Video recordings of faculty teaching classes have long been used for professional development. In this episode, we examine Martin Springborg and Cassandra Volpe Horii join us to discuss how still photography may also be used for this purpose. Martin and Cassandra are the co-authors of What Teaching Looks Like: Higher Education through Photographs. Martin is the Interim Dean of Liberal Arts and STEM at Dakota County Technical College. Cassandra is the Associate Vice Provost for Education and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University.
- Horii, Cassandra Volpe, and Martin Springborg. What Teaching Looks Like: Higher Education Through Photographs. Elon University Center for Engaged Learning, 2022.
- The POD Network
- Elon University Center for Engaged Learning
John: Video recordings of faculty teaching classes have long been used for professional development. In this episode, we examine how still photography may also be used for this purpose.
John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…
Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.
Rebecca: Our guests today are Martin Springborg and Cassandra Volpe Horii, co-authors of What Teaching Looks Like: Higher Education through Photographs. Martin is the Interim Dean of Liberal Arts and STEM at Dakota County Technical College. Cassandra is the Associate Vice Provost for Education and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University. Welcome, Cassandra, and welcome back, Martin.
Cassandra: Thank you.
Martin: Thanks for having us.
John: Today’s teas are: …are either of you drinking tea?
Martin: Oh, yeah. In preparation for this.
Martin: So normally, I drink coffee all day. Today I’m drinking one of my favorite drinks, a London fog, which is Earl Grey tea made into a latte.
Cassandra: Very nice. That sounds great Martin. And I have an iced Jasmine green tea, given the summer nature of what we’re doing and being out in California, but I had my coffee earlier.
Rebecca: [LAUGHTER] Well, I appreciate the real effort to have good tea for the day. I have a jasmine black tea today.
Cassandra: Another Jasmine drinker.
Rebecca: A nice summer flavor.
John: And I have spring cherry green tea.
Rebecca: We’ve invited you here today to discuss What Teaching Looks Like: Higher Education Through Photographs. Can you talk a little bit about how this project got started?
Martin: I started this project when I was teaching photography courses, and specifically an Intro to Photography course at Inver Hills Community College in Minnesota. So I had been teaching, I don’t know, maybe three or four years, going into this a little bit in the book, but I was doing nothing but teaching. So I was really wanting to do some of my own work again, and I decided to make this project that both I can work on and my students can work on at the same time. We were learning about documentary photography at the time. We’re talking about photographers, like Robert Frank, other photographers in this area. And just really getting to that subject, I encouraged them to make photographs of their lives as students. And I told them, I would make photographs of my life as a faculty member. So they could just see what that looks like. And I could learn about them. It blossomed from there. So it was a great project in class, and I loved it so much that I wanted to keep doing it outside of class, and even when I moved out of teaching and into educational development, and away from the college, I started doing this project, or kept doing this work, and actually named it something and said I was going to do this thing on my own and made some photographs of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, then that’s where our system was called. I think I presented the work at the POD conference. Cassandra was there, and she liked the work, and she invited me out to CalTech, and I’ll let her take it from there.
Cassandra: Yeah, I was blown away by these photographs when I first saw them. It was around the time that Martin and I were both interacting through the professional organization, the POD Network, and working on conference organizing. So we had some committee work together, and they just stopped me in my tracks. I’d never seen anything like them. I hadn’t ever seen represented what happens in classrooms in this visual, but also visceral, way that got to the heart of what mattered, what I loved about being in a university environment. And at the time, I was starting up a new Center for Teaching and Learning, really working on communicating what teaching was all about, how to engage with teaching. And so Martin’s visit was, I think, the first outside of Minnesota. We got him into classrooms of a great variety of different formats, lecture formats, but also labs, and discussions, and conversations between faculty and students and teaching assistant meetings behind the scenes, and that work ended up being so impactful and important in the change process for our institution. It’s something that we started talking about and building on. And then I think, as Martin went to other institutions, became a part of the conversation. We also had the thought at some point, “Hmm, what if we talked with the faculty whose classrooms were photographed and started to really understand the impact on them.” So from that, we developed a protocol for consulting about teaching with faculty using photographs. And again, it just grew from there, and I think Martin could tell us a little bit about the inspiration for, actually, the book.
Martin: Yeah. So from there, we were talking with so many faculty after making photographs in their classrooms, and really just, in a lot of cases, shadowing them throughout their entire day, in other roles they were in. Getting faculty to reflect on their teaching practice, and other things about teaching, related to teaching, it was just really inspiring, and we thought, “well, this can’t be just kept between us, just can’t be this secret.” So then we started to dig into what else had been done, like if anything else had been done in this area. What could we learn from that? And how could we lend what we had done to whatever scholarship existed out there on this topic? We saw scant offerings out there on this topic. Some people who were doing video consultations, which is a very common way of doing teaching consultations with faculty… set up a video camera in a classroom, let it roll and then have the faculty member watch it and then talk about it. Nobody was really doing the still photograph approach to that. So we put together a book proposal. And really, the book proposal, I think originally was nine chapters, we narrowed it down in scope a little bit. But basically 15 years worth of documentary photography, institutions across the United States under the broad title of “The Teaching and Learning Project.” We billed it as the most comprehensive photographic exploration to date of contemporary post-secondary education in the US, which it is. And then the book proposal also included in those chapters, insights about the state of teaching and learning, challenges and solutions, and how and why to integrate photographs in an educational change and improvement work at organizations, institutions at that college level. And now, we’re hearing back from a lot of people who are diving into the book, and they’re just saying that it’s timeless. And there’s something we really didn’t expect to see. We got some feedback early on in the book proposal process that, well, now that we’re in COVID, this is just going to play as a time capsule of what teaching was. But that’s not what it is at all. And we’ll get more into that I’m sure later as we dive into how it’s being received now. But yeah, that was really the crux of the proposal.
John: What Teaching Looks Like is part of the Elon University Center for Engaged Learning Open Access series. Why was open access important for you as authors for this project?
Cassandra: Yeah, thanks for that question. So as you’re probably getting a sense, and you’ve taken a look, I’m sure, this is a very different kind of book about higher education and for higher education. Not only does it contain photographs, but it’s probably half photographs, it’s nearly 200, and those are really integrated with the text so that they sit in this co-equal fashion, the purpose is also somewhat different. So given these unique factors, we wanted it to be as fully accessible as possible in format and also in terms of cost. So we found that the editorial team at the Elon University Center for Engaged Learning, including managing editor Jennie Goforth, and a series co-editors, Jesse Moore and Peter Felton also had that clear vision and dedication. They were very excited to be able to make the supplementary resources readily available, and to explore the capacity, I would say, and the possibility of this format. Just for one example, we worked very closely with the editorial team on exactly how and what kind of descriptive text would be provided for these nearly 200 photographs. So that descriptive text is embedded right there in the electronic format, in a way that works with screen readers, and it’s also potentially enriching and available to all readers. So the other piece is that we really believed in the potential and the possible impact of the book and helped us zoom out for a moment. And, you know, through your conversations with authors that there are so many more excellent high quality books available and emerging about how to teach in higher education, how to teach in different disciplines, through different methods, and we think those are incredibly important. And now we’re seeing more books, volumes, articles coming out about how change works in higher education, how to structure change, strategies for systemic change, also incredibly important, and Martin and I are working on those things too. The thing that What Teaching Looks Like does that I think is different is it gets at why to change, why teaching matters, why to improve, and provides some new tools in our collective repertoire that engage people’s whole selves in that work. So when we talk about culture change, which is so important to sustainable and systemic change, there has to be that drawing in and sustainable interest in participating so that it’s not purely top down, it’s not a forced experience. The other thing we know is that reflection is so important, pausing to really deeply think about why we teach in particular ways and how to go about change, also incredibly important. And what we found was that, like Martin said, we were missing this whole avenue of engaging with people, and we need everything we’ve got to really tackle the challenges in higher education. So kind of circling back around to why open access. These factors are not necessarily a well-tested formula for publishing in higher education. But again, we think it’s really vital. And as Martin mentioned, the early reception to the book is indicating that it’s landing, so we’re getting messages back in email that you People are saying, like “I’m blown away. This is reminding me what I love about teaching. It’s making me think in new ways,” …and a real sense of excitement about the things that they want to do and the conversations that they want to have with their colleagues.
Rebecca: As an artist and a designer, I was really fascinated by this project since Martin first mentioned it to us, a while back, in part because we don’t typically think of SOTL as something that is visual, or that is documentary in nature. Can you talk a little bit about the methodology and what it reveals that some of these other methods don’t? You’ve started hinting at some of these things, but I’d love to hear more about “why photography?”
Martin: First of all, since high school, it’s the way I’ve communicated. So I’m used to communicating that way. And I think you touched on something.SOTL is typically text based. There’s a lot of great stuff there. But you’d have to dedicate yourself to sitting down with it for quite a long time. And if we’re asking faculty, who was really our main audience for this work, to learn from something, photography was just the first place I went, as far as just being a SOTL project, because still photographs instantly land with you. If you look at something, you have an opinion about it, whether you like it or don’t like it, whatever you see in there, immediately, it hits you at a very gut level, the longer you sit with something, the more you see the intricacies of it and more maybe the message that was intended by the author or the photographer, but because it was familiar to me as a way of communicating, that’s really why the methodology, and that’s why I see it as different from a lot of SOTL work is because it takes so little time comparatively, to get into it. You can use photographs to teach faculty something in far less time.
John: And imagery can be really powerful. When we think back to many historical events, key photographs from those events often have a much longer impact than any text that was written up describing those events. So I think you’re onto something quite interesting here. But could you talk a little bit about the structure of the book, and what readers can expect to find in each chapter?
Cassandra: Yeah, I’d be happy to take you through the outline of the book a little bit and preview what you can expect. So in the introduction, we talk a little bit more about the origins of the project itself and some of that surrounding work, which we alluded to a bit here. We also give readers a chance to anticipate how they might interact with the book and think about some strategies for observing the photographs, for taking that pause to really look closely. We continue to do that throughout, of course, but there’s this little primer in the beginning for just interacting with this type of a book, several of the chapters take up place, or a kind of experience in higher education, because we started with really the thematic commonalities that were coming through in these really 10s of 1000s of images that Martin had from multiple different campuses across the United States. Those often pointed to these thorny, challenging questions about what’s current, what’s difficult, what’s interesting about being in higher education today. So in classroom interactions, one of the chapters, it starts out with this quote from one of our participants, “if I were lying on my deathbed, I would want to look at these pictures to know that I did some good teaching.” When we heard that, we just got goosebumps, at least I did, and it speaks to this visceral power that we’ve been talking about. That chapter also looks at what the absence of photographs to date says about the value we place on teaching, what kinds of things we learn when we do have photographs. It’s interwoven with some of the theory and critical perspectives on what photographs are and how they function. We also look at, in another chapter, student perspectives, and really think about the student experience today, what kinds of emotions and forms of engagement, collectively, we’re willing to showcase and what we might be hiding from students that could get in the way of the deeper learning that we’re trying to get at, as well as we know that roles for educators are shifting as we move more toward active and engaged forms of collaborative learning. We also think in another chapter about our interactions with technology and spaces, that interplay that’s also speaking to the importance of those resources. They set the stage and the kind of agency that we might still have and the power relationships that we do have the capacity to change in those environments, and even looking at the nuances of partnerships beyond campus, of community engaged learning. There’s a set of chapters too that take on a little bit more of a philosophical slant. So we look at the productive chaos and the messy nature of education… a sort of deeper exploration of order and disorder, and really a critical admission and questioning of perhaps, the sort of secret aesthetic that we might come to in our experience as educators. Many of us might think that there’s something beautiful about learning, but it’s not something that we say, and we need to say it, but we also need to question it. And then there’s also kind of a real look at the behind the scenes, hidden work, the hidden labor behind education that we almost never show: the work of contingent faculty, adjunct faculty, tenure-track faculty, alt-AC staff, administrators. And we really see the liminality of some of those positions showing up in the images themselves, but also the capacity for that to connect across roles and generate empathy. And then the arc of the book ends with thinking about photographs and change agents, and how they can play a role in campus communities, making intentional, institutional, and educational change through the ways we communicate, how we bring people together through exhibits of photographs, through having this representation in our shared spaces, and then how photographs can have an impact on our teaching practice through the conversations that we might have about them. So every chapter ends with some open-ended questions for reflection, and those are expanded on in the website resources.
Rebecca: I really appreciated seeing the collection of photos and what you were saying about the absence of such photos existing or that documentation existing really resonated with me. I’m working on our graduate student orientation in our new learning management system, which is much more visual, and I’m trying to collect images and represent some ideas, and what I was quickly realizing, at the same time I was looking at your book… this was happening at the same time… was, “Wow, we’re not really great, just generally, taking photos of what learning really looks like or what being a student looks like, or what being a teacher looks like, what being in grad school looks like, because a lot of the things are very staged or focus on extracurricular spaces or they’re just very staged…” it was thinking about other opportunities where I’ve gotten to see something which I appreciate being able to see something in action, but often those seeing of the things in action are staged.
Martin: I’ve given talks to faculty at institutions when I’ve gone to to make photographs. And that’s one of the things that is often in those talks is wrestling with how we project ourselves to potential students and their families, the balance between marketing and what they would love to do, and the reality of what students see when they get to college. They’re often not the same thing. So we project a lot of images that don’t represent ourselves in truth. And I think that’s potentially why students are shocked often when they get to college. And they realize that, “oh, this is a wild mess,” in a lot of aspects. “This is crazy. I don’t know if I can take it.” What I’m trying to say is, if we do have more photographs available to students, sadly, if we’re able to have discussions around those truthful photographs… I won’t say truth… but around those honest photographs, then I think we circumvent a lot of that, we take some of the shock away from what it is to be in college, what it is to be a student, what it is to be a faculty member. If we showed photographs like this to our graduate students more often, they would understand what’s ahead of them when they teach their own classes. They get that in the teaching assistant roles, of course, but there’s more in those photographs to learn in that respect.
Rebecca: Yeah, the authenticity of the collection is really impactful. I really also appreciated all the companion resources, and would love for you to talk through some of those. There was multiple things that you’ve included, not only within the text itself, but also as this companion material on the website. And there were a couple that I was particularly interested in that I hope you might walk us through. One of them is the close reading and observation activity. Can you share a little bit about that?
Cassandra: Yes. And in fact, if you’d like we can try that out a little bit right here. Are you game for that, Rebecca and John?
Rebecca: We can try. We can try anything.
Cassandra: Alright. So the companion resources, as you alluded to, includes a set of close observation, close reading exercises, which excerpt, one photograph or sets of photographs around several themes, and then offer some prompts for reflection, conversation, discussion. We imagine that these… and they are actually…. being used in a reading group and book groups. I have given workshops on my own campus and Martin and I have done similar things in conferences where we take this similar method and really work with a group. It’s a great warmup, gets people very engaged, gets them thinking, also a wonderful activity in the context of reflecting on teaching. So lots of different uses, but I’m gonna have John and Rebecca, and Martin, if you like, open the resource called close reading and observation exercises, just to the first photograph that you find there. So it’s on the second page. And it’s called Introduction, close reading exercise. Is everybody there?
John: And we will share a link to all the resources, especially this one, in the show notes.
Cassandra: Fantastic. So let’s just start out by engaging, looking at this first photograph. And I’m going to ask John and Rebecca to share what you notice, in this image… start to describe it. Of course, we’re on audio. So your description will be helpful for listeners, and it will tell us something and yourself something about what you think is important and what stands out. What do you see?
Rebecca: I just want to verify that we’re looking at the figure 2.01.
Cassandra: Yes, 2.01.
Rebecca: So what I see is two groups of students, and each group is organized around a computer monitor. In the group that’s closest to us, I see a diverse group of students. And there’s one student who is gesturing with his paper at the screen, two students leaning in to see this screen, and one student hanging back a little bit… looking, peeking at what’s on the screen, but not quite leaning in like the other two are.
Cassandra: Awesome. Thank you. So there’s no wrong answers here. All of those are things that are present in the photograph. John, is there anything you would add, just at first glance, of what stands out to you?
John: Well, the students all seem focused on the same material, they all seem to be actively engaged in the activity, which is not something we always see in classrooms.
Cassandra: And as you think about, look at this photograph a little bit more, is there anything in it that maybe seems typical or atypical?
Rebecca: I think the level of focus is not always typical, as John mentioned, but it’s also, like a super win [LAUGHTER] when that level of focus is there. So I’m feeling the winning happening. It gives a teacher who is probably walking around the classroom, and you’re feeling like, yeah, the students are into this thing. So I can’t see that. But I’m feeling that.
Cassandra: Yeah, well, and that emotion is coming through in the details that you already have observed. So Rebecca, you pointed out some of the expressions and the body language that you’re noticing in this photograph, some of those signs that you see about what engagement might look like, what happens when students are getting engaged, that sort of leaning in, and the gesturing that’s happening. So there’s this action that you’re noticing as well. One more little question is this, you might not be able to tell from the photograph, the person closest to the lens, whose back is toward us, and who has the piece of paper gesturing toward the screen is actually the professor, the teacher in this setting. So any thoughts about knowing that about this image now, what might be going on and what you notice about the roles?
Rebecca: To me, it seems like the faculty member is checking in on something that’s happening, and now they’re having a conversation and maybe some explanation of where there was a misstep. And really the leaning in of like, “Wait, I want to know the answer. I want to understand this better.”
Cassandra: Yeah, fantastic. So I don’t want to go on too long. But I think, hopefully, that demonstrates that just with that moment of looking and some prompts and questions, you start to really get deeply into the photograph, deeply into the experience. And if we were in a course design institute, we might use this prompt and this image, to start to open up a conversation about how we want to structure in-class work, once we have some learning outcomes defined, the big goals of the course. And think about different ways we want to get students engaged and what that’s going to be like for the instructor. If we’re thinking about active learning, we might use this as a starting point to really reconsider the role of the instructor, the moves that they need to make, how to check in with students, we also might be thinking about student groups and how they’re interacting. So there’s lots of ways we can go and it’s that sort of open-ended, reflective quality that is really exciting, and I think fun to engage in and can open up some new possibilities.
John: And it’s especially nice to see all these resources provided with an open access piece of work, because that often doesn’t happen. These are really useful and powerful supplements that make these tools much more usable for professional development.
Martin: Another thing that I want to mention, in reference to this question about additional resources is the guide to photo-based consultations that Elon has on their site. So this is just really us offering our complete template to conducting a photo-based teaching consultation. It’s exactly, with very little modification, what Cassandra and I used every time we sat down with a faculty member that we photographed and guided them through reflection on their teaching practice using the photographs as a reference point, and I think it’s a very powerful way of conducting a teaching consultation, it was often an emotional experience for the faculty that we talked to, and I don’t even remember how many of these we did, we did quite a few at several institutions. They’re all very valuable experiences.
Cassandra: There’s a standalone published article about the teaching consultation framework and some of the findings about what we coded as incidents of reflection and different kinds of reflection that came through in these photographs. And then material from that same study is also incorporated into the book. So readers will see it again, less as the formal research study, and more as a compliment and an accompaniment to the images around these different themes.
Rebecca: We’ve talked a bit about the photographs that you’ve taken and the discussions around the photographs. Can you talk a little bit about the process of actually making the photograph and what the interaction was like with a faculty member to set up that opportunity? And then to follow them around all day? [LAUGHTER] And that was like, and how do you keep that authentic?
Martin: I’ll just start by saying it’s not easy, and it especially wasn’t easy in the very beginning. The first people I photographed were my colleagues, because they were colleagues and also friends, they trusted me. They’re like, “yes, you made this work in your class of yourself, for your students. But how are you going to do that of me in my class?” So it took some getting used to in the very beginning, and then we have like a two pager guide to making photographs in the resources on Elon site as well. But the biggest thing to remember is that things were more than likely be a little weird for about five minutes, you just have to keep making a lot of pictures, and only after you make a lot of pictures of the first few minutes that you’re there that people just tune you out, it does happen. You just have to trust the process, it’s just, you see all the photographs in the book. I had been in those classes with that faculty member trailing that President for some time, and they acted as though I wasn’t even there. And then the photographs, you can see that the people are acting naturally, as though nobody else is in the room with them. That’s my biggest piece of advice. For those that are wanting to do this on their own, I think that the biggest thing to keep in mind is that those moments will come. And you have to remember the ultimate goal of why you’re there and what you’re doing.
Cassandra: One question that we often receive is about permissions for the photographs, which is very important to protect the privacy and let people course consent and elect in to being represented in photographs. So everything that’s in the book, and in Martin’s body of work, every single person has consented actively and signed a photographic release. And when you’re working in your own institution, it’s a good idea to consult with your communications colleagues, potentially General Counsel, just to make sure that you’re following your own institution’s guidelines. Sometimes there’s a blanket photographic release that students elect into or out of that you can access. And in this case, because Martin was also exhibiting and presenting the work outside of the institution, that separate release was very important.
Martin: It’s important to note as well, that the release form gives equal use rights to both myself and the institution. So we have a shared ownership of the images, when I’m finished photographing at a location. And I just give them a complete set of the photographs that I made, so that they can use them for whatever purposes they need to use them for. I’ve almost always worked just with Center for Teaching and Learning staff. They’re going to use those photographs to really put teaching and learning out there visually as a priority at their institutions, and many of them have done that.
John: You visited many campuses and lots of classrooms. What were some observations that stood out in terms of really effective practices or effective activities that were occurring in these classes?
Martin: That’s a tricky word, “effective,” I think. So I’m going to dodge that question, I think, a little bit and talk about the different things I saw that on face value wouldn’t seem like they would work in terms of teaching students things, but ultimately did work to teach students things. So one part of the book that Cassandra mentioned earlier, that messy nature of teaching and learning gets into a situation I was in at one of the institutions where it was this kind of like a giant office hour or recitation session for students in an enormous class with three or four hundred students. It was right before an exam. There was a lot of nervousness in that room. Students were crammed in there together and they were all just sort of tossing notes back and forth… literally through the air, in some cases… handing laptops back and forth from table to table. But in that mess, were also a lot of TAs and the professor of the class, just making round after round after round, consulting with students. And that, if you were to just walk by, would be very loud, as it was loud and chaotic. And you would think “what’s happening here? What good could possibly come from this?” But if you get into the nuances of those photographs, those still photographs, you’ll see that sort of emotion and caring that’s in those interactions between the TAs and the faculty member and those students. And you’ll see on student faces, those moments where they’re like getting it, those “aha” moments. If you teach, you know the face, and those faces, or in those still images, I’m gonna dodge the most effective methods and go to those kinds of moments where I discovered something that to the outside wouldn’t appear to be working, but actually was working very well.
Rebecca: Were there any other really prominent moments, Martin, that really stuck with you?
Martin: There are so many. One situation I was in, I’ll always remember it. So I photographed a large lecture class, it was at night. So there were some students at the back of the room, and the hockey game was on their laptops. They weren’t paying attention to the lecture, it was nine o’clock at night. And then there were other students very engaged in that class, what I wanted to do was capture everything that was happening. When I make photographs of a complete class, which is always what I do, I never want to go into a class and photograph for 15 minutes and exit, I want to be there at the beginning before class starts, and then photograph even after it ends, and students coming up and talking or asking questions. Because that’s the whole thing. So I make probably hundreds, easily, of photographs. And then I whinnow that down to about 60 or so. And then I give those photographs to the faculty member to reflect on for teaching consultation moments that we have, because there are bad photographs, you’re gonna make a lot of bad photographs. But I try, in those 60 or so, to give them a summary of what happened from everything that was happening in that class. Well, this one faculty member just didn’t believe that that was what was happening. He just didn’t believe it, and wanted to see every single photograph and the timestamp on the photographs to know exactly that I got the whole class. And he wanted to see them not in black and white, he wanted the color just because he knew that they existed. I take color photographs, and I make them black and white. So that stuck with me and the reaction after I said “fine, I don’t mind giving you all these, here they are.” But the reaction after that was like, if you can summarize the email that would summarize it as like aha moment where it’s like, that really did happen. All that stuff was going on. I’ll never forget that. I don’t know why. But that’s one moment, one opportunity that stands out to me amongst all the others.
Cassandra: On the flip side, if I can add, there have also been these really striking conversations when instructors were having the chance to observe maybe the student in the back corner of the room that they maybe don’t engage with directly as much or who is quieter, and seeing them get really excited when the instructor is somewhere else in the room. So there was also a lot of seeing things for the first time, seeing students get excited, and recognizing the real difficulties that students are sometimes facing. There’s one image that I don’t think is in the book, but I will always remember seeing this and talking with the faculty member about it, where a student was in a class, computers were being used. There’s lots of stuff in the room. But this one student had laid very carefully on the table next to the computer a white food service uniform that was clearly needing to stay clean and crisp and pressed probably for the job that the student was going to go to after class. And that student was also engaged in the class, but clearly juggling a tremendous amount of life and work. And that’s all there in that image for that faculty member to reflect on and understand.
Martin: We could go on for a really long time. I want to mention two other photographs that stood out to me. So there’s one of a faculty member conducting office hours. And in the office, she’s really intently working with a student. And then you can see the student is really struggling to get it, like physically, the hands on the head. And then outside down the hall, you can see a line of students sitting on the floor waiting for their opportunity in the office hour. I think to me that just sums up what office hours should be and what they are. And it’s a thing that people don’t understand. If you’re not faculty you’ve never taught before, you’re outside of higher education, you don’t understand that that’s a part of faculty work. You can see that same struggle lined up in the hall many times more for that faculty member. And then one more photograph that I want to mention, because it’s funny, and both Cassandra and I laughed hysterically about it. So I photographed a large exam happening. This is one of those exams where it’s proctored by a graduate assistant and it’s timed, it’s very, you got to do everything by the book. This one student in the front row taking this exam is in a panda suit, like a panda costume [LAUGHTER], and it’s just a beautiful moment.
Rebecca: [LAUGHTER] These things do happen. I wanted to pick up on one more thread that you had mentioned at the top of the conversation, which is the power of… and you’ve hinted at some of these examples… the power of these photographs to instigate change. Change, perhaps for that faculty member, and I’m pretty sure I heard both of you imply that it could happen beyond the faculty member too, and I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.
Cassandra: Yeah, I could start this one off. And Martin, please feel free to jump in, of course. Some of the ways in which campuses were, first of all, initiating a project to capture photographs, and then really creatively engaging their communities with the photographs were pretty striking. So one example comes from the University of Michigan, and we’ve discussed this and have some wonderful reflections from colleagues there in the final chapter of the book. Looking at the largest courses on campus, this initiative was really trying to understand what was happening in them, what students were experiencing, what faculty were experiencing. And so that set of photos served as both a kind of baseline for the project, and an interactive tool to engage with those communities about how to change those courses, how to make them better, how to consider what would be most important. In other cases, campuses, and we did this actually on my own campus, created exhibits of photographs in museum spaces, but also in other kinds of spaces in a Center for Teaching and Learning, in an important office on campus. We’re hearing of more places that are also doing similar things now. Some temporary exhibits really brought presidents, and provosts, and deans, and chairs together with faculty teaching the courses, with these large-scale photographs that sparked new kinds of conversations, conversations across disciplines, across administrative and faculty, potentially, sometimes what’s perceived as barriers or misunderstandings. And in some cases, we heard stories about people walking off with the photographs because they wanted them for their own offices for their own.
Martin: They were told they could leave with their photographs at that one event.
Cassandra: That’s good.
Martin: They didn’t steal them.
John: One of the things you mentioned, Martin, was faculty being surprised by what was happening in various corners of the room. And that’s an issue that I think might be really enlightening information for people teaching large classes if they don’t normally walk around their classroom. Because nothing you said there seems surprising to me, I’ve been teaching classes of three or 400 students, and I generally get in often 3 or 4 thousand steps during an hour and 20 minute class because I’m as likely to be teaching from the back of the room or working with small groups of students as I am to be up at the podium. Or at least that was true until very recently. I’m hobbling around a little bit right now, and that actually is a concern I have going into this semester, that I’m going to be a little bit less mobile for the first few weeks. I had a bit of an accident a while back that broke my leg in a few places. So I’m very concerned about not being able to be out there with students for at least part of the semester. But I think it does illustrate the importance of being out there amongst the students. And we’ve often heard people talk about teaching by walking around, and it’s a really effective technique, and having these photos can encourage that in cases where faculty members are skeptical about what you observe in portions of the class.
Martin: Yeah, I don’t want to make it sound like that was the only large lecture situation that I found. I did photograph quite a few large lecture courses where the instructor was up and down the stairs, constantly making the rounds around the room all the time with a Bluetooth headset, rather than being behind the podium. You’re right, you talk about effective teaching methods, and that’s definitely one for those large lecture courses. Not only having the instructor in there, but also having TAs, graduate assistants wandering around constantly, and using the time and the space to conduct group work because you do get around the room.
John: We always end with the question. What’s next?
Martin: One thing that we’ve been able to do since the book has come out is engage more communities. I’m still asking myself what’s happening. What is my life right now? Because soon after the book came out, we gave two book talks to a contingent of educational developers in Asia. It’s this organized two events for people who wanted us to talk about the book with them. And just due to the reach of the book, and what Elon has been able to do, promoting it in that way, it’s so exciting to be engaging more and more communities of folks about the work. Also, we have institutions that are inviting us back, and mounting exhibitions of the work. So one example is St. Louis University, this fall in their museum of art is mounting an exhibition of the work that I made there. I’ll be going back there to make more photographs this fall, as well as Brown University. And I guess the third thing I want to mention for next things is we’re just hoping to build on models from the book, and conducting more educational development and teaching related professional development.
Cassandra: I’ll just add, we’re really excited to observe how communities pick this up and run with it, we’ve talked a little bit about those supplementary resources. So it’s really an approach that campuses can adopt, adapt, and run with. So for example, in one of the recent discussions with the SOTL Asia network, one faculty member was very excited to start to work with students on them documenting and sharing their own experiences as a way for them to reflect on their post-secondary experience, and really be able to communicate it in a different way. Others were immediately thinking about all kinds of contexts that they realized had never been shared about their own learning contexts, their own classes, sort of specific forms of special kinds of classes or environments that they realized were really important and should be shown and should be captured, those kind of hallmarks of the institution or the program or the community. So we’re finding that often just this idea of communicating with images brings to mind the images that haven’t yet been made and the engagements that haven’t yet happened about those representations, those forms of teaching and learning. And we’re hoping to have more of those conversations and to engage with more folks around the work that they’d like to do.
Rebecca: Well thank you so much for sharing your work. It’s really interesting, exciting, and really something we haven’t seen before, and so we’re looking forward to sharing it and spreading the word.
Martin: And on that note, I’ll say one more thing about what’s next. We just talked about this the other day. So now we have this visual baseline of what teaching looks like, and we can refer back to it maybe in 10 years and see how teaching has changed visually.
Cassandra: It’s been wonderful speaking with you. Thanks so much for having us on Tea for Teaching.
Martin: Yes, thank you.
John: Thank you both for joining us.
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.