m thinking this could have been really helpful. [LAUGHTER]

Matt: Yeah, and so when I look at what I’m doing, I’m really happy to be using simulations. But as I look at the universe of simulations that are out there, I can see that there’s more that I can do, and that I’m really motivated to do after seeing some of these wonderful things. I shouldn’t get too far without talking about some of the wonderful things that are being done on a grand scale with simulations in introductory statistics courses. There are actually textbooks out there, which are built around these. And what they’ll do is they’ll start off early in a semester using simulations, and without giving names to things like sampling distributions and confidence intervals and P values. But they’ll take some real world data. And then they’ll say, what’s the model that you would use to best describe these data and then run some randomization samples to collect data. And then ask, “How likely is it that the original data were from that distribution?” And so that’s a powerful thing because a person doesn’t need to know any statistics coming into that class and being able to make meaning out of a lot of those things. There are multiple textbooks that use this simulation-based inference testing process to great effect and in the links that are going to be associated with this podcast, you’ll be able to go and find those, and just see the rich resources that they have supporting those texts, which actually can be used independently as well for reinforcing specific points that a person might have about their own statistics class or econometrics class. Another thing that I think is useful to point out is the fact that there’s a document that helps guide all of this. And the American Statistical Association has got the Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education. This is called the GAISE guidelines. And they were revised in 2016. And they provide some very implementable recommendations for improving introductory statistics classes. And some of them are very consistent with what we’re talking about today, increasing the use of technology and the use of simulations, and decreasing that distance between abstract concepts and these students’ real worlds.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how to get started in implementing these sorts of things into your classes? So if you’ve never used simulations before, how do you start?

Matt: Well, I think, for me, the best thing to do would be to reach out to colleagues who might be doing that. So, for example, here at NAU, colleagues in the mathematics and statistics department are using these. So I would go to them. And I would say, “What have you found most useful, and how might I implement that in the class, given the context I have?” But, you can also do some wonderful internet searches. And I think I’ve curated a few really good starting places for you, in the resources attached to this podcast, I would recommend, for example, just seeing what’s out there by looking at these lists of applets that exists to teach this and to teach this and to teach this. And if you are thinking about something that’s on a grander scale, listen to the video by Nathan Tintall and Beth Chance, about how they implement this simulation-based inference testing in their classes and the rewards they have from doing that. I think getting a real broad sense of what’s available early can be really helpful in figuring out how you might want to do this. But I think that the nice thing is that you don’t have to do it on a grand scale, to start. You can use a single applet to reinforce a point that you might find your students struggling with. There are some other resources. There are journals on teaching statistics that are very, very useful. And I think this cross-pollenization between mathematics and the psych stats classes, is really useful. So I think it’s helpful to get this strong situational awareness of what others are doing to help inform how you might do what you’re doing better.

Rebecca: I think this idea of “one small step” is always a great approach to trying something new, and it seems very manageable. So I can try one simulation and see how it goes, and then feel confident to implement more and more. But that kind of iterative approach seems really helpful. Of course, not everyone has eight sections that they can iterate through all at once. [LAUGHTER]

Matt: Yeah, even if you’re doing it once. I mean, think about the environment that you have. You’re explaining these findings that are very visual in nature, and how all these things are wired together. And I think one of the most important things the faculty contribute to students’ education is not just the facts, but how these things are all linked, and being able to hear from a seasoned faculty member can help develop student’s ability to think these things through in a more expert way, rather than just memorizing simple facts. So I think that not only do we get some sense of accomplishment in putting those things out there for students to use, but the students do as well, because they want to get this too, and they’re much more enthusiastic about content when they think they’re really getting it, or they know they’re really getting it.

John: I think anyone who has been teaching for any length of time knows where some of the pinch points are, the things that students always have trouble grasping. And those would be a good place to start, not just in statistics, but more broadly, in any discipline, where there’s some concepts that students don’t always make the connection between theory and practice or practical application. So those would be the places I would think where people should get started… thinking back on where students are having trouble making connections, because it’s generally the same areas year after year after year. And that information could be used to help us improve our instruction by using tools that make it easier for students to see those connections.

Matt: Those are all good points. And you know, one of the things that was evident when I was looking into this more deeply was the frequency of which these simulations are being used in AP statistics and earlier. And so it’s much more likely now that we’re gonna see students coming into our classes who are somewhat familiar with this way of presenting information. And so they’re going to get it pretty quickly. And so a nice way to make them feel more at home might be to put these things in and, again, to leverage their learning, give them this feeling of self efficacy, that’s going to be really helpful to them as they get into more difficult concepts.

Rebecca: How have you adapted your instructional approach during COVID-19 and teaching remotely?

Matt: That is a great question. And one of the things that helped was that this online stats lab that we’ve put together over the years really made it so that these labs were kind of ready to go. So, in that respect, the materials had been developed as had many that people had put together at the end of the spring 2020 semester. Those were just in the bank and ready to be used in the fall and are even stronger now. There are lots of models being used throughout the country, for dealing with COVID-19 and instruction. So maybe I’ll just drag the one that we’re using so that listeners can get a better sense of how it all fits together. We’re using a modification of the HyFlex system, which is called NAUFlex. And we started using that really in the fall of 2020. As is the case, I think, for many, after spring break of 2020, people went into mostly completely online mode. And so the NAUFlex system starts off with teaching being done completely online. And that allows students to get on campus and be tested and all of the things that build that strong safe infrastructure. And then somewhat later, students are able to opt in if they choose to participate in in-person classes. Now, the online classes that are held are synchronous, so there’s an expectation that students will be there for those. And then we also have COVID adjusted room capacities. And so what that means for some classes, is that they have two groups or three groups of students who can come in, so that we can maintain that distancing. My experience has been that most students have opted to stay online, which means that they show up for the lectures or the labs in either Zoom, or what I use is BB Collaborate, which is built into our learning management system BB Learn. And so that’s how it works for us. And kind of the unsung heroes in this whole evolution have been the instructional designers who helped make this work, and also the folks from Information Technology Services who found hardware that works, that allows us to both interact with our students in the classroom and push it out there to students who may be in places that have varying degrees of connectivity. What I’ve done to modify my instruction, somewhat based on feedback I’ve gotten from students from the spring and fall semesters: what they liked, what they didn’t, how it worked for them, and try to really bring to the lab, this sense of organization and consistency and safety. One of the things, as educators, we’re used to doing is walking into a classroom and being able to gauge energy levels and look around the room and be able to tell who’s got that faraway look, and maybe we need to go back and regroup and cover some material. And some of those cues aren’t there anymore. And so what I’ve found is that I’m much more elaborate in my explanations so that I don’t leave anybody behind. And I tried to foster an environment which makes everybody feel comfortable asking questions when they want. And it’s very rewarding for me when they do. And I know that, in a class of 30, if a student asks a question, there are several others who probably have the same one. So the other thing that I think, and I know that this is something shared by your listeners too, is just that the notion of teaching with compassion, these students are really out of their academic element, if you will, of the in-person classes and going from one place to another. That sequencing is no longer there. And so it’s a much different world in which they need to learn. And some of them learn very well in an online environment and some don’t, but they’re forced into that anyway. And so I tried to have lots of compassion for what the students are going through and try to extend that in my syllabi for late assignments and things like that. And I think I’m a little more careful with humor, because I don’t know the backgrounds of all the students. I have not had that experience with them in the classroom. And so I’m really careful about how I express things so that everybody can get it, and it’ll be something that everybody can accept and understand. The nice thing about the labs is that we have all of these resources that we can use. And so it’s designed to be delivered in an online environment completely. And so students have interactive tutorials they can go to that help them master the content, complete the assignments. As an aside, one of the things that I found helpful in this communication, is that I wear a clear face mask when I’m teaching. Part of it is because I appreciate that myself. I’ve got some hearing loss. And so I’m a little bit reliant on reading lips. And in the classroom, students need cues that “this is important,” or “I’m trying to be funny here.” And I think that it helps the students understand the content and my commitment to their success when they can see my face better. That’s a little thing, but I thought I’d put it out there. I’ve gotten feedback from students that they found that helpful. And the other thing is that having taught this lab so many times, you mentioned pinch points before, I’ve got an idea of where those are going to occur. And so when we’re coming up on one of those, I can be more explanatory, give them a much better foundation for getting past those. So those are the things that I’ve changed.

John: One nice thing that may come out of this whole difficult teaching experience this past fall, is that I think all faculty have learned to be much more inclusive in their teaching approaches for all the reasons that you mentioned. And I’m hoping that that’s something that will continue as we move past the pandemic.

Matt: I agree with that completely. I think that there are really important initiatives to promote that in every classroom. But I do think that the situation which we find ourselves in now does encourage us or motivate us to do a better job with that. And so that’s one of the things that I would throw out as well is this whole idea of universal design for learning, something that I think is really important, and simulations play into that nicely, don’t they? …in that they provide this other way of representing information, content that students can get, particularly those that the students can work on themselves time after time after time until they feel like they really get it. And so I think that this universal design for learning thing is something that we should probably keep in the forefront as well. And some systems really do a nice job with making that easy for us. So for example, there’s an add on to BB learn that takes PDF files, for example, and creates those in alternative formats.

John: Ally.

Matt: And so you’re familiar with that. And for some students, it’s the only way to get that content. For others, it’s a convenient way to listen to content while they might be on the bus or in the car. And so I just think with these simulations, it just feeds nicely into what I think is a mandate to try to make things available in as many ways as possible, so they can really resonate with students.

Rebecca: Do you have any other tips related to simulations that you want to share with folks who might be teaching similar kinds of courses?

Matt: Well, that’s a great question. And while I’ve talked about simulations, one of the things that might be on the border of that, but I think is very useful for incorporating into classes, are some games. And in the face-to-face labs, I used to really enjoy doing like Stats Jeopardy and things like that. It’s a little bit more difficult to do in an online environment. But one of the things that I’ve done in the correlation module is to use a system put together by John Marden. He’s a Professor Emeritus at the Department of Statistics at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. And he’s got this nice little system where he provides students with panels: four scatter plots and four correlation coefficients, and they need to match those. And so what I’ve done in previous semesters, and look forward to doing again, is having a competition across all the sections to see who has the longest sequence of correct panels, the winner of that gets a copy of a book by Tyler Vigan called Spurious Correlations, which if you haven’t seen it, his definitely worth a look. And there’s a website online as well, which is kind of fun. And one of the things that I’ve noticed with this particular gamified module is that students really work hard to get it. And at the end, they do, there are heroic efforts to win that book. And at the end, they really do know how to look at a scatterplot and get an idea of what the correlation coefficient might be.

John: For people who might want to go a little beyond using simulations in class, do you have any suggestions on where they might go to learn how to use, say, Shiny in R in order to create their own simulations? Is there a good reference out there?

Matt: I think there are some good references out there. They’re not, I think, specific to building simulations for teaching psychology. Although I have to say that one of the links that I’ll provide following the podcast will take you to an array of Shiny apps that were built specifically for teaching introductory statistics. And here’s the thing, they were built by undergraduate and graduate students for that express purpose. So this is a beautiful selection that were student built. But I think people who start working in R will look at some of the blogs that are out there and start being able to put these together themselves. But again, I think with all of these things, it would be starting off simple and going from there. Some of the ones that you’ll see out there are incredibly elaborate, and I know that they’re not in my skill set to build at the moment. So I would start with simple and go from there. But in the meantime, take a look at some of the other ones that are out there either to implement directly or try to emulate.

John: We always end by asking what’s next?

Matt: Well, for me, what’s next is a nice organized, gradual wind down of 2020. I think all of us are looking forward to 2021. I mentioned how grateful I am to have the opportunity to talk with you today. In preparation for this, I did lots of looking at things that are out there and I’m just really re-inspired to find simulations to put into my lab wherever I can. And also, as I’ve mentioned, planning on maybe building some assignments into my undergraduate teaching apprentice class about how they can use this. But I think I’m missing the contact with students in the online environment and in the lab, and I’m looking forward to being back in the classroom and using some of these things. But, I think, immediately what’s next, maybe another cup of lemon ginger tea.

Rebecca: Sounds like a good way to spend an afternoon.

John: This has been fascinating, and I’m looking forward to doing more of this during the spring myself. Thank you.

Matt: You’re very welcome. Thanks, John. Thanks, Rebecca. It’s a real pleasure to be here today.

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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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167. Supporting Persistence

Some students thrive in online courses and some students struggle. In this episode, Dr. Becky Cottrell joins us discuss the impact of student characteristics and circumstances on their success in online courses. We also discuss strategies that we can employ in our online classes to help all of our students be more successful. Becky is the online and hybrid course development analyst in the social work department at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Show Notes

  • Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Tinto, V. (1997). Classrooms as communities: Exploring the educational character of student persistence. The Journal of Higher Education, 68(6), 599–623.

Transcript

John: Some students thrive in online courses and some students struggle. In this episode, we discuss the impact of student characteristics and circumstances on their success in online courses. We also examine strategies that we can employ in our online classes to help all of our students be more successful.

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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 Dr. Becky Cottrell. Becky is the online and hybrid course development analyst in the social work department at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Welcome, Becky.

Becky: Thanks for having me.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Becky: I’m drinking water today.

John: And I am drinking ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: And I’ve gotten seasonal with my Christmas tea today.

John: I’ve got to bring that back. I’ve got a lot of it up in the office, along with some cinnamon sticks.

Rebecca: I beat you, John, I beat you this time. [LAUGHTER]

John: I saw your presentation at the OLC Accelerate conference, where you were talking about the research you’ve done on student outcomes in online and face-to-face classes at an Hispanic serving institution. Could you give us an overview of what prompted your interest in the topic, first?

Becky: Absolutely. I have been teaching online for more than six years. And I started working with a number of colleagues who really didn’t think that you could teach Spanish online. And I took that as a challenge and really wanted to teach a really great online Spanish class. And from there, it got me wondering who is taking online classes? I noticed a really big difference between my face-to-face students and my online students. And I wanted to know more about who they were and how they were doing in those classes. And combining that with the fact that we have seen an increase in student enrollments in online classes at our institution and around the country over the last many years, even before COVID, it really seemed important to me to know how students are doing in their online classes and what their grades are and what their outcomes were.

John: And that research becomes even more important when we put it in the context of COVID with the rapid shift online. Many people who were avoiding online instruction like the plague, have suddenly been forced to change their teaching modality.

Rebecca: …due to the plague. [LAUGHTER]

John: So, we can no longer say “avoiding it like the plague” anymore.

Becky: And students are complaining now and you hear students who don’t want to pay Harvard tuition rates for a substandard educational experience in an online class. But, are those experiences really substandard? I really want to know that.

Rebecca: That’s definitely a great question and a really relevant one right now.

John: So, this was your dissertation research?

Becky: It was. So, I just finished my PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. So I did a lot of research about what are student outcomes and what do they look like with different types of curriculum?

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about where your study was done?

Becky: Absolutely. So we use a pseudonym for the site. So, Russell University. It’s an urban university in the Mountain West and a very non-traditional population. So, lots of older students, lots of first generation students, veterans, working students, more students who are married… helping raise families. So, not your typical just-out-of-high-school students. It’s an Hispanic serving institution, and has been for the last few years.

John: How large was the sample that you worked with?

Becky: I started looking at every class that had online and face-to-face enrollments over two academic years, and at a large institution that ended up with 156,000 total course enrollments. But the statistical method that I was using doesn’t let one student be in the treatment group and the control group. So we had to aggregate students. And so I aggregated them down. There ended up being 28,000 students in the study. And from there, I just wanted to look at the ones who were taking mostly online classes, or mostly face-to-face classes. So those who were in that top 25% or bottom 25%, in terms of online enrollment, ended up being 7765 students over the course of two years.

John: That’s a nice sized sample. In many institutions, you have some students who are only online students, some students are only face-to-face. It sounds like there was a bit of a continuum there.

Becky: Certainly there were some who were all online or all face-to-face. It wasn’t something that I specifically looked at in my study, so I can’t pull out specific numbers of that. But yes, we definitely had students in the study who were entirely online and entirely face-to-face.

John: In terms of the online classes, were they developed with the assistance of instructional designers?

Becky: That’s a really interesting question. And the answer basically, is I have no idea. It wasn’t one of the things that I looked at in the study, I was looking more at student characteristics than course characteristics. That said, Russell University has a really robust online offering. Over the last 20 years, they have increased their online course offerings a great deal, and particularly in the last five years have really ramped up their efforts to develop courses and have really excellent quality matters certified courses at the university. That doesn’t mean that all of our courses meet that standard. But it has been an institutional goal and one of the things that they’ve worked on. but I was just looking at student demographics when I was looking at the study. Partly that’s hard because we have students who are taking maybe 20 different classes, and so they could have had one or two that were developed through an instructional designer, but the others may not have been. So, no real way of knowing.

John: The outcome you were looking at specifically was student success in the course?

Becky: Yes, so I measured student success in two different ways. The first way was looking at student grades, which we measured by course GPAs that was aggregated based on their course enrollments. And the other one was withdrawal rate. So, what was their percentage of withdrawals during the courses that they were taking during the two-year sample?

John: One of the things I found really interesting about your study is that you use a methodology that took into account sample selection in a way that so many education studies don’t. And you suggested the reason for that, I think, when you said that your online students were quite a bit different than your face-to-face students. Could we talk a little bit about that issue of sample selection in studies of this nature?

Becky: Absolutely. This is a really common problem in educational research, that you have something called selection bias. And I think that those of us who teach are aware that our students who enroll in 8 am classes are really different than the students who enroll in 2 pm classes. And we see some of those similar things with online classes versus face-to-face classes. It’s just a really different group and personality of those students. And what happens is students get to sign up for their own classes. There’s nobody randomly controlling them into different classes. They pick the ones that they want with the teachers that they want at the times that they want and in the course modality that they want. And we don’t know why. So that’s part of what I wanted to look at in this research is: what students are enrolling in online classes and what students are enrolling in face-to-face and why? Is there a balance between the groups? Are they really similar? Or are they really different? And so what I found was that there are different students who are enrolling in online classes versus face-to-face classes, which is not unexpected. As an example here, we found that students who are working full time were more likely to take online classes, which makes sense, they need to take the online classes because it fits better with their schedule and has greater flexibility to match their work schedule. But at the same time, what impact does that have on course outcomes? Does it mean that they are really motivated because they have a full-time job, so they’re going to get better course grades? Or does it mean that they are working full time and they’re managing a family and if something comes up, they’re going to put their schoolwork to the side because other things are more important. So selection bias, and the way that students self selected to classes, really changes how they might perform in those classes. Which brings us to that question of are those student course outcomes based on the online course modality? Or are they based on the characteristics that made students choose the online course modality?

John: When you didn’t control for student characteristics, what did you find in terms of comparing the outcomes in online classes with face-to-face classes?

Becky: One of the things that was really interesting here is that those students who were taking 75%, or more online classes actually had significantly better grades in their online classes than they did in face-to-face classes. So the online course GPA for those students taking 75% or more online classes was 2.55. And for those taking face-to-face classes was only 2.34. So definitely a significant difference and higher grades in online classes, which is not what I was expecting. Then, with regard to withdrawal rates, we had totally different results, which is that there was no significant difference in withdrawal rates among the two groups before balancing for those 15 different student characteristics.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about what those 15 characteristics were and how you chose those?

Becky: Absolutely. I used Tinto’s student integration model to look at what characteristics he felt contributed to student success and persistence in the institution. So, I ended up with 15, different personal characteristics related to students. So, a lot of demographic characteristics: age, race, gender, those sorts of issues. We tried to get academic performance through GPA, transfer status, transfer GPA, ACT scores, SAT scores, those sorts of things. We also tried to determine institutional commitment through if they had a declared major. And the one area that we would have liked to have more, but wasn’t available in an institutional data set, was something related to like computer literacy and other skills that were related to performance in an online class, but it just wasn’t something that was available. So 15 different characteristics, including those demographics, academics, and just connection to the institution.

John: So you were using a nearest neighbor matching with, I believe, a two-to-one ratio?

Becky: Yeah.

John: Could you describe that, perhaps, for our listeners?

Becky: Absolutely.

Rebecca: …for people like me that have no idea what that even means? [LAUGHTER]

Becky: So the methodology that I used was kind of an interesting statistical method called the propensity score analysis. And basically what a propensity score analysis does is matches people who are in the treatment group with people who are in the control group. So it creates kind of an artificial match to say this is now one person and what would have happened if they’d been in treatment or if they’d been in control. So it takes all of those characteristics and assigns them a score, and from there can divvy them up and say they are likely to be in treatment or control and it recreates those groups. And that matching allows them to determine the probability of them being in treatment or control groups, which essentially controls for the characteristics that you’ve loaded into the model.

John: To simplify it a bit, you’re comparing people who are similar in characteristics and examining the outcomes when adjusting for those characteristics.?

Becky: That is a great explanation… very concise. And the idea of the nearest neighbor two-to-one matching is basically that for each person who’s in the online class, we found two matching people in the control group. So we tried to keep as many students as possible in the final outcome.

John: And there have been at least some studies that are found one-to-one or two-to-one gives you the best estimates with the least amount of bias from that procedure..

Becky: Absolutely, yes. When there’s a one-to-one match, you get a lot better balance, because you can obviously find a matching student in the online or the face-to-face class that is the best fit. But when you start matching more students, it’s not quite as good of a fit, so you don’t deal with balance quite as well. And speaking of balance, I’m going to jump in and tell you about this right now, just because I think that’s interesting, and one of the great parts about propensity scores is this idea that the first thing that a propensity score model does is say, “Are these groups the same? Are your online groups the same as the face-to-face group?” And what we found out is that they aren’t. And I thought this was a really interesting piece of my research. So they were totally different, different enrollment patterns. and there were about eight characteristics that were significantly different. And this is where I think it’s so fascinating. So we had more part-time students in the online classes… not surprising… but they had higher ACT scores, more transfer students, more credits taken, they were more experienced students, they had higher GPAs, they were more likely to have a declared major and they were all older. So the better students were taking online classes, which is so fascinating to me, and explains ultimately, why we had higher course grades in our baseline data. Students who are better students were taking online classes, where those beginning students who were younger, who had less experience, were taking the face-to-face classes. So I just thought that was fascinating, that it was imbalanced. But it really gave a good picture as to why we were getting the outcomes we were at the institution.

Rebecca: It’ll be interesting to have some follow up studies related to COVID-19 around those ideas, because just anecdotally, students who are newer to being online, or just newer college students, have struggled quite a bit with online learning or complained about it, or just don’t know how to manage their time and those kinds of things. And it seems related to the kinds of findings that you’ve had.

Becky: Absolutely. And I think across the country, we’re seeing that those upperclassmen stay enrolled and are succeeding through these COVID transition. But it’s the underclassmen who are taking a gap year or who are failing out of classes. So I think that these results speak to that, that those students maybe aren’t prepared for an online class,

John: What happened to your results in terms of student success, when you corrected for the sample selection?

Becky: This is so fascinating. After controlling for that balance, we had originally had, in our baseline data, better scores, better course grades in online classes, and after controlling for those characteristics, there was no significant difference in course grades between online and face-to-face courses, which is awesome, it’s really exciting to know that maybe we’re doing something right. And so that was really exciting. But, at the same time, our baseline data had said that there was a non-significant difference in withdrawal rates. But after controlling, we found that there was a significant increase in withdrawal rates, and online classes had higher withdrawal rates, by about 2%, than face-to-face classes.

John: I think that’s a fairly common result, that online students often have much higher withdrawal rates than face-to-face classes.

Becky: Right. The grades are really promising. And I’m glad to know that those course outcomes are doing well. But when we start looking at withdrawal rates, it brings up some really interesting questions about how are we engaging students and why do we have bigger withdrawal rates in those online classes.

Rebecca: I was just going to ask if your research led you to believe anything about those results? If it was this particular characteristic or a teaching method? Or are those just new questions that we need to continue asking? [LAUGHTER]

Becky: I think they are mostly new questions that we need to continue asking. But there are some implications in the literature that I think lead us to some possibilities here. One of the big ones is that sense of community and connection in online classes, students really want to feel that, and if they don’t, they’re more likely to drop out from those classes. And so it’s definitely a consideration as we’re looking at more online classes is how are we building community? And how are we engaging with our students in that online space to make sure that they’re able to connect with their instructor and connect with other students in the class? I think that another factor that we see is who are taking these online classes: so students who are more engaged with families, they’re older, they’re working full time, therefore taking fewer classes. I think that those factors can contribute to their persistence or not in these online spaces. So, definitely some of those issues are there and we know what some of those reasons are. And I would love to do some future follow up research on what really is happening at this particular institution.

Rebecca: I know you had also mentioned high-impact practices and trying to incorporate more of those, like inviting students to do research and things. I’m wondering if we have any data on how prevalent that might actually be in online learning compared to face-to-face learning. How often are those opportunities actually there?

Becky: I totally agree. It would be so interesting to look at what are those impacts? And what is the prevalence of those high-impact practices? I think there’s a lot of research about what we can do to do better. And I think that even from this research that for my dissertation was almost obsolete by the time I defended my dissertation, because COVID happened, but one of the things that we can be doing better, and I think we have started is providing greater access to student services in those online spaces that students maybe before didn’t have access to advising, registration… they didn’t have a good way to connect with people who are on campus. And I think so many of our institutions have had to move towards a much better practice with that. When we went online for months, they had to figure out how to do that. And I think that we’ll keep that around and providing better services to students. And that will definitely help keep them enrolled in classes and keep them from stopping out and persisting at the institution.

Rebecca: Nothing like a pandemic to really force some innovation, right? [LAUGHTER]

Becky: It’s true, but it’s been so much fun. I love seeing that innovation and how we’re benefiting our students. I also love seeing a little more attention towards online teaching, We were the ugly stepchild before and now everyone is excited to learn about this new thing and how they can do it better.

John: It’s gone from being an ugly stepchild to a savior in some way.

Becky: Yeah, absolutely. Think about the last pandemic with the Spanish flu. What happened to their education at that point? We didn’t have online learning. Did they have distance education? What even happened with that?

John: If this has happened 20 years ago, it would have been a completely different experience with a lot of colleges just completely shutting down or moving to some type of correspondence class instruction.

Rebecca: Which I don’t think would have gone well. [LAUGHTER]

John: Which would not have gone very well.

Becky: No, definitely 20 years ago, I think that right now we can say we have similar course outcomes in online and face-to-face classes. But 20 years ago, I would have been one of those students who was protesting at Harvard about paying tuition for a substandard educational experience, [LAUGHTER]

John: What are some of the things that you would recommend doing to help build class community?

Becky: I’m so glad that you asked about this, because this is one of the other personal interests that I have. I’ve been working with a faculty learning community for the last two and a half years around developing instructor presence in an online class. And so I love talking about this, I think that there are a lot of ways that we can really develop connections among instructors and students, and also among students. So one of the best practices that I’ve seen is making sure that teachers have an opportunity to connect one-on-one with their students, whether that’s sending out an email a time or two during the semester, or requiring students to meet with them, at the beginning of the semester or at midterms, throughout the semester, to be able to develop that one-on-one Zoom connection to just be able to have a little bit of face time with students. But I think that works really well. So making sure that there is an opportunity to connect on a human level. When we teach online, we tend to be really text heavy and dry. And taking that human element that we love in a face-to-face class and pulling it out in an online space is so valuable for students, and really helps them to connect with each other and with their instructor. It’s one of those inclusive teaching practices that we do really well face-to-face, but is a little bit harder to do online, and if we’re intentional about it, it can happen. In terms of developing community among students, I think that as much as there’s resistance towards group work, I think that you can intentionally use it to develop community in your classes. And this isn’t just a “Hey, you should write a paper together and divide up the work,” it’s intentionally using that as a community building opportunity. And letting students know that that’s your intention is you want that to be community building. So one of the things I’ve always done in my Spanish classes is have students meet in small conversation groups once a week to have conversation practice with each other. And there’s always a little bit of resistance, and students aren’t so sure that they want to do it. But I have them fill out a survey to let me know what time they’re available. And it’s just a group of three students. They meet every week, and they have a great time talking with each other and get that oral communication practice they need. It also ends up being one of their favorite parts of the class. They develop connections with other students. And I hear all the time about students who actually meet in person and go out for coffee. I had one student who was taking a class from Florida and another student who was in Denver, and the Denver student had to go to Florida for something and stopped and went to go visit the Florida student in person, they went and hung out together. So I think there are just really interesting human personal connections that can be made. And leaving space for that to happen is so important. I think we get too focused on academics and lose those moments at the beginning or the end of a class where we spend a few minutes talking about nothing or the weather or the football game last weekend. And leaving that space in an online class and making sure that you have some space for that, really helps to develop those connections.

Rebecca: I definitely have experienced that this semester with my students who have had persistent groups all semester. They have said multiple times how helpful that has been for them, and they just did a reflection activity and almost every single student said “Oh, being in those groups was the best part…” which we never hear about group work, right? [LAUGHTER]. But they got to know each other and they had support through the class and used that as a way to help each other out with the course material.

Becky: Absolutely. I love that. It’s so amazing when students can get that connection and really work together.

John: I had a similar experience in my online class where I had students work on podcasts. And the first time they met, generally, is when they met in small groups to have these conversations and recorded them using Zoom. And they were supposed to be 5- to 10-minute podcasts, but many of them ended up being dramatically longer because, essentially, they were getting to know each other. It was kind of nice to see that sort of engagement and that interaction where they were getting to form this community. It would have been nice if they had recorded just a shorter segment of it. But I did get to listen in on some of those initial meetings. And it was an interesting experience.

Becky: And I agree, I signed my students to only speak for 30 minutes, and they only had to record 15 minutes of that. But the timer would tell me how long they’d been in and many of them would be in there for 45 minutes to an hour, sometimes an hour and a half… that they would just spend that time together, practicing and talking. And it was great. It was just fun to see that connection, that they went above and beyond what we’d asked them to do.

Rebecca: So drop out rates for something that you mentioned that your research pointed to this was one of the biggest issues that we needed to be thinking about in terms of online education. So in addition to instructor presence and helping students formulate community, do you have any other recommendations for faculty or instructors to help mitigate that or get students to stay? …to retain students?

Becky: Absolutely. So we’ve talked about access to student support services, building a community, some of those high-impact practices that we don’t always think about in online spaces is making sure that students have the ability to collaborate with faculty, like on a research project, especially at a Hispanic serving institution. It’s a culture where those connections are really important. And making sure to provide those to students so that there’s an opportunity to connect with faculty on working on something meaningful is really important. So as faculty, we can make sure that we’re selecting students, when we’re thinking about TAs, research assistants, make sure that we’re thinking about some of our online students as well and see if that might be a good fit for them. And one of the things that I also think about in terms of improving retention is this connection and relationship between the faculty and the student is so important. But in order to do that, we know our faculty are overworked and underpaid, and to make sure that there’s institutional support for faculty, is really important. And so making sure that there’s access to instructional design and pedagogical training through some of the resources available at the institution is a big deal, making sure that there is a collaborative opportunity for faculty to work together and share best practices and generally just supporting faculty. As we hold on to faculty, it gives them more bandwidth to hold on to their students. So institutional support is a really big deal to benefit our students as well.

Rebecca: And one that we can’t underscore enough when faculty are feeling really strained. [LAUGHTER]

Becky: No, absolutely not, not in 2020. And here we are. I don’t know about other institutions, but we’re being furloughed. And so we’re asked to do more and have fewer resources.

John: …while being at further risk in terms of employment risk, as well as all the health risks out there.

Becky: Oh, there’s so much going on.

John: You mentioned forming connections between faculty and students, and one way of certainly selecting students to be TAs, and so forth. But, what are some of the things instructors can do in their courses to help form those connections within online classes,

Becky: One of the things that we’ve really found that is helpful is moving away from a really static discussion board. We see a lot of classes where instructors say, ‘Tell me three things that you learned from this reading,” or “What are three of the five methods that are used to do whatever it is”. And those are really boring discussion boards and do not foster community, but asking questions that really encourage students to engage in a debate, in a conversation, and teaching them how to engage with each other appropriately and respectfully in an online space is really important. So asking them to solve problems together, asking them to work together, not shying away from difficult conversations. This election year has had a lot of challenges, and engaging with those in a student class in a way that allows them to bring in their own unique perspectives helps them to connect. Some of that might be through a discussion board. Some of it might be through a tool like Flipgrid that allows you to have students have a video discussion where they get to record a short video and then reply to each other. That really fosters that sense of connection and community in an online space. So allowing for that to happen is really important. We can move away from a boring discussion board to either a better discussion board or some of these other tools that foster community.

John: Flipgrid or VoiceThread or other similar tools offer a lot more possibilities for connection and hearing each other’s voices and hearing their instructor’s voice I think should help to create that sense of community more so than just reading text on a screen.

Becky: …and videos also. That, if we are recording videos, we can see the instructor, we can see the other students… having a face to put to a name. And having just a little bit of personal information… knowing that I smile and laugh, and I am an engaging person, I think, helps to connect with the course.

John: Humanizing the instructor is a phrase that’s often used, letting them hear you, hear your voice and your sense of humor, letting people know you as a person rather than just as the author of these words that show up on the screen all over the place is helpful.

Rebecca: …and humanizing the other students in the class. If it’s just a name, it’s really easy to not really think of that name as a person, the more you see and hear, not only as an instructor, but also fellow students, I think, can be really beneficial. So I think that students eat up the media when it’s available to them.

Becky: Absolutely.

John: And helping them make connections to their own life in their discussion. If they’re going to have discussion boards, one way of doing it effectively might be to have them make connections, where they draw on what they’re learning and make connections from their own life and experiences and share them, which also is a nice way of forming that sense of human presence in the classroom.

Becky: Absolutely. With a PhD in curriculum, I feel like I hold in my two hands two different things. So on the one hand, I have the curriculum and the course objectives and the aligned assessments and all of those things, and I think they’re so important. In my other hand, I’m holding on to the importance of people like bell hooks and Paulo Freire, and that reminder that we need to be transgressing some of these lines of our existing education and decolonizing our educational experience and humanizing it to make sure that we’re making real personal connections with the content, with the instructor. And so those are the two things that I carry with me as I’m working in my own classes in this and I’m helping faculty develop their courses is, “How do you balance those two things?” That is so hard, and I think in online classes, we do really well with the alignment and the course objectives and the assessments. And sometimes that humanizing part feels like it falls by the wayside.

John: But they’re not necessarily substitutes, they could be complementary. If you design assignments well, where they’re engaging in these authentic interactions, while achieving the learning objectives, it’s more work trying to design that, but there are some things you can do that can work fairly well.

Becky: I think there are wonderful faculty out there who are doing really great things, those are just the two things I try to always carry with me to make sure that I don’t leave one of them behind.

Rebecca: I think it’s really important to think about those two. So, it’s a nice reminder. And I think actually a nice way to wrap up the conversation, because it’s the two things to keep in mind as you move forward. Having those little takeaways at the end is always helpful. So we always wrap up by asking what’s next?

Becky: For me, I am really excited to dig into some of this qualitative side of things that we’ve talked about today. As I said, I love that hard quantitative research, but I’m also really interested in the humanizing element of it and that instructor presence. So I’ve been working with this faculty learning community for the last two and a half years, and we have developed an online instructor presence self-evaluation tool that we are presenting at OLC in the spring. So we’re really excited to be able to share that with some other people about how you connect with people and how we engage in our classes. So we’re excited to move forward with some of that. And just see what is happening with COVID? How has that changed things? And how might we rethink how we’re teaching online?

John: It’s just something that people would be using on a longitudinal basis to track how their classes evolved? Or is it just used in general as an instrument to share with faculty?

Becky: What we’ve intended it as is a way for people to self assess. So we didn’t want it to be a rubric. We don’t want it to be point based. We wanted it to be conversational, and a way to go in and reflect on your own teaching and consider ways that you could improve. And so absolutely, the way that we’ve designed the tool is it has a “What are my strengths? and ”What could be improved?” area on each of it. And so it would be really interesting to come back and say, you know, I did this last semester, what does that look like this semester? What am I changing? How am I improving? S o I think it absolutely could be used longitudinally.

Rebecca: That tool that you’re talking about sounds really great. So I hope we can have you back so we can talk about that in the future.

Becky: I would love to… only if I can invite a part of our faculty learning community

Rebecca: Of course.

Becky: It was a group effort. It’s one of those things that we couldn’t have done it without each other. We’ve just been in each other’s support system. And when we first found out that our institution was going online, we had a meeting scheduled for that Friday, and we talked about canceling and everyone’s like, “No, these are the people that I need.” And so we all met that Friday that we were moving online, and we haven’t seen each other since in person, but we were just that group. We’re like, “No, I need my support group.” So, I would come back and talk about it, but only if I can bring my FLC with me.

Rebecca: [LAUGHTER] It sounds important to do so. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a great conversation and we look forward to hearing more research from you, Becky.

Becky: Well, awesome. Thanks so much. It’s been a pleasure to visit with both of you.

John: Thanks for joining us. We’re looking forward to talking to you again.

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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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158. Distracted

It is easy to become distracted when materials or experiences seem irrelevant, unobtainable, or uninteresting. In this episode, James Lang joins us to explore strategies to build and strengthen student attention to improve learning outcomes. James is a professor of English and the Director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption University and is also the editor of the West Virginia University Press series,Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the author of numerous articles and books on teaching and learning, including Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning and Teaching and Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: It is easy to become distracted when materials or experiences seem irrelevant, unobtainable, or uninteresting. In this episode, we explore strategies to build and strengthen student attention to improve learning outcomes.

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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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Rebecca: Our guest today is James Lang. James is a professor of English and the Director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption University and is also the editor of the West Virginia University Press series,Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the author of numerous articles and books on teaching and learning, including Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning and Teaching and Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It. Welcome, Jim.

Jim: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

John: Good to see you again.

Jim: Yes.

John: Our teas today are:

Jim: I’m actually a tea aficionado. I get my tea from David’s Teas, which is a Canadian company. They, I think, have suffered a lot during the pandemic and closed most of their stores, but they still have a great online presence. And my favorite is Nepal Black.

Rebecca: Oh, that sounds good.

Jim: Yeah, it’s a great black tea. And I have many David’s Teas, though. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I almost forgot about David’s Teas. I need to cycle back to that.

Jim: Yeah, it’s great stuff.

Rebecca: I’m on my last cup of a big pot of English Breakfast tea.

Jim: I love English breakfast. I love Earl Grey. You know, all the greens. I just love tea.

Rebecca: You’re in the right place, then.

Jim: [LAUGHTER] Yeah, exactly.

John: And, you may remember the collection of teas we had in our workshop.

Jim: Oh, I totally remember. Yes, that was like tea Nirvana in your center.

John: It’s sitting there kind of empty right now. But, we’re hoping we’ll be back there soon.

Jim: Yeah.

Rebecca: The collection of teas is lonely. [LAUGHTER]

John: Although every now and then some get pilfered from the office. And I’m drinking one of them right now. A blueberry green tea.

Rebecca: That sounds good.

Jim: Yeah.

John: We’ve invited you here to discuss your upcoming book, Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It, which I’m really looking forward to receiving when it comes out in October, I believe. Perhaps we could start by talking about the role of attention in learning. Why should we focus so much on attention?

Jim: So, in the book, I argue that we need to think about attention as actually the kind of foundational step for all learning; no learning happens without attention. So, I actually think it’s a value that we need to be more willing to kind of fold into our pedagogical thinking. If you look at the research on how people learn, almost all of it will tell you that the first thing that has to happen is the learner has to attend to whatever the content might be. And I also believe that it’s important for us to make attention a value in the way we form community in the classroom. We should be attending not only to the course content, but to one another. So, we’ve talked a lot in recent decades about the importance of having a learning community in the classroom, about having relationships between us and our students, and the students having relationships with one another. All of those things depend upon the attention that we pay to one another. So, to me, there’s a kind of cognitive aspect to this. But, there’s also a kind of ethical aspect to it. We owe that attention to one another, we need to be able to pay attention to the students and to the specific students in our room and not just sort of a generic idea of a student, we want students to listen to one another. When students are airing their ideas in the classroom, we as teachers want to be able to listen to them, but we want students to be able to listen to them as well. So, I think we really do need to pay more attention to attention in our pedagogical thinking. So, that’s kind of what the book is about. The kind of overarching point of it really is to get away from this thinking that attention is sort of the norm or that this is something we can just take for granted in the classroom. And that we should expect students just to be able to sit and pay attention, because that’s the normal modus operandi in the classroom. And instead, to recognize that attention is an achievement. It’s something that we have to work at. And as a result, faculty members have to think about how do they support student attention in the classroom. How are they deliberately cultivating it? And how are they deliberately sustaining it, both to the classroom content and to the other human beings in the room?

Rebecca: Like other kind of pedagogical approaches, it seems like talking about attention with your students might be a good thing to start off the semester, and explain what attention actually is. Do you have any recommendations for thinking through that with students?

Jim: Absolutely. There are great resources out there that can help us educate our students about attention and about distraction. And we have to start with those kinds of conversations about how we make the classroom a place where attention is a primary value. And again, this doesn’t mean like attention, where it’s just sort of me laser focused in on the teacher and being attentive like that for 50 or 75 minutes. We’re not built that way. That’s not how attention works. But we want to do our best to kind of continually renew the attention that we pay to one another. And I think that has to start with an explicit conversation with our students. And to say that “Look, you know, it’s important for me to hear your ideas. So, when you come in here, if you’re doing other things, then the contributions that you would make to this classroom, which I know are important, are going to get lost. And when your fellow students are speaking, I want us all to be paying attention and listening to what that student has to say.” So, I think we have to start with those kinds of conversations. And maybe not in the first day… I think there’s a lot we can do on the first day to try to engage students and set the tone for the course… but, sometime in that first week, to really have a conversation with students to say it’s important for us to pay attention to one another in the classroom. Here are the guidelines I’ve developed t do that and I welcome your input on those guidelines. And then, by the end of this week, we’re going to come to an agreement on these are the rules that we all will follow together in order to make sure that we are fulfilling our obligations to one another, in terms of building a community and paying attention to one another, and paying attention to one other’s ideas.

Rebecca: If we build the value of attention into our course, what does that look like,over the course of the semester? We talked a little bit about a discussion, setting some boundaries or some rules, but, how does that play out over the course of the semester?

Jim: Well, so two things. So, first of all, I do argue in the book, actually, that I think there’s value in having an explicit kind of guideline for how we will deal with both attention and distraction in the classroom. And that includes what we’re going to do with our technologies, but it’s not limited to that, and to develop some explicit guidelines that are shared with students that they’re invited to comment on that, then they actually will sign and say, you know, “I agree to sort of abide by this policy,” and then to revisit it, to come back to it in the middle of the semester, for example, at a midterm evaluations and say, “How are we doing with the guidelines? Do we need to update these? Or do we feel like everyone is kind of on board or are people slipping away? What can I do to help get everyone back and make sure that we’re still paying attention to one other? …because attention fatigues over time, that happens in an individual class session, but also happens over the semester, right? So, we’re going to get to a point of this semester, at which we’re all tired, we’re finding it harder and harder to pay attention to one another because there’s lots of stuff going on, and for the students, all their midterms and getting toward the end of the semester. So, it needs to be addressed initially, and it needs to be revisited. Now, from the teacher’s side, there’s a lot of things that we can do to kind of say, “Look, I’m doing everything I can to help support your attention in the classroom here.” And all those are kind of explicit pedagogical practices that we can take. And in the book, I talk about two creative ways of thinking about this, to think like a playwright and to think like a poet playwrights have long experiences of trying to guide people through experiences that unfold over time. So, a playwright has to think about “how do I maintain the attention of an audience for an hour, two, or three hours, sitting in a dark room, where the audience is supposed to be looking just at this stage and following the story?” How do they do that? They vary the structure, right? There are acts and scenes and intermissions, there’s rising and falling action, there are stories unfolding. Not only that, but like you go to the symphony or whatever, right? It’s the same thing, you’re going to have movements, you’re going to have pauses in the action, you’re going to have a movement that ends quietly, but then begins with a bang. The people that have had to think about “how do I pull the attention of an audience over time? …we can learn a lot from that. So, I think teachers need to think a little bit more like that, to think about the classroom experience as something that unfolds over time, and therefore needs to have a structure and variety to it. Right? So, that, essentially, I argue in the book for thinking about your classroom experiences, as kind of a modular one, where you’re going to have an opening activity that takes 10 minutes, and then there’s going to be something that goes on for 20 minutes, and then you’ll have a finishing thing. And not only to make those changes, because change renews attention, right? We know that from the research, change can renew attention. So, you have the changes. But then you also have the fact that these things are different. So, that like I’m doing something passive, like I’m listening to a mini lecture, but then I stop and do something. And then maybe I get that another passive experience. So, that’s the first thing is to think a little bit more like how we’re varying the structure of the classroom experience. And by thinking like a poet, what I mean by that is that one of the things that poetry and literature can do for us, it helps us see the world anew, right? Like, it takes everyday experiences and objects and things that we’re familiar with, and it shows them to us in a new light. So, we wake up to them or say, “Wow, like, I never thought about a peach like that, right? Like, that’s amazing.” There’s this incredibly beautiful and complex thing” or like a still life painting is trying to do the same thing for us, right? …to show the world back to us, in all its wonders and complexities and intrigue. And I think we need to do that as well. We need to think about like, what are the opportunities that we have to show students the amazing, wondrous, mysterious aspects of our discipline that can awaken their attention to what we’re trying to teach. So, in the book, I argue for a what I call signature attention activities, which might be something that you would do, you know, once a day, once a week, a few times a semester, but that are really kind of like creative pedagogical things that get students re-energized and re-engaged. And recognizing, like this everyday thing they might be experiencing, actually is an incredible, amazing thing that deserves their interest and engagement. So, thinking like a playwright, thinking like a poet… to me, those are two kinds of ways to try and develop new approaches to cultivating and sustaining student attention.

John: So, in terms of thinking like a playwright, would it make sense to break up each class period into a narrative or into a storyline where you have those modules that you talk about, but perhaps do something at the beginning to activate attention to provoke curiosity?

Jim: Absolutely. I mean, there’s lots of things that you can do, I think, at the beginning to kind of get them engaged. You can tell a great story, you can pose a problem or a question, but you have to do something other than just kind of “Okay, here we go. Here are the four concepts that we’re going to talk about today.” I think, if you really want people’s attention. Here you can expand it to other creative arts as well. When you pick up a novel, The first two pages, a novelist knows, they’ve got to draw you in in those first two pages, you’re going to put the book down, right? A television show, think about how many television shows, films, they begin with something that really is designed to capture your attention and draw you in and keep you engaged for the rest of that experience. We’re drawn to stories, we’re drawn to questions and problems. But, if we can think about foregrounding those, that’s a way of getting us engaged before we then go through and are doing the sort of harder cognitive work of whatever that classroom might be.

Rebecca: You mentioned some signature pedagogies to implement throughout the semester to focus our attention. In the spirit of small teaching, is there one that’s small and easy that faculty who maybe are under stress during a semester can implement right now.

Jim: The example I give it, the book… I’ll start with the one that kind of originally got me thinking about this. There was a faculty member actually across town for me at Holy Cross, an art historian, who since passed away. But she had her students go to the Worcester Art History Museum, and every week, they had to go to the museum and look at the same painting and write a different one- to two-page essay about that same painting over the course of the entire semester. They do 13 short essays about the same painting. And that, to me, is a great example of creative thinking about like, this is how you make attention a value. You know, you start and you look at it in a very surface oriented way. And then you just have to keep looking and looking and looking. And the more you look, the deeper you get into it. And the more you start to see all the sort of incredible stuff in there. So, I kind of encourage people to think about what is the thing in your discipline that’s like that painting that like you can go back to, or that you can develop some kind of strategy that’s going to get students to see it anew for the first time. So, one that is a little bit more kind of every day, I observed a theologian on my campus, who had her students engaged in an activity that was modeled on study of the Torah, the scholars studying the Torah use, which is she had the students get in pairs. And I was able to observe this class, they sat across from one another. And they were instructed to read out loud to each other the first few paragraphs of Genesis, but after every sentence, they were supposed to stop and say, “Okay, what do I see here?” Like, “What does this remind me of? What word is strange here? What do I notice here that connects to other things that we’ve talked about in the class?” And this went on for like 20 minutes. And some people only got like two paragraphs in like a 20-minute exercise of doing this. But, it was incredible to listen to what they came up with. And I stayed in the class and listened to some students afterwards. One student said, “I’m from an evangelical background, I’ve read these passages so many times, but I’ve never thought about some of the things that we talked about today.” And so it was a way to kind of reawaken them to something that was very familiar and that she could have got up there and given a lecture on things in the first book of Genesis, but the students uncovered it themselves, and were able to do that. So, I actually kind of talked through a process that was developed by someone at the teaching center at Brown University, which is trying to model like, very close looking at something in your discipline. And you start by just sort of doing that, “what is it?” Like, “What is here? Let’s really get in and describe it as much as possible.” And then the second thing we do is we say, “Okay, so what? Why is it important? What matters about it? What does it connect to in terms of other things that we know or are learning?” And the last thing is sort of “Where can we go from here?” Like, what questions does this raise that we can then go and think further about, or for example, that I might go and write a paper about or do some research about?” So, the careful look at it, then the thinking about how it connects outside of that thing to other things? And then the “Okay, now let’s go further, I’m going to develop my own kind of way of thinking about and understanding this thing.” You know, John Dewey, a long time ago, had students doing object analysis, where they would analyze like everyday things in their homes, or like that they encounter on an everyday basis, and trace those everyday things: “Who made it? What is the production of it, say about like, our economy and our world?” And you know, you can do that with anything, and almost any discipline, right? Like this t-shirt I’m wearing, right? Who made that t-shirt? That has huge implications for, like economics and politics and trade and inviting that kind of activity into the classroom seems to me like something that can help students see the discipline in a new way, and then re-engage their attention to show them this course actually has relevance and connections to things outside of the box of this classroom.

John: When in the classroom, one possible source of distraction, which I know you’ve written about before in the Chronicle and other places, is mobile devices. When we’re in a classroom environment, how can we help students use their mobile devices more effectively.

Jim: So, I think we have to be explicit about them. So, when we have those conversations at the beginning of the semester, I actually recommend in the book, an open source PowerPoint presentation that anyone can get and use. It was developed by a psychology instructor at the University of Toronto, which kind of shows students some of the issues that we face when we’re using our devices in the classroom. And of course, when students are using their devices off task in the classroom, it impacts their own learning, of course. We all know that. But, the bigger challenge is the way that impacts the students around them. And there is some pretty good research that shows that if a student is off task on a device, other students are drawn to that device, and that steals their attention away from whatever might be going on in the classroom. So, I think we have to talk to students about that, We have to say, “Look, you know, your device use is not just a personal choice that you’re making that has no broader implications. It does have broader implications, it has the potential to kind of tamp down the overall level of attention in this classroom.” And again, I think when we make that appeal, we need to do it on community grounds, right? Like, we owe each other our attention in this space. And we are all going to benefit from people’s contributions and those contributions are going to be richer, if we’re paying attention to one another, if we’re thinking together about the ideas. So, I’m not in favor, actually, of sort of full technology bans. I’m also not in favor of saying we should never have a technology ban. I argue in the book for a context-driven policy, which suggests that there may be times when we say no one needs their devices, right now, we’re going to talk about what this means. And you don’t need to take notes on that by hand or by device. There are other times when I may be lecturing, and you can use your devices, or you can take your notes by hand. There are times when we’re going to be having a discussion, you know, you can write down something if you’re so moved, but otherwise, I’d rather have us focus on one another here. We’re gonna be doing an activity and everyone’s going to go to the board, so you don’t need your devices for that. I’m segmenting off sections of the board here, and I want everyone to brainstorm a list of these five things. To me, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say, we’re never gonna use technology in here, or there’s just an open technology policy, which we can use any time. It depends on what’s going on. And I think if we take that approach, that also helps us be better planners, because we have to think about “Okay, well, what is going to be happening in the first 20 minutes, and would that benefit from technology use? Or couldn’t some students benefit from that?” If so, okay, then great, I’m gonna be explicit about that. But, there may be these other times where it’s gonna do nothing but interfere. And at those times, I want to be able to say, you don’t need your device right now.

Rebecca: I think that makes perfect sense. Right now, I’m teaching synchronously online. So, I’m exploring some different ways of using technology and different ways that pure distraction might play out in a screen environment. Do you have any thoughts about how we can help students attend to each other more so in an online environment? Sometimes it’s a little more obvious, I think, in a physical environment of how to set things up, and maybe not as obvious in an online environment.

Jim: It’s definitely not as obvious whether people are distracted in their online environments, right? Because they can have their phone right next to the laptop. And I’m sure we have all done this in our zoom meetings, department meetings, or whatever committee meetings where things get a little slow, you pop over and you do something else for a little while, and then you come back in. And again, I think, even an online class, we can be explicit about that, when you’re stopping out like that you’re pausing your own thinking, and that’s going to lead to a sort of a less rich conversation for us all. When students have their cameras on, it’s a little bit easier to see obvious sources of distractions. But, of course, I think we do need to give students the option to not have those cameras on for a variety of reasons. To me, because I think about, as I’ve been doing workshops …and a lot of the faculty workshops that I do on other campuses, of course, have switched virtual… what I’ve seen a lot is that the people will actively engage with the chat room. So, when the chat room is there and is explicitly encouraged, that can be a way that keeps people engaged. In some ways, it’s not quite ideal, because people can also get off track in the chat room. I’ve definitely seen that happen as well. But, trying to find regular ways to make sure that people are engaged in parallel activities, or something that’s kind of supporting whatever it is that’s going on. You can still use polling, you can use chat rooms, you can use breakout rooms, you just have to think about the same thing that you think about in the classroom. How am I continuing to provide sort of variety and shifting from one kind of activity to the next. People always talk about like, well, you lose students attention over the course of a 50- or 75-minute lecture, you lose people’s attention over 50- or 75-minute discussion too. Anything that you do for a long period of time, your attention is going to fatigue. So, to me, there is no like one pedagogical technique online or in face to face that’s like this is going to keep people’s attention, guaranteed, for everyone in the room for this amount of time. That’s just not realistic expectations. So, we just have to think about how we are providing that kind of variety, giving people opportunities to actively engage. And kind of what I encourage people to do is what I did during the two years while I was researching the book, and what I’ve been doing over the last six months in my online environments, is just look at like when do people pay attention? When do people get off track? We can learn from those moments. That’s what I’m essentially trying to argue to faculty as well. And what I hope the book will do is get people together on campuses and say, “Okay, let’s just think about this collectively. When do our students drift off? And like, why is that happening? When do our students get really engaged? Why is that happening? And how can we take the sort of engagement moments and maximize what’s happening there, and take the distraction moments and use those as an opportunity to develop creative new approaches?” So, for the online classes, I just encourage people to think about what have their experiences been in your Zoom meetings and your webinars and things that you’ve done when you’re a participant. What’s helped you, and what’s brought you back, and what sent you away? I’ll just say one last thing about it. To me, in the Zoom context, or like a synchronous online class is one of the lines of research I follow in the book, is the use of names, we all perk up at the use of our names. So, if John was drifting right now, and I said, “John, what do you think?”, he’s gonna “What?” If he was drifting, he’s suddenly back in the room, right? So like, even if you don’t have cameras on, you can still be saying, “I’m regularly gonna invite people to post in the chat or to see if they have comments. And I’ll do that by calling your names.” Just even saying that it’s going to get people “Okay, you know what, I need to be kind of attentive here.” But once I actually say, “Hey, Rebecca, what do you think? You know, boom, you are like right there. So, there are simple things like that, that we can do that help. There’s no sure fire solution online or face to face, we just have to keep trying these different approaches.

Rebecca: One of the things I really love is the fact that there are names.

Jim: Yes, I know. Right? Exactly.

Rebecca: That’s amazing. [LAUGHTER]

Jim: Yeah, the first couple weeks in class, it’s hard to do that sometimes. Right? Because you’re still learning everyone’s names.

Rebecca: Yeah. What I noticed about what you were just saying, though, is using this object-based learning or close-look approach on ourselves or within the teaching arena. So this area that we want to study teaching…

Jim: Right.

Rebecca: …you’re actually offering up the suggestion that we do the same thing that we’re suggesting that our students should do within our disciplines.

Jim: Yeah, that’s true, actually, you’re taking a look at the classroom, but through this other lens. We look at it through all kinds of lenses. But, I think if you look at it through the lens of attention and distraction, to me, that’s like an avenue toward creative new thinking. And that’s kind of ultimately what we want here. This is basically the same approach I tried to take in Cheating Lessons, which is to look at like the issue of academic integrity, where does it happen and why? And then say, “Okay, once we understand that, what can we do differently? And how can we use that problem to improve education in general?” And that’s kind of what I’m trying to do here with attention to distraction? How can we use the problem of distraction to help us become better teachers in general?

John: Does your book also address issues of how we can help our students maintain focused attention when they were engaged in out-of-class activities?

Jim: This is a really challenging issue. So, one of the things I’d hoped to find in doing the research for the book was that strategies that people have touted as improving our general attentional capacities, that there are some of those that work. And the truth is, there doesn’t seem to be as much of that as we would like, especially evidence-based strategies that can sort of improve people’s attentional capacities. So, the one that’s been the most thoroughly researched in education in recent years has been mindfulness. So, if we practice mindfulness, to what extent can that actually improve our ability to pay attention? And there is some research that supports that, but it supports it if you are really all in on it, like you’ve got to be doing mindfulness on a daily basis for a significant chunk of time. And you’ve got to be really willing to make that commitment to mindfulness. When you do that, it can help. But we don’t have the ability to do that with our students, for the most part. And most of the experiments that you see being done in this area are like three- to five-minute little mindfulness activities in the classroom. I’m a fan of those, I think those can be really great and helping in the moment. We can help sort of in acute… like we can improve our attentional spins in an acute way. But, in terms of like developing strategies that are going to help students actually improve their attentional capacities in the long term, and outside of the classroom, I’m not sure we have anything yet that has proven to do that. Well, we do have one thing, but again, it’s nothing we should be doing in the classroom, it’s physical exercise, like physical activity improves your blood flow to your brain. And that improves all kinds of your cognitive functioning. But again, we can tell our students to do that, but it’s not like something we can enforce or get our students to do in the classroom. But, I look at some of the research in a great book on distraction called The Distracted Mind by Adam Gazaley and Larry Rosen, and they do a pretty good job of looking at like brain games and drugs and mindfulness and nature exposure. And their conclusion is, so far, we really only know one thing that is evidence based to improve people’s cognitive control, and it’s physical exercise. Everything else, we’re still not sure yet, like we’re exploring. There may be some positive studies here, but, we don’t really have enough to make it prescriptive yet.

Rebecca: Seems to me like something that could be useful to students outside of classes, just having them be aware of attention.

Jim: Absolutely.

Rebecca: …and what being attentive looks like, so that they can self monitor, if they so wish.

Jim: Absolutely. We can give them the sort of tools and instruction they need, and we can give ourselves the same. As the result of doing all this research, I’ve kind of realized that, in my own work life, there are things that I can do with my email and my Twitter feed open, like responding to emails and doing sort of committee work, that kind of stuff. But, if I want to write, I have to close everything out. And you know, since the whole pandemic thing, the weather has been better, I got in my backyard, I close everything out, and I just have Word open, and I do that for 45 minutes and then I get myself a 15-minute break, right? I take a walk around, I look at Twitter, that kind of thing. So, we need to do the same kind of look at our own attentional patterns and like habits and distractions. And we can encourage students to do that. We can help them understand how to do that. It’s up to them ultimately, of course, to decide whether or not they’re going to put those ideas into practice. We can also model for it in the classroom, though, and that’s another reason why I argue that there may be times when it’s a good idea to say to students “All devices away at this point for 20 minutes here, we are going to just brainstorm. We are going to think with nothing but our brains and the book or the problem, or whatever it might be, and the whiteboards, and let’s just try to come up with something. One of the things I suggest in the book is that devices and distractions are around us all the time. That’s our normal way of being. And we want to be able to prepare students for that world. That’s why I argue that we shouldn’t ban technology. We’re gonna be working with technology, like we need to know how to work productively with it. At the same time, it may be that there’s good reason to think that the classroom sometimes is an escape from all that, that the classroom is like an attention retreat, where we can go, put away all that stuff, and use our brains in a different way. And it may be that the more technology sort of intersects with our lives on an everyday, 24-hour, basis, that those spaces are really valuable, actually, and that they give students a taste of what it’s like to put things away and just focus our collective brains on something and see what emerges from that. And if we can give them the opportunity to do that in the classroom, then they may recognize, “Oh, you know, actually, this was really valuable. And there may be times when I want to do it myself outside of the classroom with a few peers, or even just by myself.

Rebecca: I certainly have had students in the past have experienced really stressful times, say like, they’re all in on a particular class or something, because it’s an escape, and it’s a place where they can focus and they put all their attention there. And I think a lot of students are doing that right now, during the pandemic, as well. I have a lot of students that are really focused right now on some of their schoolwork, because they’re stressed by other things that are going on around them.

Jim: Yeah, my last Chronicle column was a review of a book called Lost in Thought, by Zena Hitz. And one of the things she argues and that is that we need to recapture the value of just sort of getting lost in our own thoughts and engaging with ideas and the great thinkers and problems of the past and present. And part of the argument she makes is that when we do that, we have an opportunity to get away from our material circumstances, right? …like the world that we’re living in. And that kind of escape can be really valuable. It’s valuable, both for sort of mental health purposes, like, you know, you step away, and you get to sort of engage with something fascinating and intriguing, and get into kind of like a flow state or a thinking state. But, it’s also valuable, because it can give you a new perspective, like, that’s the moment which you might come up with, like a really creative idea. And I bet almost everybody listening to this podcast right now has had moments where they’re like in the shower, on a walk in the woods, riding their bike, whatever, and something suddenly hits them, and then a problem that they’ve been wrestling with opens up. What’s going on there is you are away from the other stuff. In those moments, that’s where the ideas sometimes emerge. So again, sometimes ideas emerge because you’re online, and you’re seeing all kinds of different stuff. And that’s great. But we want to have these other opportunities as well. And so the classroom should be able to provide a little bit of that for students as well.

Rebecca: I found that some students also respond really well to hearing examples from us of our experiences with attention or lack of focus and how we’ve wrestled with those things. I know that this morning, my class was talking about being tired or having anxiety, and I just expressed that I was also experiencing that as well. And all of a sudden, like we were all in the same place, we were all attentive to each other because we had this kind of common experience.

Jim: Yeah, one of the other major points I hope people take away from the book is just empathy, to recognize that attention is hard. And it’s especially hard in a time like this, when there’s so much going on in the world around us. When we have the pandemic, we’ve got an upcoming election, we’ve got Black Lives Matter. We have all kinds of things that are making us concerned or unhappy or frustrated or anxious. And so those things steal away our attention. And we have to be empathetic to ourselves. First, we have to recognize that our own attention is suffering right now. And then we have to bring that empathy to our students as well. A student who’s drifting away in the classroom. Sure, that can be because they’re looking at their Instagram, but maybe they’re looking at their Instagram, because they’re so stressed out. And this is kind of an easy thing that they do that gives them a quick little relief from everything else that they’re worrying about. Or maybe they’re drifting away in the classroom because they had a terrible night’s sleep, and they’re up with a sick relative. I mean, attention is drawn away, not just by our devices, but by all kinds of things. The more that we recognize that and the more that we are empathetic with our students, the more we can work with them to develop solutions.

John: You mentioned the importance of attention by both students and by faculty. We’ve talked mostly about students’ attention. Do you have any suggestions for faculty on how we can be more effective in maintaining attention to our students and their needs at any given time.

Jim: It’s just the basic stuff that we all think about in terms of the responsibilities that we have to build community in the classroom are essentially the ones I’m arguing for in the book as well. Names are important, knowing individual names, I argue in the book also for an activity like values affirmations in which students get to tell you what matters to them at the beginning of the semester. So, we can do our icebreaker activities in which hometown major, you know, all that kind of stuff. But, to get more substantive, and to get to know the students a little bit better. Invite them to tell you what matters to them what they’re good at, and to be able to kind of then keep those things in your mind and use them in the conversations that you have with students or in the feedback that you give to students. Giving individual feedback, thinking about how we’re doing that, using students’ names, and knowing a little bit about the assets that they bring into the classroom, I think there’s been a lot of good research on the ways that we can help foster community in the classroom. And to me, those are the things that are going to help foster attention as well. Attention is reciprocal. If I pay attention to you, you’re more likely to pay attention to me. If we’re sitting at a coffee shop together, and we’re there to meet and discuss something, and you pick up your phone, that’s the moment in which I’m going to pick up my phone as well. Whereas if neither of us does that, if none of us makes that initial move, we’re probably more likely to continue the conversation with one another and pay attention to each other. So, when our attention is drawn away from the students, when we’re not giving them our full attention, they’re not going to give us their full attention either.

John: Is there anything else from your book that you’d like to share with our listeners,

Jim: The only other thing that I talk about in the book that might be worth mentioning is the role that assessment can play in attention. And I do believe there is a role for assessment to play in supporting attention. And what I argue here is that your great students are going to try to pay attention to everything that happens in class. Your students that are struggling, that may have a harder time managing their academic work, those students actually can benefit from assessments which help them recognize this is a moment where I really should be paying attention in this class. And if an assessment is well designed, and it’s going to promote learning, then I think we’re only doing them a favor by helping students recognize “This is an important thing here, this matters.” And that can be low stakes. But, even low stakes can get some students over the threshold of “I’m going to sit here and check out” or “I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing here. So, I’m not going to say anything, I’m gonna hide in the back.” The students saying “Okay, actually, this counts a little bit. So, I better try and trying is going to help them.” So like, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking about the role that our assessments can play in pointing students toward the activities that are going to help them learn. So, I argue for that in the book as well, that assessments do have a role to play in this process.

John: And it’s not just low-stakes assessments, I’ve been amazed at how much attention and enjoyment students get out of using things like Kahoot!, which is entirely anonymous, but just that feedback they’re getting on how well they’re doing and that somewhat competitive atmosphere with it, where there’s no harm if they make mistakes, but they become really excited about how they do on those.

Jim: Yeah, “I want to see if I got it, right,” like “I’m trying this, I want to see if I got it right.” Because that’s gonna tell me how I’m gonna do in the class. And so, those kinds of activities, I think, can be really helpful for engaging attention.

John: And it’s giving the students feedback, but also giving us feedback. So, we know where they’re struggling, so we can help address those needs.

Jim: Exactly.

Rebecca: I think projects are also another form of assessment that we didn’t discuss right here. But, I think even having small amounts of scaffolded projects where there’s something that like, is done and accomplished, and you can check it off, is another way of kind of feeling accomplishment, but also being aware that you’re focusing on the things that you’re supposed to be focusing on, to move forward in a larger scale project.

Jim: Exactly, and like a lot of this stuff, that scaffolding is good for all kinds of reasons. And one of those reasons is, as we just said, like I can go through, I can check it off, I know that this is important. So, I have to get it done before I can do the next thing. That’s going to keep their attention engaged throughout that process of doing a larger project.

John: And it reduces cognitive load…

Jim: Yeah.

John: …it reduces the amount of anxiety they have, and they’re getting guidance along the way. So, they don’t go off in a direction that it’s hard to recover from later.

Jim: Right. And anxiety and cognitive load are all connected with attention, [LAUGHTER] like anxiety, it steals our attention. When the cognitive load is too heavy, we lose our attention. So, all these things. You know, attention is like one of these things that, once you to start really thinking about it, it intersects with everything. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: That’s why it should be a value. [LAUGHTER]

Jim: Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. Yeah.

John: Yeah, well, I hope this gets the attention of a lot of our listeners [LAUGHTER]

Jim: Well done.

John: …so they can focus more attention.

Rebecca: We always end by asking, what’s next?

Jim: Well, I’m on sabbatical. So, I am writing a book. And for the first time, I’m kind of going back to my discipline. I’ve been doing sort of off-and-on research on George Orwell for a long time. My area Is 20th century and contemporary British literatures. So, I am using this sabbatical as an opportunity to try and get that book project going. And I hope to be able to have a book. or at least a good chunk of a book, by the end of my sabbatical. There also is a second edition of Small Teaching that we’re working on. And so that will be out at the end of 2021. So, that’s a second edition, which will have updated research, some updated recommendations for techniques, and, actually, there is going to be a chapter on building community. So they’ll be an additional chapter. And so I’m excited for that as well.

Rebecca: That’s like a lot of things to look forward to.

Jim: Yeah.

John: And living in the Orwellian world we’re in right, now… [LAUGHTER] I’m very much looking forward to that.

Jim: Yeah, definitely. There’s definitely a lot of relevance there. And that’s why I hope the book will get some attention. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Nicely done. Thanks so much for joining us and sharing your expertise. And I know that I’m definitely looking forward to picking up your recent book, and I’m sure many of our listeners will too.

Jim: All right. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

John: Thank you.

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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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