In episode 12 of this podcast, Doug McKee joined us to discuss the Active Learning Initiative at Cornell. In this episode, Doug returns to give us an update on this initiative and some initial findings on how this initiative has affected student learning. Doug is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics and an Active Learning Initiative Project Lead at Cornell University.
Faculty development is often done in isolation on a single campus, school, or institution. In this episode Jodi Robson, Brandon McIntire, and Margaret Shippey join us to discuss The Coffee Shop, an initiative that has brought multiple campuses together to share, reflect and learn together and from each other.
Jodi is the Director of the Institute for Academic Excellence at Indian River State College, Brandon is the Director of eLearning at Florida Gateway College, and Margaret is the Director of Faculty Development and Classroom Engagement at Miami Dade College. They have all participated in the professional development programs offered by the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) and have worked with colleagues at other regional institutions to create The Coffee Shop network for professional development.
John: Faculty development is often done in isolation on a single campus, school, or institution. In this episode we discuss one initiative that has brought multiple campuses together to share, reflect and learn together and from each other.
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.
John: Our guests today are Jodi Robson, Brandon McIntire, and Margaret Shippey. Jodi most recently served in the role of the Director of the Institute for Academic Excellence at Indian River State College, and has now joined the Association of College and University Educators (or ACUE) as an Academic Strategy Consultant. Brandon is the Director of E-Learning at Florida Gateway College and Margaret is the Director of Faculty Development and Classroom Engagement at Miami Dade College. They have all participated in the professional development programs offered by ACUE and have partnered with their colleagues, Michelle Levine at Broward College and Steve Grossteffon at Santa Fe College to create the Coffee Shop network for professional development. Welcome Jodi, Brandon, and Margaret.
Margaret: : Thank you.
Jodi: Thank you. We’re happy to be here.
John: We’re glad to talk to you. We’ve been talking about this for a while. I’m glad we could finally arrange this.
Rebecca: Today’s teas are…
John: Are any of you drinking tea?
Jodi: I’m drinking tea and I drink tea every day. It is my beverage of choice. And I drink wild sweet orange.
Rebecca: Well, that sounds good.
Jodi: It’s very good… with a little bit of lemon.
BRANDON: My tea comes in the form of soda. And I am getting my daily caffeine fix because it is almost five o’clock. And I am drinking a Pepsi zero sugar.
Margaret: I’m with Brandon on the soda bandwagon, drinking a Diet Coke.
Rebecca: At least you didn’t come in with a coffee, that’s all I’m gonna say.
Jodi: Really? I could’ve…. [LAUGHTER]
John: Oh, do you have coffee shop mugs. Is that what you just helpd up?
Margaret: Yes. [LAUGHTER]
Jodi: Yes, it is. We all have our own coffee shop mug. And it’s funny because we discovered probably about four or five months after we created the coffee shop that there was only one of us who actually drank coffee, which is Margaret, the rest of us do drink tea.
Margaret: They let me stay on.
John: But as long as you clean the cups really, really well. You can still use the Coffee Shop mugs for tea.
Margaret: We’ve tested them with a lot of different content, [LAUGHTER]
John: ..and that could help clean them too. My tea is a ginger peach green tea today.
Rebecca: Back on your regular wagon, huh? And I am too. I have my English afternoon tea today.
Jodi: Those both sound tasty.
BRANDON: They do sound delicious.
John: It’s one of my favorites. I have it very often here. Could you tell us a little bit about how your participation in ACUE helped lead to the creation of the Coffee Shop?
Jodi: I had this vision of faculty working together across disciplines and getting out of their silos at my college. The first two years I was facilitating classes. And I brought faculty together in these live sessions and thyn love to hear each other. I had a vision of faculty working together across disciplines and getting out of their silos at my college. And the first two years with ACUE, I facilitated courses. And I offer live sessions for faculty to come together and to hear different perspectives and they loved it, and they were clamoring for more. And I kept trying to think how can I get more of this opportunity for faculty to come together and hear their colleagues? And I really wanted to go ahead and get beyond IRSC [Indian River State College] and the different disciplines here. During the pandemic, I was asked to facilitate some courses in North Carolina, and as I was reading the profiles of the courses I was covering in North Carolina, I saw a lot of similar interests in a desire to hear the perspective from different faculty across the college and to hear from faculty at other institutions. And when I started thinking about that, I reached out to Dr. Barbara Rodriguez with ACUE who was my contact and who worked with the other four individuals with the Coffee Shop. And I shared my crazy idea. And she went ahead and loved it, and she sent out a message on a Friday evening to four people that I had no clue who they were. And then on Saturday morning I sent this random email about my idea and how I wanted to come together and that I thought that when we come together, we are even better. I think we do amazing work independently, but I felt strongly that if we could come together and unite, we could really go ahead and come up with something amazing. And I sent out an email and they all responded to me by Monday morning and here we are almost a year later with our Coffee Shop team. But Brandon and Margaret, do you have anything that you wanted to add?
BRANDON: It was a really unique dynamic. As Jodi said, none of us knew each other, or really anything about our institutions when we were assembled. I always say it’s kind of like going on a blind date. And Barbara at ACUE was our matchmaker. We were strangers in the night who met each other and we connected. And this connection has been really good. It feels like we’ve worked together for a really long time. The meetings always have very detailed and robust discussion. We always laugh a lot and we support each other. A lot of times in our meetings, we actually present problems that we are currently having, and we help each other professionally in solving those problems. I always look forward to our weekly meetings, because we get a lot accomplished and we enjoy each other’s company.
Margaret: I would just add that one thing that we remark about on occasion is that we bring a diverse set of strengths. And that’s just been serendipitous. We have a mix of tech skills and event planning and logistics, and everybody has their contribution. And we have a core set of skills that we overlap in, in the sense that we do faculty development, but then we all have our own sort of angle on it, too. So that’s just a stroke of luck.
Jodi: Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and add in that Brandon nicknamed us midway through the year, the Dream Team.
BRANDON: We’re not quite like the ‘92 basketball team, but we’re pretty good. [LAUGHTER]
Jodi: I’m Michael Jordan, what are you talking about?
Rebecca: Before we get too far, can you describe what the Coffee Shop is?
Jodi: We have a variety of offerings. But I’m going to go ahead and ask Margaret and Brandon each to talk about the different things that we offer with our sessions.
Margaret: We started off with webinars, and we’ve offered eight webinars over the last academic year. And the webinars bring together faculty presenters that are ACUE credentialed, or maybe they’re in the middle of taking their ACUE training. And they share their own take on some of the strategies that they have picked up from ACUE. And then the participants come into the webinar experience, hear the presentations, and we have a discussion around that. We grab themes from the ACUE content. Helping students persist was one of our topics, effectively engaging underprepared students. So this is ACUE language, and its higher ed language too, but it definitely comes from ACUE. And we send out a call for proposals at our institutions, that’s where we find our presenters, Jodi named baristas. [LAUGHTER] So, that’s where our baristas come from. And in the webinars we’ve had two each time and they share their own take on this same theme. And after their presentations, we take Q&A through a chat, and then we move into breakout rooms. That’s where that cross-discipline, cross-institution dialogue can really take place. And then we come back out and do a closing with some coffee bean takeaways.
BRANDON: So we decided that we wanted to have a different approach as well, because these webinars are an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes long by the time you get done with the Q&A and the breakout sessions. So I came up with the idea of doing something in addition called the espresso shot. So these webinars are like getting a big urn of coffee, and then this espresso shot would be a shorter jolt. So we’re looking at these espresso shots as a one-hour event. And the way it’s set up is we’ll have four to five speakers who present information that people have already gotten beforehand. And I’ll explain that in a second. So after we get the short little demos from each person, we break out and discuss the topic and then get back together and talk out as a group and then we dismiss. So we actually have done one espresso shot so far, and it was on welcome videos. So we send out a flyer to try to get people to join our presentation. And in the flyer we had the four baristas with their welcome video link. And we asked the attendees to watch the video before going to the presentation. So each of the four baristas essentially spoke for three to four minutes each about what their thought process was in creating the video, what type of technology they used, etc. Then in the great breakout groups, we talked about those videos as well as what we do in our own classes. So we attempted to do this espresso shot as a quick hitting, engaging conversation. We felt that it’s a success, and it’s something that we want to do more often. In fact, we’re going to do another espresso shot on Wednesday, July 28. And it’s also going to be about welcome videos.
Margaret: I would just add to that, and Brandon described it. but it’s a flipped model approach. So it’s modeling for the participants a different way of learning.
Jodi: What they’re talking about and suggesting in ACUE, we really try to incorporate those practices in what it is that we’re doing as a group, and that is definitely being presented by our baristas.
Rebecca: Speaking of which, can you talk a little bit about how your breakout rooms are structured?
Jodi: We go ahead and split into breakout rooms with probably anywhere from three to five individuals in each one of the breakout rooms. And then we have guided questions that when you go into the breakout room, you are designated as a specific box. So if your box five, it’s in a Google Doc form, and everybody in your group is responding and adding information in this box, talking about what it is that they heard and learned and how they’re going to use it or a different twist that they have related to whatever the subject was for that session, whatever our theme is for that, whether it was a webinar or the espresso shot. And they’re about 15 to 20 minutes long, and I will tell you, most of the time, we get faculty saying it wasn’t enough time to talk.
BRANDON: So one of our webinars was actually on engaging synchronous sessions. And one of the professors actually did what Jodi said, which was he gives his lecture, and he creates a Google Doc, in which students can write notes. And so everyone is collaborating on the same document at the same time. We thought, “Oh, my God, that’s a brilliant idea.” And we actually added that component, as she said, to our breakout groups. So instead of having different groups talk about something then come back, you’re spending a lot of time spinning your wheels, and talking about the same sort of topic. Each group then writes notes on what they’ve learned, how they can apply it, and then we can give all of the attendees all of the notes that they’ve taken, which are great ideas from every group. So the breakout groups are effective in dialogue, but they’re also effective in the document that we send people afterward.
John: We’ve done a number of collaborations with other campuses, we’ve been running reading groups on our campus for several years now. And I think on at least three occasions, we brought in some other campuses. And one of the things that faculty who’ve participated have really appreciated is the diversity of opinions that come from people in different departments at different institutions, where they bring very different perspectives. For example, we had a reading group a couple years back on Small Teaching, and one of the participants was in a nursing program, which is a program we don’t have on our campus. But some of the things he brought to the discussion were very useful that were picked up by people in disciplines who would not have considered those techniques if they hadn’t heard it from that perspective. Has the collaboration among the institutions done something similar with the Coffee Shop discussions?
Margaret: Definitely, we do see that in the chat. The questions that come in, the comments that come in, and sometimes they reflect the discipline or the institution of the person who’s making the comment or asking the question, and we see it a lot in the breakout rooms. they are formed randomly. I’ll let Brandon talk about the breakout rooms. But I think that that’s an important part about it. Because like you said, you could have a criminal justice faculty member in there with an English or in math and nursing. So that does lead to that rich discussion.
BRANDON: Just to further go with what I just talked about what the breakout rooms is that they’re about 20 minutes long. They’re randomized, as Margaret said. individuals from different backgrounds, from different disciplines, with different institutions come together, and they talk about those topics. The best part about the breakout groups, though, is many times these individuals get each other’s contact information during these breakout sessions, because they either want to further discuss this outside of the Coffee Shop, or perhaps they want to connect someone with a colleague of theirs. So that’s been a very valuable component of them as well.
Jodi: It really has opened a lot of doors. We have this connection in the chats and the breakout rooms. And then we have these additional emails that we get afterwards where we actually have individuals from different institutions reaching out and saying, “Can you go ahead and connect me with somebody?” And when I get that I reach out to my Coffee Mate, and I let them know, I’m going to go ahead and reach out to your presenter and do a virtual introduction and then set them on their way. So that’s happened a good half dozen times, maybe. now.
John: I’ve also seen a lot of people who, when they hear someone present, follow the presenter on Twitter, and that’s led to some other connections where people have formed a web of connections that go far beyond just the institutional networks that people are used to interacting with. So I think we’ve seen something similar in terms of the benefits of collaborating.
Rebecca: Currently, it sounds like you have the Coffee Shop set up so that it’s five campuses that are collaborating. And is that who’s invited to each of the Coffee Shops… that it’s limited to those five institutions, and it’s a closed network?
Margaret: It’s not closed. We started with the five but through Jodi’s connections and relationships with other institutions, and I’ll let her speak about it, we were able to reach into other states. Jodi, you want to talk about that?
Jodi: I believe we’ve had representation from around 13 different states. But as Margaret indicated, we wanted to start small. We came together, we didn’t know each other, but we meshed really well. And for our first session, we did invite the faculty from our institution. But after the first session, we started throwing it out there and inviting other individuals. I’ve been fortunate to sit on several SAC assignments, Southern Association of College Accreditations, and I’ve met a number of administrators over the years, so I shared it with them. And I’m friends with a couple other presidents and I also have attended some Frontier Set meetings and shared it with colleagues I’ve met on the Frontier Set calls. So we were able to go ahead and get representation from California, Texas, Delaware, Illinois, Jersey, up and down the East Coast and West. So we’ve grown and we’re hoping to continue to grow.
BRANDON:Yeah, like Margaret said, we knew that we had a good idea. But having a good idea and executing it are two entirely different concepts. So when we first started this, it was fairly scripted. And we knew that we didn’t want to take it interstate until we had what we felt was a decent product. And that took us several different sessions, a lot of brainstorming. And sometimes we restructured what we did. But it took four, six months for us to get to the point where we felt like we were ready to get out of that pilot stage. And the first time we did that Jodi had brought up saying, “Should we invite an additional institution from the state of Florida?” And we actually had a good debate saying, “Oh, are we ready to do that? We’re not sure.” And now we’re in over a dozen states. So it’s been a really organic growth. And we’re excited about where this can take us.
John: And you also share recordings of the webinars in a YouTube channel. So we will share a link to that in the show notes so that the reach goes beyond the schools that are actively participating.
Rebecca: One of the things that we’ve seen generally, but even more so during the pandemic, is the need for professional development, but the limitation of resources, time, staffing, and just the opportunity, etc. How has this and ACUE helped fill in some gaps or support the work of professional development on your campuses.
BRANDON: We, as an institution, are actually capitalizing on all the amazing work that’s being done across the country and trying to bring it to our institution, whether we’re using this information to train our faculty directly, or to come up with ideas for internal professional development opportunities, referencing ideas that we’ve seen in these workshops, in conversations with faculty, or simply sending links to the Coffee Shop presentation videos on YouTube, our faculty are getting different and unique opportunities to engage directly with the Coffee Shop, which then engages them with content from ACUE.
Margaret: I’ll add to that to say that, for Miami Dade, ACUE has become a standard offering. It’s always available on a regular basis, faculty know to expect it. And we’ve been using this course offering probably for about five years now, pre-pandemic. We used to remark about the hallway conversations that would come out of these sessions, even though they’re digital and ACUE is a virtual delivery mode. And all interaction happens over the web, which helps us as an institution, because we’re a multi-campus institution, and it’s asynchronous as well. So you can connect on your own schedule from your own location. And because of that, it gives you the chance, going back to the cross-disciplinary conversations, it allows you to meet people that you would probably never have… they just don’t have the same schedule as you… to get into the training with them. And so now you’re in the training and now you’re learning some common knowledge base. And there’s a common language now around pedagogy at the college. And it’s exciting to see that grow even more in the Coffee Shop.
Jodi: Yeah, and I would say ACUE, at our institution, has been huge with our faculty at Indian River State College, in my previous position, and they really took a hold of this and commented about how it was the most amazing professional development they have had and transformative in what they’re doing in the classroom, most importantly for supporting them but also to support their students as well to be successful. ACUE has been huge at Indian River State College. The ability to go ahead and tap into faculty and to support the Coffee Shop has really provided our faculty, at each one of our institutions, an opportunity to go ahead and hear from these experts, or as I say, a twist on something that they learned in ACUE, a unique twist. And I personally get a lot of contact from our faculty or from the faculty at Indian River State College. They shared how much they appreciated keeping the finger on the pulse of what was going on and supporting them in the classroom. So great opportunities for discussion and to build from there.
Rebecca: Do you see the Coffee Shop model as being something that other institutions should think about collaborating on a similar kind of structure as a way to support faculty? Or do you see the Coffee Shop itself as being a way to support additional campuses?
Jodi: I think we are a way to go ahead and support additional campuses. And I think my colleagues would agree with me on that. But I also think that this pandemic has provided this opportunity for us to go ahead and reach out to other institutions. So I will tell you that while I’ve shared in talks about the Coffee Shop and what we’re doing in other settings, I just randomly reached out to an individual, Dr. Michelle Cantu-Wilson at San Jacinto Community College and I said, “Hey, would you like to get together and do a book club, collaborate on a book club?” I would encourage people to go ahead and do more of that. I’d encourage them to get involved in what we’re doing here. The five of us have talked about doing different things. I think that we are a form for other individuals across the country, we certainly hope to grow.
Margaret: I would agree. And I would just say that we, as institutions, have learned so much about how to connect virtually.
Margaret: I think there’s a lot more confidence in what we can do leveraging what we’ve learned over the last year and the tools that we have now.
John: We had been offering online attendance at all of our workshops for about a decade or so now, the tools have certainly gotten a lot more powerful and much more stable and reliable (mostly), but one of the things we’re wondering is, with a pandemic, faculty got used to attending virtually and I think we’ve all seen a lot more attendance because there’s been more demand for professional development. And people have just gotten more used to the tools and more comfort with the tools. Do you think that’s going to continue as we move back into what we hope to be a post-pandemic fall semester,
BRANDON: So, I would be under the opinion that most people who worked remotely for the last year got pretty comfortable doing it. There’s no commute, you don’t have to worry about traffic, and it’s very easy to attend. To me, it’s all about the travel part. You don’t have to worry about the difficulties of getting from one place to another. So from my perspective, as Margaret and Jodi said, people in the last year became less technophobic, because they were forced to use these systems, these programs. And as a result, I think everyone is more open to using technology effectively to meet.
Jodi: I know that I’m in transition between these two positions. But Indian River State College hires faculty from outside of the local area. So where’s this professional development opportunity for them? And this forum, again, is just as Brandon said, they don’t have to commute. So we have people that are joining us from Texas and from other states. I think there’s maybe times where people will want that live offering. But I think this is something new and something people have taken advantage of. And I think I finally felt comfortable with this new approach.
Rebecca: I also really appreciate that it feels very collaborative and supportive across institutions, rather than always so competitive. I think maybe prior to the pandemic, we might be more in our silos because we want to keep to our institution or support that momentum. But what we’ve seen during the pandemic is a strong desire to support all learners across all institutions and to work together to do that, rather than thinking necessarily in our individual institutional silos.
John: Could you tell us a little bit about what the Coffee Shop has meant to each of you at your own institutions?
BRANDON: Well, since we’ve started these meetings about a year ago, every faculty member at all of our institutions is invited to attend. And faculty members, both full- time and adjunct from every one of our institutions are attending these events. And we think that’s especially important for adjuncts, because adjuncts generally aren’t given the same opportunities for professional development. And we actually see that there’s a high attendance for adjunct instructors because they appreciate the opportunity to have an opinion and to be involved in these development opportunities. So at Florida Gateway College, we have anywhere from four to 10 faculty members out of 70, So it’s a pretty decent percentage of our overall full-time faculty, who attend these events and get the knowledge directly. But then they are able to share that knowledge with other members within their disciplines. And we are also sending emails out to faculty with some of the tidbits that we learn from these meetings in case they can’t attend. Because that’s a hard part for us to schedule these meetings, because it’s impossible to find a time of day where everybody is available. It’s not like we work nine to five. So we want to be able to make this information as accessible as possible to those who could not attend. And those individuals are having a chance to be impacted as well through the YouTube channel, and through the knowledge that I’m learning from the presenters, as well as those fellow faculty members.
Margaret: I would add to that, that through the Coffee Shop, we are broadening development and supporting good teaching, which is in turn supporting the student experience, and the students are what we’re all about. So if we can open up that conversation, not all faculty can commit to the full, even the micro credential or the full credential, but they can commit to an hour, an hour and a half, conversation on good teaching and get some ideas from their colleagues, whether they’re internal or from other institutions. And our goal is that that, in turn, turns around and becomes good teaching and ultimately a good experience for the students in terms of learning and moving along on their path.
Jodi: It’s definitely the vision of where I wanted it to go for Indian River State College and providing faculty at that institution an opportunity to engage in these robust conversations and to hear from colleagues across the country. And I think it’s doing just that. So, really excited about the opportunity for Indian River State college.
John: One of the nice things about having each of your institutions participate in ACUE, I think, is that all the participants or all the presenters have this common base of core concepts and knowledge of effective teaching practices that might not have been the same knowledge base if each institution was doing their own professional development. Has that helped provide a more uniform language or more uniform framework to make it easier to share these professional development activities?
Margaret: I think it has. The presenters come in, and we also are careful to poll our audience to make sure that we know who’s with us, because you don’t have to be an ACUE alum to join the conversation. So we want to make sure that we’re not using too many words like “exit ticket” and “fishbowl.” We need to explain it. And we prep our baristas to be able to explain it knowing that some of our participants may not have gone through the ACUE learning experience. But I’ve definitely felt that having that common language is powerful at an institution.
BRANDON: And everyone in the Coffee Shop is either an ACUE facilitator or has gone through the ACUE program. So we, as a group, we have that experience to know what specific topic or area of ACUE that we want other faculty members to know.
Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking: “What’s next?”
Margaret: For us, as a Coffee Shop team, we’ll be using this summer to look back and look forward. We’re gonna hit a pause after our next espresso lunch and learn and reflect and look at the data and our feedback. We moved very quickly over the year with eight webinars and teo lunch and learns in an academic year. And we met in September. [LAUGHTER] It was ambitious, and it was fun, and we pivoted and grew quickly from one webinar to the next. We would make changes and we got better. We know that we got better. But it’s time to take a breath, take a good look at what we’ve accomplished and do some planning for the next year. So it’s a little bit more strategic. And we’re more proactive in our approach.
BRANDON: So, as I had mentioned, we started off in this pilot phase. And now we’re starting to branch out because we realize that we have a really good product. So now that we have a really good product, we need to have a good digital presence. So part of that is to, as we continue to grow as a unit, we need to have a place where people who want to learn more about us or want to know information about prior sessions, that they have a specific landing spot. So we’re kicking around the idea of a website, perhaps a Facebook group, a Twitter page. So we’re looking at these options to figure out how we can expand that presence. As John said earlier, all we have right now is our YouTube channel. But we’re wanting to figure out what other means of communication can we take advantage of to really expand our footprint. For those who are interested in the Coffee Shop itself, if you go to our YouTube channel, you can find the contact information for each of us. So you can send a note to us if you’re interested in learning more about the Coffee Shop since we don’t have that digital presence established… perhaps if they’re interested in being attendees or participants, if they’re ACUE trained, we’re gonna welcome you with our arms open.
Jodi: The “what next” for me, I think my colleagues nailed it here with the what next for the Coffee Shop, we really poured our hearts into this this past year. We all added this on top of the jobs that we were already doing. And this takes a lot of work to do what we’re doing and there’s five of us. But we’re no different than any other organization that needs to be thinking about a continuous improvement plan. So we’re at that spot where “What is next? What do we need to do? What do we need to reflect on? Where do we need to build?” …and Margaret and Brandon very clearly articulated some areas that we need to look at and to think about moving forward. We want to make sure that we’re not missing anything, any opportunities for faculty, and supporting them. And I will say, I’m pivoting into a new position and working with ACUE. So I’m gonna have a little bit of a different role. But what is next for me, something else that I had just started to get involved with was a national teaching and learning consortium that I had mentioned earlier with Dr. Michelle Cantu-Wilson at San Jacinto Community College in Texas. And I’d like to go ahead and get our group merged with her group and to continue these conversations. And while the Coffee Shop’s more about supporting faculty, the TLC, the teaching and learning consortium, would be more about supporting us and what we can do to help each other. So my what’s next is in three different phases here, the what next as it relates to the Coffee Shop, the what’s next for me with ACUE and the what’s next for me with the TLC, but I think we’ve got a lot of great things going on and excited about moving forward.
Rebecca: We look forward to sharing what you have coming up and make sure we have the link to the YouTube page in the show notes. Thank you guys for having us. This has been wonderful. Thank you.
John: It’s great talking to you. We’ve really loved the ACUE program on our campus, and it’s nice to see some of the benefits of that being shared more broadly through the Coffee Shop.
Jodi: Well, we will make certain that you guys get the invite to our Coffee Shops and our espresso shots.
Rebecca: We look forward to it.
Margaret: Thank you for having us.
BRANDON: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
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.
Women faculty of color experience significant workload differences in course loads, advisement, and dealing with micro and macro aggressions. In this episode, Chavella Pittman joins us to discuss specific steps that we can take to reduce barriers and move towards equity. Chavella is a Professor of Sociology at Dominican University, the founder of Effective and Efficient Faculty, and is the host of the Teaching in Color podcast. She has written extensively about issues of race and gender in higher education in scholarly and general interest publications and is widely sought after for workshops and consultation services related to diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in higher education.
- Effective and Efficient Faculty
- Teaching in Color podcast
- Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257.
John: Women faculty of color experience significant workload differences in course loads, advisement, and dealing with micro- and macro-aggressions. In this episode, we discuss specific steps that we can take to reduce barriers and move towards equity.
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.
Rebecca: Our guest today is Chavella Pittman. Chavella is a Professor of Sociology at Dominican University, the founder of Effective and Efficient Faculty, and is the host of the Teaching in Color podcast. She has written extensively about issues of race and gender in higher education in scholarly and general interest publications, and is widely sought after for workshops and consultation services related to diversity, equity and inclusion issues in higher education. Welcome, Chavella.
Chavella: Thank you. Thnk you.
John: Our teas today are: …are you drinking tea?
Chavella: I’m not, I’m drinking water and looking forward to going to grab a craft beer in an hour or so. [LAUGHTER]
Rebecca: Of course, we’re recording early in New York.
Chavella: Well, that’s why I had to add in a few hours. [LAUGHTER]
Rebecca: I’m drinking English breakfast today.
John: I just finished a ginger peach black tea and now I’m drinking a blueberry green tea.
Rebecca: Cup number three, isn’t it John? …it’s pretty early.
John: It is, we had a meeting earlier where I went through two versions of ginger peach black tea.
Chavella: You’re making me want to go get my tea. I’m in the midst of camping. But I have packed with me some hibiscus leaves to make tea and some ginger tea that I picked up in Bali. So you are encouraging me to have tea after I get off.
Rebecca: I think that sounds like a great plan.
John: I drink ginger tea a lot. It’s really nice.
Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss the challenges faced by female faculty members from minoritized populations. College faculty members are disproportionately white and, in many disciplines, disproportionately male. Can you talk a little bit about why this results in workload differences.
Chavella: The main issue is that our institutions, regardless of the composition of the student body, a lot of our institutions have made commitments to producing students that can function in a diverse society, that can make a difference in the world. But, the faculty that are particularly suited to do that, in terms of maybe their statuses, or their research, or their experiences, or their pedagogy, happen to be faculty that are from diverse backgrounds. And so, those are the folks who are doing a lot of the heavy lifting, whether it be for service, in the classrooms, in their research, etc. So it’s pretty much the commitments that our institutions are making that’s requiring additional workload for those faculty. Now, obviously, other faculty can do that work. But that hasn’t been the case. These faculty are the ones that are doing it. And they’re often hired to do it, essentially. Our institutions are saying that they can prepare well-rounded students, but they don’t have well-rounded personnel and talent to do so. And the folks that they bring in are usually taking the load of that, because the same way that our students haven’t been prepared by diverse faculty, our faculty and staff haven’t been prepared by diverse folks. So, even with the greatest of intentions, the folks that we have set forward to prepare our students in this well-rounded way, they themselves are not prepared. And they themselves don’t have those skills and abilities. So the folks that we bring in who have those mindset, those perspectives, that expertise, are overloaded, because they’re having to do that work to prepare students, but also to compensate for the fact that their peers don’t have that capacity either.
John: Does this also translate into higher advisement loads for faculty in these groups?
Chavella: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So when you have diverse students, odds are they’re going to flock to the people who have interests similar to theirs, that look more like them. So even if students aren’t formally assigned to you, they make their way to you. But it’s not just the diverse students, some of the majority students to see, “Wow, this faculty member is doing research that’s related to this social justice thing that I’m interested in, but none of the other faculty are doing it.” So you end up advising more students formally and informally as a result because they are drawn to those folks that have a broader perspective or have experiences that are missing from the institution. So it absolutely translates into higher advisement. I just reconnected with a student , again, a white male student, so like on top of the students of color that I had, a white male student that I advise as an undergrad,just found me and I had a Zoom meeting with him last week. And I gave him the perspective and the scholarly information that he was not getting from his other faculty. And he became very interested in a lot of these issues. So it’s not just the diverse students, the majority students are flocking to these faculty as well.
John: Might the same thing be true of white faculty and male faculty approaching people who might be able to provide support when difficult or challenging issues come up? And certainly we’ve seen a lot of difficult and challenging issues over the last few years.
Chavella: Oh, my goodness, yes, absolutely. I try to tell people like I know that their request seems like it’s always just one small request. But it’s a drop in the bucket. If you can imagine how many emails I get weekly, asking me to do those things. I don’t want to implicate my own campus. But obviously, I get them on my own campus. But I also get them from organizations, I get them from people that might know me broadly. And it’s a lot. And if you think about the fact that the majority of our women of color faculty are not tenured and at less junior ranks, like the service load that that puts on people, it takes away from their ability to do the research. But people really do get offended. So when your faculty colleagues are like, “Oh, I’m just making this one small ask,” but they don’t understand that you’ve probably gotten five or six just that week. And then, because they don’t have to do that work all the time and face the resistance and the navigation that’s required by that, they don’t realize that not only is it a time toll, it’s an energy toll, and it’s risky. So yeah, that’s exactly what I was saying about our colleagues not having the capacity for this work, but they’re coming to us to do it. And it’s a lot, it’s a lot. And it doesn’t mean that folks don’t want to be helpful, but you can’t do things for other folks to the detriment of your own career or well being. And a lot of times it’s set up that way, that expectation is set up that that’s what needs to be occurring.
John: And especially for junior faculty, it’s hard to say no, sometimes, I would imagine,
Chavella: Absolutely. It’s really hard to say no, even when I was junior, I had senior mentors that helped me navigate how to say no, and how to often say no, that didn’t sound like a no, how to say something that will make the person take the request back, or take something off my plate, or whatever it was to acknowledge that that was labor on top of other labor and the costs or consequence it might have for me, so I’m very grateful for the senior folks who did that for me. And I try to do that now for women faculty of color, for sure.
Rebecca: That reminds me of one of your episodes of your podcast that focuses a lot on the classroom and actual teaching and the labor that’s involved with that. Can you elaborate a little bit on those ideas and how the workload associated with actually being in class and teaching is something that we tend to overlook?
Chavella: Absolutely, absolutely. And I’ll forewarn anyone who listens to those is that you’re going to hear me sound frustrated, because people really do overlook that labor. What I hear most often is people say, “Oh, no one gets tenure for teaching, or no one gets denied tenure, because of teaching.” But that’s not true. It’s not true at all. And what you hear me talk about in those podcast episodes, and in some of my research, or we read other people’s research on the classrooms, is that those faculty, their navigating minefields, essentially, they’re being harassed by students, by colleagues for the content, their careers are at threat because of evaluations. They’re trying to prepare for the inappropriate resistance that they’re going to get in the classroom. And because they’re spending so much time and energy doing that, they are not able to do the research that they need to get tenured, whether it’s just the time or the emotional labor required, it just doesn’t leave space for people to get the research done. So it drives me a bit bonkers, that people really overlook how this stuff plays out in the classroom, because they think it’s not important. But the reason they think it’s not important is because they don’t experience it, and they don’t see it. And they don’t understand how much of a drain it can be and really derail people’s careers. But yes, I talk a lot about that on the podcast.
John: And you also had written a paper about classroom disruptions primarily involving white male students engaged in disruptive behavior in classrooms. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Chavella: I think a lot of what I’m trying to do for the most part is give voice to the experiences of women faculty of color, because they are overlooked and invalidated. And it’s like missing or people try to find ways to explain it away. But honestly, there isn’t space for the voices of the experiences of women faculty of color. So that article that you’re talking about, in particular, was a research project that interviewed folk and it was about their teaching broadly. So it wasn’t even focused on the disruptions. But the pattern that became really clear was that all the women faculty of color, regardless of discipline, how much teaching experience they had, and their rank, because sometimes people say, “oh, once you’re senior, you won’t have to deal with it.” That’s not true. I’m a full professor. But guess what, I’m still black. [LAUGHTER] I’m also still a woman. And so what was found in that research was, again, across all of those differences, the women faculty of color had the same experiences with white male students in particular, over and over again. They would challenge their authority in a variety of ways. They would make them feel at threat, whether getting in their personal space, some sort of physical threat, or engage in behaviors that would make their careers seem like they were at threat. They would inappropriately challenge the legitimacy of their scholarship. Like they would say, “This is just your opinion.” It’s like, “No, this is expertise. This is scholarly expertise.” So those were just a couple of the themes that were in that data. But those things are common, and they happen on a regular basis. And that’s not acknowledged. And so that’s why I tried to do that research, and try to get it out there as much as possible, because people don’t realize that these are the dynamics that women faculty of color, a lot of them, not all of them, are dealing with in their classrooms.
Rebecca: There’s a lot of the “and” like, it’s the advisement… and the classroom… and course load [LAUGHTER]. They all really add up. Can you talk a little bit about the course load issues?
Chavella: Oh, my goodness, yes, you would think I just started researching this stuff. I’m still having visceral responses to it. When people tell you things anecdotally, sometimes people try to say like, “Oh, that’s not true.” When you look at the data, and see who’s getting the new course preps , who’s being assigned the service courses, which tend to have higher loads. Those tend to be our women faculty of color. Other folks are able to sort of choose, select, be assigned smaller courses, niche courses on their research. And that’s not happening. So for the most part, women faculty of color have higher loads. And again, to give you anecdotal, to see what that looks like, I was just talking with a black woman faculty member yesterday. And she told me that a piece of paper was passed along at a meeting, and her name was just next to three courses. And it happened to be three new course preps at the same time. And so people aren’t watching, essentially. They’re not keeping track of the assignments, they’re not ensuring that there’s parity. So she was completely frazzled, trying to get those new courses all prepped at the same time. And I think two of them were grad-level courses. So yeah, so that’s what it looks like is that when you look at the statistics nationwide of the loads for women faculty of color, they’re more likely to be assigned service courses, intro courses, and new preps. And that’s labor. It’s much easier to teach a course you’ve taught before. It’s much easier to teach a course that has 15 folk in it than one that has 50, 75, 150, essentially.
Rebecca: Beginning courses can take a lot of a toll on any faculty member when you have a lot of students who might not be interested in the subject matter. But you have that layer of extra convincing to do on top of all of this too… [LAUGHTER]
Chavella: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.
John: And you also have discussed some of the issues in terms of the pedagogical approaches that are used. Could you talk a little bit about some of the differences that appear there in terms of how faculty of color might teach differently in some ways than what students are used to in other classes? …or faculty are used to?
Chavella: Yeah, you’re right. Students and faculty… being used to… So, again, when you look at the research on faculty, what marginalized statuses, women faculty of color, in particular, they tend to use more… and I haven’t landed on like a particular label. Sometimes I say, innovative practices, but they’re not usually innovative. They’re just non traditional, you know what I’m saying? They don’t lecture the whole time. So that group of faculty doesn’t really stand in front of the classroom and lecture. They tend to do things that are more interactive. They tend to do things that are more participatory, whether it’s emancipatory teaching or the pedagogy of the oppressed, or whatever. I don’t advocate for or against any particular type of pedagogy, but just trying to make it plain that according to the scholarship on teaching literature, these are all the pedagogies that are transformative. These are the ones that are learning centered, and they’re doing that. And a lot of times they’re doing it intuitively, sometimes they’ve studied about it. But we know that graduate programs don’t really prepare faculty to teach. [LAUGHTER] Some of them are doing intuitively… some of them found their educational experiences lacking until they’ve read a little bit about… they’re doing it differently. But they’re engaging in all of these effective pedagogical practices that really transform students in all these different ways. And that are shown to teach them well, but they get great resistance from both students and from colleagues because they’re not used to them. So they’re doing the right thing. It’s just different, and there’s a lot of resistance to the fact that they’re doing something that’s different, even though they can usually demonstrate that the students have learned.
Rebecca: We already know there’s a lot of bias in course evaluations that students perform on courses. But when we have these other active approaches, the questions that are often on those evaluations don’t even match either.
Rebecca: So it’s almost like a double whammy there.
Chavella: It is, and I’m opening up a can of worms. But the can of worms that I’m trying to not open is essentially that there’s a lot of misalignment between what our campuses say is great teaching, what’s on our course evaluation forms, and what’s actually in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and what’s in a repertoire of what the people who are doing those evaluations actually know. For many of those pieces, there’s usually just a misalignment and disconnect between those pieces.
John: There was that study at Harvard done a couple years ago now, which found that students tend to find lecture much more effective, despite all the evidence that lecture is less effective than active learning techniques. So when you add in other forms of bias, that becomes fairly challenging. Anyone trying to use effective pedagogy has to make a case to students about its effectiveness. But when you add in some racial and gender bias, this problem may be a little bit worse, which may also tie into teaching evaluations, either by students or by observations from peers.
Chavella: My faculty development business is called effective and efficient faculty, because I am trying to find the easiest ways to get solutions into people’s classrooms and on the people’s campuses. I read all the literature so that people don’t have to do all that. I communicate it back to people in a way that they can learn it really quickly, but so that they can act on it. And I tell them the actionable pieces, because sometimes that becomes like a stall tactic. People are like, “Oh, I need to research and I need to read and we need to get this through committee… and our women faculty of color, don’t have time for that. So we need to get that stuff going as quickly as possible. And what you said, I mean, highlights what I was trying to say gingerly about the disconnect. All the research says that when you do something different in the classroom that students aren’t used to, your evals are going to go down. But people don’t take that into account when they’re reviewing you for tenure and promotion. Those people don’t know that research, they’re not reading it, they’re not applying it. It’s not connected. And to me, that’s what the problem is. So in terms of like, how do you address all of this, I think there are some institutional actions that people can take. And the first thing you can take is to bring the research to people. So if they’re not going to go to the research, bring the research to them. So people should be trained more on what effective pedagogy looks like. A lot of the people who are evaluating our teaching, are evaluating based on what they would do. And, eh…, that might not be right, for a range of reasons, [LAUGHTER] …might not be the right approach. It’s not grounded in research. But also we shouldn’t be evaluating people on whether or not they’re clones of us, what it is we would do, particularly if they’re people with different statuses. And I’m always trying to tell people, everybody based on their discipline, their pedagogy, their teaching style, what works for you might not work for me. And so there needs to be some flexibility. So, that’s the first thing, is that people need to be trained on what effective pedagogy is. That’s step one. The other things that can be done are, this is going back to the idea of classroom disruptions, every campus should have a classroom disruptive behavior policy, and if you don’t like the word disruptive, you don’t like the word policy, fine. It can be whatever language you like. I know that that sort of raises people’s hackles. But there’s a student code of conduct, you should be looking at it. And when it lists like, here are the things that are prohibited any place on campus, just make sure the word classroom is in there. Because sometimes people think, “Oh, that doesn’t apply to the classroom.” Hello, that’s where the work at a university occurs. Of course, it applies to the classroom. But let’s make it explicit by putting it in there. Some campuses have separate policies about classrooms, that won’t be a one-size-fits-all for faculty, because, again, people teach in different ways. What’s appropriate in one classroom might be not for another, you can yell out answers in my class, another faculty member might want you to raise your hand. But there’s a way in which you can write a policy that makes it plain that classroom management is going to occur in the classroom, and that there are going to be behaviors that will be disruptive to that classroom, and that those are not allowed, and that here are the consequences for that. And while that might make people uncomfortable, those policies already exist on our campuses, for dormitories, for public speaking events, for the dining halls, etc. And so it’s actually already normative to let students know that in order for us to sort of work and function as a community, here are the guidelines by which we should operate. And here’s what happens when you don’t abide by those guidelines. So the classrooms need to be looped into that. Student ratings, now that’s a can of worms. People will defend those things to the day that they die. I don’t get into that squirmish, that’s not the squirmish that I get into. The squirmish that I’m more interested in is I want people to read more about what the folks that make those things themselves say about their use in personnel reviews. They’re not saying they’re supposed to be used in personnel reviews. The history of those things are to give people feedback. So when you’re doing that new, innovative, fun thing, they’re meant to be a way for you to get feedback from that. They’re not meant to be evaluative and some of the items that people use, like the overall item that they actually say like “don’t use that item at al…” then people are like “that’s the best item to use.” So we need people to learn more about what student ratings say and don’t say about effective teaching and we need people to be trained, taught, learned, well versed, on what to do with the data from them. So if we’re going to use them in reviews, what is the best practice methodologically and statistically for how we use that data? So we need people to know that. And I think, just broadly, we need people to understand how to evaluate teaching for tenure and promotion. And they don’t. People might be methodologists in their discipline, and they know how to do that perfectly. None of that seems to translate to how we evaluate teaching on our campus. And again, none of these things are things that should take two years of committee work and five years of faculty governance meetings. I definitely teach people really direct simple things that they can do and shifts that they can make to get this into play. But I think those are the main magic wands, teach people about effective pedagogy, learn about student evaluations, learn how to use the data soundly, learn how to evaluate teaching, and make sure that you reward effective pedagogy. So don’t just learn about it. Don’t punish it, reward it… a novel idea. And to make sure that faculty have resources to get support off campus, because a lot of folks get relegated to the teaching center as though something’s wrong with them, like “Oh, go to the principal’s office, you got bad evals, go get fixed.” We want to make sure people have resources to go to other places where there maybe aren’t eyes. I know that teaching centers stay out of the evaluative process, but they’re overwhelmed. They’re overworked. People have put so much stuff on their plate and may not actually know some of this research, with intersections with women faculty of color, they may not have as much experience supporting women faculty of color. So you need to make sure that you give faculty resources to get the support they need off campus. So lots of magic wands.
Rebecca: So speaking of magic wands, I know you have some about workload related to advisement and course loads. Can you talk a little bit about those?
Chavella: Oh, yeah, absolutely, and these are simple. So this is actually a really good example of what I mean when I say, “Oh, even though I said a magic wand that sounds like it takes forever, that it’s really easy to resolve.” So for teaching loads, this is the magic: track them. Make an actual chart where you track people’s loads. And how many courses are service loads? What are the numbers of the loads? How many are their new preps, and you just want to keep track and make sure that there’s some equity, some equitable distribution across that, or maybe not even equitable, because if you know you’re going to give a woman a faculty of color a whole bunch of service stuff, then that means that they have a lighter load. But you need to track the load. And you need to be more mindful about the teaching assignments moving forward. So just track them. People don’t do that at all.
Rebecca: I think sometimes these things seem so obvious. But we need to say them out loud.
Chavella: Yes, absolutely. Yes, simple excel sheet, anyone can do that. They could do that today, if they wanted to.
John: And while this wouldn’t eliminate bias in evaluations, might it be worth having institutions revise their teaching evaluations, or any rubrics they use for peer evaluations, to focus a little bit more on evidence-based teaching methods in at least a general format, to nudge all faculty to move into the use of better teaching techniques, to reduce some of the disparities that are being observed there.
Chavella: Absolutely. And honestly, that’s what I teach people to do. And when you do that… obviously, bias is still going to exist for humans… but it gives you more evidence instead of just the bias, essentially. So one of the things I teach people to do is, this gets back to what you were saying, Rebecca, that someone might be using a different pedagogy, but that’s not represented on the evaluation form in any way, shape, or form. So one of the things I teach folks how to do is evaluate the faculty member on what they were trying to do, that’s usually not represented anywhere in the evaluative process. So what were they actually trying to do? How are they trying to get there? And what’s the evidence that that’s what they did? If you just start there from how you evaluate teaching and learning, because it’s an evidence-based approach, that goes a long way. So even if students are having resistance in some other way or form on evaluations, if you have some data that say I wanted to make sure that students knew how to apply a theory to something real world, and I say, “This is the strategy I use to teach students how to do it, I write about that and I explain it. And then I produce data that shows the students learned how to do that. That’s evidence versus the student rating of them having resistance to the strategy I used to teach them or their resistance to the topic. It’s a much better process.” So yes, an evidence-based process is way better than what most of our campuses are doing now, which is just looking at the evals and looking at the scores and saying, “This person is a great teacher, this person isn’t a great teacher.” But, that’s not what the evaluations are saying at all. They’re student reactions to various things about the faculty member: their course content, their personality, their pedagogy, their statuses. Students love lecture, but when you do objective measures of what they learned, they haven’t learned. Student reactions are important information, but they’re not always important information about whether or not effective teaching occurred.
Rebecca: Definitely. Learning’s hard.
Rebecca: I imagine that all of these things tend to show up in our student evaluations, because it’s just not always a comfortable experience. And so that tends to be reflected rather than whether or not they learned something.
Chavella: Exactly. And the research supports that.
John: In addition to in-class challenges, women faculty of color are likely to face other microaggressions from colleagues. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Chavella: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll cling pretty closely to the teaching ones, because I think they’re the ones that are overlooked. People talk about a lot of the other things that go on. Essentially, what happens is that the same way that students can be resistant, institutions want us to come in and provide these broad perspectives and these new ways of knowing and doing, but the colleagues are as resistant as the students are. So colleagues are like, “Well, why are you teaching that? You are teaching this, that means that you’re not teaching that, and that’s the canon…” like you have to teach so and so. Or if it’s like a survey course, and the person’s like, “Well, guess what… other people were around and involved in the development of this. And I’m making a point to include those voices that were omitted.” Colleagues resist that, it challenges their own preparation and expertise, and etc. So I hear that all the time, that people are like, they’re being told to not teach something, they’re being told to only lecture. So their advice for students resisting the teaching that they do that’s transformative, they say, “Well, just lecture, if you know, students don’t like that, just lecture.” So they’re effectively telling them to engage in the teaching practices that are popular, versus the ones that are effective. And so, on a regular basis, I’m hearing that a woman faculty of color is being told, “Don’t teach this particular topic, it’s not actually scholarship, don’t teach in this particular way, don’t make students call you by your title,” like, “oh, let them call you by your first name.” …just the level of, I don’t know, I wanted to say control. But that’s what it is. They’re trying to control their content, their pedagogy, their interactions with students, from their lens, not from the lens of that person with different statuses. And again, it’s not benign, this isn’t just interpersonal stuff, these are going to be the folks that are reviewing them. These are gonna be the folks that are voting on their tenure, these are going to be the folks that don’t understand that they haven’t been able to complete their book or their article because they’ve been told you have to get your course evaluations up. How the heck do you do that? Where’s the magic wand for that? That’s the magic wand I want to find. And the ones I know of are like the trickery ones, like: “give them pizza, give everyone A’s.” I’m not suggesting that at all. But these are the things that they’re being suggested to do to get their evals up. And faculty can be pretty aggressive and territorial about what’s taught in a class and how it’s taught. And that varies by disciplines, like I can think of a couple of areas of disciplines that people are very territorial, because, I think, for them, it waters it down, or it makes their stuff not seem as valid. So colleagues have been very aggressive about what women faculty of color teach and how they teach it… in their reviews, not just interpersonally, but in their reviews. And if people end up not tenured as a result, they get pushed out.
Rebecca: And then we wonder why there’s no faculty of color.
Chavella: Not only that, we wonder why there aren’t any. And then if you say, “I think teaching’s a problem, they’re like, “Oh, no, that’s not it.” It’s one of many problems, obviously, but it has to be on the list. And it usually isn’t on the list at all… just thinking of, again, of all these things that happen with colleagues around these topics. And in the water cooler talk like faculty member goes back and tells the majority member faculty member, “Well so and so’s teaching XYZ in her class ,”or “I don’t like so and so, they’re mean” or “this person doesn’t seem approachable.” The watercooler talk that gets rolled into some of the antagonistic colleagues that women faculty of color have, because students have come back and said, “Well, they’re unapproachable,” like they’re not unapproachable, you’re just not used to dealing with black women, or you’re not used to dealing with Asian- American women or your lack of experience might be causing some discomfort that may make you miss perceive that interaction. But that’s making its way back to colleagues and colleagues or passing judgment and that’s working its way into interactions versus them sort of pausing and saying “something could be going on.” But again, our colleagues aren’t used to having interactions with these statuses either, so they’re navigating at the same time the students are,
Rebecca: …which makes it very hard to mentor…
Rebecca: …because there’s many generations that need to undo learned behavior and learned biases and to start working on institutional and cultural change. But it takes a long time.
Chavella: Absolutely, absolutely. It doesn’t have to take a long time, you can make some small shifts in how you evaluate teaching and how you evaluate teaching what you do with student ratings, there are very small things that you can do that will make a huge difference, like you said, just looking at the dang gone teaching assignments, actually taking into account what the faculty member was trying to do when you evaluate them. People don’t do that. They’ll tell you, “Oh, that’s biased. It’s like teaching to the test.” Excuse me, how do you know if my teaching was effective if you’re not even looking at what I was trying to do?” You’re only looking at the student ratings. That doesn’t make any sense. But it’s what a lot of people do, and they stick to it, right? And that’s what we’ve always done. That’s how we evaluated so and so, so it’s not fair to change now. Well, those ways of being stuck are things that maintain inequality, essentially.
John: You’ve talked about some ways in which institutions can make changes, are there any other things that institutions can do or individual faculty and departments can do to help reduce some of these challenges?
Chavella: Well, I’ll definitely revert back to all the magic wands I said earlier, and I will get like a broken record, because I want people to start those places. And like Rebecca said, they seem so easy, but a lot of people don’t state them out loud. Not only do people not state them out loud, but when they hear that they sound easy, they don’t do them, either. They’re like, “Oh, that won’t make a difference.” I’m like, wait a minute. So I will say the same things over and over again and encourage people to do them. So, same things. So what I would love for people to do, administrators or institutions alike, pull open your student code of conduct and see if there’s anything in there explicitly about classroom behavior. I want people to do that, immediately. I would like people to look at the definition on their campus for what’s effective teaching, and then look at their student rating form and see: is there alignment? Now that doesn’t mean revise the heck out of the student rating forum to increase alignment, because the student rating forum isn’t the place for all of those evaluative things to occur, there has to be some peer evaluation involved in that, but at least looking will shake up the way people feel that the student rating form is like the beginning and the end of the evaluation for faculty. Look at your peer observation process, is that aligned with the institution’s definition of effective teaching? Do the ratings form or the observation form, take into account what the faculty member is trying to do? See, these are all very simple things that institutions can do, like how do we incorporate what the faculty member was trying to do that day into what we’re observing, into what we think the data is telling us? So these are very small shifts… and then start putting some money aside. Our women faculty of color have been beat up this past 14,15,16 months, like, the shouldering of the emotional labor of the pandemic, of folks’ heightened awareness for racial injustice. It’s been a lot of us, you know, doing a lot of that labor. And so people need to put their money where their mouths are, I’ve had a couple of kind of painful moments of women faculty of color saying that they’re suffering on their campus. They make their way to me, and an institution has said, “No, we have a teaching center.” And I’m like, “Uhhh, the teaching center isn’t equipped to do that for a range of reasons. They’re overloaded, all the teaching and learning people are like “pandemic, much?” like, “have you not noticed, our hands are full.” People really need to free up funds to help people get the support that they need for these things. So those are the things I would suggest people do as individuals. Make money available for women faculty of color, look at their classroom disruption policy, look at their student evaluations, their peer observation form, learn about the dang gone research on student rating, learn about how to evaluate teaching, and the real call to action: “Don’t take two years or one year of committee to do it, make a change that you’re going to enact in fall.” And if you need to figure out how to do that, and that seems impossible, then make your way to me, and I’ll help you figure it out.
Rebecca: I love that your approach is so actionable. I think a lot of times we spend our time in some conceptual space, spinning our wheels, not doing anything, but you’ve given us many very specific, very actionable items. So I hope our listeners will take your lead and just take those steps.
Chavella: I hope so, because I’m watching the women faculty of color that get weeded out through negative tenure promotion reviews, or renewal reviews if they’re like adjunct or something like that who leave the institution. So while people are spinning the wheel, people are suffering. So it seems like an intellectual exercise to some people. But it’s like “Hello, people’s livelihood and health are on the line.” So I don’t have the luxury of all that committee work. I’m trying to support folks now, because they needed to support yesterday, but I’m trying to help them now.
Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking what’s next? It seems really, really, really loaded.
Chavella: Well, I’m writing a book, actually, I’m writing a book. And again, that same frustration, anger, and hope that you hear in my podcast is pretty much what the book is about. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. And I think I thought that, at some point, institutions were going to catch up, particularly as more research has come out even when it’s not about race or gender at all, when research has come out that says these are the best pedagogies, here’s the best way to do this, that and the other I thought great people were going to start making hard left turns and do something different, or the more and more research that comes out on women faculty of color’s experiences around teaching, I thought, “Oh, great, people are going to make a turn.” They’re not. And so I’m writing a book. And the book is explicitly for women faculty of color to help them navigate the challenges that they’re most likely to face. And to do it using the scholarship of teaching and learning. And it’s very much so about helping them be their most authentic selves in the classroom and finding joy, but protecting themselves from the review process. So it’s all about retaining women faculty of color, but allowing them to also continue to teach authentically and joyfully and I’m frustrated that I even have to write the book. But I’m hopeful, because I know that I can get it into people’s hands and they can feel much more empowered until their institutions catch up, essentially. So that’s what’s next.
Rebecca: Unfortunate that it’s a needed resource.
Rebecca: But, glad that we have someone who can write it.
Chavella: Yes, thank you. I’m excited about it.
John: And much of what you’re advocating is just doing better at our jobs and teaching more effectively, which is something I hope we’ll all take seriously in moving forward. But progress has been slow, as you’ve noted.
Chavella: Yes, absolutely.
John: And we should note that if anyone would like to learn more about these topics you’re Teaching in Color podcast is available on all podcast platforms, and is one that people should listen to.
Chavella: Yes, it’s interesting, I hope that people will find it interesting. And I wanted to say that the podcast and the book that I’m writing, even though it’s directly for women faculty of color, I do want allies to listen, participate, and buy, because the more that they know, the more they can make some of these things normative and get some of these changes moving. So I’m very intentionally writing to women faculty of color, because they’re usually ignored and silenced. But there’s a lot there for allies to learn. So, whether they’re allies in a teaching and learning space, or ally administrators, or ally faculty, there’s a lot for them to learn from the podcast and from the book to help them support these folks to be successful.
Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us today and for all the work that you do.
Chavella: Thanks so much for having me and for encouraging me to go enjoy that tea that I have.
Rebecca: There’s always time for tea.
John: And we hope we’ll be talking to you again in the future. Thank you.
Chavella: Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you so much.
John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.
Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.
Student use of mobile technology can enrich student learning experiences, but can also interfere with the focused attention that is essential for learning. In this episode, Michelle Miller examine how we can talk to students about technology in ways that will help them become more efficient in their learning and professional lives.
Michelle is a Professor of Psychological Sciences and a President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Miller’s academic background is in cognitive psychology research. Her research interests include memory, attention and student success in the early college career.
Michelle is the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, and has written about evidence-based pedagogy in scholarly as well as general interest publications. She’s currently working on her newest book, Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology: What the Science of Memory Tells us about Teaching and Learning in a Wired World, scheduled as part of the West Virginia University series on teaching and learning.
- Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.
- Miller, M.D. (2022, forthcoming). Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology: What the Science of Memory Tells us about Teaching and Learning in a Wired World. West Virginia University Press.
- Michelle Miller (2019). 86. Attention Matters. Tea for Teaching podcast. July 19.
- Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168.
- Musée Mécanique
- Miller, Michelle (2021). “One Big Thing I’ll Keep from my Remote-Redesigned Courses this Year (Hint: It’s got nothing to do with technology)” blog post. January 27.
- Miller, Michelle (2021). “A Year of Remote Teaching: the Good, the Bad, and the Next Steps.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 17.
- West Virginia University Press series on Teaching and Learning
John: Student use of mobile technology can enrich student learning experiences, but can also interfere with the focused attention that is essential for learning. In this episode, we examine how we can talk to students about technology in ways that will help them become more efficient in their learning and professional lives.
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.
John: Our guest today is Michelle Miller. Michelle is a Professor of Psychological Sciences and a President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Miller’s academic background is in cognitive psychology research. Her research interests include memory, attention, and student success in the early college career. Michelle is the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, and has written about evidence-based pedagogy in scholarly as well as general interest publications. She’s currently working on her newest book, Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology: What the Science of Memory Tells us about Teaching and Learning in a Wired World, scheduled as part of the West Virginia University series on teaching and learning. Welcome back, Michelle.
Michelle: Hi, it’s great to be here.
Rebecca: So good to have you back. Today’s teas are…. Michelle, are you drinking any tea?
Michelle: Well, I’m still on coffee. We have a three hour time difference this time of the year. And so I figure I’m entitled.
Rebecca: How about you, John?
John: I am drinking ginger peach green tea.
Rebecca: And I have golden monkey today.
John: …for a change.
Rebecca: It’s expensive. I only drink it on special occasions. I was like, we’re gonna get to talk to Michelle, today. I’m gonna make fancy tea.
Michelle: Well, coffee is the fanciest tea of all.
John: We’ve invited you here to talk a little bit about how to talk to students about technology and why perhaps you might consider talking to students about technology. You teach a course on mind, brain and technology, and you’ve also created the Attention Matters projects that we’ve discussed on an earlier podcast. Could you tell us a little bit about the mind, brain and technology class that you teach?
Michelle: Right. So this has been such an incredible privilege I’ve had, on and off. for several years. Now, back a long time ago, when I first applied for and was competing for the President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellowship honor and award here at Northern Arizona University, one of the things that we got to do as part of our application packet was to envision a dream course. And this was, gosh, around a decade ago that I did this. So the landscape of the research and technology itself was very different. But this is the course that I came up with to say if I could teach one thing, brand new, build it from the ground up, this is what I would do: something that would connect psychology, especially empirical research-oriented psychology, the role of emerging technologies in our lives and the incursions they’ve made into all of our lives, and blend that with some real practical advice and things that would be engaging to college students today at a variety of levels. And so it went in my packet. I was so fortunate to win the award and be chosen for it. And then I came knocking on the doors, and I said, but remember, there was this dream course, I actually was very literal minded. So I said, “Well, I get to teach this now, right?” And my department said “Well, oh, okay, yes, we can work that out.” And it originally was taught as a senior capstone, and it’s been taught in that form, again. Another time it had an incarnation as a freshman seminar, a first-year seminar, and right now I’m teaching it as a fairly large general elective upper division elective, primarily serving our psychology majors and our minors. And so this is a course that I’ve been able to dip in and out of throughout the years. And I actually quote one of the first cohort of students, I got some really choice quotes that I included in my last book, Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology. And this semester, I actually have students reading some early drafts of the book I’m writing right now. And so it’s really been interwoven throughout my professional evolution over the last 10 years.
Rebecca: It’s pretty cool that you got to ultimately teach the class and it’s been going on for so long.
Michelle: Indeed, it is, indeed it is.
John: What do your students think about the role of technology in social media, in their lives, as well as in educational environment?
Michelle: Well, right from the get go, when I got to first design this class, and actually be sitting with a cohort of students every week, and bringing up a new topic, we divided it up into: there’s technologies for learning; there’s the effects of technology on aspects of thinking, like cognition, and so on; there’s several weeks on social media, which we’re right in the middle of right now. So there’s lots of different kind of articulation points where different students can come in with opinions. And so it does really cover that really broad area. So right from the beginning, I was so struck by the thoughtful and sometimes unexpected things that students would say… unexpected meaning kind of counter to what are some real stereotypes about… first of all, that all college students are a traditional age in this kind of lifestyle where you live in a dorm and party on the weekends. And I think most of us know that today’s college students do not fit that mold, and they’re not all that age. But, even students who are in this younger age bracket, to have them really say… like one of the early exercises we do in the course, I asked them to sort themselves on a continuum. We did it on a whiteboard this time via video conference, but in a physical classroom, they’d actually stand on different ends of this… place yourself physically on this continuum: Do you love technology, you want it everywhere, can’t imagine life without it… you hate it, you want to go low tech. And students are really spread across that spectrum. And so many of them have thought… they’ve said, “You know, I noticed I feel a certain way after I’m on Instagram for a certain amount of time,” or “I’ve tried electronic textbooks and I personally prefer paper.” …that’s actually consistent with some of the surveys that have been done with college students as well. So they are varied, they’re rich, and they are very counter to the stereotype that younger people just want technology everywhere in their lives.
Rebecca: What is one of the biggest misconceptions about technology that your students bring up in class that you address?
Michelle: Well, there’s a complex of sort of some interrelated ones that dial into my specialty area, which is cognitive psychology. So naturally, I noticed those really prominently myself. And so those ideas that using technology is going to reduce attention span, it’s reducing even your ability to think. And then there’s a sort of a related set of issues around what has been in the past a very controversial and headline dominating issue, which is the issue of taking notes by hand versus on a laptop computer in class. And that research, in particular, not to go through all of it, but, while the original study that sparked that debate was well designed, the interpretation of it has been just stretched until it screams. That study doesn’t talk about the distraction issue, there’s a lot of things that aren’t addressed in it. But students have come away, they’ve heard this kind of very superficial version of that, by which laptops are bad, and they also have kind of picked up a folk belief that if you handwrite something, it sort of drives it into your memory automatically. And it does not work that way. In fact, if you read the original study, one of the things that they say is that in as much as laptop note taking can be less memorable, whatever you’re taking notes on, It’s because you’re less likely to paraphrase, synthesize, and compress down what you’re hearing. And yet we have other people, they’ve heard these people in the culture say, “Oh, well, if you want to remember something, sit down and copy it, get out that pen and paper,” and that’s not really an effective study strategy. So they’re a little surprised and they say, “Oh, wait a minute, there’s some nuance to that study, and maybe some others that didn’t replicate it.” That study wasn’t talking about distraction on a laptop, it was just strictly speaking about this one aspect of how memory encoding works. Attention span… I probably talked about it on an earlier podcast… This is not a concept that attention scientists usually use. And so right off the bat, that’s a little suspect. And there’s not really good solid evidence that fundamentally, attention is changing. So they’ve absorbed some of those things. And so they’re really delighted to really dig more into those. So I might assign them an editorial or something that ran in a popular magazine or a blog. And then we look at the original research they’re talking about, and we pick up on the discrepancies. It’s not that Mueller and Oppenheimer was badly designed, it’s just they were looking at some effects that don’t always hold up with replication. And that speaks to this idea that the effect size is maybe not that large. Not that, again, anything was wrong with their data, it’s just you have this now you see it, now you don’t quality with some of these effects. And that kind of tells you that maybe this isn’t the hugely overriding consideration. And subsequent studies too have talked about this storage function of notes. It’s neat to think that you remember as a function of note taking without having to go back and study. But in reality, that’s what we do with notes, we go back and we study them. And so here’s this big elephant in the room like, well, are they taking good notes? And if they’re not taking good notes that capture key points, that they are going to want to go back and study actively, then picking up a little bit here or there because it was more memorable during note taking is not as big an issue. So that’s a big like, “Okay, what have you heard? Let’s look at the original research.”
Rebecca: Having the opportunity to talk about these things with students is exciting. And I’m sure the students are really into it, because it connects to their direct lives. And diving into the research makes a lot of sense in the context in which you’re teaching your course within psychology. So it seems like a natural fit there. How might other academic fields adopt some of the ability to talk about these things in their own classes where maybe cognitive science is not or psychology is not, the fundamental underpinning of what they’re doing?
Michelle: That’s, I think, something that I think is really exciting and why I am so excited to be able to share with your Tea for Teaching audience is I’ve really come to believe that that maybe there is something that is more versatile here beyond just the psychology frame and just a senior capstone in psychology. And I think that this is where faculty creativity can come in. I think the fundamental things that I think are so promising… Well, first of all, this is just a topic that is really under discussed, and it’s under discussed in a serious way. It’s not like students have not ever heard anybody critique technology. They’ve heard that. They’ve heard, “Oh, it messes with their sleep that it messes with their social relationships.” They’ve heard a lot of this, but it’s kind of swept under the rug in a way or even treated as “what serious person would ever think about these sorts of things?” So, that said, this is something that, and it’s something that students are doing all the time, even pre-pandemic. Most students do use technology of one form or another and are on one or more social media platforms. And so this is in and out of their lives all day long. So I can only think that there are critical frames and key concepts within a variety of disciplines that could map onto this, even if a faculty member doesn’t have the opportunity, or the interest, to say develop a whole course. Well, perhaps this could be a vehicle for discussing, for example, experimental design. How do you set up a study to really get at things like “What are the impacts of heavy cellphone use?” You do have certain individuals who self select to use technology in a particular way. And that’s something that you see crop up again and again in the research literature. Or if we’re talking about our own personal relationships, classes that have a focus on health can perhaps use one of these sub areas as a springboard for discussion. And so this is just really what I found, is that students who might otherwise be very quiet or, when things are framed in a purely very divorced from reality academic way, they may hang back, but who doesn’t get hooked into a discussion of some of the impacts of technology on our life. So I think it can be a vehicle for those things. And I think that it might be a little bit of a stretch in, say, a physical sciences class where we’re really discussing empirical context. But even there, it can be folded into discussions of effective studying very well, as long as we don’t just have that, again, very superficial tech’s bad, just get rid of it all and do everything on note cards. There’s a lot more to it than that.
John: Students are going to be interacting with technology, not only in their classes, but in their future careers. So having them think about those issues can be a really useful thing to learn, no matter what discipline they’re studying,
Rebecca: It seems like a good hook. It’s something that everyone can relate to, in some context. I was doing an exercise in my own class not too long ago about storytelling, and how brands present stories around what they’re presenting to people. And I use Spotify and Pandora as the examples. I’ve never seen a class so excited, [LAUGHTER] because it was talking about this technology platform that they can connect to. So I can imagine, when you bring up social media or other things that they feel really connected to, it immediately is a hook to talk about anything more complex.
Michelle: Absolutely. And that’s precisely the kind of dynamic that I’ve seen. And if I could throw out a kind of a discipline-specific example, there’s a concept that I really started weaving in more of over the last few iterations of the class. And this is a concept from psychological sciences research and quantitative analysis that really can be very slippery. But it’s a big, big part of contemporary ways that we analyze data. And it’s a concept of mediators and moderators. And so it’s jargony… and essentially mediators, when you have a correlation between two things, and you want to know, does A cause B? Or is there something else in the middle does A cause B causes C, and we have these great techniques for untangling those relationships. And moderators, on the other hand, is the relationship or is the correlation stronger in the presence of a particular variable or for, say, a particular group of people than others? And so yeah, you read that in a textbook and you go, “oh….” and yet, it’s one of the things that we really… I mean, experimental design, and how we can interpret our data is just radically more sophisticated when we can just not say, “Well, these two things happen together, but for whom is this relationship stronger,” and so on? So there are a lot of studies on the effects of technology that have one or more of these involved. And yeah, it just clicks for students when they see it play out in this relatable domain. So, for example, we have a study that I incorporate really early in the course. It’s got a word in the title, “Technoference” in relationships. So it’s a study of your perception that your partner in an intimate relationship uses their phone…. and when you’re talking to them… [LAUGHTER I think, will have a little bit of recognition if we’re in a relationship. That’s part of contemporary relationships, right? And they look at overall well being and how that relates to being in a relationship where your partner’s on the phone all the time. Now, it’s not a perfect study. And that’s part of what we look at. It was only among women who were in opposite sex relationships, and there’s a lot of self report and all that stuff. But you can say that “Okay, now they have a mediator. It’s not that the phone itself is degrading your life’s wellbeing but here’s this chain of causality of when your partner’s using your phone all the time when you’re talking, then you’re not as happy in your relationship. There’s conflict and then your overall wellbeing in your life goes down.” And then, in that context, you go, “Oh, Okay, I get it. Here’s what a mediator is.” And then we can talk about moderators, we can say, “Well, what about individuals who are in same sex relationships? What about men? What about couples who have been together for 25 years versus those who just got together six months ago?” Oh, okay. Now we understand moderators. So yeah, similar to you, Rebecca, I’m just saying, once you bring in some of these things, is not just dropping in sort of pop culture, it’s really taking a substantive look at these things. But yeah, then you springboard into concepts that are otherwise just really abstract.
Rebecca: Do you have some examples of things about learning related to technology that we might be able to slip into any discipline’s classes? …some of the stuff about attention, or good study strategies, or anything that’s maybe mediated through technology, but would relate to anybody.
Michelle: Definitely, the relationship between attention and memory and learning. Now, like I always say, when I’m talking about these topics, memory is not the only important aspect of learning. Learning is not all about memorization. But we now know that when you remember more, we have a broader knowledge base in an area, you’re better able to think critically and think in some sophisticated ways in that area. So that’s all good stuff. So that’s one piece of it. And in order to acquire any new memories, pretty much, for practical purposes, you have to be paying attention. And this is what devices and technologies have been so well engineered at this point to take away from us. So yeah, when you talk about a life skill, you’re going to need this for the rest of your life, no matter what you do. We have to think about, alright, how do we kind of shepherd and be stewards of our own attention. And I think, from a teaching perspective, too, it’s not that we have to constantly entertain students to grab their attention back from whatever it’s wandering off on, or similar that we just have to stand up there and be like, “Well, you have to pay attention… unbroken for an hour and 15 minutes… and all violations will be punished.” There’s different paths between those, but just to share with students that “Yeah, using phones is probably not changing the way our attentional systems work.” They work the way they have for many, many millennia. However, there’s a lot more competition for that now. So having them think about what are their strategies going to be. For some students, they come up with very creative cold turkey types of situations or types of strategies. I had one student say that I put my phone in a dropbox outside at night when I’m studying, and if I want to use it I have to go out there, which may not seem like a big deal, but in Flagstaff, it could easily be three degrees Fahrenheit and ice falling out of the sky, it’s cold out here. So we have students who say, “Well, you know what, I’m gonna be a little bit more subtle. I’m going to use one browser for my classwork and one browser for fun and social media.” And it’s just a little subtle cue that kind of tells you, “okay, we’re in work mode, or we’re not in work mode.” It’s not as much prescribing the answers as getting students themselves involved in saying, “Well, here’s how I’m going to manage this.” So those are some of the things that we would share. And when it comes to learning strategies at work, I’m always going to be evangelizing retrieval practice in one form or another. Lots of ways that that can look… everything from a Kahoot! quiz to sitting and talking with your roommate to try to bat back and forth what you remembered. Lots of different things you can do but, it shows too, there’s a link between you have to put in some active effort for your brain to pick up on that information and store it away in memory if it’s going to. So yeah, there’s sort of a complex of interrelated principles and take homes, there.
Rebecca: The one thing that I was immediately thinking about when you said about phones being really good at taking away your attention. I immediately thought as a designer, what a great example of how to get someone’s attention? [LAUGHTER]
Rebecca: …not only to think about how to manage attention and think about what you’re paying attention to, but how do designers actually manipulate that? [LAUGHTER]
Michelle: See… perfect. There’s a cross-disciplinary connection.
John: The importance of attention is a topic that I think all students recognize is a problem. But I don’t think they fully understand quite how much of a problem it can be. Or at least my perception is there’s still a lot of misperceptions about the ability of students to multitask effectively. And I know that’s something that you address a bit in your classes.
Michelle: I do. And a related project that we’ve discussed on some other podcasts is the Attention matters project and I’m happy to report that project is still just perking along like crazy. We still have lots of faculty who are involved with it. So to kind of give a little background on it. Attention Matters was a concept that came out of a great conversation I had with my very smart and dedicated colleague, John Doherty, who’s an instructional designer and a librarian here at Northern Arizona University. And I had been going around and trying to teach a little, almost guest lecture, roadshow for interested faculty to spread these ideas to students of how to study effectively and how to have a plan for not getting distracted in the middle of class and stuff like that. And we talked about it. And we put together an online module that can serve so many more students. This semester, I have several really smart research assistants, undergraduate research assistants, who are in this module, moderating it and helping it run. And for those who know what MOOCs are (massive open online courses), it’s a little bit like that, except it’s specific to our institution. And so, in this, it’s a way of reaching out to students, they oftentimes will earn a little bit of extra credit in their classes for faculty who really want to spread these ideas to their students. They work through these modules that do touch on some of these key ideas about… as far as multitasking, we tend to be very overconfident. You can’t learn by osmosis, you do need that directed attention. Instead of highlighting and passively hoping things soak in, get in there and do retrieval practice. There’s also a little piece of Attention Matters, by the way, that talks about driving safety, which was not really something we set out to do. But I feel like it’s, again, a relatable everyday example that people can say, “Oh, my gosh, I was in a bike accident by a distracted driver,” or “I’m very careful about this.” And students are very adamant, and have strong views that do funnel back to that idea of: if you let it, devices and distraction of all kind can really take over and create some serious consequences. So, that’s yet another way that we’ve been working to bring these ideas to students throughout the years. And yet another thing that’s given us a fascinating window into what students are already doing to cope with these things, and some of their unexpected attitudes and ideas about them.
Rebecca: The thing that a lot of folks are doing is they’re teaching remotely or trying to jazz things up in synchronous online classes is trying to play with the idea of gamification in their classes, which certainly comes from technology, and often from video games and then some experience around that. Can you talk a little bit about how faculty might use gamification in their classes? Or also how that works on students?
Michelle: Yeah, games and gamification has been such a topic for so long in how can we use technology for education? I know it’s funny, when I was doing research for Minds online, I actually went to a Musee Mecanique in San Francisco, as a sort of a background research. It’s this amazing Museum, that’s just whatever the technologies of the time were, and it goes back like 100 years, all these different games, physical games you can play there.
Rebecca: It’s a cool Museum,
Michelle: Oh, you’ve been there.
Michelle: Oh, my gosh.
John: I was too.
Michelle: People have used photography in games and gamification. They’ve used all these different ways of using tech to play. So this is not a modern concept. And so we’ve seen lots of attempts throughout the years to also harness it for learning… some more successful than others. It’s such a deep theme in those connections between mind-brain-learning technology. And so students, here too, they get pretty excited about it. And that’s a good thing for faculty who are looking to use games and gamification. Now it’s another where I think drilling a little bit below the surface is really beneficial. It’s pretty clear to me, from the research and literature so far, that what makes games effective, and what makes them so compelling, you know, elicits the time, effort and attention that you need for learning, it’s not the superficial stuff about the experiences, not the music, and it’s not just calling it a game. It’s not necessarily tacking points onto something, although points and scorekeeping is usually a part of most compelling games, for sure. But there’s deeper things about getting really rapid feedback, there’s the opportunity for friendly competition. And that’s something that I’ve really seen this year, because I’ve also been using quite a few quizzes and polls and things like that in my courses, too, that are remote, is that you don’t have to attach a grade to the game to get some students really into the idea of competition, while other students, there, it’s more anxiety provoking, or it’s just too much because they’re already in so many high-stakes competitive exams, where they can play for fun. And so those are some of the aspects that are important when people are thinking about selecting a game, setting up a game, bringing gamification in some way. It doesn’t have to all be cheesy, let’s make everything look like a video game. But really, that idea too, that mistakes are part of it. While we’re playing a Kahoot and you get an answer wrong, whatever, we’re doing something else in five seconds, and it’s not a big issue like a test question is. So there’s definitely that. And I would say, too, that students here as well, they can be a great source for insight. So talk to your students. Say “What aspects of this game are more appealing? less appealing?” and so on. And games and game culture too, this is something that I really get a sense that they’ve never had a serious, let alone academic, conversation about the role of gaming in their lives. Yet for many students, that’s an important part of their identity. It’s what they do to relax. It’s what they do to socialize now, quite frequently, especially with distancing happening. So, as weird as it might sound, let’s take games seriously. Let’s take games seriously as an important aspect of students’ lives. Let’s take it seriously as a road to learning. And let’s just keep exploring that because the more research that gets done, the more effective and beneficial features we find associated with games.
John: And the most popular games are those that students can work through. And no matter what their prior knowledge with that type of game, as you said, provides them feedback. And that feedback is targeted so that they can use that to improve and the level of the games are set so that it’s neither so challenging that they give up and get discouraged, but not so easy that they don’t have the sense of challenge. And that seems like a really good way of perhaps thinking about how we should design our classes in general, whether we include explicit gamification aspects or not, creating an environment that encourages students to actively want to engage with the material, and where they can see progress and see how they’re advancing. That is, in general, something that I think is a really important thing for us to contemplate at least in course design.
Michelle: Agree 100%, agree 100%. And that’s exactly what makes games compelling. What is about social media that makes people return to it again, and again, and again, hundreds of times in a day? And what features can we extract and adapt in the service of learning?
Rebecca: One of the things we talked about with Ken Bain last week was an example about the arts and how that might change someone’s thinking… an experience with a piece of artwork. So, I used that kind of example, to inspire a little activity with my students this morning. And I asked them, “Can you talk about a piece of artwork that has influenced your thinking?” And I gave them some categories. And I’m teaching an interaction motion design class, but I included visual art, but games were one of my categories. And some of the students put some really interesting examples about how certain games have gotten them to really contemplate interesting ethical questions, relationship questions, really interesting stuff. And they wrote really thoughtful responses. I had them basically write the name of the game and just a sentence about how it impacted their thinking. But there were some really thoughtful responses. And it was really almost surprising to me how deep some of those quick summaries of their experiences had been with games.
Michelle: Yeah, that’s perfect. And without the conversation, you wouldn’t have that window.
John: For many years, we’ve all heard lots of arguments from faculty about whether technology should be or should not be used in classes. The pandemic, to a large extent, has shut those down completely. And that’s been, for many of us, quite a bit of a relief not to have to deal with those arguments all the time. However, as we begin to move back into a more traditional onsite teaching environment where more instruction is taking place in regular classrooms again, what are some of the things that people may have learned about interacting with technology effectively during the pandemic, that may perhaps lead to improvements in how we teach our classes regularly?
Michelle: That is such a meaty question, and I think it’s one we’re going to see so much just rapid development of reactions. it ties into the whole question right now of what does instruction look like post-pandemic or whatever the next stage of the pandemic is? But yeah, what a good time to think about this. And you know, I can look at it too through the lens of faculty experience, I was kind of fortunate to have had my Zoom baptism completely by accident earlier in spring of 2020. Because I had set up this idea of having a lot of guest speakers in one class, and I got a huge response, which is wonderful, but I needed to bring them in. And I had always kind of said, “Well, if I’m going to Zoom, I’m going to kind of sidestep that. I’m going to let somebody else drive.” And I had to get over that really fast. And so I do think that it illustrates the value of some targeted, not totally strategically planned, practice with technology tools. And that’s just the kind of bedrock cognitive processes that, when you have something like being able to just run Zoom, or Collaborate or something like that, or have an online poll, your ability to do that while monitoring a classroom or answering questions, you got to have the practice in first, and our students are the same way. So we can think about, alright, whatever we’re going to have students interacting with or using or if it’s us that are using something, having that practice upfront and expecting that, once we’re on the other side of the learning curve, it looks very, very different. So that is one big part of it. On a much more conceptual or abstract level. I think that, this whole year, we’ve really needed to look at the students and their goals and why they’re there in the class in the first place, wnd why are they taking the course. That’s something I’ve written about in some of the shorter articles I’ve put out this year. I think the pandemic teaching was distinctive for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that you just can’t keep persisting with “Okay, I’m the learning cop here and I’m going to make sure everybody does things because I’m watching you.” At the end of the day. I found if my students… I hope they’re not, but yeah, they are in Zoom, they could be doing other things… they may be minimally attentive, and that is not good for their learning. And I do a lot of things to have a lot of different shifts in gears to bring in gamification. I’ve done a lot of things to do that. But ultimately, if the student wants to check out, they can check out to an extent. And I’m not saying I’m okay with that, but I think that we are going to be meeting students much more in the middle, instead of having a more adversarial relationship to their learning, I’m here to enforce what you have to know. I mean, we have to collaborate to have something like remote teaching the way we’re doing it, to have that work at all, there has to be more of a collaborative approach to it. So I know that that’s a very top-level conceptual type of answer. But I think that in a lot of things, we’re going to be saying, “Well, you know, what, if this is something that helps some students, and if I’ve talked to students about why they’re here, and they’re purpose driven, ‘I am here to actually learn and take something from this class because I need it for the next class.’” Well, that’s a great basis to springboard off of, instead of “how do I write the policy in my syllabus that will prevent any kind of behavior I see as undesirable.” And you know, so many people were already moving away from that, which I think is incredibly fortunate given what we’ve been through in the last year. But this may be, if not a tipping point, something else that pushes us more in that direction of saying, “Well, what are the policies there to do?” Yes, students have to pay attention to learn. And that is very, very clear during remote pandemic teaching, as well as everywhere else. But let’s maybe take some different approaches and have a different philosophy of how we get there.
Rebecca: One of the things that I also hear you hinting at Michelle is that during the pandemic, we’ve all had a lot to manage, we’ve had a lot of cognitive load. And so we have to prioritize, and we have to decide what’s going to win our attention. And so students have the same problem all the time, just like we have the same problem all the time, we’re just more aware of it now. They have multiple classes to balance, they might have family concerns, they might have jobs, and at some point, they’re making choices about what they’re going to attend to, and what they can’t attend to. And I think sometimes we always hope and wish that they’re attending to whatever we’re putting out in front of them. But that might not be the best choice for them at a given moment, based on the other things that are going on in our lives. And we just often don’t think of our students in that kind of holistic point of view.
Michelle: Oh, absolutely. That’s such an eloquent example of this way of thinking, and the things that we have learned and the shift in mindset that we may be on the cusp of. And that’s another thing that really underlies the approach to talking to students about technology that I’ve really come to adopt, which is the same-side instead of opposite-sides stance. Like you said, we do struggle with some common things. I’m caricaturing a little bit, but I think we’re playing off of an older mindset where it’s us, we’re were older, we’re in this position of authority, and here’s how we like to do things. And here’s this young generation, and they think, very alien to us, and they want to do something else, and we’re going to make them come over to our side… saying, look, we all get distracted. In class, I’m frequently saying, “Well, yeah, here’s something unpleasant that happened to me on social media,” even if I don’t tell them all the details. [LAUGHTER] The point is, yeah, I get misunderstandings and hurt feelings on social media, too. I end up in the social comparison that tends to be so toxic on places like Instagram. I get really, really distracted and sidetracked because I’m using the same computer for 20 different things all at once. And so let’s work together to see how we can address those challenges. And yeah, so I think that what you’re describing is, I think, a very healthy way forward.
John: Now that faculty have had a chance to get more insight into students lives, perhaps now faculty will be more understanding of those things in the future, because the classroom environment is somewhat separated from all that it was much easier to ignore those things and maybe faculty will be more likely to treat students as human beings, perhaps in the future.
Rebecca: Are you implying that the classroom is real life?
John: Well, maybe it may more closely resemble that as we move back into more traditional classroom settings.
Michelle: Yes, and I’m all for that.
John: We always end with the question, and it’s particularly relevant now, “What’s next?”
Michelle: As you mentioned at the top of our interview together, I am in the very final stages of completing the Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology book. So I’m really excited to having that book be coming out in the not too distant future. And I’m really throwing myself into a brand new professional role, which is as the Co-editor of the Teaching and Learning Series with West Virginia University Press. Now, this series has just drawn so many dynamic thinkers with so many practical and also evidence-based ideas that we can all use in teaching and learning and so it was a tremendous honor to be invited to take that role on and I’ll be working with the other editor of the series who founded the series and launched it all, Dr. James Lang, who has just been tremendously influential in the area of bringing evidence-based effective pedagogical strategies to so many people in higher education. He’s been this tremendous leader in that area. His writing is also amazing. So what an honor to get to work with him and with West Virginia University Press. Stepping into that role has taken up a lot and it’s been wonderful already. So that is, for the most part, what’s next for me.
John: And I think we could say the same about your writing based on your earlier book, as well as recent comments that Jim Lang made on Twitter about how much he enjoyed the clarity of your writing and your exposition in this new book and how much he’s looking forward to that being released.
Michelle: Oh, thank you, that’s so nice to say and being able to teach students and to talk to students for so many years about these issues was the inspiration that gave me ideas to work with. So, it all comes around.
Rebecca: Well, thanks, as always for joining us, Michelle, and sharing some of your insights and some of the work that you’ve been doing.
Michelle: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.
John: Thank you, Michelle. And we’re looking forward to talking to you about this book as it gets closer to coming out.
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.
The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has identified 6 evidence-based criteria for model teaching. In this episode, Aaron Richmond, Regan Gurung, and Guy Boysen join us to discuss how those principles translate into effective practices in both physical and virtual environments.
Aaron is a Professor of Educational Psychology and Human Development at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Regan is the Interim Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Professor of Psychological Science at Oregon State University. Guy is a Professor of Psychology at McKendree University. They are the authors of A Pocket Guide to Online Teaching: Translating the Evidence-Based Model Teaching Criteria (2021) and An Evidence-Based Guide to College and University Teaching: Developing the Model Teacher (2016).
- Richmond, A. S., Gurung, R. A., & Boysen, G. A. (2021). A Pocket Guide to Online Teaching: Translating the Evidence-based Model Teaching Criteria. Routledge.
- Richmond, A. S., Boysen, G. A., & Gurung, R. A. (2016). An Evidence-Based guide to College and University Teaching: Developing the Model Teacher. Routledge.
- Society for the Teaching of Psychology
- Quality Matters
- Fox, K., Bryant, G., Lin, N., Khedkar, N., Nguyen, A., (2021, January 28). Time for Class – COVID-19 Edition Part 3: The Impact of 2020 on Postsecondary Teaching and Learning of Introductory Faculty. Tyton Partners
- Rogers, D. T. (2012). The Learning Alliance Inventory: Instrument Development and Initial Validation. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(1), n1.
- Course Workload Estimator
- Workload Estimator version 2
John: The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has identified 6 evidence-based criteria for model teaching. In this episode we discuss how those principles translate into effective practices in both physical and virtual environments.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.
John: Our guests today are Aaron Richmond, Regan Gurung and Guy Boysen. Aaron is a Professor of Educational Psychology and Human Development at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Regan is the Interim Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and Professor of Psychological Science at Oregon State University. Guy is a Professor of Psychology at McKendree University. Welcome, Aaron and Guy, and welcome back, Regan.
Regan: Thank you, John.
Guy: Thank you.
Aaron: Thank you.
Rebecca: Today’s teas are… Guy, are you drinking tea?
Guy: I’m drinking coffee black tea. I guess that’s coffee. [LAUGHTER]
Rebecca: So I heard.
Aaron: My coffee is Dunkin Donuts coffee, kind of a guilty pleasure every morning. Currently on water. It’s a little bit late for me to be drinking caffeine.
Regan: Still pretty early here in the Pacific Northwest in Oregon. So, coffee it is.
John: And I’m drinking chocolate mint oolong tea
Rebecca: I was ready for you to say chocolate milk or something. I was like, “Alright, there’s no tea here.” [LAUGHTER] I have Irish breakfast today, heavily caffeinated.
Regan: Timely this week with St. Patrick’s Day and all that. So, yeah.
Rebecca: I try. It just happened to be the one open.
John: We’ve invited you here to discuss your new book together, A Pocket Guide to Online Teaching: Translating the Evidence-Based Model Teaching Criteria. A few years ago, you had written an Evidence-Based Guide to College and University Teaching to help faculty apply the model teaching characteristics that were developed by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In the new book, you shift your focus to online instruction. Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of this new book?
Regan: Aaron, you can do the whole origin story since really Aaron, being Chair of the task force that first kicked this off, can give us the whole etiology. So give us the origin story, Aaron.
Aaron: Well, of course, the origin story starts with Regan, [LAUGHTER] as almost every story starts with. And so Regan was coming on as the Society of Teaching of Psychology President which is a division of the American Psychological Association Division Two. And he had like 105 taskforce that he created for us to do. And I was in charge of somehow more than one, it wasn’t just the model teaching competencies. But in terms of this project, he really wanted us to create a committee or a task force to really kind of get at what is it that the model teachers are doing. They originally started in psychology, but then branched out into other disciplines for sure. But really, the call was, what are people doing? What’s the evidence behind what they’re doing that is going well and is doing great work, and all facets of education and Guy was instrumental in that it actually ended up spanning two presidencies, almost three, because it was such a colossal task and ask where that committee was a really good working group. We met twice a month, I think, there for a while. And then we were meeting once a month for two to three years, basically. And so after much, much research, much of it spearheaded by Guy, the task force came up with the model teacher competencies, and we published a couple of articles on it, a kind of a white paper for Division II STP. And then that was the catalyst for Guy, Regan, and I jumping into the first book, the model teaching competency book.
Rebecca: For those that aren’t familiar, can you just talk about what the model teaching competencies is?
Guy: I will say that my memory of how this came about is a little bit different. I kind of envisioned it as almost like a survivor Island type of deal where we were initially this huge task force, and then it turned into an article and a few people dropped off, and then it turned into a book and it was just the three of us. So it’s kind of like we were the people with the endurance to keep trying to push these model teaching competencies down people’s throats until they would sort of accept them. But we think we’ve got good stuff here. And that’s why we stuck with it as we really do believe in these competencies. Basically what we did on that task force is we tried to say, if you’re going to be a good teacher, what are the key things you need to be able to do and so we said, part of that is just being trained. You have to have a little bit of training behind and know some pedagogy. You have to have some basic instructional methods that you use. You have to be teaching content that’s relevant to what you’re doing. And you have to assess learning related to that content, put together a syllabus that’s reasonable. And then also just be asking students how you’re doing, so using teaching evaluations, both formative and summative. And those are the areas we agreed on. And then we defined it by breaking it down a bunch of different ways. And so, I think, to get back to the original question, I think we realized that these things work in the online format, but in our first book, we didn’t really talk about that context very much. I think if you pull out any sentence from our first book, it applies to online teaching, but we certainly didn’t talk about online teaching or LMSs or some of those specific things that would specifically speak to online teachers. So that’s part of the origin for the new book, I think.
Regan: To add to that, not only did it apply, but we didn’t make the connection. I think on the other side of the coin, there’s just so much that goes on in online teaching that is in addition to what normally goes on as well. So, there was a clear cut need for “What does this look like in an online context?” So even though we have six, there’s a nice number to wrap your heads around, there are six model teaching criteria. And you look at all six of those, and yes, they can apply to the online, but it’s a whole different thing when you say, “Okay, let’s actually start from online teaching.” And that final pragmatic piece as to how this came about is we were actually approached by the publishers to do a revision of model teaching, of the original. And this happened to just, if I remember correctly, when the pandemic was kicking off. And I think that’s important, too, because we were all thinking a lot about what does it mean to teach remotely? What does it mean to teach online? And we quickly convinced them or they convinced us and I think it’s more the latter, they quickly convinced us that, before a second edition, maybe if we could address online teaching explicitly, that would be better. And hence, the Pocket Guide. It’s not the full blown, it’s the “let’s explicitly look at online teaching and see what we can say.”
John: At the beginning of this book, you talk about how, at one point, each of you was somewhat skeptical of online instruction until you actually worked with it. I think that’s true of many people who went through the transition to remote or online instruction in the spring of 2020. Could you tell us a little bit about your own transition to online teaching, as well as how your courses were modified as we move to remote instruction in the spring of 2020.
Aaron: I had been teaching online for a very long time. And so I think the pivot for both Guy and Reagan was a little bit different than mine. I had other stressors associated with the pandemic, namely, having five people in my household full time, and kids learning on, and my wife learning online. But for me, I’ll let Reagan and Guy answer the question, mostly because I started teaching online in graduate school as a way to build my curriculum vitae and built my teaching experience. And so it wasn’t as big of a quote, quote, pivot for me, as it is for a lot of my colleagues.
Regan: Yeah, I think I will go in reverse order this way, because I think I’m sort of next up with somebody who had done some online teaching. I had taught online before the pandemic, but hadn’t taught it recently. And I think to fine tune your question, John, personally, it was just more of a question of not having done it as much. In fact, I think I’ll go on record as saying that if you asked me 15 years ago, what I thought about online teaching, before I actually looked into the literature, I had a very different take on it then after I looked into the literature, and then after I really did it. So, it was much more of a question of had done it, but hadn’t done it to the extent and hadn’t looked at the research on it to the extent that I’d wanted to, but that changed very quickly.
Guy: And that’s totally accurate to say that I was the least experienced, I’m fully capable of admitting that. And we have a fully online psychology program at McKendree, and I had designed courses, and I had been trained in the basics of online instruction, but I’d never done sort of a deep dive into the literature like I did when we were preparing to write this book. It was interesting, since in the last year, I’ve taught literally face to face, I’ve taught online, and I’ve taught various versions of hybrid. And then I taught whatever the heck last spring was, as well. So, I’ve gotten a taste of everything in this last year. And so I’ve learned a lot, both writing the book and having to teach in ways that I hadn’t taught before. So I had done the design component of it, and been trained a little bit, but had never actually pulled the trigger and taught a fully online course as an instructor before the pandemic,
Aaron: What I loved about the three of us, and I always love working with these two other folks. But we had this strata of experience with online education. And poor Guy even had the wonderful opportunity to learn a brand new learning management system like two weeks before the start of the fall semester. And when we talk about online education, chalk is chalk, right? But learning how to do certain grade things in an LMS, Guy was really kind of a little bit of a guinea pig, and it was nice to have those three levels of experience because I think we could get fresh perspectives for the book. I’m Quality Matters certified, which is one of the national certifications for online education, and then Reagan and then Guy with not as much experience, and so I think it was a really serendipitous opportunity for us because of that.
Regan: And just along those lines of serendipity, I think one of the things that the pandemic did was had many of us have more conversations with the experts on online teaching on our campuses. Here at Oregon State or e-campus program is one of the top five in the nation with our psych program being number two in online psych majors, which was great, which meant I could go in… actually, I was gonna say go in but during the pandemic, there was no going in anywhere but I I had all these conversations with wonderful people and shout out to Shannon Riggs and Kate Linder, wonderful people who’ve done a lot of work already on online teaching. And we have these conversations, great email exchanges back and forth that really informed, I think, what we then went and talked about.
Guy: I would be interested in hearing, we’ve never had this conversation, whattyou all think, Aaron and Regan, about whether people during the pandemic are actually doing the type of online teaching we’re talking about in our book, or if they’re doing something that’s more of like an emergency remote teaching, because I’ve noticed in my institution, there’s a lot of people who are basically teaching the same class, it’s just that it’s over a Zoom meeting.
Regan: [LAUGHTER] We could probably do a whole podcast on remote teaching versus online teaching. I’ll just say, in brief, Guy, you are absolutely right. What I have seen is the entire spectrum of instructors who are, somewhat alluding to what Aaron said, trying to make sure they can keep teaching. And I think everybody’s circumstances vary. And I think that resulted in a lot of variance in what those courses look like. Some of the courses would look like, I think, what we’d call online teaching, and what we talked about, and then there are others that are very, very quite clearly remote, emergency, doing the best “giving it all I’ve got, Captain” kind of stuff that are working towards it. And of course, now, literally one year later, I can actually see courses that have made that transition that were here spring term, that were here fall term, that were here the next winter term, and so on and so forth. But you’re absolutely right, Guy, it’s not. When you talk about online teaching, and in these conversations, I try very hard to keep remote teaching separate from online teaching.
Rebecca: The visual description of Regan’s hand was moving up, as he was saying here, here, and here. [LAUGHTER]
Aaron: Thank you. Guy’s trying to get us in trouble with our colleagues. I think that the short answer from my department, and we’re a large department, we have over 25 tenure track faculty, and then a whole army platoon of affiliates. Luckily, within our department, because we had a program that was Quality Matters (QM) certified, we had had a lot of core courses that were already certified. And then they were shells given to faculty members. And so in those scenarios, you had what we are talking about in this book, we had a really good pedagogy, a really good online teaching situation. But there was also other classes where, frankly, some of those instructors didn’t know what LMS stood for, had never used an LMS, a Learning Management System, didn’t even use PowerPoint, didn’t use a computer, like literally still wrote on the whiteboard. And so they had to rise to the occasion. And I think it’s more along with what Regan is saying, some of those folks were really just remote teaching, or doing some sort of synchronous teaching, and then some sort of asynchronous teaching that probably wasn’t the best practices. But that’s why we wrote the book.
Guy: Yeah, and don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily trying to criticize anyone in what they’re doing. But I do think it’s important to distinguish between what we ended up talking about in the book and what has emerged from some people who don’t have as much training in online teaching and what they’re doing, and are basically just trying to recreate their classroom in a synchronous video session.
Aaron: What we did in our department as well is we buddied up, in a sense, if there was somebody that had a lot of experience online, they would help build the course with the other instructor who had less experience or who needed more assistance, for sure.
Rebecca: I think one thing that you’re alluding to Guy that I wanted to ask about is the literature historically talks a lot about asynchronous online, and when we’re thinking about online education, that’s generally what we’re talking about, but there’s been a lot of experimentation over the last year with synchronous online, and it may or may not be trying to recreate the classroom, there’s a mix of people trying to actively use that environment to do active learning and these sorts of things, and then others that are perhaps resorting to lecturing at in a meeting kind of setting. Can you address that a little bit in terms of whether or not your book addresses the synchronous component, or if it really is focused more on this more traditional asynchronous aspect of online education?
Aaron: We do address that. Our book is organized by really three kind of different types of interactions: one is the student-to-student interaction, one is interaction with content, and then the other is interaction student to the instructor. And I was largely responsible for that section. And it’s a great debate. The whole synchronous versus asynchronous learning’s been debated for as long as we’ve had distance education. And so I think it really comes down to context and situation. For instance, students at Metropolitan State, typically 51% of them are first-generation college students. We’re a Hispanic serving institution, we have the largest military population in the state at our institution and over 60% work full time. And so we try to steer away from a lot of synchronous learning because they’re working full time… just restricting them to a schedule just doesn’t really work. But I think that really depends on the class, it depends on the institution, it depends on the department. And so it’s really contextually driven. And it’s really dependent on the situation. There’s pros and cons to both synchronous and asynchronous learning. There’s definitely engagement with synchronous learning. You could see this face to face, I just saw this meme, it was actually aTik Tok, and I’m not onTik Tok, but I saw a Tik Tok. [LAUGHTER] And it was basically the student walks into the college classroom, and they’re all wearing masks, and it’s like “Hey, professor.” And the professor kind of looks at him like, “Mmmm, I’m not making a connection.” And he’s like, “No, it’s John.” “…not making a connection.” And then he holds up a J in front of his face, [LAUGHTER] and he goes “Oh, John!” …and so there is this idea about synchronous learning and engagement that is really, really important, for sure. And having that one-to-one rapport and connection, but there are asynchronous things that you can do to also increase that rapport as well.
Regan: Well, I think that’s why this debate, not only is it a really interesting question, but like the three of us our motto is, “Well, what does the evidence say?” And I think we’re going to be taking a lot closer look at the evidence in the year ahead. Speaking of evidence, Fox and colleagues, there’s a 2021 report that just came out in January, that actually maps how the percentage of courses that were synchronous versus asynchronous, changed over last year from spring before and then to the next winter. And what you see is a lot of courses. And this is, of course, descriptive data, it’s not causal in any way, but what you see is a lot of courses that started off primarily synchronous, or exclusively synchronous, even remotely, started adding asynchronous components. So even though I think many institutions said, “Look, we were on campus, we’re going remote,we just do everything that we did remotely,” the context changes and you can’t just do everything that you did in a face-to-face class synchronously, remotely synchronously all the time. Now, how much of the time? Which classes? What can you do? Those are all the really cool questions that I think we are now taking a much closer look at.
John: Last March, a lot of people suddenly transitioned to either a remote or online format. But then many people, as we just heard, have been shifting to more and more asynchronous work. In your book, you talk a little bit about some of the challenges that people may face when they’re not experienced teaching online, could you talk a little bit about some of the adjustments people have to make to an asynchronous online environment, as well as perhaps some of the affordances, some of the advantages, that people have come to see, once they start teaching online?
Guy: Well, as the newest recruit to online, I guess I’ll start off here. And I would say my biggest challenge has been just the differences in immediacy between a face-to-face classroom and an online classroom. It’s just a completely different game to say something and make eye contact with students in different rows… front row, back row… and be able to tell whether they’re staring at you or ready to move on versus being online and you have to be reading a discussion board or looking at a quiz score. So it just doesn’t have that immediate feedback. And if you’re talking about the synchronous Zoom meeting type things, then really, it’s kind of soul crushing. I don’t lecture that much, but when I do lecture, and I’m lecturing to the empty space of blank Zoom tiles, it is truly crushing. It is just not an enjoyable experience. It’s just like talking to yourself. There’s some of that spark of immediacy that really energizes the classroom, I have found it difficult to recreate. But the engagement is just different, right? So the engagement might happen in a breakout room, rather than me talking at them in a full classroom. The engagement might happen on a discussion board or on a group project that they’re collaborating on using chats outside of things that I witness. So it’s different. But that’s the thing that was the most challenging for me, is the immediacy.
Aaron: I think I would add a couple things, too. I would definitely agree with what Guy said, I would think also, too, one of the difficulties in that transition is you have to be a little bit more cognizant about your time, and especially if you’re talking about asynchronous learning is like I grade a lot in the evening and at night, because that’s kind of my schedule, but my students, generally speaking, that’s when they’re doing most of their work, because they’re working during the day. So that’s one issue, I think. For a lot of new concepts, too, it’s really understanding time management. I think another thing is, and this is one of the things that Guy alluded to was, I have been teaching online for a very long time, and when I would have a student who had me as an online instructor first, and then took a face-to-face class with me, almost invariably, on the first day, they would come up to me after class and they’d be like, “Man, Dr. Richmond, you are not who I thought you were.” And I would say “What do you mean? They’re like, “Well, I kind of thought you were like this stick in the mud, but you’re kind of a short funny Hobbit.” And after that happened the first couple semesters, I became really aware of it. And really what Guy was kind of alluding to is how do we establish this rapport with our students? How do we establish immediacy which is actually nonverbal immediacy? That’s my hand gestulating, you know, all that kind of stuff, the visual things of teaching? How do we establish those things in an online environment. I think that’s one of the biggest adjustments that most teachers, when they pivot to online having never done it, struggle with, because they take all these face-to-face interactions for granted. They’re not cognitively thinking of how their body posture or the jokes they might use, or the eye contact as G uy was saying. And I still struggle with one of the most difficult things with online engagement rapport, and that learning alliance, as Rogers would call it.
Regan: Lets also add to that, in a face-to-face class, there’s that time before class starts, there’s that time after class ends, where you’re chatting, and you’re talking about stuff. But there are two very significant components to add, both in terms of teaching online, but also teaching remotely, it applies to both. I think the first thing is judging how much work is enough work or not enough work. And I think that’s a huge problem that we’ve seen, is the switch to teaching online or putting something into an online class. If you are not watching how much work you’re giving students, it’s very, very easy to have the tendency to say, “Hey, we’re not meeting for all this face-to-face time or synchronous time. Therefore, let’s have you do more assignments. Let’s have you do more of this and more of that.” And there are some really great time calculators out there right now that I think are important. Related to that, it comes back to there is such a great body of research and training done by instructional designers to help individuals with the management of how much to assign, but also, to get to what Aaron and Guy were saying, how to use all those different tools of a learning management system to try and do those things that you’re used to doing in a face-to-face online class. And there’s a wealth of tools out there in a learning management system. Yes, discussion boards, but even how you use discussion boards and all of that, and how you use chat, that you can do that. One additional thing, and this truly relates to synchronous versus asynchronous, not necessarily face-to-face versus online. But I think one of the things I personally discovered is how to leverage, you use the word affordances, how to leverage things such as the chat, and at first, I was extremely wary of the chat because I’m thinking, “Hey, I have 295 people in this class, is the chat gonna go wild and crazy?” And it went pretty wild, it didn’t actually get crazy. But on top of that, I can tell you what I relied on to look at and see in faces, I was now getting from comments typed into the chat. And I still want face to face. But I can tell you that having that chat open and monitored with rules of conduct, but students were responding in chat, the stuff I was talking about, that I normally wouldn’t see in a face-to-face class.
Guy: And just building off of that in terms of moving to strengths a little bit more. As someone who really loves assessment and appreciates data from students, my, there is a lot of stuff you can assess using the LMS. And I really appreciated being able to log in and see if my students had logged in and see what they had clicked on, and all of this granular information. I had a very small class, so I did not have to explore that too much. But in a larger class, being able to do that and set up agents to monitor them and email them if they’re not logging in, and all these different things you can do. It’s just a wonderful way to increase the engagement in a different way. So in some ways, it almost seems mysterious, now seeing a student every other day, in a face-to-face class, and not knowing whether they had to open their book or not. But if I was teaching a online course, [LAUGHTER] I would know exactly what they have done in between. And I could still have more LMS stuff in my face-to-face class, but it’s different than when it’s all based on the LMS.
Rebecca: So we talked earlier about the model teaching principles. Do they apply in online? Or how are they different in an online environment?
Guy: I said this earlier, but I would definitely say that you could pull out any one of our criteria, the individual ones from our original book, and not tell someone which format it’s in, and they would pretty much all apply. There’s gonna be a few things about teaching very specific teaching skills that might be kind of written in a face-to-face format. So I really do think, almost surprisingly to me, they really do generalize. Training is important in both. Intentional design is important in both. Intentional assessment of learning is important to both. Student feedback is important in both. And, if anything, one of the things I maybe found surprising was that actually what we were saying, however many years ago, eight years ago, nine years ago, when we first started this, is very similar to the stuff that the online quality matters and the instructional designers have always been saying about how courses should be designed before you jump into them. So I was actually a little bit surprised, I think, when I got into the online teaching literature, just how much overlap there was.
Regan: Absolutely. I mean a few words different. I look at a figure that I know normally use when I’m talking about model teaching criteria, and it says “classroom” in there, but apart from little words like that, everything holds. And actually one of the first things that three of us did was we took a look at our self-guided measure that we had created that was in the back of the first book. And we went through it and asked ourselves, which of these don’t apply? And most of them were in there.
Aaron: Yeah, principally, I think that it just holds water. And that’s the beauty of the model. I think you just tweak certain ways in which you accomplish those tasks or accomplish those competencies to the online space.
Rebecca: Aaron, can you give an example of one way that one of those needs to be adapted in an online space?
Aaron: I think the syllabus is a really good example. The online syllabus has changed dramatically in the last 18 months, it used to be a standard format, is you upload a PDF, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not speaking flippantly about syllabi, because that’s my bread and butter, I do a lot of research on it. But you might just load it up into the LMS. And “Hey, go check it out.” But now, I think we’re kind of deconstructing the syllabus a little bit. And really, a lot of people are doing it, where they’re really putting it to the “Start Here” module, and they’re deconstructing the syllabus to where it’s all these different components to it. You can still have a standard syllabus that somebody links on, and if they want to print something out, old school, and they can have, but you really are kind of reincorporating, that syllabus into a startup module, a “startup week one,” however, you want to organize your course. And you’re really kind of diving into it. So structurally, it’s the same, but functionally, how it’s delivered, changes. And I think that’s just one example of the principles there. It’s just how is it surfaced? How is it realized to the learner, it might take on a different form.
Guy: That’s really interesting, because even in I’m teaching in person this semester, and I found myself essentially designing courses, like online courses, where my syllabus is deconstructed to an extent. And I just put the pieces into various modules, so that students don’t have to necessarily go back and read the whole syllabus. So there is a sort of a weird transition, now, and this could be a positive of all this extra work that people are putting into transitioning remote and online is that people will take advantage of some of the things that are in LMSs is a little bit more. So if you wanted to make some money, you could probably start a company right now, or add something to Brightspace or Blackboard where you build the course in the LMS, and then it automatically builds the syllabus for you or something like that. That would be a great feature that I think teachers would love, you wouldn’t have to deconstruct one to make the other, essentially.
Regan: I wanted to go back to something that Guy said earlier that I think is really important in this context, and what Guy said was the overlap between what we all experienced when we read more of the other literature’s in online teaching. And I think far too often, many of us who only have taught in the classroom. And there are still many faculty out there who only teach face-to-face who haven’t taught online. They have missed out on a world of pedagogical practices that instructional designers have been really well aware of for a very, very long time. And so that overlap that Guy alluded to that we all saw, when we looked at that literature, I think, is just a great testament to the fact that there still needs to be some better coordination and communication between those people who talk about and train folks on what the better practices are. And right there when I say that, many individuals who teach online at most universities have to go through some kind of training, but few universities make people teaching face to face go through some sort of training. As somebody who works at a Center for Teaching and Learning, I wish there were more prescriptions to come in and take some guidance on pedagogical practices. So I think that’s a big deal there. Instructional designers have these things down that we could have used. And Guy, I had exactly the same experience about maybe 8, 8, 10 years ago, when I took a Quality Matters course and then immediately used all those practices for my face-to-face LMS. What a great world out there and we need to do some more cross fertilization.
Rebecca: Regan, I think one of the things that’s really interesting that you’re pointing out is we often think about the silos of higher ed as being disciplinary, but it’s also in terms of modality and between staff and faculty. So there might be research done by instructional designers, but somehow that lives in staff world, and it doesn’t live in faculty world. And there’s not a lot of integrations or conversations across those lines. And the pandemic has forced us all to talk to each other in these ways and troubleshoot more because we’re trying to solve some immediate problems. Being more aware of these treasures that are available in different silos that we don’t usually dip into can be helpful.
John: And I know a lot of faculty at our campus have been attending workshops at rates they never had before, because they started learning about all these new techniques and tools, and many of them have said that when they go back to a purely face-to-face environment, they’re not going to teach their class in any way, like they were doing before, that they’re going to port this over. And I know I had the same experience several decades ago when I first started teaching online. All of the tools I picked up and some of the techniques have been used in my face-to-face classes as well. Going back, though, to that discussion of the syllabus, one of the things you note in your book is that it’s really important to provide people with more detailed instruction in an asynchronous environment than it would be if you’re meeting with students synchronously, because students are working on their own and they need more information. And I think that’s part of the issue that you’re referring to with a syllabus, perhaps, by building more information into it. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Aaron: Yeah, I think there are several strategies. We’re always going to compare face-to-face to an online or even a flipped or hybrid course, you have these side conversations in a face-to-face course, like you might have this little 30 second “Hey, don’t forget to do this” and “I want you to really pay attention,” “Work on your APA style,” whatever the case may be. You don’t have that at all in the online setting. So you have to create opportunities for that. And so one strategy that I’ve seen pretty successful is making mini short tutorial videos. Just like a six-line email, students are not going to watch a video that’s more than six minutes. I haven’t quite seen the research on this, but I can almost guarantee you, to a certain degree, there’s this Sesame Street effect, their attention spans not gonna be that strong. Because it’s in a video format. It’s asynchronous. So there’s not a lot of interaction. So I’ve seen a lot of people do assignment tutorials, just generally how to take a quiz, how to do an assignment, how to actually have a discussion, not “Well, I met the minimum rubric criteria and I responded to two people and I cited in reference my work, which is actually to have engaged into a asynchronous conversation. And so you see a lot of video tutorials. And here’s another thing about how principally it works within the model teaching competencies face to face, it just looks a little different in online format. The beauty about all those too is they can be the transcript, they can do a video and if you do it through YouTube or whatnot, you can get closed caption, you can get a written version of it. And so that’s one example I think of having to, what I call, make implicit procedural knowledge. So somehow, you’re supposed to know how to do it, but nobody tells you. And so making it explicit. And so those types of tutorials I’m pretty big on. I was slow to come onto that train a little bit, because there is a lot of upfront work. But once you get good at say Loom (that’s the program I use) or Camtasia, or whatever the program is, you can get pretty quick at doing a three-minute video, posting it, and you can also monitor if they’re watching it, and that kind of stuff.
Regan: And I just wanted to add something else that adds on to Rebecca, to the question you asked, that’s relating to this, which is, what are the things that are different and varied? And I think when we teach face to face, we take just the power of presence for granted. And I think we more implicitly think about what can we do for a student to student interactions. And I know that was something when we were writing this book and thinking about the online nature, if you’ve never taught online before… and really, that’s where we geared this book towards, it’s people who’ve taught a lot of face to face, perhaps, but kinda need to start thinking about what’s different in online. And I think that’s one of those big things that’s different with online, is thinking about, you don’t have people sitting in the same room physically, what do you need to do to explicitly build that student-to-student interaction, so that it’s not just student-to-content and student-to-instructor? But, what are those things we can do to make it an engaging student-to-student environment? And that’s a really big challenge
Rebecca: Regan, you’re making a really good point. And also maybe assuming that students feel that connection with students in a physical face-to-face class that they may not actually feel. But just because they’re in the same space, we make these assumptions. I think that being explicit, maybe we’re learning it for online, but it certainly applies to going back into the classroom as well. [LAUGHTER]
Guy: Yeah, and just to connect a couple different lines here, just with the explicitness of it, the engagements, you even have to be explicit in how you engage what the rules are, what the minimal standards are. It’s something that in a classroom that’s face to face, you say, “Okay, turn to your partner and talk and you can watch and see and they have whatever, two minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes, whatever it is, but online, you literally have to tell them, “Okay, your first comment is due by X, and then you respond by Y, whatever day it actually is.” And so there’s a little bit more of you have to be intentional about setting expectations and, I don’t want to use “moderating,” but really controlling… that’s not a better word is it?… [LAUGHTER]… facilitating the exact behaviors that you want. And I definitely learned that in the spring with the pandemic teaching and even a little bit with the online courses. If you allow students to post online when they want to it will be near the deadline and that’s not a great way to foster engagements. So, you have to design engagement. It’s really about intentional design. You can’t just walk into the classroom and wing it, like a lot of us who were experience teachers can do face to face.
Regan: And great use of the word design, Guy. And I think, really, that’s something that’s so important. Even when you’re teaching face to face, there is design. Teaching should not be an impromptu act, it needs thought, it needs forethought, it needs intentionality. Every once in a while I run into folks who go, “Hey, I really know my stuff well. What’s there to teaching? I step into the class and voila, there you have it.” No. Design, people. Intentionality.
Guy: Out of all the stuff that I picked up in the last year learning about online, the thing that has been most gratifying is this idea that your whole course is in the bag and ready to go before the first day. I’ve been doing that since day one of my teaching, and it’s so nice to hear reinforcement for that’s the way it should be done. And so I think that’s a message that, if we’re talking about learning from the experience of doing online in the last year, that’s definitely one that I hope gets generalized outside of the online environment, because it’s just so important for students and for the instructor.
Rebecca: As an interaction designer, I have to say, Yes, we should design experiences. [LAUGHTER]
Regan: I also want to be respectful of individuals who are in situations where, due to courseload, they cannot be as intentional as they would like, because of lack of training that they don’t know how to be intentional, I think it’s very easy to say that’s a good thing. But it’s really up to colleges and universities to help their faculty, to help their instructors be able to do those things.
Rebecca: It’s a heavy lift to be intentional.
Aaron: And I think I would add to that, as well is two things: one is that and maybe this is opening a different line of thought and questions, but the diversity, equity, and inclusion issue in online is real. And this is kind of related to it. I just read a couple different studies where they’re measuring, essentially in online learning, essentially what modality or what tools students are using, and it varies widely, but it’s somewhere between 40 and 80% of students are only using their phone to do an online course. I accept late work for partial credit and I do that because I don’t want to judge people’s excuses. That’s just not something I want to do. And I just got an email from one of my students that just said, “Hey, I’m going to be late, I understand the consequence, I’m sharing a computer with my roommate. I just got a positive COVID test, so I don’t think I should use this person’s computer…” which is like, of course, right? But I think we need to understand access, we need to understand bandwidth. When we pivoted in March of last year… our university uses Teams and to be honest, sorry, Microsoft, it sucked at the beginning, it was horrible. It took a massive amount of bandwidth. And if you didn’t have really high speed internet, you couldn’t engage in teams at all. So I purchased Zoom, ‘cause Zoom’s bandwidth was like I think a 10th of what Teams… and teams has cleared that up since then… but you have to think of things like those equity issues in what students have access to. And so I think that, in line with what we were talking about, in terms of intentional engagement, you have to realize that not all students can do those things. They just don’t have the opportunity or the access or the virtual bandwidth, the metaphoric bandwidth to do it.
Guy: I’m curious if anyone has read, if there is research on that, with online instruction, that students who maybe are coming in with some access issues if they’re as successful or less successful than students who don’t have those, because I think we’ve seen basically the same sort of stratification in terms of the health effects of COVID, the educational effects of COVID, I have friends who are therapists, and it’s the exact same thing for them, they have patients who are doing just fine, and they have patients who are doing really bad because of all kinds of other issues. But has anyone read research on that?
Aaron: I’ve seen a little bit on internet accessibility, but most of that stuff is in the K-12. My wife is a third grade teacher and teaches online remotely right now, and has the whole time during the pandemic. And she will literally spend hours with one student just getting them to upload a document. But I think that, going back to the original discussion about intentionality, you can build into your online courses, flexibility, and something that transfers from the MTC to the online setting, and whether that means “Okay, I have 12 quizzes, but I’m only going to take your best nine scores,” or “I have 10 discussions, I’m only going to take your best seven…” T here are ways in which you can build in DEI issues, if that’s related to it, where you’re flexible. You still have great standards and high standards, but there’s flexibility and autonomy within your course as well.
Regan: And I see a lot more sensitivity to the kinds of issues you brought, Guy, in online teaching that I see in face-to-face courses. Many online and e-campus programs do such a wonderful job of preparing students for the class. They acknowledge that the online course is different, and they do very different things. And I think, boy, just like faculty training, I think the more we can do to prepare students for face-to-face classes, the better. A long-term gripe has been: in college, we assume that those students know how to study. And one of my pet areas is study techniques and study skills, and all of the skills that we build. And I take a lot of time in my first few days of class to talk explicitly about how best to study for my course. And I think that a lot of folks who make the assumption that people know how to study, and I think together with the “how to study,” I think we need to be more aware of “Do you have access to the material?” Gosh, “Do you have access to food?” …is a big thing. Something that I think a theme that you’ve seen us mention many times that I want to underline is don’t take teaching for granted and don’t take online teaching for granted just because you’ve taught face to face.
John: We always end with the question, what’s next? And we’ve all been wondering that for at least a year now.
Rebecca: So please, please enlighten us. [LAUGHTER]
Regan: So I’ll tell you the writing that’s on the wall here, and I think what I can see in higher education. I think we’re looking at a new modality, remote teaching, and not just what can we take from remote teaching that can stay when we get back, but looking at that modality in and of itself, especially to get at issues that we’ve talked about, access and reaching people who may or may not be able to come in to some of our schools. I see the sweet spot in remote teaching that it unearthed new ways for us to connect to our students, new ways to share content, new ways to get engagement, that I think we need to capitalize on and fine tune and study so we can better use it. I think that’s what’s coming down the pike as far as I can tell.
Guy: Almost the same comment but maybe a little bit different terminology is, I posed the question is everything hyflex now? And so hyflex meaning that basically, you’re delivering all modalities at once to all students online, face to face, video, and the students can basically choose which of those modalities they interact with. And just to use an example is, for students who are in quarantine or what have you, this semester, we’ve been encouraged at my institution to zoom our classes. Well, that has expanded a bit in what students are expecting even in face-to-face classes to have accessibility to classroom videos. And so is that now happening for everything? Is that just something that students are going to expect from here on out? And is that necessarily a good thing? Because in small institutions, there’s not hundreds of students, it can be difficult to plan for a class, if you’ve got 15 students, and you don’t know how many are going to be there, and how many are not going to be there. And you maybe don’t have a classroom that’s set up to do both types of teaching. So it definitely is, I think, been useful for students who have to step away from the classroom for health reasons or for safety reasons. But I’m curious to see what happens if the student culture is going to change in terms of what they expect and if the teacher culture will change in what they’re willing to offer students who desire that type of flexibility.
Aaron: Yeah, one of the reasons that Guy and Regan and I work together a lot, it’s because we think very similarly. And we also have our unique perspectives on things. I think that higher education is gearing up for a paradigm shift. I think that there’s going to be massive differences in models in how we approach classroom instruction, brick and mortar versus a virtual environment. I think what the pandemic has done is, for some students, conditioned a new way of approaching their education. And I think you see this at the K-12 level, I think you see at this higher education level as well. And so I think that the schools and institutions that jump on this opportunity… we haven’t had a situation in which institutions can reinvent themselves in modern times, and I think this is definitely one of them. I think a lot of programs can reinvent themselves. And enrollment is up and down across the country. There are certain schools that are really getting hit. Community colleges are really taking a massive hit in the pandemic. And they’re having to reinvent themselves and figure out how can we do online instruction? How can we do this flex instruction? And so I think that, as a scientist, we are in a reinvigoration of scholarship of teaching and learning… how to do these different things. It’s going to be an exciting next five to ten years, I think, in higher education, from a teaching perspective, from the learner perspective, and from a scientist perspective about studying what’s going on. there’s going to be a lot of opportunities to basically treat the pandemic as a catalyst for change.
Guy: In terms of opportunities, I think my response came off as pretty somber, but I would say there are some things I’m very excited about. So I’m the type of teacher who hates snow days. So I’m excited by the fact that we’re never going to have another snow day ever again. You never have to cancel a class ever again. Every single teacher knows what to do to replace a class that’s canceled for a snow day. And I’m really excited that more people who maybe would not have used an LMS in the past now are realizing the benefits of it. So, we’re going to have more people using those, which is, I think, only beneficial for students. And I’m hoping that more people are realizing that they can move a lot of the stuff that they used to just talk at students in the classroom, that they can move that online. So those are some of the things, as someone who’s still primarily a face-to-face teacher, that I’m excited about how online teaching will have a bigger influence as we move forward.
Regan: Guy said the word face-to-face teaching, and let me say something I’m excited by is that I don’t think there’s ever been as much scrutiny to teaching and learning as we’ve seen in the last year. And I love that. May that continue.
Aaron: I’ll second that.
Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for joining us and sharing some insights from your book and getting us all excited about picking up a copy of your book and also really thinking forward to what is next for us as teachers.
Aaron: Thank you.
Guy: Thank you for inviting us.
Regan: Thank you, Rebecca and John.
As faculty we don’t always have the opportunity to talk to students about their overall learning experience and what has worked well for them as students. In this episode, Christine Harrington joins us to discuss what keeps students engaged, from their perspective, and how that ties to research on teaching and learning.
Christine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at New Jersey City University and the author of Keeping Us Engaged (and several other books related to teaching, learning, and student success). Christine has been the Executive Director of the Student Success Center at the NJ Council of County Colleges.
- Harrington, C. (2021). Keeping Us Engaged: Student Perspectives (and Research-based Strategies) on What Works and Why. Stylus Publishing, LLC
- Harrington, C., & Thomas, M. (2018). Designing a Motivational Syllabus: Creating a Learning Path for Student Engagement. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
- Harrington, C., & Zakrajsek, T. D. (2017). Dynamic Lecturing: Research-Based strategies to enhance lecture effectiveness. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
- Smith, Ashley A. (2018). The Persistence Project. Inside Higher Ed. March 13.
- Pecha Kucha
- Playlist of student videos student video presentations
- Stylus webinar presentation on Keeping Us Engaged
- Harrington, C. (2018). Student Success in College: Doing What Works! Cengage Learning.
John: As faculty we don’t always have the opportunity to talk to students about their overall learning experience and what has worked well for them as students. In this episode, we discuss what keeps students engaged from their perspective and how that ties to research on teaching and learning.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.
Rebecca: Our guest today is Christine Harrington, an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at New Jersey City University and the author of Keeping Us Engaged and several other books related to teaching, learning, and student success. Christine has been the executive director of the Student Success Center at the New Jersey Council of County Colleges. Welcome back, Christine.
Christine: Thank you so much, Rebecca and John. It’s my pleasure to be here again
John: Today’s teas are:
Christine: I’m having water today, John, how about you?
John: I’m drinking vanilla almond black tea.
Rebecca: Hey, that sounds good. John, where’d you get that from?
John: I had it before on a podcast. It was a gift from my son at Christmas.
Rebecca: Oh, yeah, I think I do remember that. I love almond tea. I haven’t had any in a long time. I have Irish breakfast tea today.
John: So we’ve invited you back to talk about your newest book entitled Keeping Us Engaged: Student Perspective and Research-Based Strategies on What Works and Why, which you co-authored with a small group of 50 students. [LAUGHTER] Could you tell us a little bit about how this came about?
Christine: Sure, John, I would love to. In fact, I have to tell you, this is one of my favorite book projects that I’ve ever worked on. It certainly was not an easy task working with 50 different student contributors, but what a rewarding one. So here’s the story of how it came out. I think you know I served as the director of our teaching and learning center at Middlesex County College, which is located in central New Jersey for a number of years. And then I left and went to the state level, as Rebecca had shared. I was the executive director of the Center for Student Success. And then when I came back to Middlesex, I went back into my role as the Director of Teaching and Learning. And the last session that I hosted there, right before I took the new position that I have right now as Associate Professor and Co-coordinator in a new doctoral program on the Ed.D. in Community College leadership, was a student panel. And this student panel was so incredibly well received by faculty. After you do a professional development event, you always have a few faculty at the end coming up to whoever the presenter is and talking with them and engaging in deeper dialogue. Well, the line was [LAUGHTER], I think, out the door for how many faculty wanted to hear more from the students who were really sharing what worked for them in the classroom, and what faculty did that really made a difference for them. So inspiring, and so moving. So I was thinking that if this worked so well in a professional development setting, that we need to get this word out in a much broader way. We need to bring the student voice, which is the voice that is often missing. But it’s all professionals hanging out together, and excellent professionals and strong research. And I’ve always been kind of a research Queen in all of this, being very tied to only sharing research-based strategies with fellow colleagues. But the absence of the student voice was really something that just kind of was glaring, at that very moment. So I decided I wanted to try to embark on this process. And I’m so, so excited to share that this is out and the 50 students contributors who were just a joy to work with, an absolutely joy.
John: The mix of students is really diverse in terms of age, in terms of the modality in which they’re taking the classes, their geographical location, and in terms of ethnicity, gender, race, and so forth. You’ve got a lot of diversity in there in terms of students. How did you find that collection of students?
Christine: A lot of that was luck, actually. [LAUGHTER] So as it always is, right? I was really hoping to get a diverse group of students to contribute. But it’s really hard to make that happen. And I was really very lucky. I leaned on faculty colleagues, for the most part. So believe it or not, I went on listservs I went on the POD listserv, the first-year experience listserv to see if there’s anyone who was able to assist me and then I leaned on some of my professional networks. So I did reach out to people where maybe they invited me to present and they knew of my other teaching and learning work and I knew that they had direct access to students. So I kind of looked through my Rolodex… if you call it that anymore, right? [LAUGHTER] …of professionals, and I started to email people. And I would ask either teaching and learning center director type folks or faculty, “I’m embarking on this new project, do you have any students who might be interested?” …and I tried to emphasize to those faculty or directors that I was looking for a diverse group of students, but some of the students just answered the call. Some faculty just put it out there to their class. And then it all depends on who’s interested in doing this kind of work. And then, to be honest, I also, as a mom of college students, I had a little network myself, [LAUGHTER] in my personal world, so I leaned on my children and asked them if they would be willing to talk with some of their friends. I got to tell you, that didn’t lead to as many [LAUGHTER] leads as my professional role did, but I did get a bunch. And actually, when you lean on the moms a little bit, just kind of put it out there to some of my mom networks. “If any of your college students are interested in being a part of this….” So they put a little bit of pressure on their children to participate as well. So I got really lucky and I am really so grateful, to be honest with you, to all of my colleagues as well as the students because I wouldn’t have found all these students without the network that I developed. So I’m very, very grateful to everyone who helped me identify students as well as the students who were willing to engage in this process and become a contributor.
Rebecca: Thanks for sharing that process. One of the things that I know, in the land of design that we talk about a lot, is an inclusive design process. We talked a lot about an inclusive classroom, but we don’t talk about the design process being inclusive. And what you’ve just described is that inclusive design process where you recruit folks who are ultimately the audience of the education, to co-contribute or to co-write or to co-research and share their insights as part of the process. And so I really love that you’re modeling that in what you’re doing.
Christine: Thanks so much, I appreciate that feedback. And it is so important to have the student voice front and center. And I’m just honored to have been a part of creating this because I think it really is so critical.
John: Your book consists of five main chapters on the syllabus and the start of the class the first day, the power of relationship, teaching strategies, meaningful assignments, and feedback. Could you give us some examples of some of the research based-strategies that you discussed and some of the discussion that came from students about the impact of those strategies?
Christine: John, it’s interesting, I had a draft table of contents that I sent out to students. So I had some ideas about what kinds of stories I might get from students. But my initial Table of Contents had to get modified significantly in order to fit the stories that I received, because students would say, “Well, I don’t have a story for that, but I have a story for this.” So I’m like, “Okay, I shouldn’t really be dictating the path here.” So I started more with the research lens and trying to get the student voice to support it, and then kind of scratch that. And I had to instead lead with the student voice, and then I only wanted to really provide stories that were research based. So the good news is every single thing that came across my desk from students was grounded in research, it was not hard to look for that evidence, it was really just kind of a repackaging of it. But many of the things that we already know, such as transparency and being clear with expectations at the beginning. There were several students who talked about the syllabus, even if their story wasn’t about the syllabus, because many students said, “Well, on the first day of class, usually it’s a boring overview of the syllabus,” …there were several references of that nature, even though they weren’t talking about it. So people wanted to have more engagement on the first day of class, which we all know is really important, but to hear how powerful it was, from their perspective was critical. And then this one student really talked about how so many syllabi that he received were not clear in terms of what the expectations were, and then changed frequently. So it was like a moving target. So the lack of clarity, and the lack of transparency, really, in terms of what’s expected of students is something that I think we all know we need to be better at. But this student really just kind of put that wonderful perspective on the importance of that. So that would be one example. And you folks know, I wrote an entire book on a syllabus, so I could have gone on and on about the syllabus, but I didn’t want that to take over this book. But it was interesting to see how, without my solicitation, people are really talking about the power of those early actions. And not just the syllabus, John, but also the first day of class. So lots of students talked about the power of giving them opportunities to get to know each other, but not just in a true icebreaker format, but in a connected way to the class. So one student in particular talked about how on the first day of class, his faculty member gave them a survey and they had to answer all these random questions about their height. What did they think the average SAT score was of the class? How many siblings did they have, and was interesting because they give you a little window into their judgments of us. [LAUGHTER] And this particular student said, “Does he just need something to do for a few minutes like thi? He needs some time to get an administrative task and just try to entertain us for a couple of minutes?” But then he said, ”Oh, I quickly realized how powerful this was,” because it was a class that was based on statistical analysis. And they were able to use all of the class data really to teach the students about all the statistical concepts. So he saw the relevance immediately, because now it wasn’t these textbook cases with all these examples that aren’t meaningful and relevant to them. But it was actually their data. So their engagement was much higher. So that’s just another example of the research that speaks so highly and so importantly, about the first day of class actions and helping people feel comfortable. And there was one student he talked about this happening in a large class because I know a lot of times faculty will say, “This isn’t so hard to do if it’s a small class, but if it’s a large class, that’s not an easy task, and how are we supposed to make the students comfortable?” And this particular student talked about how they had a couple of different ways they could contribute and one that they could even do some dance moves, you know, just interjecting some fun into the first day of class and how memorable that was. It was really memorable and the emotion that they felt on that first day of just feeling okay made it easier for them to tackle the more challenging academic tasks that lie ahead and feel okay about that. Because now he felt like the faculty is approachable… they went so crazy to be dancing in front of us in front of the class to really show us that they care about us, like that really mattered. I know the other one that really came up several times, which is no big surprise, and I think you won’t be shocked by it at all. Just know me… you know… know my name, and how like blown away this one student was when their faculty member said, “I’m going to know all your names by next week” and not only knew their names, but knew something about them, and greeted them personally when they walked into class, blew them away, because they realized how big a task that is… simple on the surface, knowing someone’s name, but not when you have hundreds of students every semester. That’s not a small task as we all know. It’s easy to say and hard to do. So the effort that went into that was really, really powerful. And of course, I could go on and on talking about the meaningful assignments, That was another chapter that I thought I was going to turn that one into a whole book [LAUGHTER] Students have a lot to say about the nature of the assignments. And we don’t always think about assignments as an engagement tool, we think about them more so as a learning tool, we hope it engages them with the content. But, many of the assignments will beyond the content and engage them and so much more in their communities, if it was a service-based learning activity… making a difference. But you can see very clearly that many of the examples that they gave were about giving me something to do that had purpose. And that’s grounded in theory. We know that if you care about something, and you feel like there’s value in it, you’re gonna put forth more effort. So all of their strategies that they talked about had such good theoretical and research-based grounding.
Rebecca: With working with such a diverse group of students. I’m curious, in addition to changing how you were framing, how to get stories and how to frame your book, what else was really surprising about working with the students?
Christine: I don’t know if this is surprising, but the most rewarding part was how engaged they were in the process. And maybe that was a little surprising. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know how many students I was going to get. I didn’t aim to get 50, like I didn’t really have a goal in mind, I wanted to just get some students, and they just flooded in and they were so interested. And several students wrote more than one story. They’re like, “I have another story to tell,” I’m like, “well then tell it.” So I think the level of engagement they had and how excited they were about this opportunity, what that said to me was that students want to be able to write. Some of these contributors, they’re reaching out to me afterwards, they’re like, “If you have another project, I’ve loved working on this with you. I’d love to partner with you in the future. If you know about other ways I can get involved in writing, this was such a great experience for me.” So I think sometimes we forget how powerful it can be for students, I guess surprising was… maybe I’m surprised at myself for forgetting… that I was just so eager to help other faculty, I wasn’t realizing I was helping the students too. It wasn’t my initial intent, although I’m always about helping students. I was really kind of forward facing and helping their future students was my aim. But it seemed like I really ended up helping many of them too. So that was really terrific. And they were so open to the editing process, because that was a little challenging. Everyone’s stories came in in different forms and shapes. And I had to bring one voice to the overall structure, although I didn’t want them to lose their voice at all, in terms of their story. So I sent everything back to them to make sure they were comfortable with it. If you don’t like any of the edits I made, please let me know, I’m just trying to make it flow well here and everyone gave a little bit of “Who’s using this voice who’s using that voice.” And then sometimes I would also have to encourage them to give me more. So it was a little less personal, like a little more academic. They viewed it more like an academic task. And they were just telling you what the assignment was and why it mattered. I’m like, “Can you give me your voice a little more?” So I’d have to go back and ask them, “Tell me why that really mattered to you. You describe the ‘what they did,’ but I need to hear more your reaction. As a reader, and as faculty reading this, they’re gonna want to know what it was about that because that’s going to help faculty change.” And then as you probably saw, I asked everyone to end with a tip for our faculty: “If you were going to do this, what would you recommend?” So I gave them that structure. What was the strategy? Why did this matter to you? And then what advice do you have for faculty? And they really did find that structure, I think, to work well, because I didn’t have to do a tremendous amount of editing, just a little bit of pushing for some more. And once in a while, I had to cut a little bit of the story because it was too long, you know, [LAUGHTER] for page counts and all. So, I had to say, is it okay, if I have to reduce it, this part to me seemed less important. I want to make sure that’s the case, from your perspective, is too.
John: That seems to tie in pretty well with the chapter you have on meaningful assignments, because students saw that there was some intrinsic value in what they were doing. They saw that it had a purpose, that it might make an impact, and might make life better for people. Is that the type of thing that you and they address in the chapter on meaningful assignments?
Christine: So that was interesting. Some of the tasks that I got, I was not surprised by getting the authentic learning experiences, the service learning, experiential learning. To me, I really was expecting those. So that wasn’t shocking at all. But there was a student who talked about the importance of helping her develop her foundational knowledge. So when you see there are some tasks there that are really just helping them build some of the essential skills, which I know are important. I didn’t guess that students were going to write about those, they’re not always as interesting as the other kinds of tasks. So I was kind of a little bit surprised by that. Even the value of quizzes. And we talked a lot about that value, testing effect and how important that is, but students saw the value of that. And then the linking of formative to summative assessments was something that several students talked about. When their faculty built in these, what they call checkpoints, along the way, and gave them feedback on those assignments, so they could tell whether they were going in the right direction or not, they were incredibly grateful to that. And that kind of dips into the feedback chapter too. That was really great. Something I wasn’t expecting as much was the creativity, several students wanted assignments that gave them more room for creativity, and the value in that. Again, there was a student in particular, [LAUGHTER] who shared her inner thought process on day one. And again, it was a syllabus, the faculty member was going over the syllabus, and there was this whole big long series of assignments and activities that they needed to do. And I think she used some kind of terminology such as “is this professor trying to squeeze every little tiny bit that she can out of us in this short amount of time we have together?” …and oh my god, this sounds not so exciting. But then she said two things that really mattered to her: one was she was going to get choice in the nature of the final project. So she got to bring her own creativity to that. And the second was, everything was connected. So it wasn’t a series of unrelated assignments, they could see everything culminating in this final project that really did seem to make a difference, but also gave them the opportunity to shine in the way they wanted to shine. And you mentioned diversity at the beginning of our talk. I think one of the most powerful things we can do in terms of promoting equity is to provide students with more choice. Students often have very little choice in a course. They might have a choice about what major or curriculum, they might have choices, and sometimes not as many as they used to, about what to take within a curriculum. And then once you get to a course, your choices are often… not always but often… restricted to “What topic do you want this paper to be on? or presentation do you want this to be on, within obviously, the confines of the course matter?” But not always being flexible? Like why does it always have to be a paper? Is that the only skill set that we’re trying to develop is academic writing? What about writing for public scholarship or for organizations? This one student talked about this great example where she needed to write for her own work. And this resulted in the organization changing something that she was so hopeful would happen. But she said I would have never been empowered to have that conversation as a entry-level worker in the field with my boss had it not been based on this assignment. I was able to go in and feel empowered and say, “I have this assignment, we’re supposed to come in with a suggestion about something to improve the way that our world of work works. And I have a suggestion, and here it is.” And then they implemented it, and she was blown away. So when you think about that, it’s just amazing at how the assignments don’t only build skills, but they build confidence, they empower…. of course, they can also make a difference beyond the classroom when you allow it to.
Rebecca: Yeah, when students feel like, “Yeah, I can do this,” they just want more. You’re inviting them to the table, showing them that they can have a feast, and then they want more and more because it works out for them.
Christine: Absolutely. And quite honestly, you do that for organizations, they then value the work that we do more, and we can then create and establish stronger partnerships with those who we’re trying to serve. I mean, isn’t that kind of what we’re doing? We’re supposed to be partnering with industry more, and I don’t think we always do a great job at that. And then we’ll be better attuned to what kind of assignments we really need to have to meet industry needs. And again, I know that the entire degree is not just about workforce training and development and just career track focus. But we do need to be responsive to the needs of the workforce. If we’re not, someone else is going to step in and do it. So if we can be more creative and ensure that our assignments are aligned to what employers need, I think we’re also doing a great service to them too, and getting them excited about the partnership as well.
John: And students do sometimes appreciate being able to get a job when they graduate. [LAUGHTER]
Christine: Sometimes. [LAUGHTER] And their parents really do after paying all that tuition, right? [LAUGHTER]
John: When you were talking about the variety of assignments, and in the discussion in the book, it sounds really consistent with a UDL approach to teaching. Is that something that you would advocate based on what you’ve been hearing back from students?
Christine: Absolutely. I mean, I think this does go back to course design in general. So backward design, UDL,being aware of accessibility issues, trying to provide pathways for students to strengthen and shine at the same time. So I think that If you can do all of that on the front end… and students, they knew it when faculty were being careful and really carefully thinking about the curriculum, it was clear to them that this didn’t get pulled out of a hat. And here’s an idea for today to fill the space. But it was a thoughtful, clear process that was allowing students the freedom and flexibility of choice when possible. And I think, at the end of the day, isn’t that what backward design and UDL principles are all about? …is really ensuring that the learning outcomes are met in a way that all students can meet them. And it’s not a one size fits all, let’s be honest, it’s not the only way to do it. It doesn’t all have to be through this type of assignment, I think it can be many choices within those. Now, I don’t think that we want to just give a free for all, we do have learning outcomes that need to get accomplished. So I don’t want anyone to misinterpret my passion for choice to be that you shouldn’t be in charge of your curriculum. I’m actually not a giant fan of students co-creating the curriculum, because that’s a tough job. And it’s really exhausting. So I think faculty, as experts in the field, need to create their curriculum, but know where the choices can be made, to where students can engage in the decision making, I should say, But absolutely, I think backward design, UDL, all those principles, you can see them front and center.
Rebecca: We want our students to be thoughtful about the work they do, we need to be modeling that as well.
Christine: That we do… that we do. [LAUGHTER] I’ll tell you a quick funny story, Rebecca, I was just talking to one of my students the other day, and it was very sweet of her. It was a doctoral student, and she was saying, “I can’t believe how well this is all going. I love the way you structure your class. And I feel so engaged in an online class. And I forgot I’m even in an online class, because we’re always kind of connected.” And I said, “It’s not through chance that that happens.” [LAUGHTER] We work really hard. Me and my colleagues work really hard at creating this curriculum to ensure that that happens.” I said, “But I’ll tell you, ever since I started writing books on teaching and learning, I have to make sure I’m on my A game, man. Like, you can’t write a book on designing a motivational syllabus and then have a syllabus that’s pretty crappy. So I feel this immense pressure every time I’m designing a course, a syllabus, all these activities. You can’t write about engaging students, and then not engage them.” Like I got to practice what I’m preaching. So it is good for us to do that, but it’s challenging. It’s easy to say we should do it, and it’s really a lot of work as you all know. My husband always jokes with me, every time I’m getting ready to teach a class, he’s like, “Haven’t you taught that before? Like, why are you acting like you haven’t done this before.” And I always say, “But I knew I could do it better.” So it’s like, I spend like 80% of my time before the class starts prepping and planning and really structuring the semester and designing it in a way that, if it’s designed, well the rest should be kind of like I’m on autopilot. And then of course, you’re engaging and modifying and being flexible along the way. But the bulk of the work should be done before the semester starts if it’s planned well.
John: That’s what I always tell myself. And I’m always planning to do it that way. And what I generally will do is design the approach for the course and the first module. And then I get tied up with workshops and other things. And then I’m spending all my time during the course just trying to keep up with it. And it’s something I strongly discourage other people from doing. And I’ve tried to discourage myself from doing it, but I haven’t yet been successful.
Christine: The problem is, as faculty, we’re human too, right? [LAUGHTER] We are not perfect either. And it is hard to do that. And it takes intentionality. And when you’re in a position such as yours, you do a lot of professional development work, that’s front end of the semester, too. So everything’s at the same time. So I know when I was wearing that teaching and learning center director hat, it was even harder because I’m trying to help everyone else. And then they’d be all set. And I’m like, “Well, now what about my classes?” You know, I’ve got to take care of those do. But I’ve always tried to help others first and then you got to get there. But I’m telling you, when you do it that way, it is so much better. And I’m in a new program, so now every course I’m teaching, it’s like the first time I’m teaching it… for real, like it’s not just like it is. it is.[LAUGHTER]. And so, it’s exhausting. But I’m actually teaching a course now the second time and I’m like, “Oh, this is nice.” Course, I’ve revamped it. And it’s way different because I made a million mistakes the first time. It is important for us to do, but it’s so hard to do. If we could only practice that would be a much better position [LAUGHTER]… for the rest of the semester anyway,
John: Speaking of new circumstances, what type of teaching are you doing during this pandemic?
Christine: Well, I was teaching in an online program anyway, so I didn’t have to modify as much as others. However, I had to still significantly modify when the pandemic hit last year. We’re very lucky. We have a program that is asynchronous, but it has synchronous components. So we stepped up the synchronous components to serve as a source of support to students, which I think many others did too. All optional and recorded. So if they couldn’t be there, but they wanted to participate or wanted to learn or wanted to hear what others are saying, they could listen. A lot more one-on-one meetings I’m starting to do with students and small group meetings. Honestly, the small group for my own sanity, I was trying to do what was best for them at first, which was one on ones, and then at some point, I’m like, [LAUGHTER] “this is not going to be sustainable for me to do this as frequently as I want to, so I’m going to have to mix the one on ones with the small group meetings.” So for instance, right now, I’m doing 15-minute meetings with students, I started off hour, then I went to half hour, and I’m like, okay, 15 minutes, I think that’s the amount of time I could do and do regularly enough so that I can feel connected. [LAUGHTER] And I package that with these other small group and full class meetings. And I think that that seems to be a great balance for our students. My course I feel like was well designed from the get go. So I didn’t have to modify so much of the design. But because the pandemic, my students are community college practitioners and their world, like everyone else’s world in education, was turned upside down. And they probably would never have signed up to be in a doctoral program in the middle of this pandemic, [LAUGHTER] if they knew that was gonna happen. So even though our course is online, we still had to modify things significantly, in order to adjust for their life circumstance, we had to really take a good laser focus on what were the essential learning outcomes? and what could we let go and push them to another class down the road (because it’s a cohort-based model), and what did we absolutely have to get done that semester? So in terms of engaging students, I think, in the online environment, it’s usually a variety of synchronous and asynchronous, although you’ll see in my book, there are several students who really talked about the asynchronous online that worked well. But there are some more synchronous things that work well too. I’ll give you one example of a strategy that we used for orientation to the program and their icebreaker activity getting to know you, we had students do a Pecha Kucha, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Pecha Kucha, but for those who are listening who aren’t, it means chit chat. And it’s 20 slides, images only, 20 seconds each slide, we modified it as 15 slides so we can make it a clean five minutes each and we have them do a Pecha Kucha about themselves. So introduce yourself to the class for a Pecha Kucha, and my faculty colleague and I modeled it first prior to that day, so they could see what it looked like and then they had time to work on it. It was one of the best activities because we’ve learned so much about the students in five minutes, it was well worth the time that it took and it took a couple of class days to do that. But it was worth it. It was really, really valuable and students felt connected to each other immediately. So we were able to do that in an online format. We had done that previously in an in-person orientation, but it worked just fine online. And actually one student talked about the Pecha Kucha in the book too, so you can hear a student perspective on that as well.
John: In each of your chapters, you’ve got a nice mix of both discussion of effective strategies and student reactions to that and their perceptions of and how they’ve received those strategies. But you also include a section on faculty reflection questions. That’s not something I’ve seen in many books on teaching and learning. Could you tell us a little bit about why you chose it.
Christine: So, the more I’ve been reflecting on my own teaching practices and the previous role I held as Teaching and Learning Center Director, the more convinced I am about the importance of reflection. And even listening to the students’ stories that were coming in… service learning, for instance, as you know, that strong reflection component in that. So most of our learning really does require that reflection. And you just described earlier, John, how we can’t always even plan, nevermind reflect. [LAUGHTER] That’s a luxury item that doesn’t normally happen. And yet, if we don’t, we’re really missing out on something valuable. So I wanted to intentionally put those questions there for faculty to engage in self reflection. But I also anticipated that teaching and learning center directors might want to use them as good book discussion conversation starters, for faculty to really do a deeper dive and consider their own practices: In what ways do i do some of what the students suggested and what the research says works? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I read some of the things, the stories they gave, and I’m like, I used to do that and then I stopped doing that. I have no idea why. That was something I used to love doing and I just dropped it and I don’t know why. I guess something else filled it’s space. I had no good reason for it. So even reflecting on what we have done that really works and maybe revisiting and bringing some of that back, but then what we can do to really push ourselves a little bit more and thinking about it again, from an inclusive kind of lens as well… You’ll see throughout the book, I provide a decent amount, I think, of research and data that really looks at racial equity. And that’s a really important issue for us to look at. Let me just share one example with you, and this is actually comes from public scholarship. This is not a peer-reviewed scholarship research at all. I found this I think it was on Inside Higher Ed and I was so really impressed by it. A community college basically did 15 minute meetings with their students. So they encouraged faculty, it wasn’t mandatory, it was a voluntary, strongly encouraged kind of scenario. And they asked faculty would you do this 15-minute challenge and have one 15 minutet meeting with all of your students, and Joe in the book, all the specific data, but the main story is any student who had at least one faculty member do that had significantly higher retention and persistence rates. But when you did an equity breakdown,when you disaggregated the data, black students, the equity difference between those who had a faculty member do this and those who did it, it was even a more significant jump there in terms of having a benefit. So I think that those reflective questions help us reflect on our own practices, and trying to meet the needs of our diverse student population and gets you to think about who you can go and reach out to and what action steps do I need to take. So I felt like reflection was a great vehicle to process and hopefully push faculty into action, whether that’s through group discussion or individual reflection.
John: We always talk about the importance of students reflecting on their work and encouraging reflection on their part. It’s really nice to see you encouraging faculty to do it there. And that’s a really good suggestion about doing that with a reading group too, as a group discussion.
Rebecca: It seems like that modeling thing is trying to happen again, I don’t know.
Christine: You’ve got to practice what you’re preaching, right? [LAUGHTER]
Rebecca: I really love that the examples and stuff that students gave you were also really a reflection activity on their own learning experiences. So there’s a lot of layers of reflection built into how you have these chapters constructed.
Christine: Yes, absolutely. And really, I was not intentional from the get go, it kind of evolved throughout. I wish I could take credit for that completely and saying I structured in that way. But it just kind of happened, I guess, by the nature of the process. And I’m really glad that that did happen. And I’m glad to be able to practice what we’re preaching and trying to get faculty to engage in that process, too.
Rebecca: Christine, can you talk about any companion materials that you might have with this book, I know you’ve provided some great companion materials in the past.
Christine: Sure, Rebecca. So I was very fortunate to already have presented on this at a national conference. And as I was preparing to present on it, I said to myself, I can share their stories, but you know who would be better at sharing their stories would be the students themselves. So I reached out to my students, and I said, “Okay, the book is coming out, we’re really excited about it.” And many of them, I think, were frustrated to how long the process… we all always are, [LAUGHTER] you know, and then we had the pandemic that slowed us down even more. But anyway, they were so excited the book was finally coming out. And I said, “Look, I don’t want to ask too much of you, because I know you’re in the middle of still taking classes or you just graduated and have a new job. But I would love for you to share your story yourself so that your voice really shines through.” So I asked students, I didn’t get all 50 of them to do this, but I got maybe a dozen or so of the students who were willing to share a video. And what I did was I embedded those into the presentation. So when I gave this presentation at a national conference, there was a nice mix of me sharing some of the research and theory, me sharing some quotes from the stories and then also playing a minute or so video of students telling, in their own words, their story, which was really powerful. So I really love that that happened. So I do have a playlist that is available with the students, please. And I do have a recording of my webinar also with the student voices embedded into it. So I think that faculty will really appreciate that. And of course, I’m actually getting ready to do a conference, it may be my first real live in-person conference, again, post pandemic, this summer. I’m going out to a university and if I get out there in person, I’ll certainly be sharing those voices. So I’m so grateful to students who I can’t necessarily always take me in tow with to the conferences, but I can through the technology bring their voices to many different faculties. So I’m always happy to present if there’s any opportunities out there.
Rebecca: That’s really exciting.
John: Are those links public?
Christine: Yes, actually there on the Stylus website as well. But I can get them to you if you want to be able to link to them. That’s fine. I’m pretty much a public gal. So I share all my resources on my public website. And the videos are also public as well.
John: So we’ll share links to those in the show notes.
Rebecca: And then we always wrap up by asking what’s next? And it seems very loaded these days during the pandemic to ask that question. But what’s next?
Christine: Well, I just found out it’s time for the fourth edition of my student success textbook. So my textbook is Student Success in College: Doing What Works. And I’m really excited about this opportunity to revise that. Although I felt like the third edition was strong. I know I can make it stronger. And I’m really looking forward to that process. So that answered that question. I didn’t have to go looking for anything. Something came and knocked on my door and said it’s time. [LAUGHTER] And I’m working a lot with my doctoral students on public scholarship. So I really want to do more. You folks know I love doing presentations. Hopefully next is more in-person conferences and presentations because I miss that so much… getting together with faculty. I’ve been doing a ton of virtual events and I love doing that too. I don’t miss the plane part of it. Although right now I missed the plane part of it, but give me two or three trips and I won’t miss that part anymore. [LAUGHTER] But the physical getting together with folks is definitely something I do miss, I’m getting ready to present at the Midwest SoTL conference, actually next week. That one is on designing a motivational syllabus with equity in mind. So I have a lot of different presentations coming up. So my big book project will be the revision. And then I want to work on blogs and infographics, LinkedIn posts, things of that nature, on a variety of topics. You know, my passion is the community college, and really the diverse student population that we serve, to ensure that we’re doing the best we can to try to reduce equity gaps and increase student success.
Rebecca: Well, sounds like you’re gonna have a busy year… as always.
Christine: I know. Every time one project ends, another one comes. [LAUGHTER] And everyone tells me “You’ve got to learn to say ‘no.’” And I’m like, “I don’t really know how to do that, because you don’t say no to a fourth edition. You don’t say no to doing a keynote presentation.” These are things I love doing. And I’ve come to realize that this is going to be my hobby, too. I was feeling for a while that I’m a workaholic, and I need to have something else. And actually, my son said to me, “Mom, you get up at 4am and you start working, you wouldn’t do that if you didn’t love it.” He goes: “Why don’t you just pretend that really is your hobby.” And so I think it is. [LAUGHTER] I think it’s my work and my hobby all wrapped up and so on. And I do, I love what I do. So I enjoy it. I love it. So it’s all good. I’m just gonna stop beating myself up over the work-life balance and just forget about that. [LAUGHTER] So, it’s just what it is. [LAUGHTER]
John: I think that’s probably true for us as well, to some extent.
Rebecca: Definitely. Well, thanks again for joining us, Christine. We always enjoy talking to you.
Christine: Oh, same here. I really appreciate it. I’m so glad you folks continue to do this. It’s such good work. And I know that the faculty who listen are so appreciative. So thank you for your leadership.
Rebecca: Thank you.
John: It’s been a lot of fun. Thank you.
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.
- Course Workload Estimator
- Workload Estimator version 2
- Barre, Betsy (2021). The Workload Dilemma. Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Wake Forest University. January 22.
- Noetel, M., Griffith, S., Delaney, O., Sanders, T., Parker, P., del Pozo Cruz, B., & Lonsdale, C. (2021). Video improves learning in higher education: A systematic review. Review of Educational Research, 91(2), 204-236.
- Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257.
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.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist&hellip
John: &hellipand Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.
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.
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.
- Major, C. H., Harris, M. S., & Zakrajsek, T. (2021). Teaching for learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success. Routledge.
- Google Jamboard
- Kelly, K., & Zakrajsek, T. D. (2020). Advancing Online Teaching: Creating Equity-Based Digital Learning Environments. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
- Kevin Kelly and Todd Zakrajsek (2021). 172. Advancing Online Learning. Tea for Teaching. January 27.
- POD Network
- Lilly Conferences
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.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.
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.
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.
The pandemic forced many faculty to experiment in different modalities in 2020. In this episode, we reflect on our own teaching experiences with synchronous online courses this year.
- 15. Civic Engagement – February 7, 2018 Tea for Teaching podcast with Allison Rank (in which Vote Oswego was discussed).
- Lumen Learning Waymaker
- LinkedIn Learning
- Mazur, E. (1999). Peer instruction: A user’s manual.
- Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. John Wiley & Sons.
John: As we approach the end of a really challenging year, we’d like to thank all of our guests who provided so much help and support to us and all of our listeners, and we’d like to thank you, our listeners, for hanging in there with us. We’ve all learned a lot in 2020 and we’re looking forward to a chance to apply what we’ve learned in circumstances in which there are fewer external threats.
…and now we return to our regularly scheduled podcast.
The pandemic forced many faculty to experiment in different modalities in 2020. In this episode, we reflect on our own teaching experiences with synchronous online courses this year.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.
Rebecca: Over the past few months, we’ve talked a lot about the pandemic and ways to adjust our teaching. And we’ve talked a lot about online learning, but we haven’t really focused on synchronous learning. John and I both taught synchronously this semester. So we decided that in this episode, we would focus a little bit more on synchronous learning and what we’ve learned about it in our own experiments in our classes.
John: Our teas today are:
Rebecca: I have Scottish breakfast once again.
John: …and I have a blend of spearmint and peppermint tea.
Rebecca: That sounds much healthier than my choice.
John: It’s not my first tea of the day.
Rebecca: This is not mine, either.
John: This is my first herbal tea of the day.
Rebecca: This is my second pot of the day. [LAUGHTER]
John: So, Rebecca, what classes were you teaching this fall?
Rebecca: I was teaching two design classes that are smaller. So I had one web design course that was stacked. So, it had beginning, intermediate and advanced students in it, 25 students, and we met synchronously, but also had asynchronous classes, it’s considered a studio course. So for a three credit course, we have six hours of class time, and three hours of outside work, which is a different balance than maybe other folks. And then the other class I was teaching was a special topics design course, which was smaller, it was about 10 students. And that class was also synchronous, but it was a project-based class, and we worked on two community design projects: one for a project called Vote Oswego, which was a get-out-the-vote initiative on campus, and the second is a project called “Recollection,” which is a storytelling project with adult care facilities.
John: And we do have an earlier podcast on an earlier iteration of Vote Oswego. So we’ll include a link to that in the show notes.
Rebecca: So John, what kind of classes are you teaching? We obviously don’t teach the same thing.
John: I was teaching two classes this fall. One was a large synchronous session with 288 students. And the other was a fully asynchronous section with 60 students this semester,
Rebecca: At what level were the students in both of your classes?
John: These were both introductory economics classes. So most students in the class were freshmen, and it was their first economics course.
Rebecca: So, your classes are much larger than mine, you’re teaching much more younger students or newer students, and my classes are smaller, project-based, and usually junior or senior students.
John: Yes. And there’s certainly some differences in the disciplines as well.
Rebecca: No, that they’re the same. [LAUGHTER]
John: Why did you choose a synchronous mode of delivery rather than an asynchronous mode, or a face-to-face option this fall?
Rebecca: So I chose not to do face-to-face delivery for my own health reasons, I chose to not be on campus for my own safety, because I have a chronic illness. So I chose specifically to have strong synchronous components, because a lot of our students are used to working in a studio together and having a community around each other and kind of feed off of each other’s work and work collaboratively. And I wanted, because of the classes I was teaching, to continue to have collaboration as a key part of my class. And I was really concerned that if I didn’t have a strong synchronous component, my students wouldn’t be able to effectively collaborate with each other, because there would be too much scheduling issues and what have you. So it’s a little bit of a carryover from the way that I would run my classes in person in that I give a lot of class time to project-based learning and team-based work and do a lot of lectures and things like that asynchronously in like a flipped classroom style. How about you, John?
John: Basically, I tried to preserve something as close as possible to what was originally scheduled or what was originally planned. And my large class is typically about 400 to 420 students, and I just couldn’t imagine taking that class and doing it in a completely asynchronous manner, because when I teach a class asynchronously, I give students lots of individual feedback, and it would be really challenging providing individual feedback to several hundred students. I just didn’t really have the time to do it in that sort of mode. So I thought it was better to work in a mode where I could give students feedback in a group setting using some interactive tools, where they’re all getting feedback at once. It was the only way I could see handling a group that large. If I was trying to do it as an online class, it would be effectively more in the form of a MOOC with very little interaction, either among the students or between me and the students.
Rebecca: One of the things that we both talked about before we started recording was how we both used a flipped classroom model to help with our synchronous session. So can you talk a little bit about how you did that and what students were doing outside of class.
John: This is actually, in many ways, similar to what I had done in a face-to-face class. Before each class, students would have some readings to work through. And I use the Lumen Learning Waymaker package, which is basically taking materials from a textbook, combining it with interactive multimedia, where they got to shift demand and supply curves and other curves around and see how they responded when they change parameters. And they read a bit in that online text and then they would work through some problems on it where they were allowed multiple attempts at those problems. I also created some videos with embedded questions that were at a somewhat higher level than the textbook readings, which was a little bit more challenging. And they were given unlimited attempts to work through those videos with the questions. And they also, outside of class, participated in discussion boards, where I asked them to relate what they were learning to things in the world around them, in their own lives and their own experiences.
Rebecca: …nice little inclusive teaching practice right there, right? …connecting students with their experience and making it relevant to them.
John: Right, because we know that students learn things most effectively when it has some salience, when they see the relevance to their life.
Rebecca: And the waymaker package, if I remember correctly, had some quizzing and stuff associated with that, and unlimited attempts, a version of retrieval practice there.
John: It’s a mix of things with unlimited attempts and limited attempts. So, the microeconomics Waymaker package is designed, and all of their Waymaker packages, for that matter, are designed, is that they start with a list of broad learning objectives. And they break it down at each module level to sub objectives. And they break those down into sub modules. So, in what would have been the equivalent of a chapter of a textbook, there’s usually two to four sub modules on particular aspects of that. And students work through that. And embedded in it, they have some review questions, some practice questions. And those they can take an unlimited number of times at any point in the course. Once they complete the module, they have a module quiz where they are limited to only two attempts at it. But they’re getting feedback on what they did well. And what they didn’t do well. It’s automatically color coded to indicate whether they mastered the material in one of the blocks of content in there. And then, if they take the module quiz, it will give them feedback on what areas they did well, and what areas they need to work at more. And they’re being directed back to the areas that they need to review. And there, they do have unlimited practice opportunities. And the other thing I did is I created my own videos that focused primarily on the topics that students generally find the most challenging. And in economics, that’s generally with either applications involving math or involving graphs. It was one module a week, and I would take the topics that I know, from past experience, they were likely to have the most problems with, I’d create my own videos with that. And I was using PlayPosit, which allows you to embed questions in there. Most of those videos I created were between five and 12 minutes in length. They would watch the videos and answer questions as they were going. And if they got one of the questions wrong, they could go back and replay that portion of the video and then try it again. And they were given unlimited opportunities for that.
Rebecca: I think you mentioned students really loved those opportunities.
John: At the end of the class, I gave them a Jamboard, which I know is something you’ve used more regularly, asking them what worked well. And there was very much universal agreement on the PlayPosit, as well as on the Waymaker aspects of the course. They really liked the fact that there were practice activities embedded right in their textbook, and that they could go back and try things over and over again until they mastered it. And it was giving them feedback on whether they had, in fact, attained mastery at every step. And it was a nice visual indication of what they’ve learned and what they still needed to work on more.
John: What did you do in your asynchronous components of your class?
Rebecca: Well, the balance of my classes, as I mentioned before, is a little wonky in that we’re supposed to spend more time in class and less time out. So asynchronously, I did a lot of independent stuff that students were not necessarily doing collaboratively. So this is where I had lecture videos that are recorded that were about the topics that they were going to be working on or introduce the component of the project that they were going to be doing. And then they also were completing things like LinkedIn Learning tutorials. And we also have access to D-Q University, which is a set of tutorials for accessibility, and teaches accessibility. So I took advantage of that package as well. And largely they were completing those kinds of tutorials, both of those have exercise files and that kind of thing that they can follow along with. They get little certificates. When they’re done completing there’s little quiz questions and stuff. So they were doing a lot of that kind of work asynchronously. They were also using Slack to communicate with their teams for independent things that they were working on that they needed to communicate out to teams when they were working on projects together. And I also use Slack as a place to have discussion. So like you, I had discussion questions that tried to make what we were talking about relevant. We were exploring design, specifically like web design and how they interacted as a consumer versus how they would interact as a maker and did a lot of observational studies. We also did some discussion boards that were really about design activities and things that got students off the computer. So they were just documenting what they did off-screen, offline. So things like listening to a podcast so that they didn’t have to be staring at a screen and what their takeaways were. They attended virtual conferences, which I guess was still on-screen, and did some sketching, like paper prototyping and some other methods that we like to encourage our students to do, just to kind of help balance the screen time a little bit for students. So that’s largely what they were doing asynchronously.
John: Were you having them submit some copies of that work in some way, or were they just reflecting on the work that they had done?
Rebecca: The little non screen activities were documented in a discussion, essentially, that we were holding on Slack, and then tutorials and things, they were just submitting their completed certificates. And so I broke down those LinkedIn Learning courses and things over multiple weeks. So they didn’t really submit those certificates until they were completed. But they were doing a little bit by little bit, but if they didn’t do the tutorials, they wouldn’t be able to do the projects or the actual work that we were doing of the class. So it was pretty important that they were doing those components outside of class.
John: Once your students were in class, what did you have them do in a typical class session?
Rebecca: The two classes I was teaching I handled a bit differently because of just the sheer volume of students in the bigger class, which was 25 students that were working on projects. They were working on collaborative projects, in teams of three, for the most part. And so what we would often do is show-and-tell’s or critiques in small groups. So let’s say there was two or three teams together that we would do a little critique with in a breakout room, while other teams were meeting and collaborating. We would also do things like come together to answer questions about things that they were working on, troubleshoot or whatever, and then go work on projects in breakouts for a bit. And then we’ll come back at a scheduled time. I also did one-on-one meetings with students during class time. So I’d set up things like a quiet work breakout room or the chatty breakout room. And students would pick the place that they wanted to go while they were working on projects. And then I would meet with them individually for critique, and often a lot of code troubleshooting is a lot of what I spend synchronous time doing. And students sometimes met with my TA to do the same thing, and with our small groups. I also did a lot of design challenges. And students really liked those and would like to do more to hold them accountable for the kind of material that they were learning outside of class or being introduced to outside of class in a low-stakes environment to test it out with some peers and troubleshoot. So I would pose a little design problem. And then they’d work in a small group to work on that problem in a very tight amount of time. They might spend 30 minutes… my classes are three hours long… or an hour, and then we’d come back and show them off or talk about different things. And I tried to make those design challenges fun and entertaining. So one of the first things we did, which worked really well to start gelling their teams that they were with the whole semester was designing an emoji for Slack that they used for their team. And they loved that assignment. It was partly about working at a small size, and so it was tied to some of the curriculum that we were doing, but it was fun. So they did that in a small team and then had to implement it. Later on in the semester, we did things like a 404 error page for their projects, which were just kind of entertaining. We tried to make them amusing, so that if you landed on a page, it was a good user experience. So things that maybe wouldn’t typically work on in one of my classes that were a little bit more fun, but really were emphasizing the technical and conceptual things that we were working on. The other thing that we use synchronous time for is I took advantage of our virtual platform, and I brought in alumni multiple times, and local designers multiple times and did little Q and A’s with them. Not every week, but every few weeks, or every couple weeks, I would bring in a designer for a 30-minute session. They’d introduce their work. And then students did a Q&A with them, which students really loved. And it broke up our time a bit and really gave them something special that maybe we didn’t always do in a face-to-face class that made the synchronous environment kind of special.
John: Excellent. That is a nice opportunity provided by Zoom that actually could work in the classroom too. But I think many of us just hadn’t really considered it so much. It doesn’t really matter where you are when you’re teaching in this sort of synchronous environment. So it’s very easy to bring in guest speakers and it’s something we’ve probably should have been doing more of in the past, but I think many of us will be doing more in the future.
Rebecca: So John, how did you use your synchronous time?
John: I had told students before each class session, what specific topics we’d be working on. And then most of the class time was spent asking him a series of problems of progressively higher levels of challenge. I basically adopted Eric Mazur’s clicker strategy of trying to find challenging questions where roughly half the class will get it wrong the first time and then letting them meet (in this case, I had the meet in breakout rooms), discussing it and coming back and voting again on it. And generally, you’d see a fairly significant increase in the performance after they’ve had that chance to engage in peer discussion. And that’s where a lot of the learning seems to happen when clickers are being used. I used iClicker. The only difference is students could not use a physical radio frequency clicker because they have a range of a couple 100 meters and students were spread out all over the world, I had one student in Egypt, I had students in South America and students spread throughout the country this time. So they needed to use either their laptop or a mobile device in order to do that. We discussed it as a whole class after they come back from the breakout rooms. And then I’d asked them to explain their choices. I generally have them use chat, and then I’d go through and correct any misperceptions they’d have. And I try to guide them to the correct answer by asking them questions, and letting them see for themselves why some of the answers were right, and some of them were wrong. And generally, that’s how we spent many of our classes. Initially, I was also using Kahoot! from time to time. They enjoyed Kahoot!, but I noticed a bit of a drop off when we were doing the Kahoot! sessions, because those were not graded. And with the clicker questions, they were being graded, and that tended to receive a somewhat higher level of interest. It was very low stakes, they got a certain number of points for an incorrect answer on either attempt, and they got a bit more points when they answered the question correctly. And initially, I was giving him three points for an incorrect answer, and five for a correct one. And they asked it perhaps that could be bumped up, because some of the questions were so challenging. And I did raise it. So they ended up getting four points for any answer, and five points for a correct answer. So it is extremely low stakes. So I tried to do a lot of retrieval practice in the class, where it started from essentially no stakes with the embedded questions in the reading, then it ramped up to in class applications of this, where they still get 80%, even if they got it wrong, but they had another chance to get it correct. And then they took that module quiz, and even there, they had two attempts at it. So if they made mistakes, they had lots of resources they could go back to and work on it. So I tried to set it up and provide them with many pathways to attain mastery of the content, and to encourage a growth mindset and to encourage them to recognize that people make mistakes when they’re learning and that there’s a lot of benefit from having those mistakes as part of your learning process. There’s a lot of research that shows that we learn things much more deepl if we get them wrong, when we first try it, we’re much more likely to remember it later on, then if we happen to get it correct, initially. In that case, we’re much more likely to forget it a bit later. And that was a bit of a challenge for students. But I think they eventually appreciated the fact that everything was fairly low stakes.
Rebecca: I think I’m seeing some themes in the things that, although we’re teaching very different classes in very different contexts, there’s some real big themes about how we’re using our synchronous time, and even how we’re using our asynchronous time. And so there’s an emphasis on peer interaction and establishing those peer networks, really enforcing or reinforcing things and dealing with muddy points. And then also just providing the encouragement and support like that low-stakes environment or trying to foster a growth mindset. So in my classes, I did the same thing. I was doing peer group work and trying to really get them to collaborate and troubleshoot together and they love that that… that was really valuable. I spent time doing live demos and troubleshooting, when there was a really troublesome technical component or something that they were trying to do that a lot of them were having trouble with, that they could ask me live questions. So that same muddy point kind of thing that you were getting to in what you were discussing. And then, finally, the growth mindset that you started bringing up, I’d also tried to do and, although I didn’t have a lot of low-stakes testing, or something like that, I set my projects up so they were done in sprints. So a long full-semester project was broken into multiple two-week sprints, where they would work on something, get feedback, and then could revisit whatever they did, and then add a new component to it. And so I did that throughout the whole semester. So there was a bit of retrieval practice, a bit of spaced practice in there, and certainly some fostering a growth mindset and the idea that you make mistakes and that’s how you learn. And I spent a lot of time… I don’t know if you experienced this too, John… but I experienced a lot of time in synchronous and saying like, “You can do this. It’ll be okay. And this is how the learning experience works.”
John: And I did have to do a lot of that, especially in the first few weeks of the semester, because they were not used to a flipped class environment. And they were not used to this notion of making mistakes and learning from mistakes as part of your learning process. Because most of them have come up through their elementary and secondary school system thinking that they need to memorize some things and reproduce it on exams. And they do well if they get high scores, and they don’t make mistakes. And that’s just not how we learn in general. And it was important, I think, to help remind them of that. Another aspect of the flipped class environment that we’re both using is that we let students learn some of the basic skills, the easy things that they can learn pretty easily on their own, from other resources. And we’re trying to focus our class time using essentially a just-in-time teaching approach where you focus on the things that students always have trouble. In a traditional classroom environment, what normally happens is students will learn the easy stuff in class where faculty will lecture them on basic definitions and basic concepts. And then it all makes a lot of sense until students try to apply it. And they try to apply it typically in assignments outside of class, or in high-stakes exams. And it’s much more productive if the students use the time outside of class to master those basic concepts. And then we hold them accountable for having done that somehow in class. And then we give them assistance on the things that they find challenging when they need it. Not after they’ve had that experience of a more high-stakes assessment in some way.
Rebecca: Yeah, I think what I found or that students really shared with me that was something that they really appreciated was that there was a lot of structured time to work on those difficult problems in class. This is true of my face-to-face classes too, but even maybe more so in this online environment where students were having a really hard time managing their time. I would allow time to work on a project during class… it was scheduled, but then there was a check in point later on in the day. You wouldn’t want to spend three hours staring at a screen on Zoom, like this makes no sense. So I certainly did not do that. And I don’t want anyone to think that I did that. But, I would do things like “Okay, we’re going to check in at 9:30. And then we’re going to do a little activity together. And then you’re going to have some work time to work on X. And then we’re going to come back at 11. And you’re going to show me what you did. And then we’re going to have a little discussion or do another little activity, and then we’re gonna come back again at 12.” And we would have a schedule where there was time to kind of come back. What I found is, over time, students often wouldn’t actually get off of Zoom. They would just turn their cameras off and their microphones off. And I would do the same if it was like a work time. And then when we all came back on, a lot of students would turn the media back on. That said, I, of course did not require that depending on where students were, I certainly had students that were in environments where they couldn’t turn their cameras on, or had really poor internet connections, we adjusted as necessary there, and we had a way to communicate in a much more low-tech fashion using Slack during class time. So if something happened with someone’s internet connection, or whatever, they could still stay connected with us and what we’re doing.
John: How did you assess student learning in your class?
Rebecca: My classes are all project based. So the majority of grades are built on projects, not entirely, we had discussion boards, and I had some collaboration things that they were doing, and they were evaluated on those things as well. But projects were the significant piece of the puzzle. And the way that I graded them was really just providing feedback about the kinds of things I was going to ultimately grade very regularly throughout the semester. So every couple of weeks, they were getting feedback on their code for my web class, for example, feedback on their design, feedback on their writing, not a specific grade, necessarily, but feedback on all of those elements that were going to go into the final project. And then the ability to revise all of those again and again and again and continue to get feedback on those.
John: Did you have your students engaged in any reflective tasks?
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s a really great question, John. I had reflection built in two ways. So at the end of each sprint, or kind of module in my class, they were working on two projects at the same time throughout the semester, so they’d work kind of two weeks on one project, two weeks on the next project and cycle back… that was so that I had time to give them feedback regularly. So that was part of my structure. But at the end of one of those modules, I had a reflection activity that I implemented using a Google form. So a few different prompts to think about what they got out of that sprint, goals for their next sprint, that kind of thing. And then I also had some big group reflections at different moments during the semester, I had one at the beginning, and a couple in the middle and one at the end. And I use Jamboard for that, which is a Google suite tool that has sticky notes, and is the same kind of way that you might brainstorm. So I use it as a way to collect reflections in sticky note form, essentially, virtually. And I would have a reflection question for folks to respond to or a couple of different boards with different kinds of questions. In the beginning, we did something called “hopes and fears,” which is something I’ve talked about before… setting up the class like, what are they hopeful that they’re going to get out of a collaborative project? What are they scared about? We find out that like, all the teams have the same hopes and fears. During the middle of the semester, what are some of the big takeaways that you’ve had? What are some things that you want to work on? What are some things that you’d like to see changed about the class and various themes bubble up on that. And then at the end of the semester, I asked questions like, “What was your biggest takeaway? What was the thing you were surprised that you learned? What is one recommendation of something you would change in this semester?” and “What is something that you want to continue learning?” and I got really useful feedback on what to change about the class but also, some really great themes bubbled up across the class, which really results in like kind of three or four things for each of those questions, which was a nice way to wrap up the end of the class and summarize for students after they completed that task. And one thing that I like about the Jamboard is that it actually ends up being anonymous. You can see people while they’re working on it, but it doesn’t keep a name with a sticky, ultimately.
John: So you can see who’s active in the board, but you don’t see who is writing which note.
Rebecca: Yeah, exactly. So that worked really well for me. How about you, John, were you able to build in reflection? I know you have such a big class. So it can be tricky.
John: I wasn’t able to do as much of that with my large section. But I did have them do that, to some extent in their discussions. For one discussion forum in both classes, I had them use a tool called Packback, which uses artificial intelligence to give students some feedback as they’re writing their prompts. And each week, students had to post a question related to that week’s material and they had to respond to at least a couple other people. But one of the nice things about Packback is it will check the cognitive level of the posts, it will give them some feedback in terms of grammar, it will also do a little bit of checking to see if the material has previously been posted. And it gives students some feedback, encouraging them to say more than “I agree.” And it also encourages them to document sources and to provide resources or references for the arguments they provide. And they get a score on that. So it takes a lot of the evaluation of that away. And so I monitored all of that. But it was something that seemed to function pretty well, just by the interaction between the users and that system. I haven’t really mentioned much about what I did in my online class. My online class uses many of the tools, but obviously, I couldn’t do synchronous, because that class is fully asynchronous. I couldn’t do the same type of instruction. But I had students do two other things in that class that provided opportunities for reflection, one of which was I had them work in a metacognitive cafe, low-stakes discussion forum, where they reflected on what they were learning and the learning process. And that gave them another way of making connections to their learning and reflecting on how well they were learning materials and what barriers they were facing, and also sharing effective learning strategies with each other. They were given some readings each week, generally on research-based learning practices as a primer for many of those discussions… others, they were just reflecting on what they’ve learned and how it might be useful in their life to tie it back to themselves. But the other thing I had students do is work on two podcast projects in that class. And in those they were taking what they were learning and making reflections about how that connected to the world around them. Many of them ended up being related to COVID and pandemics, but they were making some really good connections, and they were getting a chance to see how the material they were learning had some relevance in their own lives. And a lot of that came out in some of the things they were discussing in their podcasts. And they also did use Jamboard once at the very end of the term. But I also use Google forms a few times to have them reflect on the process of what was working, what wasn’t working in the class and what was working and what was not working in their own learning processes and what I can do and what they could do to help them learn more effectively.
Rebecca: I don’t know about you, but I was really surprised at how well synchronous learning actually went for me. I had some technical difficulties early on with my internet connection. It took me a while, but I got around to fixing that problem by hardwiring my internet and resolving some of those things. But I felt just as connected to my students as I would normally. I had a lot of interactions. And in some ways, I was able to facilitate those interactions a little more equitably online, because it wasn’t just the person who came to nudge me and stand in line and be the next person. Instead, I could really coordinate using waiting rooms and breakout rooms and really give everybody a chance to have one-on-one interactions with me, which I really appreciated. And I really did get to know all of my students quite well, which I was a little bit surprised about. And then, in an area where it’s really technicalaAnd we’re doing a lot of coding and things on screen, being able to share screens and take control of another person’s computer to fix things or show them how to do something was incredibly valuable. We use some of those kinds of tools in person. But it actually was, I think, in some cases more effective using this particular tool. So I was kind of surprised at how well some things worked. And I think that even when things go back to face to face, there’s definitely some components here that I would keep.
John: I’d agree. And I think students were amazed at how well some of those tools work. When in breakout rooms, they would be using the whiteboard features, they would be sharing screens, they’d be making the case, they’d be drawing on the screens, and that was something that would be much harder to do in a face-to-face environment. Initially, at the beginning of the class, I had some issues with chat being kind of flooded with irrelevant material, and I had to clamp down on that a little bit. But within a couple of weeks, they started actually using it very productively, and it provided a voice for all students, even those quiet students who would have otherwise sat in the back of this large lecture hall. They were able to type something in chat, after thinking about what they wanted to say before doing it, without being concerned about interrupting the discussion that was going on. And I think that was really helpful. And when I taught large classes with three to 400 students, there’s almost always 3 to 10 Students who have trouble not having side conversations when there’s other activities going on. And that mute option is kind of a nice feature and the ability to set their microphones so they’re all muted unless they choose to unmute… to have the default being muted until people click the unmute option… made it really easy. And I was amazed at how quickly they adjusted to muting and unmuting. By the end of the term there was maybe only once or twice a class where a family member or someone else would walk into the room and start talking. And then they’d remember, they had to mute their mics, and it was very rare. In a class that large, I was impressed by it… and working with students one on one, during office hours, it was so much easier to have students just share the screen and show you exactly what their problems were then to correspond with them with email, or even have them boot up their computer or you try to find what they were talking about when they came to your office. It was just much more efficient.
Rebecca: Yeah, I could actually see it. You can Zoom in, you can see what they’re talking about. I also found, and I was really floored, in this last week of classes, students were doing their final presentations,at how well they did develop facility with these tools. They’ve developed a lot of fluency in the kinds of tools that are actually very relevant to my particular discipline. It’s relevant to many disciplines. But designers use these tools all the time when they’re working with clients. And so it was amazing to me that we got through 15 presentations so efficiently. We didn’t wait for anybody to share their screen. They just knew what they needed to prepare, had it ready, they started developing slide decks really effectively, and could just do the things that they needed to do really efficiently. One of the last things I said to my class was like “I’m so proud of you just being able to do that. We didn’t have to wait for anybody today. That was amazing.” And so maybe a little bit of a blessing in disguise, you hate saying like, “Oh, the plague is such a great thing.” But they really did develop some useful skills and tools and they became more effective communicators. That was something that a lot of students reflected on and things that they didn’t expect to learn is how much better they became collaborators and just communicators generally… not just in person, like through Zoom or in text… like through chat in Slack.
John: Video conferencing is likely to be a part of their lives in the foreseeable future, especially now that everyone has adapted tp this mode, it’s very useful for them to learn how to use that efficiently. The one thing I do miss though, is seeing their faces in person and recognizing them. One concern that I have is, I’m hoping to be back on campus in the fall, there may be students that I work with who interact with me regularly, whose voice I would recognize or whose name I would recognize on the screen, but whose face I just wouldn’t recognize because a very large proportion of students just didn’t feel comfortable having their cameras on regularly, and I understand that. We’ve got a lot of students living in crowded living quarters or working with very poor network connections. But I do miss actually physically seeing them. And I had my last class session earlier today. And I encouraged them to stop by in the fall and just say hello.
Rebecca: Yeah, I mean, I agree that the physicality is certainly something that’s missing. But it was amazing to me how connected I still felt to all of the students at the end of the semester. And I think that they felt connected to each other too and they verbalized that, and also wrote that in their Jamboard reflection. So although there’s much to be improved, given this was the first time out and an experiment in many ways. I’m really thankful that I read Flower Darby’s book about Small Teaching Online because that actually informed a lot of my practices, even though it was synchronous, and a lot of her material was about asynchronous learning. It really did help me remind myself of things that I already knew that I needed to do, but to kind of make a checklist of things that I definitely needed to do as I was rethinking my classes for the fall. So thanks for chatting with me, John.
John: We always end with the question: “What’s next?”
Rebecca: I am sitting down to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work, to try to troubleshoot some things for the spring. And I’m teaching a class that’s brand new to our curriculum for the first time in the spring. And so we’re developing it for online synchronous, although ultimately, it’ll probably be a face-to-face class. We’ve had to re-conceptualize some of the things that we were going to do because of the technology limitations that students may have. If they’re online, we’re expecting that we might have a lot of students who are relying on their phones versus software and having access to high-end software packages or computers that can run them. So we’ve had to rethink things. But I’m pretty excited about being able to experiment with my students with all kinds of technology in the spring, but it’s definitely a puzzle that I’m currently starting to work on. How about you, John?
John: Well, I still have a lot of grading to do. But once that is done, one of the things I’m going to be doing is converting a textbook I had written in econometrics to a Pressbooks site, which will be a lot of conversion because it’s originally in LaTex, a typesetting language used for mathematical typing and I’m planning to create a lot of videos, I’m hoping to get many of them done over the break so that I’m not spending 15 or 20 hours a week creating videos as I was all fall. And I’m hoping to get a little bit further ahead of the semester this time, so I’m not doing as much preparation at the last moment. And we’re both going to be working on putting together a series of workshops in January for our faculty to help people prepare for whatever comes at them this spring
Rebecca: We’re just going to be really busy.[LAUGHTER]
John: I’ve never spent as many hours working on my classes as I have this semester.
Rebecca: I agree. There was a lot of startup costs converting to this modality, but I’m hoping a lot of that stuff I’ll be able to keep and reuse moving forward. Thanks, John. Always nice talking to you, John. We chat all the time. But it’s nice to sometimes hear about some of the thought process and things behind some of the decisions that you’ve made in your classes. So it was really nice to actually hear about how you did some of that stuff this semester. So thanks.
John: And I also appreciate hearing more about what you’ve been doing in your classes. We spend most of our time on podcasts talking to our guests and only mentioning little snippets of what we’ve been doing ourselves.