187. Talking Tech

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

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

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

Shownotes

Transcript

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

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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

Michelle: Hi, it’s great to be here.

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

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

Rebecca: How about you, John?

John: I am drinking ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: And I have golden monkey today.

John: …for a change.

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Indeed, it is, indeed it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: It’s a cool Museum,

Michelle: Oh, you’ve been there.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Michelle: Oh, my gosh.

John: I was too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Yes, and I’m all for that.

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

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

Michelle: Absolutely.

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

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

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183. Student Workload

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

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

Show Notes

Transcript

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

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

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

John: &hellipand Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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

Betsy: Thanks. It’s great to be back.

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

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

Rebecca: Well, it’s still warm&hellip

Betsy: Yes, that’s right.

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

John: And I have ginger peach green tea.

Betsy: Nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betsy: interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betsy: Like ask for directions…. [LAUGHTER]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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180. Google Apps

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

Transcript

John: Cloud-based collaborative software can support active and engaged learning in both synchronous and asynchronous contexts. In this episode, we explore how a variety of Google apps can facilitate collaborative learning.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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John: Our guest today is Dr. Kathleen Gradel. Kathleen is a Professor in the College of Education at SUNY Fredonia. She is a recipient of a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and a SUNY FACT2 Award for Excellence in Instruction. Welcome, Kathleen.

Kathleen: Hi, John. Hi, Rebecca.

Rebecca: Hi.

John: It’s good to see you again.

Kathleen: It’s good to be here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

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

Rebecca: I picked right up on that, Kathleen.

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

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

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

Rebecca: Yeah, it was for you guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: Thanks for coming. We appreciate it.

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

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

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179. It’s Been a Year

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

Show Notes

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

Transcript

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

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Our teas today are:

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

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

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

John: Well, there was one other time…

Rebecca: Oh, when you dropped off equipment.

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

Rebecca: Are you drinking tea, John?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: Yes, that meets once a week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca: …or sometime ever… [LAUGHTER]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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163. Student Voices

As teachers we may ask for, and act on, student feedback periodically throughout the semester or from semester to semester. What we often don’t hear, as faculty, is the student perspective on their overall learning experience. In this episode, Jessamyn Neuhaus and Theresa Hyland join us to discuss the importance of listening to, and placing value on, student voices in the design of learning experiences.

Jessamyn is the Interim Director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Center for Teaching Excellence and a Professor in the History Department at SUNY Plattsburgh. She specializes in the study of pop culture, gender studies, and teaching and learning. Jessamyn is also a recipient of the State University of New York’s Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. She’s the author of Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds who Want to be Effective Teachers. Theresa is a nontraditional student in the BA/MST History and Adolescent Education program at SUNY Plattsburgh and is looking forward to her career as a high school teacher.

Show Notes

  • Neuhaus, J. (2019). Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers. West Virginia University Press.

Transcript

John: As teachers we may ask for, and act on, student feedback periodically throughout the semester or from semester to semester. What we often don’t hear, as faculty, is the student perspective on their overall learning experience. In this episode, we talk with a student about listening to, and placing value on, student voices in the design of learning experiences.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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John: Our guests today are Jessamyn Neuhaus and Theresa Hyland. Jessamyn is the Interim Director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Center for Teaching Excellence and a Professor in the History Department at SUNY Plattsburgh. She specializes in the study of pop culture, gender studies, and teaching and learning. Jessamyn is also a recipient of the State University of New York’s Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. She’s the author of Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds who Want to be Effective Teachers. Theresa is a nontraditional student in the BA/MST History and Adolescent Education program at SUNY Plattsburgh and is looking forward to her career as a high school teacher. Welcome, Theresa, and welcome back, Jessamyn.

Jessamyn: Thanks for having us.

Theresa: Thank you for having me.

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

Jessamyn: I am. And it’s Prickly Pear Cactus, which is a good tea for an introvert. Like, don’t touch me, stay away. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: It’s perfect.

Jessamyn: It’s perfect.

Rebecca: Theresa?

Theresa: Mine is a Chinese style gunpowder green…

Rebecca: Nice.

Theresa: that’s very good.

John: And I’m drinking a pure ginger tea today.

Rebecca: And I have Golden Monkey. I feel like I needed to treat myself today. [LAUGHTER]

John: As we’re recording this, we’re waiting for election results from the national election. So. some of us haven’t been getting a lot of sleep because we’re checking all the counts regularly.

Rebecca: So, the golden monkey is totally self indulgent.

Jessamyn: Very necessary. [LAUGHTER]

John: We’ve invited you here today to talk about the student experience during a pandemic, and about ways in which we could productively incorporate student voices into professional development activities, and we’re practicing that right now. [LAUGHTER] So, let’s talk a little bit about the impact of the transition to remote instruction last March. What was that like from a student perspective?

Theresa: Oh, yeah, that was intense. [LAUGHTER] It was really the most disorganized and disorienting sort of thing, which I thought was completely understandable, on the one hand, because every single person involved, the students and the professors, were being asked to do something they had never signed up to do. The professor’s teaching our in-person classes had never signed up to be online professors; the students taking the in-person classes were obviously taking in-person classes for a reason, none of us really wanted to go online. Everybody had a different way of doing things when we got online. Sometimes, I had people who were trying a couple of different things because they weren’t sure what was actually going to work. And of course, we had tech issues, and just all kinds of things. So, it was pretty confusing and a little bit messy, and it made things a lot more difficult than they had to be, I think, but it was also the only reasonable solution. Because what else could we have done? …just closed everything and gone: “Oh, well, we’ll just try it again in the next spring.” [LAUGHTER] …like no, that’s not going to work. [LAUGHTER] In my case, too, it was particularly difficult because my father died in February, like three weeks before we went on break. And so going online removed my main source of outside support, which was going to classes because it forced me to get up and leave the house every day, and it put me around people in very controlled environments, and it had been helping a lot and then all of a sudden, that got taken away. So, for me, it was also a depressing experience, because now I had to deal with all of this stuff by myself… completely by myself.

Rebecca: I think that’s an experience that more people experience than we ever really acknowledge… the death of a family member or just any other kind of extra stress on top of the moving online that was happening. So, I think it’s important to acknowledge that students and faculty were experiencing these things, which just added to the complexity of the situation, the stress of the situation for everybody involved.

Theresa: It’s like I’ve been saying, that 2020 is the worst year of my life, even leaving COVID out of it, because other things have happened too that I’m not going to get into, but it’s been the worst year of my life, even without COVID,and now we’ve got a pandemic on top of it that’s not making anything better or easier to deal with… at all.

John: But at least we don’t have any social strife [LAUGHTER] or any other types of stresses in society this year.

Jessamyn: No other major global crises happening.

Theresa: Things are so peaceful [LAUGHTER] and I’m completely expecting a peaceful transition of power to happen any minute now.

John: Are things better this fall in terms of the adjustment to a still unusual environment for teaching?

Theresa: Yeah, it’s not an easy answer. I would say yes and no. The yes comes from the classes I’ve had that have moved online, either kind of officially they moved online recently when we started having COVID cases at Plattsburgh or they moved online for me unofficially when I asked for it, which in and of itself was a long and complicated and messy process. In that case, I think the people who are offering online options were much better prepared and knew what they were doing. So, there isn’t that feeling of disorganization and confusion with the online classes. Because by this time, the people offering them have figured out how they like to do it, have figured out the best way that works for them and their students. And so that is very nice and organized. Unfortunately, for the in-person option, I would have to say… not so much. Because we wound up with some really weird situations with in-person learning. At the beginning of the term, I had five classes, only one of which was in a classroom that was ever meant to be a classroom. And that classroom can usually hold about 40 students plus the professor. But right now, because of COVID, they have it at half capacity. So I had a class of 40 people, but only 20 of us could be in the room at a time. So that professor had to do some kind of strange things like divide us in half, and half of us came on Monday and half of us came on Wednesday, and we all met by Zoom on Friday. And then my other classes were in rooms that were never meant to be classrooms. Three of my classes were in a converted ballroom, and they took this ballroom and divided it in half with one of those dividing walls that doesn’t really do anything except give you a visual separation. So, if something was going on in one classroom that was loud, you could hear it in the other one. If someone was trying to use the microphone, and they didn’t quite get the tech right, all of a sudden their lecture was going into the other room too. The lighting was horrible. The acoustics were awful. There were cases where I had professors who didn’t really want to use the microphone, and I couldn’t hear them. And I had cases I couldn’t hear my classmates at all. So, of course, there was no socializing at the beginning of class. And we were all sitting six feet apart and wearing our masks, we can’t hear each other, and we’re not socializing. And it kind of got to the point for me, where I actually felt like I was almost being punished. And I know that’s not the case, I know that nobody was punishing anybody. But that’s kind of how it felt. I felt like I was walking into something in the Hunger Games or something. [LAUGHTER] When I walked into these classrooms, it was just such a stressful experience, and isolating. I was in a room with 40 other people, and I’ve never felt so isolated. I lived in Japan, in situations where I was like the only non-Japanese person for miles around for months on end, and I felt less isolated than I felt in this classroom. And I’ve been reflecting lately… one of the things that makes me non traditional is I already have two master’s degrees, one of which is in teaching English to speakers of other languages. And one of the things that got really hammered in that course that I did was making a classroom environment pleasant to facilitate learning. There’s nothing pleasant about being in a poorly lit, bad acoustics, socially distant Hunger Games classroom. There just isn’t. And, so I dropped one of the classes. I moved online for other ones as much as I’ve been able to. And so it’s better now, but only because I forced it to be. And I got help from most of my professors to make it be that way.

John: Gamification can be a useful learning strategy in terms of motivation, but perhaps not to the Hunger Games extreme. [LAUGHTER]

Jessamyn: Not to the Hunger Games extent.

Theresa: No. I mean, [LAUGHTER] I know some people will be super motivated by that, but maybe for like two class sessions, not forever, and not in the punishment aspect of it, but in the actual games aspects of it. I’m not that kind of nerd. [LAUGHTER]

Jessamyn: I had one student describe it, too, as being such a powerful reminder of the terrible pandemic…

Theresa: Yeah.

Jessamyn: … raging around the world… that the experience of sitting in a socially distanced classroom and masks, was not only so different from an ideal learning environment, and expectations about the learning environment, but a very visual, emotional, intellectual reminder that a potentially deadly virus is circulating among us. And that that knowledge, that anxiety, that reminder in the classroom was, of course, a huge obstacle to effective learning.

Theresa: And I think that point, too, about the expectations is really interesting, because, to me, what it kind of feels like whenever people talk to us about “Oh, well, we’re giving you the in-person classes, because that’s what you asked for as students.” We asked for what we knew, before COVID, we didn’t ask for Hunger Games classrooms. [LAUGHTER] And there are a lot of people right now, I think, who prefer being in person so strongly that it doesn’t matter to them, and they would rather be in-person in a Hunger Games classroom then be online in their own living rooms, or whatever. And that’s totally valid. I’m not criticizing them. But, for some of us, that isn’t working at all. And it’s not at all what we were expecting. And in my case, I think I was very optimistic, but also very naive, because I did not expect to be in that kind of situation. I thought, well, maybe we’ll be wearing masks or maybe we’ll be social distancing. Somehow, I didn’t think we’ll be wearing masks and social distancing in rooms that were never meant as classrooms, and it’s going to feel awful.

Jessamyn: Yeah. Teresa’s perspective has really powerfully reminded me of how much of effective teaching and learning is that community piece, that welcoming classroom and that inclusive classroom and how much of that emotional component goes into effective learning, and, especially for brainiacs and geeky academics, we’re so focused on our subject and in content coverage, and we forget just how central the emotional connections, the human connections, and the productive professional relationships in the classroom are.

Theresa: And even just think of it in terms of practicalities, like having a group discussion, which is one of the whole points of being in person to begin with, is that you have that give and take back and forth between the students and the professor and between the students themselves. And if you’re in a classroom where nobody can hear what’s going on, or you’re in a classroom where If more than one person talks, it’s so echoey that nobody can hear or understand, that entire purpose cannot exist.

Rebecca: Yeah, we want to make sure that we’re moving beyond the sage on the stage. And we want to make sure that we’re using active learning in these things and technology can be a really powerful way of doing that…

Theresa: Yeah.

Rebecca: …in ways that maybe people didn’t realize going into the pandemic and are discovering.

John: Did you have any classes where there were some people face to face and others in Zoom at the same time, because that presented even some additional challenges that many of us warned against, but it was something that many colleges and many faculty tried to do, and I think a lot of people are backing away from that once they realize that it’s difficult to maintain two separate groups in some type of community.

Theresa: I have not had that happen simultaneously, I had one professor who offered the same class, two different sections, one in person and one online. And, in her case, that was actually how I was able to unofficially switch to online before she moved my in-person section online. But, I haven’t had anyone trying to do a simultaneous in-person while doing Zoom situation.

Rebecca: Because it’s not possible to be in two places at the same time… [LAUGHTER] Last I checked the science is not up on that. [LAUGHTER]

Theresa: Yeah. The only way I can imagine that would work would be if you recorded the in-person class and then posted it on Zoom, which then removes the simultaneous aspect and presents a whole different set of issues.

Jessamyn: Yeah, I would say, here at Plattsburgh, that what was, at least for a while, being called that HyFlex model, has really been utilized very much.

John: We had quite a few people trying it, but I don’t think there’s going to be as many people trying it in the spring.

Rebecca: No, I think people have now officially learned the way they want to teach. [LAUGHTER]

Theresa: Yeah.

Rebecca: This was the experiment. [LAUGHTER]

John: It was a massive experiment.

Rebecca: Yeah, an international experiment on higher education. … Glad that we had this opportunity.

Jessamyn: Yeah. Right.

John: As someone finding a career in teaching, what are some of the takeaways from this experience that you’ll bring into your own future teaching.

Theresa: So I spend a lot of time, first of all, in my own head, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I literally am alone in my apartment with my budgies most of the time these days, [LAUGHTER] because of online learning I’ve been thinking a lot about things like: “What does it mean to do various things? Or what do various things mean to begin with”? So, for example, what does it mean to teach and learn? What does it mean to educate? And what does it mean to be educated? Why do we do certain things in the classroom? Why do we require term papers? As opposed either in general, or as opposed to something else? Why do we require students to memorize information before they take a test, instead of allowing open notes, open books, their cheat sheets? Why do we do these things? And what changes can we make to support the fact that this is an extraordinarily stressful time, on all levels? It’s like everything happening at once, for everybody, all the time, in every location. There is no such thing as taking a break anymore, really, there’s no break from some things. So, what can a teacher do to help eliminate or limit a source of stress, because let’s face it, school is a source of stress. Even if you want to be here, even if you love learning, even if you could easily be a student for the rest of your life, it is still a source of stress, because, for most of us, something about our future is riding on this. Something about our future is riding on our success here. And it’s not just “Oh, am I going to have the knowledge I need?” It’s also “Am I going to have the grades that I need to be attractive to employers? Am I going to have the grades that I need to keep my financial aid? If I lose my financial aid, what do I do?” Am I going to be out on the street with my birds, trying to find some basement to live in or something? Like, what’s going to happen?” And these things are all concerns that are floating around in people’s heads to varying degrees and varying levels. So, my question, as a teacher, is “What can I do to lessen that burden?” And I think it can be hard because, especially at the high school level, I think there’s a lot that comes down from above. My impression, anyway, is that there’s a lot that comes down from above that I can’t change. But, what can I do about the things that I can change? If I were teaching at the college level, I would be inclined right now to say things like open notes, open books, or cheat sheets on exams, fewer high-stakes exams, replace them with more low-stakes exams, either no term papers or shorter term papers… replace the term papers with something like reflection essays. So much depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. And I think sometimes, at all levels of education, we do things because that’s how they’ve been done. And especially right now, that’s just not going to work forever. And I think right now, whether we like it or not, we’ve been handed a golden opportunity to try some new things. And to see if these new things work at all, to see if they work better, to see if maybe we think that they don’t work better, but they work better in this situation, so we’ll keep up for now and go back to the old way after. Whatever. But, right now is a time I think that all educators, past, present, and future need to be really thinking about what it means to do those different things, and why certain things are happening in the classroom, and how they can change what’s going on in the classroom, to limit a source of stress that a lot of people just don’t have the energy for anymore.

John: These are all things that most teaching centers have been suggesting to faculty for quite a while. But faculty don’t always listen to that. And one of the reasons we wanted to talk to you about this is that, at your institution, you gave a presentation to faculty about this. And I think that maybe hearing student voices can provide a little more compelling story to faculty than if they just hear it from people who run teaching centers. Could you talk a little bit about that experience?

Theresa: Yeah, from my end, it felt really nice. It was like, “Oh, wow, these professors have all shown up.” And it wasn’t just professors, there were some people from the library as well. But like, “Oh, wow, these people have all shown up to listen to what I have to say. And they care about what I have to say.” And I know that there were people who probably watched the recorded session later. So, that was good. But I also know a few things. One, I’m kind of weird, [LAUGHTER] in that…. I’m weird in a lot of ways like, but in all harmless ways, I promise. But, in this case, I’m weird in that I had that opportunity. There are thousands of students here, and I’m the one who got to have that conversation. So, most of us don’t get that chance… at all. And I think, too, a lot of students, especially younger students who are new to college, feel like they’re not going to be listened to. They can say whatever they want to whoever they want and nobody’s gonna listen to them. And why should they speak up, anyway? And I don’t have any power in the classroom, the power is all with the professor. And I don’t have any power at this institution, it’s all with the administration. And that’s assuming that you can even figure out what’s coming from the professor and what’s coming from administration, because most of the time, we students don’t know that. Let’s take attendance policies in example, I don’t know what part of attendance policies are coming from administration and what part is coming from the professors themselves, just as an example. So if I have a problem with an attendance policy, I don’t really know who to talk to, directly. And I don’t know how to address it, maybe, as a student. So, for me, yeah, it felt fantastic to sit there and be able to talk to these people. And they were all great people and very receptive, I thought. But I also know that that’s unusual for a lot of students’ experiences. And I know quite frankly, that had I been 18 and in my first semester as a freshman, I don’t know if I would have been willing to do that…

Jessamyn: Sure.

Theresa: …because I would have been staring down that…

Jessamyn: Yeah.

Theresa: …group of people. Even though they were very nice, kind, friendly people, I still would have been absolutely terrified. So I think that there’s a gap in what students can actually do and what they think they can do. And it’s not necessarily a gap that the students can bridge, or at least it’s not one that they can bridge alone. And that this is a case where professors need to use the power and privilege they have, as professors, to help bridge that gap and prove to us students that if we speak up that you will listen, basically.

Jessamyn: Yeah, I think incorporating more student voices into faculty development is an awesome goal. And it’s not easy. I don’t think it’s easy to do for some of the reasons Theresa mentioned. And it really depends on your student population and your campus culture. Our students at SUNY Plattsburgh are incredibly polite and respectful, and have learned to be passive learners in their high school experience. Not everybody, but that’s the general culture… speaking directly to power with a face… even if it’s on a screen via Zoom…a whole posse of professors would not come easily to most students at any point in their career… maybe when they were seniors… maybe. So, I’ve been looking for ways to get student perspectives into our programming, I used a model created by Jessica Tinklenberg at the Claremont College’s Teaching and Learning Center. She created a model called “What your students want you to know,” a series of discussions where a faculty representative or a staff or mentor figure on campus who worked with certain groups of students, checked in with their students, polled their students, and then reported to the faculty, and we did that this semester. So, like the Coordinator for International Students came and spoke to a group of faculty: “Here’s what your international students want you to know,” the Assistant Athletic Director came and spoke: “Here’s what student athletes want you to know.” So that’s a way to get student voices into the conversation without having that direct, perhaps confrontational, sense. Theresa is a non-traditional student. I’ve worked with her before. We had a class together during that horrible impossible semester. And she’s also my advisee, we share a love of pop culture. So, we got that in common. She came, actually it was during advising and she came to me for advising and got to talking about what her experiences have been like in face-to-face classes. I am teaching this semester, but it’s totally online. So her perspective, combined with I knew her to be confident enough and able to articulate very clearly her experiences and not get weirded out by facing down some professors… and it’s self selecting too. With the faculty development events, people come who want to be there. So, it’s not like a mandatory event: “Now listen to students.” I know the Center for Teaching Excellence did have a Student Advisory Board for a while. It’s been quite a few years since that board was in place. And it’s very difficult to ask students, especially right now, to take on additional labor of any kind, even if it’s just offering a perspective. What I’d like to do is have a selection process to have two student Center for Teaching Excellence fellows next semester, but I’ve run into a major bureaucratic red tape snarl. A shout out to state universities… it’s like a major undertaking to offer a $200 honorarium to a student as part of a student fellowship. So stay tuned… to be continued, I will be trying to wrestle that. Unfortunately, I’m just awful at paperwork. So, we’ll see. But, that’s how Theresa ended up at the round table. And it was the most successful one, I think, of the semester so far of the presentations and discussions. People were very, very interested.

Rebecca: We had a really good experience with students sharing their feedback in our Accessibility Fellows Program, which is a smaller group of faculty with seven faculty at the time. And we worked with our disability services office, essentially, to recruit a few students to come and share some of their experiences and the technology they use with that group. But it was like a very closed situation and it was a small situation and it was not a recorded situation. And I think the students had a good experience based on the responses afterwards. And the faculty all had really great experiences that have impacted all of us in really deep ways by having those structured conversations about something specific. But, I think there’s something about it being kind of a tight knit group, someone they trust is who recruited them to have the conversation. None of their faculty members were there. [LAUGHTER] It was different faculty members. But, it was really powerful. So, I think the more we can find ways to include those voices of students in safe ways, ways that they perceive as being safe, the better.

Jessamyn: Well, especially right now is just so crucial. It’s challenging. We have to figure out ways to do it, though. At Theresa’s roundtable, \my colleague, John Locke, Director of Technology Enhanced Learning, shared that he had really been struggling with some of the decisions he made about his moving online. Did he do the right thing? Was this the best? And hearing Theresa and talking with her, really powerfully confirmed that, yes, he was on the right track. And that kind of feedback, above and beyond what we might be asking from the students as we’re actually teaching them, just can be so incredibly helpful right now. Wow. That’s what we all need. Is this working? Theresa, like you said, we’re trying something new. How will we know without the student perspective?

Rebecca: I’ve been fortunate this semester to also have a TA which I don’t generally have for my classes. That has actually helped a lot, to get that student feedback. I’m getting her feedback on her perceptions of what’s happening and what she thinks might work based on her own experiences as a student in other classes. But also, the student voice is getting filtered to me from her because they feel comfortable talking to her. And so although I don’t generally use a TA in my classes, I found it really important to do it as I was transitioning to teaching online, because I hadn’t taught online before. And it’s been really powerful. She’s helped me think a little bit about what to do next semester, based on what this semester was like. She co-created some of our assignments and activities that we’ve been doing, and it was really important to the design of the experience to have her perspective. And, I think, maybe I didn’t even realize that as much until we were just talking with you right now, Theresa, like how much that actually was really valuable to the students this semester. Because, she’s acted as a sounding board. Even over the summer I ran a few things by her before the semester even started.

Theresa: So, that’s good. Remember too, though, this has to be a two-way street. Because if you get a bunch of students, you can ask for all the student perspectives that you want. But if the professors are not listening and responding, it’s screaming into the void. And you can get me, you can get all the freshmen, you can get the seniors, you can get the grad students, you can get anyone you want. And if we’re screaming into the void, then that doesn’t really produce any kind of results. And I think that they’re kind of multiple problems here. Like I mentioned, the problem with convincing students to speak up to begin with, getting faculty who maybe are less inclined to listen to actually listen and pay attention and follow through, and making sure that the students actually feel like they’ve been heard. And that, even if something doesn’t happen immediately, that something is happening behind the scenes, because I think sometimes they can say something and then nothing happens. And then they go, “Oh, you’re asking me for my opinion again? Well, the last time I gave you my opinion, nothing happened. So, why am I going to bother this time?” So yes, it’s important to focus on that one end of how do I get the students to share their feelings and their thoughts, but there’s also how do we get the faculty and administration to respond in a way that encourages that to continue.

Jessamyn: And here’s another problem. In this context of meaningful student feedback, we have a serious issue in academia getting meaningful student feedback, just from our own individual classes. Even during the before times, the student evaluations of teaching are deeply flawed. They’re often administered very poorly. And every faculty member has a horror story about student evaluations of teaching. They’ve got some incredibly mean, miserable, sexist, racist, homophobic, derogatory, hurtful, demeaning comments, and they will remember them forever. And, for many faculty, that’s the only experience they’ve had with directly soliciting student feedback. And it’s terrible. It’s the worst possible place to start. And it’s not good for students, either. It’s often presented in a way that they don’t understand what they’re being used for. If it’s the first time they’ve been asked for their opinion, they’re going to feel, just like Theresa said, “What’s the point?” They don’t know how it’s used in evaluations. So, in this already really pretty toxic way, we have established… because like Theresa said, “That’s how we’ve always done it.” And then to try to wrestle us out of that and have a more meaningful student voice and student perspective in faculty development. I think, like Theresa said, that the problems are multiple. The challenges are many layered.

Theresa: And with those kinds of evaluations, I think, that also gets back to the point of students don’t know where a problem is coming from, they might know that there’s a problem, or they perceive that as a problem, but they don’t know where it’s coming from. So, something that’s actually an administrative problem gets taken out on the faculty. The racism and sexism, that’s obviously a problem with the student. We know where that problem is coming from. And that’s something that needs to be dealt with, but it shouldn’t be on the shoulders of one individual professor to deal with that. So, just to be clear, I think that’s completely inappropriate of the students and they should not be doing that. [LAUGHTER] But, consider it, too, from the student side, the side of the non-racist and non-sexist students [LAUGHTER] who are angry about something legit, but they don’t know who to direct it at. They don’t know how to direct it…

Jessamyn: Yes.

Theresa: …because they’ve never had the chance to speak before.

Jessamyn: That’s right.

Theresa: I was thinking, even for myself, I have some feedback I really want to give to a professor of mine right now. But I’m kind of sitting here going, “What’s the point? I’m sure this person has tenure and isn’t really going to pay attention. I’m sure that this is how this has been taught forever. Why am I gonna do this?” And it’s a really harmless thing that I’m talking about. And I know that it’s a professor thing, not an administration thing. And I’m obviously not going to go out there and be horrible to this person, because I’m not the kind of person and there’s no need for it. But I’m literally sitting here going, “I want to give you feedback on this part of how the class is taught, but why should I? …because I don’t think that anything is going to happen if I do.” And a lot of times too, remember, there are situations, of course, where students have the same Professor over and over again. But that doesn’t happen all the time. So, very often we give feedback, and we never see if anything comes of it, because we never see that person again. So we have no idea if anything comes of it. So again, it’s that screaming into the void. Why should I bother?

Rebecca: That’s actually one of the challenges of anonymous feedback…

Theresa: Yeah.

Rebecca: …to some extent, is like not being able to have the two-way communication or having a dialogue about something. It’s kind of a one-way scream one way or another, but maybe listened to or not. But, being able to have a dialogue can be really rich and helpful and you can ask follow up questions about like, “What do you mean by that?” or “Have you had an experience somewhere else where it’s worked better? Can you tell me about that?” I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of those experiences of being able to have the dialogue version of that. And it’s so powerful and so helpful, and it helps everybody. It helps the students, because then we can immediately act. It helps the faculty long term. But, I think that’s going to work the best in the situation where the faculty’s open to feedback and sets up a situation where it’s known that feedback will be used. You’re telling students how that feedbacks going to be used, you’re validating the student voice, and then also providing that feedback… like why you might not have done something even though that suggestion was made or whatever. And from my experience, students respond really well when you have that dialogue piece.

Theresa: Absolutely. But it’s something that has to happen from day one of the class.

Jessamyn: And all these nuances are just making me think about how it’s even more challenging right now. So everything is harder now, period. Every single thing is harder now. But when emotions are running high, and we want to lash out, because the world’s on fire, and we’re angry, and we’re disempowered, which is everybody to some extent, and more for some groups than others. And into this, like boiling of emotions, we’re gonna add a complicated dynamic. It’s hard.

John: One of the things we’ve always recommended to faculty is that they request student feedback periodically, either with a form or with open discussions. But one thing I’ve noticed is a lot of people, as they move into new modalities of teaching, have been doing that fairly regularly. Some people do it every class period, asking what’s working, what’s not working, and many people are doing it every week in some way. So, I hope that’s a practice that will continue once we move past the current crisis, as faculty become more used to inviting feedback. And it is important that faculty respond to it. So, just collecting the feedback doesn’t do much if the students don’t see any sort of response. But, if faculty would respond to it, and sometimes it might be by saying, “Well, I understand why you would like this change, but here’s why I don’t think we can do that at this time.” But, at least having that dialogue, whether it’s anonymous or not, at least they’re responding to the voices that they’re hearing and letting people know that their voices are valued and taken into account.

Rebecca: …and not responding in the moment, not being able to take action in the moment is still reasonable. It is a pandemic, it is really difficult to shift gears right now. And if it’s something that’s just too big to change, maybe it does need to wait until next semester, but communicating that like “Hey, I have my barriers, too.” I found that students are really responsive to that. They recognize we’re humans, if you actually admit that you’re a human.

Theresa: Yeah.

John: …if you act like one.

Theresa: Exactly, yeah. And it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t know our outside lives, but we don’t know yours. We only know what you share with us. And like Rebecca was saying, the more human you seem to us, the more likely you are to get feedback, the more likely you are to get useful feedback, I think, and the more likely you are to actually be able to develop that dialogue with your students that will actually result in something fruitful and good, and not just a bunch of pent up complaining at the end of the term. [LAUGHTER]

Jessamyn: Yes, exactly. Yeah, that humanizing element is so key to online learning. That’s Michelle Pacansky-Brock talks about humanizing online learning so important. And Flower Darby talks about the online teacher presence. But, it’s also face to face, it’s the whole undertaking of teaching and learning. Communication is so key. And as it’s sort of my shtick here, I mean, there’s a lot of nerdy academic brainiacs who just don’t communicate very well, who may be trying something to cope with this unprecedented time with all the best intentions. But, if it’s not communicated clearly to students, they’re not going to get it, and it’s not going to be effective. So, the clear communication part seems even more important. Theresa mentioned our ability to be flexible, and to really focus in on the key student learning outcomes. What is it we actually want students to be able to do at the end of the class? And really focusing on that, and how can we humanize those and be as flexible as possible? And I think this conversation is making me think too, about just how important the communication part is. Like I had a student tell me she was having trouble connecting with a professor. And I said, “Okay, so you emailed her, she didn’t answer the email.” We have Zoom class. Like, okay, so when you go early… this student always arrives early… is the professor there? She’s like, “Yes, but she doesn’t have the volume on or she’s won’t talk to me or something.” That’s one thing about teleconferencing. your face is right there. How can you not try to communicate with a student when you’re staring into each other’s eyes like, why? It’s that ability to communicate, and just to build that rapport and those connections, and it’s hard right now, because everything’s harder.

Theresa: One thing I was really grateful for in the spring, ironically enough, is that we actually did have those few weeks of in-person learning before we went online because I actually knew my professors, and I knew them as people. Like, I didn’t know every detail about their lives, of course, but I knew them as human beings who stood in front of my classroom and had a presence and had mannerisms and I knew how they acted and I kind of guessed how they would react to certain things. And I think that without that experience, it would have been a lot harder and a lot more miserable really, to go online with so little notice,

Rebecca: One of the things that I’m noticing from this conversation, and the last few conversations we’ve had on Tea for Teaching is how much communication and relationship building is important to learning. It’s so important to underscore that those two things are key to learning and reducing stress. Those are all really fundamental to learning. And we focused a lot on technology as we’ve shifted more to online pieces of teaching. But those elements are important, regardless if there’s technology involved. And it really gets back to that foundation of things that we need to be thinking about as teachers.

Jessamyn: And it does not have to be a touchy feely, squishy, non rigorous way of connecting. I think one reason Theresa and I work so well together is neither of us is a touchy feely, squishy person. We are not warm and fuzzy at all. But we’ve established a good rapport around our subject, around the intellectual exploration, and now more around teaching and learning. So, you can be yourself, you don’t have to transform into the motherly, fatherly, grandfatherly professor that everybody loves, and you just want to be around, or the professor who, once we’re post OVID is always hugging their students, you don’t have to do all that.

Theresa: Please don’t hug your students. [LAUGHTER] Not without explicit consent, at least. Oh my gosh.

Jessamyn: But, that connection, and that communication, and those productive professional working relationships are so, so key.

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

Theresa: Well, what’s next for me is making it through the rest of the week. Yeah, I have one more class tomorrow. And I have an exam this week. But it’s a pretty easy exam, so I’m not too concerned. In my immediate future, in the spring, I did actually manage to get an entirely online slate of classes, which is important for me, because I’m one of those people who really shouldn’t be around people right now. And I’m not talking emotionally, I’m totally talking in terms of my physical health. And the fact that if I get COVID, it’s not going to go well, for me, so I was going to say I’m looking forward… but I’m looking towards that. [LAUGHTER] And it remains to be seen if I’m looking forward or kind of feeling trepidatious, or what’s gonna happen with that? Yeah, so I guess in the immediate future it’s just kind of plugging along and doing the best I can and making the best of this really horrifying situation.

Jessamyn: I’m not sure I can better that particular goal. But, I’ll say that scholarship wise, I’m currently editing an anthology of insights into effective teaching and learning from women and underrepresented faculty. I’ve got the working table of contents. And the contributors are working on their revisions, and it’s going to be a fantastic collection. It’s the most practical, yet inspiring, collection of articles I’ve read about teaching and learning all in one place. So I’m really excited about that. I’m going to be the Interim Director next semester. So I’ll continue working with the teaching center. And we’re doing a book group with the SUNY Oswego Teaching and Learning Center, hosts of this fine podcast, and I’ll be doing some other programming as well.

Rebecca: Thank you both for your insights and sharing your experiences, and we’re definitely looking forward to your new book, Jessamyn,

John: When is it coming out? Do you have a timetable on its arrival?

Jessamyn: I don’t have a publication date yet. And I am keeping the deadline to get it to the publishers top secret so I can make sure all my contributors get their revisions done on time.

John: Excellent.

Jessamyn: But, hopefully, I would say 2021, I think late in 2021, or very early 2022.

Rebecca: Excellent. Good luck for the rest of the semester, Theresa. You can do it. [LAUGHTER]

Theresa: Thank you. We’re gonna try.

John: Well, thank you. Thanks for joining us. And this was a great discussion. And I think all of us should spend more time listening to students and having a dialogue with students about what’s working and what’s not… all the time, but especially in these times.

Jessamyn: Thanks for having us.

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

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

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144. Pedagogies of Care: Evidence Based Practices

This week we continue a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, Dr. Michelle Miller joins us to discuss how the use of evidence-based teaching practices can be an effective way of demonstrating that you care about your students and their success.

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 interests include memory, attention, and student success in the early college career. Michelle is the author of Mind’s 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, Learning, and Thriving in a Wired World, scheduled as part of the West Virginia University Press series on teaching and learning, edited by Jim Lang. The tentative release date is 2021. She is also a contributor to the Pedagogies of Care project created by authors in this series.

Show Notes

Transcript

John: This week we continue a series of interviews with participants in the Pedagogies of Care project. In this episode, we discuss how the use of evidence-based teaching practices can be an effective way of demonstrating that you care about your students and their success.

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

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John: Our guest today is Dr. 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 interests include memory, attention, and student success in the early college career. Michelle is the author of Mind’s 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, Learning, and Thriving in a Wired World, scheduled as part of the West Virginia University Press series on teaching and learning, edited by Jim Lang. The tentative release date is 2021. She is also a contributor to the Pedagogies of Care project created by authors in this series. Welcome back, Michelle.

Michelle: Hi. It’s great to be here.

Rebecca: Great to have you back. Today’s teas are:

Michelle: I am drinking fresh mint and hot water, which I think is my favorite summer tea of all when the mint is thriving all around here at the house.

Rebecca: Sounds nice and refreshing. How about you, John?

John: I’m drinking Tea Forte black currant tea.

Rebecca: And I’m drinking Scottish Afternoon. I haven’t quite run out of that yet.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about your contribution to the Pedagogies of Care project and your forthcoming book. Could you start by talking about your contribution to the Pedagogies of Care project?

Michelle: Right towards the end of the spring semester for many of us, as you know, we in the teaching and learning community and professional development and scholarship of teaching and learning space, were in just vibrant discussion with one another, just talking each other through the experiences that we were having as part of the pivot to emergency remote instruction, which I think for most of us in higher education, that was a big part of what we did in March all the way through May of 2020. So we’d been talking about these and there’s this very vibrant group of authors that have come together under the West Virginia University Press’s project, as you mentioned, edited by Jim Lang. And so we had this group, which was already exchanging very rich sets of advice and ideas about where we were going and really talking about how to help. And so under the leadership of Tori Mondelli, who conceived of this whole project, and also Tom Tobin, who has also been a real leader as part of this group, we talked about how can we put together some resources that grow out of the work that we’re doing, that capitalize on some of the rich conversation and collaboration that’s already happening, and whatever format that takes, put that out there into the world, so that people can use that and there’s all different ways that it could be utilized. We’re not prescribing that but we really had envisioned something that was open, that was helpful, and that was really contextualized within this moment of real upheaval and crisis and new directions that many of us are involved in.

John: We’ve gotten some really good feedback. I shared that with the faculty at our campus just a few days ago and I got about a dozen responses within a couple of hours saying “These resources are really useful. Thanks for sharing.” We’ll include a link to that in the show notes. So, we went through this traumatic switch that was a bit of a struggle for everyone, students and faculty, what can we do now to better prepare for the fall?

Michelle: At the time that we’re recording this, we are, for me, about midway through the summer. So, it really is starting to get real, for many of us, what we are going to do in the fall. And we’re seeing more and more institutions who are firming up and starting to commit to real plans for what the format of instruction is going to be like, what enrollments are going to be like, and all those kind of locally specific pieces of information that are so important for determining what we’re going to be able to do. So, what can we do differently to better prepare for the fall semester? First of all, let’s honor that what the vast majority of faculty that I’ve talked to, what we accomplished in such a short space of time in spring, providing instructional continuity. This was amazing. I mean, we really enabled students who, in some cases, they were set to graduate, they were earning their degree in maybe a month or two, and we made it possible for them to get to that finish line through a tremendous amount of ingenuity and hard work on everybody’s part. So, let’s not sell ourselves short. That said, we are headed into a very different environment. And so what I’ve really suggested in some other things that I’ve written about and definitely in my Pedagogies of Care project is a focus on what does quality really look like? And for me, being a cognitive psychologist, social scientist, totally acknowledging that that’s my perspective… forr me that comes down to aligning with the best of what learning science has to offer. And the neat thing is that we are in an era right now when number one, we really have converged on a set of principles that are fairly non controversial, and if not always easy to implement, it’s fairly clear what we can be doing. And we have technologies, in some cases, that map onto them very well. They don’t do the work for us. But they can really help implement things and make things concrete that we’ve known in theory for a long time were very, very important. So, that’s one of the things that I think that we can focus on. So, there is that. I’ve also really emphasized the reevaluation that we won’t be able to simply do what we’ve always done. I think those of us who work in this space are always quite adamant that teaching, say online or teaching a hybrid course, is not a matter of just sort of capturing a lecture. If that were the case, this would be very, very straightforward. We should just lecture all summer, record it and post it, but that’s not what it’s really about. So, what I think that we can focus on as we do reevaluate, in our teaching, what are we trying to accomplish? We can step back and say, “Well, what do students want to get out of this?” And that I think can help us winnow down from all the things that we could potentially do. It will help us let go of some things that we will not be able to do. And help us find, if not an easy path forward, a more clear one that will allow us to serve our students and also take good care of ourselves during this time.

Rebecca: I think anything that helps us figure out what our priority can be, in terms of content or goals that we have for students, but then also methodologies that we’ll use and why, I think is key because I think we all need to scale back and be reasonable with ourselves because there is so much to accomplish if we want to do it perfectly. But we just don’t have that kind of time. You just said it was halfway through the summer and I almost had a panic attack.

Michelle: Right. Not that I’m counting but it is actually just about the midway through the summer. And you, know, when I started reflecting even more on this Pedagogies of Care concept, which is the kind of overarching ideal that we eventually rallied under as a group, it’s occurring to me that that applies to faculty as well. I mean, self care is a kind of a term that’s very cliched, and it gets kicked around, but I think that we also really do at this time need to be recognizing that, again, what we did, what we accomplished as faculty in the spring was tremendous, that it did require people working weeks and weeks and weeks, sometimes months without a break. And although summers are not really traditionally a break,or vacation for faculty in any conventional sense of the word, they are a time to recharge and for many of us were also taking care of research obligations and other things that went completely by the wayside for a while out of necessity. So we really do have to balance that too. What’s the degree of faculty burnout at this point? What’s the degree of faculty receptivity to brand new things. So, the things that we are looking at also need to be kind to ourselves. We need really good communication and collaboration more than ever before, I think, in university communities. I think that’s really also the thing that’s going to make this fall successful, is being able to recognize what faculty have been through and work with that. So yeah, I think that we should recognize this effort. And with that, I also think that evidence-based teaching, incorporating learning science and those principles… that ideally shouldn’t be yet another thing on the to-do list. I think that if that’s the way it’s coming across, then we’re going about it the wrong way. I mean, to me, frameworks are always a way to simplify. Again, we have this infinite landscape of things that we could do in any given class, all these different decisions to make and choices. We do have a framework for whether it’s learning principles or another framework… that should help and simplify. So I think it kind of fits in that big landscape of possibilities as well. That’s how I see it. It should help; it shouldn’t add to what’s becoming a pretty serious burden for faculty.

John: One of the things I’ve really liked in your discussion, as an economist, is you sounded at times, like an economist, when you were describing that, in terms of this is the most efficient way of helping students reach their goals… that if we use evidence-based methods of teaching, we can let students learn skills more efficiently without wasting as much time and getting closer to that point, making it a form of caring, I think, as you referred to it. That one way of demonstrating your care for students is by using techniques that are more efficient, that provide the largest return on students’ time… there’s the economics part coming in. So I really appreciated that. And I thought it was a really good argument that we tried to emphasize ourselves in our workshops.

Michelle: Oh, thank you. And you said it better than I possibly could have as a non-economist, but that’s exactly the core of that idea, that it is kind to students and perhaps it’s kind to faculty as well. We can pre-select some of these avenues and techniques that, if you’ve got an hour to study (and for many of our students, that hour of study might be fractured and jammed in among all kinds of caregiving tasks) that you’re going to get more from that. If, as a faculty member, you’ve got four hours that you can devote today to preparing for the fall… and as well, that’s going to be divided up among other tasks among your caregiving responsibilities… how can we cut to the chase for faculty so that they can make those choices? So I’m glad that that comes across.

Rebecca: I think it’s important when we are planning for the fall that we are getting down to those essential elements. Can you talk us through some of the steps that faculty might take to focus in on those essential items and the evidence-based practices so they can have a good framework moving forward, not just for the fall when they might be teaching remotely, and that’s what they’re not familiar with, but all the time?

Michelle: Coming down to essentials, and here too, I think, that that has really resonated with many faculty and also with instructional designers and others tasked with making all of this work. That’s what’s really resonated, like what are some of the essentials, and I’ll never claim to be able to I Identify the complete and exhaustive list of exactly what to do. But here’s what comes to my mind. I think that perhaps returning even to those learning objectives, which we may have put in a syllabus long ago, and they can be sometimes kind of abstract, but coming back to those and saying, alright, what does it really look like when students have achieved these? Are there any that need to be perhaps modified, or dropped altogether? So if we are going to have a semester of really focusing on essentials, this might be a good time to do that. Naturally, we will want to think about the content. And oftentimes we talk about in pedagogy and developing pedagogy, we talk about re-focusing away from just coverage of content, that’s something that a lot of us get behind. And it’s okay to be thinking about well what content is going to be in the course. But then really pivoting to look at what’s the engagement with that content? How are the students going to engage with the content and how are they going to engage with you? So that’s a piece of it, asking yourself that question. And I think then, starting to bring in those really concrete logistics. Now, again, typically those of us who talk about pedagogy a lot, we kind of discourage people from talking about very specific tools or technologies, until they’re really, really clear on some of those high-flown ideals of what they and their students want to get out of the course. But I think in this case, we probably want to hold off on th.t, we are going to have to say, “Well, are you going to be expected to teach online but synchronously? And if you want an example of that, the Zoom meetings, which we’re all pretty familiar with, at this point, where we’re in at the same time, but maybe you’re in a different place? So is that going to be a part of what you do with students? Because that is pretty new to many of us. And if so, there’s certain considerations you’re gonna have to have in mind say, ‘Well, how is that going to work?’” Especially, if you’re expected to also be teaching say, a face-to-face course at the same exact time, which I think is going to present challenges. And I think for many of us, it’s going to depend on your local institutional context, but I think you can’t go wrong right now with setting up a robust online component to your course. I think that with the level of uncertainty we have, or even with individual students… if they’re going to need to say quarantine or take care of an ill relative or something like that… having some asynchronous, so different time activities and materials online, is going to be essential. So I think taking those concerns and saying, “Alright, what is this physically going to look like?” I wouldn’t typically push that as much but I think that that’s important now. And I think in the preparation for this, too, another kind of bare essential point that I talk about in my resource for our project is media creation. So in some cases, people are going to want to create, say, a set of videos, or let’s say they’re demonstrating a process. Let’s say they’re teaching studio art. They might want to have some pretty involved videos or other kinds of demonstrations, or perhaps there’s not good written material out there that might replace a series of face-to-face lectures. Maybe they’re going to be wanting to write a fair amount of content or maybe record, even, podcast-style materials. That stuff eats up a lot of time. So I think really being real about what you absolutely need to do in that department and getting started now, that’s sort of the wisdom of experience that I would share with folks as well.

Rebecca: I think that’s really good advice, Michelle. As I’m thinking towards the fall, I made a list of “this is absolutely essential… if I don’t have this content made, we’re screwed if we’re online,” versus like, “this stuff does exist out there that I could use…if maybe isn’t my favorite.” And then there’s well established stuff that’s fine or whatever. Because it does take a lot of time to write, produce and plan some of that stuff… even if you’re using methods that aren’t burdensome, where you’re not worried about production quality and those kinds of details. It still takes time. You need quiet space. There’s a lot of constraints, especially if you’re like me and you have kids at home. [LAUGHTER] You got to find the quiet time to record the thing. [LAUGHTER] So I appreciate the balance there… really thinking logistically a little bit. Because if you have a finite amount of time, then you have to prioritize what can get done ahead of time.

Michelle: Right. And you know, it may not be the way to go. And I though I’d share with you an experience that I had, well, right in the thick of the great pivot, the transition to remote instruction. I was talking to a faculty member who does happen to teach studio art. They teach drawing and painting in a small-class atmosphere, a very intimate atmosphere that’s very hands on… and not somebody who works at my institution. I happen to know them. And she called me up partway through the great pivot week and was distraught. She was really on the verge of tears. And she was saying, “Well, this goes live next week, I need to somehow carry my course forward, my studio art course. And I just learned that my colleague, the guy down the hall, what he’s doing is he’s got these videos that come down from the ceiling, and then we have these close ups on drawing and these techniques and he’s doing all this. I can’t do this. I’m a single parent. I’m at home. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do.” And I said “Alright, it doesn’t have to look like that. Your colleague may be doing that. It doesn’t have to look like that.” And I said alright, what is working in your course? That’s another thing you can use to kind of cut to those essentials. So what is the strongest thing? What do your students need right now?” She said “Well, they’re absolutely overwhelmed and I think they need a lot of support.” And “Well, is there any kind of social peer-to-peer support?” And she said “Oh, well, we have since the beginning of the semester, I put them into these pods of three. And so they’ve been developing these social structures where they consult with each other every week. And so they have ways of communicating with each other in these pre-existing social groups. Do you think that could be useful? And I said “Yes, go with that.” So what your course is accomplishing really well right now is setting an atmosphere where students are talking to each other and I said, “Well, maybe you can kind of divide and conquer. You can hand off this project to where students are critiquing each other’s work in these groups. So, definitely kind of double down on that arrangement that you’ve already put into place. Your colleague down the hall, maybe multimedia is his thing and this is easy for him. But he may be struggling to say how do we get students to socially support each other form connections and feel connected to the class, even though it’s now in a remote format.” To me, that’s something to really capitalize on. So I took away a lot from that and I’ll be reflecting a lot on that as well. Your “solution” to the challenges we face is going to look different and it really should go with whatever is strongest for you. I think as academics, we kind of say, “Well, if it’s easy, that must be the wrong way to go about things.” But sometimes the path of least resistance maps well and aligns well onto what your strengths happened to be and what your students needs are.

John: Going back to that point, though, about creating media. If you create materials for an online format, you can always use that to support face-to-face if by some miracle things return to some sense of normalcy, it’s probably not going to, but that material will still be there and will be useful. So, a focus on that, I think, is really helpful. And that’s what we’ve been strongly advocating for our faculty as well.

Rebecca: Just as long as you don’t have specific deadlines… don’t put deadlines, dates or anything like that in them.

Michelle: Right? See, that’s just a practice that is so important to create reusable media. And it’s a seemingly small thing, but until you really get into this and get practice, you don’t realize how important that is… that yeah, if you are going to sink the time into that, make it reusable. And that’s an important point for reusability.

John: And going back there, I’d like to once again, we’ve done this many times, recommend Karen Costa’s book on 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Videos. It’s a really nice resource. And it does focus on keeping it simple. Don’t do the fancy transitions. Don’t do something where a half an hour video is going to take you 30 hours of production time. Keep it so that it’s easy for you so that you can keep doing it without imposing a burden that’s going to make you stop doing this.

Michelle: Absolutely. And I’m so glad for that recommendation. I went out and got the book myself. I think I’m on Tip Number 80 as of this morning, so I’m almost there and I’m finding these wonderful… everything from very specific guidelines to much more conceptual things about why you want video in a course to begin with. So yeah, I’m with you on that. It’s definitely worth a read and definitely this summer. But maybe also, to kind of put this into a different focus as well with the focus on creating media and doing so purposefully in a way that is sustainable, let’s not lose sight of the active learning component. So that’s something that I’ve really kind of watched with some concern and definitely some interest as this conversation evolves. So active learning at this point, I mean, people sometimes perceive it as a buzzword, but it is such a robust concept. And I think it’s easy, at a point where we are kind of saying, “Well, how can we make all this work in some different formats” to lose sight of that. And so we may be creating wonderful videos, instructional videos, or all kinds of things and just merrily perking along with that, but we do need to remember how are students interacting with it, which is why a beautiful film of somebody demonstrating a drawing technique might, in some context, not even be as valuable as somebody who’s having students talk to each other because of that engagement. So I think that too, this is going to be so critical as we see more schools pushing for things like recordings of lectures, or even synchronously bringing students in during a live session you’re having with other students, I think that we do need to remind people who are in charge of these things, that education is just never something you watch, it is something that you do. So it is really tempting to say, let’s record everything we can, that’ll be equivalent, but active learning is not a luxury that we can just put on hold for a while. It really isn’t. And so I’m hoping that we don’t see that happen. I think there’s a very similar story that’s going on with Universal Design for Learning. Another concept I know you’ve engaged with so much on this podcast and is so important. And I think you’re too, it’s easy to say, “Well, you know, given all this going on, maybe we won’t have multiple ways of engaging with these great media that we’re creating, or maybe we’re going to kind of shut down this avenue over here for a little while.” And I really hope that doesn’t happen. So that’s another aspect of this balance between the quality and ambitiousness of what we’re doing and the feasibility and protecting ourselves as we face another very challenging semester.

Rebecca: I think that’s a really good reminder about focusing on the learning as the essential element as opposed to the teaching. It’s really about setting up the framework and the possibilities for students to learn, and designing those activities and making sure that we’re spending the time on that, rather than all the time on just delivering something.

John: But having those videos can free up time so that if you do meet synchronously, you can engage in more active learning activities rather than just lecturing to students online, which is probably one of the worst ways of structuring synchronous meetings. And if you really want to do a little bit more work, you could use something like PlayPosit where you embed questions in the middle of a video that could be somewhat open ended and that you could even grade. If you happen to have an institutional license you can embed it directly in your LMS. So the videos themselves can be made, with a bit of work, a little more interactive, and they can serve as a replacement for lecture that allows for more active learning, I think.

Michelle: Absolutely, and I too. I’ve seen some wonderful examples in practice of that technology, and there’s a couple of different ways to do this. So there’s multiple tools that allow you to put a retrieval practice or comprehension questions somewhere in the midst of this online lecture, presentation or video and what better way to help ensure that students are attentive to them, to give yourself some opportunities on the other end to say what’s the actual level of comprehension that’s going on out there. And for students to really solidify and practice the material. That’s all bedrock learning science stuff, right? Retrieval, active practice, and so on. And it just takes a little bit of ingenuity to take that one extra step to say, alright, what’s the level of interactivity here. And that’s something that I hear too, from faculty, it’s quite reasonable. They have taught purely face-to-face and don’t have that level of first-hand experience with something like online teaching. It’s just like, “Well, how do I know what’s going on out there?” And, again, there’s not a technology that’s going to just magically replace the experience of looking at the sea of faces that we experience in a face-to-face class. But think about it. That’s one way to do it. Having something like an online gamified quiz, like Kahoot!, which is currently my favorite quizzing app that’s out there. I ran this just the other day quite successfully in a remote synchronous environment. So, there are two that could help give you that information right away about what concepts are they struggling with. And having other ways of reaching out to students, if not talking to them individually in something like a meeting, a phone call, or even a text chat, having some other ways to kind of figure out on the ground what’s the mood level of the course? How are we feeling about things and are there individual students who are struggling for one reason or another who we can reach out to?

John: One way in which I saw interactive videos being used was several years ago, I took a MOOC on behavioral economics that Dan Ariely had put together and he’d often discuss experiments, but he set up the experiment and describe what the experiment did. But then the video pauses, and you’re asked to predict what the outcome would be. And that type of prediction is a really useful evidence-based technique that you can even do with videos if you can embed the questions in the middle of them. And I thought that was really useful. And it’s something I’m going to be trying to do a bit this fall. But in terms of evidence-based learning, could you talk a little bit about some of the main principles that people should be using to design their fall classes? What should people be focusing on?

Michelle: So, when I talk about bringing down just a vast literature of learning science and I’m going to necessarily boil this down to what I think are my favorites and the most applicable… So, of course, retrieval practice,I think if there’s one success story that our field has had, I mean it goes back even over 20 years that we got the data, determined how this principle works and started flowing it out to practitioners in the field, it’s this one. So that is, of course, the principle that when we actively pull something out of memory, it increases our ability to remember it in the future. And of course, we’d naturally think of tests, exams, and assessments as the avenue for this, but there’s lots of other ways that it can take place. So I always love to direct people to the website retrievalpractice.org. I’m not affiliated with it, but I think they have a wonderful compendium of ideas for how to bring this into classrooms at all different levels, all different disciplines, and so on. So if you don’t have retrieval practice, quizzing, students actively talking about what they remember, great time to bring that in. So you can’t go wrong with retrieval practice. Then, of course, the principle of what’s the timing of your study. So, spaced study, and pretty much by any measure, when we spread out student engagement with material… again, whether it’s through quizzing or solving problems, you name it, you’re going to get more out of that… efficiency… when it is spread over time. And I think that this is one of the real unsung benefits of online and technology assisted learning, even among people who are saying, “Oh, I’m just using the basic learning management shell to organize some materials and students turn their stuff in online. I mean, let’s not sell that short for how powerful that is, for being able to stagger deadlines, change the timing of when we are getting students to be working on different aspects of the course and so on. So while we don’t necessarily always want to bombard students with deadline after deadline, we do have to be mindful and help them kind of organize multiple deadlines. This is something that we could definitely build in as a design principle. So just to be very blunt about it, we always discourage people from the two midterms and a final course design. That’s something that a lot of us have experienced. It could work of course, like that can be fine. But from a memory and learning standpoint, that’s really not ideal. We want students engaging quite frequently. And then the practice… so the practice of this skill. So that advice, bring that up again, about it’s not all about content coverage. It’s about practicing the application of the content knowledge that they’re getting. We can almost always stand to build in more of these, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a course where I’ve said, “You know, you really need to present more content to the students. Don’t have them solving problems so often…” I have never seen that in practice, I will just go on the record and say that. So, if we want students to be doing X,Y, and Z. And again, go back to the front page of your syllabus and remind yourself what you’re hoping they’d be able to do at the end of the course. We want them to do that, what are the opportunities for them to actually try, and try in small bites? In my contribution to the Pedagogies of Care project, I give a very brief example of this in my own courses. So one of the things you have to do… bread and butter skills as a psychologist… is you have to be able to look at a psychology research study and kind of break down the structure of it. So no matter what’s being studied, there’s probably… we call them independent variables and dependent variables. So, things that are being manipulated, things that are being measured, and students have to develop that as a thinking skill and it’s really not easy. So I will oftentimes have them in, say a research methods course, very frequently, as part of whatever we happen to be doing, I’ll say, “Okay, here’s a really short description of a study. Maybe it’s an abstract or just a description, you pull out from me, before we talk about anything else about this study, you tell me, what are the independent variables? What are the dependent variables?” So it’s something that traditionally we’d always put on an exam. But, we didn’t always have students repeatedly practicing. So knowing that students absolutely had to master this before they got out of my research methods course. That’s what I did. So practice, and that kind of segues back into that active learning principle, which…yeah, you cannot go wrong with students getting involved. Once again, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a course where I said “You, the professor, need to get out there front and center, don’t emphasize the students so much.” So, they need to be doing the thinking, the practicing, and quite frankly, the work. That’s where the benefits come from. So with those: the retrieval practice, spaced study, practice of higher-order thinking skills, and a real active learning orientation, I think that that’s something you can take to the bank as a faculty member. You could build on that, but if you start with those, you’re probably going down the right path.

John: And I remember reading this really good book that talked about how using computer mediated instruction or using the tools within the LMS allows you to provide students with lots of feedback and lots of retrieval practice without necessarily increasing the burden on you, as the instructor. I think that book was called Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yeah. I feel like I might know that author, I’m not sure.

Michelle: Yes. [LAUGHTER] And thank you very much. That’s what I was trying to go for. So, thank you. It is wonderful that people are finding many of those points really relevant right now. So, yes, thank you so much for pointing that out. I think it’s great. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I think one thing that I’ve been thinking about in terms of having more remote time then maybe in-person time is that I often provide a lot of structured activities around retrieval practice and spaced practice in my face-to-face class and if students are working more independently when they’re working remotely, I’m not there to [LAUGHTER] facilitate it synchronously, that structure needs to really be in place, maybe even more so than when you’re in face-to-face class, that they have that structure and that they know they should be doing those things on a regular basis. Of course, we should be reminding them to do these things on their own as well. But, I think focusing a little bit more on having that structure or those reminders in our courses, when they might be remote is actually really, really imperative,

Michelle: Right? And those are learning skills and abilities and principles that are going to serve our students well, no matter what they study or what they may do after they leave a course. And it’s kind of neat. There’s some indication from the research literature that particularly for students who come in who are not from advantaged backgrounds, that when they’re exposed to courses, which as you say, they remind them, “Okay, do this kind of practice. Here’s what you should be doing. Here’s why you should be doing that” …that benefit really does extend not just into that course, but into future ones because students can pick these things up on their own. So, if we do really want to be thinking about how can we set our students up for success no matter what the future holds, I think that’s a pretty high ideal that we can work towards. So yet another reason to incorporate these powerful practices and perhaps, yeah, to talk about how students can adopt them, no matter what.

John: For those faculty who are struggling to prepare their courses, what are some heuristics they could be using in terms of focusing their time where it would give the most benefit.

Michelle: This is something that has definitely been on my mind, both for my own preparation and to share with others. So heuristics, shortcuts, and helpful hints and approaches. So, I talked earlier about looking at what you consider to be your strongest points as an instructor and kind of the highlights of the course… the things that you know, are memorable, that advance learning that you feel really strong and competent with, with the caveat that, yeah, we do want to make sure that those do align with student learning. I think that that’s a great place to start. Say: “Okay, what’s the great parts of my course? Forget about what anybody else is doing. What do I really want to use?” And putting those front and center. If you have a short activity that’s working great, maybe that’s something that could be done every week, or somehow extend it. But the flip side of that is this, and this is another that I didn’t invent this… This is something you’ll see repeated time and again, in teaching advice, which is the pinchpoint heuristic, flipping it around and saying, “Oh my gosh, if there is one thing that students are struggling with conceptually, or it’s something that I know they should be doing, and they don’t do it to the level that they need to,” that you focus your efforts, kind of train your sights on that piece of it. Especially in the discipline. I teach, psychology. I mean, there’s so many fun things we could talk about with psychology, and it’s easy to kind of spend a whole lot of time and effort shooting the videos or setting up the learning activities online and making a quiz that’s about something that’s just cool to learn about. But that can’t squeeze out “Oh my gosh, everybody gets unconditioned stimulus and conditioned stimulus wrong and they do it every single year, and I know it’s going to happen.” So I need to be pulling out those things. You know what, if I’m going to spend the hours on a video or an extra module or creating an interactive quiz with multimedia, spend the time on the places where students are struggling. People who work with UDL, also talk about, “Well, here’s where you want to be especially conscientious to ensure that you do have the multiple means of representation and expression is around these areas that are really, really tough for students.” So what’s working great, where’s the point where you just say, if I could wave a wand and make one thing happen, that’s what I would do. So really looking at those two tracks. So that’s one heuristic. I think, as well, I’ll share with you something that I’m working on for my own courses… big caveat, that this is my courses. I will probably not be teaching a very large set of classes just because of the vagaries of course assignments. So I know I have that a little bit easier. But, here’s what I’m going to do as a framework. I’m kind of thinking of splitting it up so each week, students have a set of kind of general categories that they have to meet, they have to do some type of work or meet some kind of expectations in that area. So, I might, for example, have a column that corresponds to engaging with classmates about the topics for the week, and then a set of options for that week. So maybe you came to a face-to-face class, maybe you participated in an online discussion. And maybe there’s even a third option that I haven’t thought about yet. So just to really simplify things, I say, “Okay, check off in that area, what’s another column or category that you have to participate in, you have to do some type of demonstrating mastery of material” or I’m not quite sure what I’ll call it yet, but that could correspond to taking a quiz or maybe playing a Kahoot! in class or playing a Kahoot! remotely online. And I’ll probably also have a column that constitutes working towards whatever the term project is, and I’ll give them a set of choices again of what that term project can be like. But I am a very big believer in if you’re going to have a big project that there’s lots and lots of formative steps to that. So I tend to take that to extremes. And every week or so, students are doing something to show that they are moving towards and making progress in that area. So it is still a little bit general around the edges. But, to me, that really helped me feel like I had a handle on how am I going to manage choices? How am I going to manage multiple formats, and manage uncertainty with that focus on the purpose? Why do we have this do this week? Well, because it falls into these different categories, all of which are important for your learning in this class. So, those are a couple of the shortcuts that I would share.

John: One of the other things you talked about in your contribution to the Pedagogies of Care is the importance of getting help when you need it or where you need it. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Michelle: So this whole idea of getting help, I mean, it’s very simple on the face of it. I’m a faculty member, I want to do this thing in my class. I don’t know how… I call somebody… magic happens. And in reality, in higher education, what I’ve seen over and over at different institutions is that that is not a direct path at all between support, assistance, and collaboration, and the faculty member and the time and place when they need that. And so I think that this is going to be an issue that, if it’s not on people’s minds now, in leadership and pedagogy circles, if it’s not on their minds, now, it will be in six months to a year, I think that this is going to be one of the differences between institutions that make it through this fall in good shape and those that really struggle is what are those processes? So for faculty members, I’m really encouraging them to say, “Alright, where are the points, in this process, where you could get some kind of assistance that either you invest some time and you get the capacity to do something very efficiently in the future, say, like a workshop on how to do sustainable videos, or how do you actually find somebody to share the load? …actually delegate some of the work? For faculty, they should be reflecting on that, but at that point, that’s where things are going to get complicated depending on what the systems are in place at their institutions. So first of all, I think that institutions don’t always, and faculty ourselves, we don’t always make that distinction. When I say I want help, do I mean, I want you to point me to a great website or a book I can read? Do you want me to spend half a week coming to a workshop series? Or are you going to get in there and say, “Okay, you have the content, I can build these quizzes, you have a script for what you want to do for a complex video, I can shoot that for you, caption it, and put it online.” So what kind of help are we talking about here? And then figuring out how do you approach your institution to do that? So I’ve just really been continually surprised as I do visit different institutions. I mean, almost universally there are these amazing instructional designers and other people who just devote their professional lives to teaching and learning. They’re up on all the new technology. They know what was the great new video editing software that just came out last week? You know, they’re the ones who have that. And oftentimes there’s a disconnect there. People don’t know how, they feel inhibited, or maybe they’ve been actively inhibited. Some institutions, they say, “Well, there’s a process, and we’re going to put a lot of strings on how we’re going to divvy up these resources.” Others actually discourage instructional design and similar staff from even talking to faculty. And there’s a little kind of social piece to it as well, I think, just because we haven’t yet fully incorporated this into what we do… that it’s almost like, well, who makes the first move? If I’m an instructional designer and I know, here’s these courses over here that I could be helpful with, you know, just email people out of the blue… and likewise, faculty, they say, well, should I call the support line for this more complex project that I need help with or not? So I think that institutions will hopefully be sorting that out, but presuming that there isn’t a giant revolution in how we have collaboration between instructional designers and faculty, being aware of that and at least having something very clear in your mind for what you’re asking for, the worst that can happen usually is that somebody says no, but to have any chance you at least have to know what specifically do you want.

Rebecca: I think knowing that’s really helpful too. Because if you start talking to faculty, for example, in other disciplines, they might have a similar goal or they need similar structure in place, you could actually work with those faculty to put the structure in place and share the structure, swap out the content or whatever too. Sometimes we don’t think about those kinds of collaboration.

Michelle: Right, and what you’re describing, that’s something that is kind of non-traditional and new. We come into this with a very strong tradition of “my class is my class” and a kind of an ethos as academics that you do things the hard way, and you do them by yourself. But maybe this can be an impetus for us to really be getting creative with swapping, even things like a syllabus. You say, “Well, you know, maybe the way that I’ve gone about this, you can actually springboard this even if it is, as you said, in a different discipline.” Maybe we’ll even see faculty putting together some more unconventional team teaching arrangements. Traditionally, we know a team teaching is we’ve we’re experts in the same subject. And we’re going to create this class that sort of articulates, or we’re going to pass it back and forth. But maybe I should be collaborating with somebody from another area of psychology. Do they have to be in my sub discipline to just come in and say, help me with discussion forums, if I’m not very good at that, and then I can come into their class and help them with synchronous video, if they need help with that. Maybe if we have to, we will do it that way. So if that comes out of all of this, I think that would be a great benefit. And I want to say I have been really hesitant and cautious about engaging in this narrative of the silver linings and “Oh, isn’t this a wonderful experience? We’ll learn all these new methodologies of teaching will come out of this and we’ll all love online teaching and be fluent with it.” I don’t think that that’s an appropriate message for faculty right now. I think we do need to recognize that this has been somewhere between disruptive and catastrophic for most of us career wise, and not imply that we should all just constantly be thrilled to be learning new things. There are so many new things that we could be learning right now. But fall is coming. And we only have so much time. So I do want to put that out there, and that’s something that I think is an important thread that needs to be, and I hope it will be, talked about more as the dialogue unfolds. But even without saying, “Hey, this is a great time to do new things,” we can recognize that there will be innovation that happens, and it’s already happened. We’ve seen it happen.

John: And while this may not be a silver lining, I know in our teaching center, we’ve seen a lot of faculty who I didn’t even know existed on our campus, because as Jessamyn Neuhaus has talked about, people have broken down some of those barriers where they think they have to do everything themselves, and they’re more willing to request help when they desperately need help in ways that they weren’t willing to do before.

Michelle: Absolutely. I think that Jessamyn Neuhaus has been such a clear and fresh voice on some of these development issues. She’s absolutely right. She talks about it in her own style, which is totally unique to her, but it really gets it across, that we’re Professor SmartyPants, and we are not used to collaborating, working together, or just saying, “I don’t know.” So I guess we can also say, even if we don’t formally work in a teaching and learning center, if there’s something that you know, that your colleague does not, and you can help with, get out there, volunteer it, and let’s all really do this in perhaps a new spirit, where it’s not all just about, “Well, here’s what I know and you don’t know it, and I’m gonna feel uncomfortable coming in,” let’s have a real reset in terms of really open sharing. It’s not about playing the game of who knows more, or who figured out the latest thing. It’s really about serving the students and doing so in a way that we can sustain what promises to be a pretty challenging semester.

Rebecca: These have all been really great tips and things to think about as we move towards the fall, as the fall moves towards us… maybe that’s a better way of thinking about it. [LAUGHTER]

Michelle: I think that’s a frighteningly accurate turn of phrase there. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I want to make sure that we get to talk a little bit about your new book, though, can you share a little sneak preview?

Michelle: Oh, sure. And this book, of course, well predates the era that we’re in. But it’s been something that I’ve wanted to write about for a very long time. And then when I was able to make the connection to James Lang and to his series, I think it was really meant to be. So, it is about memory and technology. So, much has been written in the popular press, and a little bit in the scholarly press as well, about cognitive processes and how those change or not in the presence of technology and with a frame for teachers, of course, so those of us who want to make up even just very specific policies, like should I allow note taking in class on laptops or not, to people who are really interested in this broader sense of teaching and learning in our contemporary era. So what I’ll be talking about in the book are issues such as well, first of all, what do we need to know about how memory works in the first place as a teacher or a person who is really into learning. So what do we now know about how memory works and how it can be improved? I also talk about why anybody should even care about memory, because that’s one of the angles of technology as well… this question of “Well, do you really need to know anything in the age of Google?” And there are people on both ends of that spectrum… probably no surprise that I come in somewhere in the middle of saying, on the one hand, it’s really important to be able to find information when you need it. And yes, we absolutely should be de-emphasizing memorization for its own sake. However, we also know from current research that memory in a subject area helps us think in that area. So there’ll be something for everybody in that section of the book as well. And then we will talk about what is the effect of having something like a smartphone, always at our fingertips? Does that create any kind of global change in memory? Does it change our memory for specific things that we might be doing or thinking about what we’re using that technology? And how, again, can we turn this to our advantage as lifelong learners ourselves and also for our students. Now, of course, you can’t talk about any of this without talking about attention itself. And so while it’s not a book about attention and distraction, per se, we’ll talk about “Alright, well, what’s the flip side of that?” And so how, basically, can we take all the advantages that technology has to offer for building memory and de-emphasize all the things that it does to offset and degrade our memories, and come out of this with the best of both worlds? I will get into a little bit at the end of the book as well into some of these bigger questions of how is memory itself changed when we live in a technological era when so much of our lives are recorded? And what does that say about things like generational differences, or what memory might look like decades from now? So I’m absolutely loving exploring all those themes, and I think they’ll be interesting for anybody who’s in the arena of teaching and learning but also with a lot of practical tips about again, how we can reap all the benefits that technology can offer for memory and for learning.

Rebecca: You’ll have a lot of disappointed listeners to know that that doesn’t come out until 2021. Right?

Michelle: Good things take time. And yes, we will see. It is a work in progress. And although we definitely have all the themes and all the ideas nailed down, it’s something I’m working on as we speak. So that’s part of why I’m so excited about the project. But yes, I got to finish it first.

Rebecca: We’re definitely excited for it to come. We always wrap up by asking what’s next?

Michelle: I am, as many of your listeners probably are, when this comes out, absolutely in the thick of redesigning my own courses for fall. Without getting into too many of the specifics, my institution has kind of laid out a set of parameters that they want us to meet. And so I’ll be re-envisioning my courses and to practice what I preach. I’m going to try to flow that out as much as possible to my colleagues, both locally in my own department, my own college, at my institution, and also nationally. So I’m kind of looking at some different ways that I can continue to engage people in this and share out what I’m learning as we go along. And I’m also pretty excited to be preparing some even more in-depth materials for some institutions who are looking for help in exactly this type of thing, how to get faculty interested in this whole topic of flexible teaching, some specific techniques that are useful for what I’ll call flexible teaching, key resources, things to do and not to do, and so on. So I’m excited to be coming back at it on all cylinders in the fall, and looking forward to engaging students in all the different formats that we now have and seeing where it takes us. So that’s what’s next for me.

John: Well, thank you. This has been wonderful talking to you again. We’ve always enjoyed these conversations, and our listeners have very much appreciated them.

Michelle: Oh, thank you.

Rebecca: It’s always really helpful to know too, that you’re not alone. We’re all going through the same kinds of contemplations, and so thanks for sharing some of your own stories about developing and planning for the fall too.

Michelle: Thank you as well.

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

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

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116. Simple Sustainable Videos

Faculty are often reluctant to create video content for their classes because of concerns over technical expertise, the demands on their time, and discomfort being on camera. In this episode, Karen Costa joins us to discuss how videos can easily be created, save time, and improve connections with students.

Karen is an adjunct faculty member teaching college success strategies to online students and a faculty professional development facilitator at faculty Guild. She’s a staff writer for Women in Higher Education. She writes regularly about higher education and her new book, 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos, will be released from Stylus in the spring.

Show Notes

  • Faculty Guild
  • Costa, Karen (2020). 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos. Stylus Publishing (forthcoming, April 2020).
  • Podcast listeners can receive a 15% discount + free shipping and handling by using the discount code: TEA99 on the order form for 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos.
  • Karen Costa’s YouTube site to accompany 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos.
  • Powtoon
  • Screencast-O-Matic

Transcript

Rebecca: Faculty are often reluctant to create video content for their classes because of concerns over technical expertise, the demands on their time, and discomfort being on camera. In this episode, we focus on how videos can easily be created, save time, and improve connections with students.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Our guest today is Karen Costa. Karen is an adjunct faculty member teaching college success strategies to online students and a faculty professional development facilitator at faculty Guild. She’s a staff writer for Women in Higher Education. She writes regularly about higher education and her new book, 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos, will be released from Stylus in the spring.

Welcome!

John: Welcome!

Karen: Thank you.

John: Our teas today are:

Karen: I love tea. I feel like I need to take a stance on tea in this podcast. [LAUGHTER] I go through phases with tea. I was in a huge tea phase a couple years ago, I had a holiday tea and had some ladies over for tea. It was really fun. And I’m not in a tea phase right now. So, I’m not drinking tea.

Rebecca: Well, maybe this episode will get you back into the tea phase.

Karen: I’m certainly going to re enter a tea phase at some point. It’s just a matter of time. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I’m drinking English Afternoon. I almost feel guilty saying that.

John: You should.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: And I’m drinking Bing Cherry Black tea, a Harry and David tea. We’ve invited you here to talk about your forthcoming book: 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos. Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of this project?

Karen: I can. [LAUGHTER] I have to say I just submitted the second round of edits and redid the index for the book. And I’ve been working on it for about a year now. And I feel like everyone already has it, and it’s wild… the entire book creation process. [LAUGHTER] If I can go back a bit… I fell in love with making videos in high school. So, I took a media class… junior and senior year… with one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Bestwick. She was my English teacher as well. And a couple of my best friends were in the class. So, it was just a ton of fun. And when I think about what we got to do in that class, I’m still pretty amazed. Mrs. Bestwick… she was amazing. She gave us just this incredible opportunity to create. So, we hosted our own radio show junior year, and then senior year, the high school installed televisions in all the classrooms This was in the 90s, so that was like a big deal. And the media class, we did a morning “news show” where we read the announcements about the school and sometimes hard-hitting news like interviewing the star of the field hockey team and stuff like that. The show was called The Morning Minute, and I got to be a part of that. And I fell in love with being on camera and creating videos. I am an introvert, so I haven’t figured that out quite yet. But, I really loved the energy of doing that work. I know y’all are in Oswego. I went to Syracuse for undergrad, so I was right down the road. And I know how winters are up there. I went to Syracuse for broadcast journalism. That was my plan. I wanted to be a news anchor. And freshman year of college, I went to my advisor and I said, I want to change from broadcast journalism to undecided and he said “No, you can’t do that. No one does that.” He said, “everyone wants to change from undecided into broadcast journalism.” So I said, “Well, I’ll be the first.” And so I did. [LAUGHTER] I don’t know if that was a smart decision or not. But, I didn’t really do much with video for a while after that, and then sort of flash forward to around 2006, 2007 when I started teaching online, I was working in higher ed and I was teaching a college success course online. And I immediately was trying to figure out how to make that online course more engaging and to create a sense of classroom community and to connect with my students. And I thought, why not make more videos for my online classes, and I just went down the rabbit hole. And I’ve been there ever since. And trying to figure out ways to make videos and make them engaging and efficient and effective. And I hadn’t really thought about it much. And then a couple years into it, I was talking to somebody about it, and I said, “Oh my gosh, I circled back to something that I really loved a long time ago, and it just found a different expression.” I thought I was going to be on the news, which would have been a terrible fit for me because it’s a really intense environment [LAUGHTER} and I kinda like peace and quiet… and teaching in higher ed as a much better fit for me. And I figured out a way to bring videos into that. So, through that experience, I just fell in love with videos, and I’ve been figuring out ways to bring them into my teaching. And then I started talking about it to everybody who would listen, and started sharing that with faculty. So, the book was born of that experience.

Rebecca: What a great journey.

Karen: Yes, a full-circle journey. [LAUGHTER]

John: One of the nice things about your book is that you have some QR codes in the book that give you examples of the things you’re talking about.

Karen: Yes. So, this is funny, I can take zero credit for the QR codes. Those were the idea of my editor, John von Knorring, at Stylus. We were going back and forth on a couple of things and he said, “Karen, what do you think about using QR codes in the book?” And I was like, “Ooh, QR codes…” because the last exposure I had to QR codes was probably 10 years ago when they first came out… and remember you have get the QR code reader app on your phone. They were cool, but they were also a little clunky. And I am pretty intense about keeping things as simple and sustainable as possible, which is in the title of the book. So, I was really a little hesitant about that, like “Are faculty going to have to download an app and remember their app store password to get to these videos.” And John said, “No, QR codes are different now.” So, what I learned is you just open the camera on your phone and hold it over the QR code and you’re brought right to the video. So I said, “Okay, let’s give this a try.” And I’m so, so glad that he had this idea. Because, obviously, a book about videos is enhanced by giving people easy access to some of those videos. So when I was editing the book, and I kept coming across those QR codes, I was just so excited about the chance that faculty would have to access those videos easily. And the last thing I want to say about those I hope when people see the videos that they say “Oh, this is kind of basic, this is nothing special.” That would be the greatest compliment if they see a video and say this is nothing special, because my hope is they see them and think this is something I can do. I’ve been thinking about doing more on YouTube, and I found this site, this higher educator created and the videos were amazing. And I was floored. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so impressed by this.” And at the same time, I was like, “This is not in my power right now to do this…” like I could, but I just don’t have the time and energy. They were sort of hyper-produced polished professional videos, and I think it’s awesome that he did them and there’s a space for that. But, I’m here to advocate for a different type of video that any faculty will feel empowered to create. So, hopefully, when people see the videos, they think this is something I could do.

Rebecca: I really like to focus on being authentic and not doing something that’s overproduced because I think you’re right, that really does intimidate faculty. And sets them back like, “Oh, I can’t do that. I don’t have the time.”

Karen: Yep.

Rebecca: So if we’re doing something that is a little less polished, a little more authentic, a little bit more of in the moment, what are the benefits of doing it that way?

Karen: There’s a lot of benefits. And you mentioned time. So I’m going to start there. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I think we’re all sort of being bombarded. And I know I feel like I’m constantly working to protect my time, and that there’s so many external elements that are seeking to fill my time up. And I know the faculty that I work with are wearing multiple hats. They are teaching, they are department chairs, they are on committees, they come home and grade and prep, under really immense time challenges. So, one of the big philosophies in this book is that videos will make your life easier, and we’ll save you time. I couldn’t rationalize putting something else on faculty’s plate right now because they just have so much. My sense is that this is a system that will ultimately help faculty to be more efficient and to save them time. And the other piece of that that’s really important is that the types of videos that we’re talking about here humanize the online learning experience and the learning experience in general, whether you’re teaching online or land based. So, when you look at a really hyper-produced video, it can be visually stimulating and exciting and really cool to look at. But, it can sometimes make you feel separated and a bit distant. And there’s something special about creating a really basic simple video on the fly… just talking to your students… that helps create that connection. I get to say now… I’ve been excited to start talking about this… the woman who wrote the foreword to the book is just a force in higher education and online learning and the movement to humanize online learning. Her name is Michelle Pacansky-Brock, some of you might know her as Brocansky. That’s her Twitter handle and her website, and she was kind enough to write the foreword for the book and she’s done amazing work with this movement to humanize online learning. And that is a big part of these types of videos is to help students realize that you are a real person and not a robot. So, those are some of the benefits: saving time, not putting a ton of time into creating these videos, and building that human connection with students

John: Ane modeling that should make faculty feel more comfortable too, which makes it more likely they’ll actually start doing this.

Rebecca: Karen, can you elaborate a little bit more on ways that you save time… so, saving time by not making it hyper produced, but I think you were alluding to other ways you might save time as well.

Karen: Yeah, so one of the biggest realizations for me… I didn’t start making videos to save time… I talk about that there was sort of a creative passion for me and I wanted to connect with my students. I actually did a lot of not smart things in my video creation process early on, and I’m now able to share those stories with faculty to save them time. There’s a lot of like, “don’t do this” in the book. I would, for example, add lots of telling details to my first videos. So, I would be like “look at the snow outside of my house” and “can you believe it’s already snowing in November” or I’d say “Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.” I did things like that. So, immediately, as soon as I did that, that video was something I couldn’t use again. And I would also mention specific dates like “the discussion post this week is due on March 27.” And so then that video was dead, I couldn’t use it again. So, one of the things I learned was how to make videos reusable so that I could reuse them from term to term… really just a simple strategy of staying general. So, instead of saying a specific deadline, say “I posted the deadlines for this assignment in the announcements, so please look there.” So, now I can use that video, in a lot of cases, in future terms. And the other thing is that I use videos for frequently asked questions. So, that was a huge realization for me when I would get all these repetitive questions from students term after term after term. Rather than always emailing every student and answering those questions, I could create videos that would be more proactive. So, that was a big shift I noticed in my online classrooms when I started creating videos was that students were more likely to accurately complete the assignments and to be putting forth great work and I didn’t get as many of those repetitive type questions because they were getting those answers in the videos. And that saved me a ton of time. Just, I think, a lot of folks realize that those emails, they seem like, “Oh, it’s just 30 seconds here or there answering them” but they really do add up. So, anything we can do to be proactive there and to still support students and student learning and to get those questions answered. But, to do it in a way that’s more reasonable, I think, is a really powerful shift and videos can help us do that.

John: So, you’ve talked a little bit about how videos can create more of a sense of instructor presence in online classes. And you’ve talked about how it can be used to reduce the workload on faculty by not having to treat an online courses, perhaps a set of independent study for each student were working one-on-one with them by email, but might videos also be useful in face-to-face classes to help flip the classroom?

Karen: That is another track that the book takes and I taught land-based classes before I started teaching online and then for quite a while I was teaching both at the same time. And what’s funny is that my online teaching started to influence my land-based teaching. So, I started to realize that I could use videos in my land-based classes. And that was inspired by my online teaching. That’s something I think we’re starting to talk more about how online courses were sort of originally seen as like second best, like, “Oh, if you can’t take classes in person, you could take them online if you have to.” And I’m an advocate for there’s tons of benefits to online learning, and many of us learn better and more effectively online. And I think we’re now starting to talk about how online teaching can influence land-based teaching. So, that option to bring videos into the land based-classroom is there. It’s something I write about in the book. I think there’s two aspects: the flipped learning mode, for folks who are interested in sort of taking more of the passive learning elements (and I know passive learning some people say is an oxymoron), but, if you’re going to bring students into a land-based classroom and do a lecture, why not record a lecture, send that out, and then do some more interactive stuff in the classroom. So, that’s kind of the flipped-learning model in a nutshell. So, I talk in the book about how you can do that. And I think people are interested in doing that. But a big obstacle is how do I even make those videos? So, I want to make that accessible to people. But, even if you’re not thinking about the flipped learning model specifically, you can send out a welcome video to your land-based students before class starts, to just say, “Hey, I’m looking forward to seeing you. Here’s what you could do to prepare for the first day of classes.” That’s like such a simple 10-minute strategy that gets students prepared to come in and get ready to learn and get going right from the start on that first day. So, that’s just a really simple thing that a land-based professor could do. I talk about when canceling classes or you’re traveling for a conference or we just had a bunch of snow days last week, there’s a lot of opportunities to bring videos into land-based teaching as well.

John: In fact, I had just done that. I was at the OLC conference with Rebecca and quite a few other people, and because I was teaching a large face-to-face class, I created a couple of videos…

Karen: Yay!

John: …inserted some questions, uploaded them as SCORM objects, so that way my students could still do some online quizzing like they would have done if they were in class with clickers. So, videos can have lots of useful purposes in classes.

Karen: Absolutely.

Rebecca: How would you recommend faculty get started?

Karen: Well, I guess the kind of cheeky answer is to buy my book. [LAUGHTER] But in the meantime, certainly folks can check out the videos that I created to accompany the book are posted on my YouTube page. Those are open to anybody and you’re welcome to see those. The way that I learned was through trial and error. The simplest recommendation I have is to record a welcome video on your phone in the YouTube app. That’s just the most basic, simplest type of video I think you can create and welcome students to your class, introduce yourself, tell them what they’re going to learn, why you’re excited about teaching, and share that either with your land-based class or in your online classroom. And what I would also add to that is there’s a lot of anxiety for faculty, and for people in general, about being on camera. And I think this is a challenge. We live in a society where we think, “Oh my gosh, everybody’s putting all of their lives online, what do you mean people are anxious to be on camera?” It’s very different. Facetiming your best friend is very different than recording a video for your students. And a lot of folks are very nervous to do that for a lot of reasons. So, I would just say that to be human, to be nervous, is okay. And I think we’re learning there’s actually a benefit to that. Your students are also nervous, they’re terrified of starting college or a new class. So to see you say, “I’m creating my first video and I’m a little nervous about doing this, but I’m going to give it a try…” that can have such a huge impact on your students and to help normalize fear and frustration which is really important, particularly for our first-generation college students. So, know that that’s not a negative, if you’re nervous to be on camera… that it actually might really be a positive thing for you and your students. This is another thing I get kind of passionate about. There’s a lot of energy out there about you have to create these hyper-produced perfect videos using this very complicated technology. Just shut that out. And if that comes to you down the road… and there is a place for that… I don’t want to knock that… but, it’s okay to keep it really, really simple… a two-minute welcome video, no bells and whistles, just you speaking from the heart is a wonderful place to start.

John: What are some of the most common mistakes that faculty make when they create videos? When should faculty think about trying to avoid?

Karen: Okay, this one is, I think, controversial is a strong word… but I know that I differ from some folks here… I don’t like when people use a script. And here’s why. When people are nervous about being on camera, I think it’s a very logical response to think “I’m going to create a script because if I get nervous, I’ll just read off the script.” And [LAUGHTER] I say this in the book. There’s a very specific population of folks who can read off a script and still be engaging and they are professional broadcasts. Most folks reading off a script… and I’m sure there’s exceptions to this rule… but, if you’re new to being on camera and recording videos, reading off a script can come off as very robotic, and, actually, sort of disengaging, and what we’re looking to do in these types of videos is to be very human and to connect and to reveal ourselves, not in an inappropriately personal level, but to just show our humanity… and reading off a script, I think, can be an obstacle to doing that. So, that’s one of the biggest mistakes I see is that when people are just clearly reading from a screen, it just kind of falls flat. So, my recommendation would be, have an idea of what you want to say and then just speak from the heart. And if you stumble over a few words, amazing, perfect, you get the chance now to show students here’s how to make a mistake and keep going. What could be a more powerful lesson to share with our students then how to make a mistake and keep going? So, that’s actually a good thing. I think the other big thing I see that I talk about is this idea that the camera eats your energy. [LAUGHTER] So, you can take someone who’s pretty engaging in a traditional land-based learning experience and put them on camera and the camera takes some of that energy out of you. So, you do have to be a little bit peppier on camera than you might be in a traditional setting. So, I just remind folks to just add a little bit of pep. I know that can feel weird at first, but to smile and be a little animated… you’ll think that you’re looking a little bit goofy, and you won’t, because the camera will take some of the energy out of that. So, just put a little pep and energy into your videos… to smile… to look like you’re having fun. And you know, fake it till you make it. If you pretend that you’re just loving being on camera and be a little silly, you’ll be surprised how quickly you just do start having fun with it.

John: I had students do some podcasts this semester, and that same issue came up about whether they should use a script, and what I suggested is before they record it they should try it three ways. One is they should try just doing it freeform, then they could record it when they reading from a script, and then they could record it where they’re using an outline to structure it. And I said, record all of those, listen to it and see which sounds more natural. And then that’s what you should go with when you record it. And, maybe that might be a good approach for faculty ,because some people might be better with a script; others might be better when they just have an outline; and others might be better just improvising things.

Karen: I like that, and obviously experience is a great teacher, right? So, one of my philosophies of teaching is that I want to help my students in any setting, whether they’re students or faculty, to become their own best teacher. So, absolutely try out different things. I also think… be a consumer of videos. A funny thing happens when you start making videos, you start to notice a lot about other people’s videos. So, notice the videos that you love that are really engaging and notice the ones that aren’t as engaging and that can give you some clues about your own video creation strategies. Absolutely. But, try out different things. I think that’s great.

Rebecca: A really similar conversation that I just had with my students about web design. they were telling me that they don’t use browsers on their phones. They use mostly apps, and they don’t know what websites look like.

Karen: Oh, wow.

Rebecca: And it’s like, “you might not know what a welcome video looks like if you’ve never seen one, or you never experienced something like that. So, it’s better to seek them out and find out what they’re like and what the genre is even like before making any judgment.”

Karen: Yeah, and you can learn so much. I learn as much from things that I love as from things that don’t seem to work for me. Like, “Oh my gosh, that’s fantastic to know that, for me, a script doesn’t work because I’ve seen a lot of videos where folks are obviously reading off a script.” So, that’s great knowledge. Just start to be a savvy video content consumer and notice what speaks to you. For me, what really speaks to me are just personal, no nonsense, no frills, speaking-from-the-heart types of videos. And again, I think there’s a place for all kinds of videos, but I noticed that there’s a strong contingent out there for the more hyper-produced videos. So, I want to be a voice for these more simple and sustainable videos for sure.

Rebecca: I think the key, like what you’re talking about, is finding whatever feels really authentic to you.

Karen: Yeah, absolutely.

John: One of the most common things that faculty do is create screencasts pf slideshows or other things. What’s your take on whether or not there should be a talking head on those videos? I’ve seen a lot of arguments in many directions there.

Karen: Yeah. So again, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer there. So, I’ve tried to give people a bunch of options. If you have creative videos, where you’re on camera, and you are just incredibly uncomfortable, and that’s translating into the quality of the video that you’re creating. I really want to encourage people to try and practice and I do think most people will come around and start to feel more comfortable and create engaging content being on camera. But if eventually you’re at a point where you’re like “This is just not working for me. It’s not authentic for me.” Then maybe it’s time to set it aside at least for a time, and you can still make really engaging simple, sustainable videos for your students in a lot of other ways, and one of those is to create screencasts, where you’re not on camera, and you’re just recording the content on your screen. So, that’s a really big benefit. That said, I love being on camera. But there are days when I don’t want to be on camera, or I don’t feel that I’m camera ready, per se. I work from home and if just all heck has broken loose that day, but I still need to make a video for my students, I will just sometimes opt to not be on camera. So, it’s just a good option to be able to do screencasts. The other thing I do say is to think about attention and cognitive load, and I almost always add my headshot to a screencast. But if you have already established that relationship with your students and built that connection, and you feel like being that little thumbnail of you being on camera might be a little bit distracting, If you’re perhaps presenting a complicated concept to them in the screencast, then maybe you want to stay off camera so that they can use all of their attention and mental resources to focus on the screencasts itself and not on you. And there’s a benefit to that. I talk a lot about thinking about your instructional goals and meeting your students needs and your needs when you decide what type of video to create.

Rebecca: I like that emphasis on: there’s two audiences here that you need to address: yourself and your own humaness [sic] and time and whatever as well as the student.

Karen: I’m really glad you said that, that ended up becoming a really big theme of the book. I set out to write this book about videos and one of the big themes became faculty success. And I’ve written and talked about this before. We often talk about faculty success only in relation to student success. And faculty are sometimes treated as a means to an end. And I don’t think that works, and I don’t think it’s going to work. I think that we need to talk about faculty success as being worthy in its own right. And I really try to look for, and advocate for, those spaces of mutuality, where both faculty and students are benefiting. I think with our limited time and energy and resources that those are the spaces that we really should be investing our attention to support this work we do in higher education. I’ll bring staff in there as well, all the wonderful staff that work in higher education. We can’t create cultures of care that are only focused on caring for students, [LAUGHTER] and that sacrifice faculty and staff. That’s not what a culture of care is. So, I think it’s really important for faculty to think about, “Yes, this is what I want to teach students and I care about student learning and success, and how is this going to impact me…” and it’s okay to take that into consideration and to look for perhaps a compromise where you’re able to do both.

Rebecca: I really like your emphasis on sustainability as well. One of the things that I’ve done in the past because I teach such a technical area that changes so frequently, is that I had a lot of technical screencast videos that were really helpful to students, they really love that it was me talking to them for all those reasons about having established a relationship and it was familiar. When I screwed up, It was like they liked that, but then they would get out of date so quickly.

Karen: Yeah.

Rebecca: So, I moved away from that for a while, but I’ve actually moved back to doing it again. But, on a much smaller scale that’s more manageable, where it’s something that I think it’s going to last a long time rather than some of the things that are changing or a little more nuanced, or that there’s a lot more conversation that might have to happen around those topics.

Karen: I just had a huge smile on my face as you’re describing that journey and the evolution of your system because that really describes my video [LAUGHTER] creation evolution as well. I had so many videos… just all in with videos, and I set myself up in a way that wasn’t sustainable and then I got a little bit burned out with making them. I had a room in my house with lighting and a screen and every time I wanted to create a video, it became this huge thing. And I had so many videos that they weren’t always reusable, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was still making them but my production level just went down pretty drastically. And now, for me, the priorities are making sure students are able to navigate my online courses, [LAUGHTER] because I don’t think we realize how scary that is to go into an online course. We’re in there all the time, we know it like the back of our hand, and for a student who’s new to college or new to online learning to go into an online course, is incredibly overwhelming. So, I always want to have videos that kind of show them around, welcoming them into our classroom, and then building those connections with my students: speaking from the heart, reaching out to say thank you, and to connect with them. And since I’ve gone back to those basics, I’m in a much better place with my system. So, I think we need to talk about sustainability and teaching, not only with videos, but with teaching in general. So, that’s another big theme of the book.

John: I think you had, in one of your videos, a discussion of Powtoons and using similar tools. Am I correct on that?

Karen: Yes. Powtoons are another alternative I talk about. I like to give people options. So, we’re not all going to feel comfortable being on camera, Powtoons are something I discovered a few years ago, and it’s a great website. It’s like a lot of our tech tools. There’s a free version, and a paid version. And with the free version you can create really adorable [LAUGHTER] little videos for your students. Powtoons are animated videos, and they give you a template, so you can just pop in a few different elements. And you can have a little avatar of yourself or you can bring in a picture of yourself. And they’re a great option for faculty who don’t want to be on camera, but still want to create really fun and cool videos for their students. So, a little bit more complicated than creating a screencast, in my experience, but if you are artsy, you’re creative, and that’s something that’s a really important part of your teaching practice, Powtoon’s a great option.

Rebecca: Do you address accessibility at all of your books?

Karen: Yes. Accessibility is something I’m learning a lot about in the past couple of years, making that shift from an accommodations mindset, which was where I think I was, and I think a lot of us were and still are, to a model of accessibility. So, I’m not an expert on it. There’s a lot of great folks out there who are. But, what I know is that I have a lot to learn and that for me, sort of a basic strategy is to add captions to our videos, and to make sure that we’re not just relying on the auto-generated captions that we get in YouTube, which aren’t always accurate, and to make sure that all of our students can access our videos and enjoy our videos. So, there’s a lot of talk about captions in higher education right now. So, they do add some time to your video creation process. What I recommend is that you start where you are, and if you already created videos and you need to go back (I’m doing this myself), start adding captions. And when you create a new video, just take the time. It seems like it’s more time… Once you get the hang of it. It usually takes about, depending on the length of the video, but if you’ve got a five-minute video, it shouldn’t take you more than five or six minutes to add captions, and it’s worth its weight in gold for what it will do for our students. So, start there, and my hope is that we’re going to see some more tools that support faculty in creating accurate captions for their videos. And we’re not quite there yet. It’s still requires some manual labor. But, the important thing is to keep that in mind, and to have that accessibility mindset, and to keep learning. I think we’re all learning every day about accessibility.

REBCCA: The cognitive load is a great reason for a short video, but so is accessibility. [LAUGHTER] …for the captions.

Karen: Yeah, absolutely.

John: For people who are getting started, are there any recommendations you have for either hardware or software?

Karen: I keep it really, really simple. So, I think most of us have a built-in webcam on their computers. And I say go with that. Some folks like to purchase an external webcam that is a little bit better quality. You do not need to do that. You can work with the webcam that’s built into your computer. You used to be able to record videos on your desktop in YouTube and you can’t do that anymore. So, that sort of added an additional layer, I record using a tool called Screencast-O-Matic, which I talk about quite a bit in the book [LAUGHTER], and I hope it’s around for a very long time. It is right now, in my opinion… I’ve tried a bunch of different options… it’s the most intuitive tool that we have. And I record in Screencast-O-Matic. I can record my headshot-type videos, I can record screencasts, or a combination of both. And then right through screencasts, I can upload my videos onto YouTube, and it takes me… for a five-minute video… the entire process takes me about 10 minutes. So, I would absolutely recommend… I use the free version. There is a paid version… I use the free version. I upload into YouTube also free. I do my captions in YouTube. And then I share with my students. The only other thing that I have invested in, which came with my phone, are earbuds and that’s what I use. I used to have a bunch of different microphones, and I just stick with my basic earbuds now and they get the job done. So, I keep it that simple.

Rebecca: And when you keep it that simple. It’s a portable studio.

Karen: Yeah, absolutely.

John: And your smartphone can also make it even more portable when you’re doing something in the field or on-site somewhere,

Karen: Yeah, a lot of folks are using their smartphones and I think that’s fantastic. And I talk a lot about it in the book, I’m kind of embarrassed to say this… I’m always in front of my computer working. So we have kind of a good relationship, my computer and I. [LAUGHTER] But for a lot of folks, they’re going to feel more comfortable on their smartphone. It’s a different energy for me. I don’t know what it is, I feel like I have my professional energy on my computer. And when I do record sometimes on my smartphone that feels like a more personal space for me. So, I don’t feel like my best video creation self when I’m recording on my smartphone. But, I know a lot of folks who do it, and as you said, it can go with you anywhere. So, if you’re out and about in the world and you see a teachable moment that you can share with your students, you can pull it out and record right on the spot. And I should mention through the YouTube app on your phone, you can record, which you can’t do on your desktop. So, for some folks if they don’t want to use Screencast-O-Matic, that would be a really simple option to record through the YouTube app on their phone,

John: Why might including videos be especially important in online classes?

Karen: I guess I just want to emphasize that I think we’re learning more and more about the importance of faculty-student relationships and connections, particularly in the online learning environment. And I would say that we’re talking a lot about online course design, which is fantastic. I am trying to get out there as a voice to talk about online teaching. And I saw on Twitter the other day, someone said, “Well, course design and teaching are two sides of the same coin.” And I think that makes a lot of sense. But I really want to get out there that just designing an excellent course is obviously an important place to start. And we also need to think about how we’re teaching and facilitating those online courses. And for me, it always comes back to relationships and building a positive classroom community. And what I’ve heard from my students over the years is that videos help them to feel connected to me. So, I cannot tell you the number of times in my course evaluations that students will say, “I thought that I was not going to know my online teacher, I thought that I would never see my online teacher, I didn’t know what to expect. And I feel like I really know Karen through the videos that she created for us.” And a lot of them… students are real smart… a lot of the comments will say, “The videos were really helpful for my understanding of course, assignments and learning and I really love that Karen took the time to make them.” So, they see that videos are not only a tool for teaching, but they’re an expression of caring… of my care for them. And I think that really impacts their learning experience. So, I really want to emphasize that relationships, human relationships, are important to online teaching and I hope we’ll continue to focus more on that in the future. And I think videos are going to be a big part of that.

John: When is your book scheduled for release?

Karen: Well, I just submitted the second round of edits and the index and we’re going to be seeing it… Deadlines come and go and shift, but we’ll be seeing it hopefully in early 2020. I’m sure I’ll be updating everyone on the specific date when I have it. [LAUGHTER]

John: And you’ve shared with us a link to a discount code for our listeners. So, we’ll include that in the show notes.

Karen: Awesome. Thank you. Folks can pre-order the book now if they’re interested as well.

Rebecca: We always wrap up by asking: “What’s next?”

Karen: [LAUGHTER] I have to share this. There’s a woman I follow online. She’s an author. She’s an activist. Her name is Glennon Doyle Melton. She wrote a book that was one of Oprah’s selections, so she gains a huge audience through that. And she shared a story online recently. She was interviewed for a podcast, and they asked her that and she said something like, “Well, I’m gonna go pick up my kids from school…” and the interviewer said, “No, I mean, like in your career and your future…” and she said, “Oh, I don’t really think about that. I just think about doing the next best thing.” So, I really love that, [LAUGHTER] because I do try to focus on just doing the next best thing, which for me is wrapping up this term, this semester, in a really positive way. I think my sense is we’re all really sort of feeling it right now. And this is a tough time of year in higher education. And at the same time, I really want to end on a positive note with my students and my faculty, even though I’m tired, and I’m ready to wrap things up. I don’t want that to negatively impact my students or faculty in any way, I just really want to finish strong and honor all the work they’ve done this term. So, I’m focused on taking care of myself and having a positive end to the semester for all parties. This book journey has been pretty wild and it’s been going for a while now. So, I’m really excited to actually see it come out into the world and to share it with faculty and… I love working with higher ed faculty so much and they’re doing such good work in the world. So, I hope that this can be a tool to help them be happier, healthier, and to feel empowered in their work.

Rebecca: I think it will.

John: I’m looking forward to receiving a copy of the book.

Rebecca: I think at the end of the book when it finally is released, then it’s time to have the tea party.

Karen:I will need to do something to celebrate that. [LAUGHTER] I described the process as like, “I’ve never run a marathon, but I imagine writing a book and publishing is like running four marathons.” So, I don’t know where I am in that process, but…

Rebecca: …you just know you’ll be really tired when it’s done. [LAUGHTER]

Karen: Yeah, tired and grateful. Yeah, absolutely.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us today.

John: Thank you.

Karen: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

[MUSIC]

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

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

110. Fostering a Growth Mindset

Some students with fixed mindsets enter our classes expecting to be unsuccessful while others believe that they have a natural talent in the discipline. In either case, these students often get discouraged when they experience challenging tasks. In this episode, Sarah Hanusch and John Myers join us to discuss how they have revised their classes and used metacognitive exercises to help students develop a growth mindset and to recognize the benefit of learning from mistakes. Sarah and John are both Assistant Professors in the Department of Mathematics at SUNY Oswego.

Show Notes

Transcript

John K.: Some students with fixed mindsets enter our classes expecting to be unsuccessful while others believe that they have a natural talent in the discipline. In either case, these students often get discouraged when they experience challenging tasks. In this episode, we examine how two faculty members have revised their classes and used metacognitive exercises to help students develop a growth mindset and to recognize the benefit of learning from mistakes.

[MUSIC]

John K.: 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 K.: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Our guests today are Sarah Hanusch and John Myers. Sarah and John are both Assistant Professors in the Department of Mathematics at SUNY-Oswego. Welcome, John and welcome back, Sarah.

Sarah: Thank you.

John M.: Thank you.

John K.: Our teas today are?

Sarah: None today

John M.: Yeah, imaginary tea. No tea for me.

Rebecca: The imaginary tea…that’s what my daughter likes to drink. That kind.

John M.: Yeah, I’m in good company there&hellp;

Rebecca: I have English afternoon.

John K.: And I have a ginger tea.

Rebecca: We invited you here today to talk a little bit about how you’ve introduced a project on metacognition in some of your mathematics courses. Can you tell us a little bit about the project?

John M.: Sure, this began, I believe, in the spring of 2018 in a Calculus I course. And the idea was that, Calculus I is known across, basically the entire country…every school in the country…as being a very difficult course. So, you have a lot of students who are coming in, especially in the spring semester, who had bad experiences with calculus in the past. And in particular, I’ve been told by some colleagues that there’s going to be some students in there that more support than I suppose you would imagine. The situation was that on the very first day of class, I had students coming in who have had bad experiences with it in the past. And then at the same time, I have the students that are typically high performing. And they have difficult times also with perfection, you know, being obsessed with 4.0s and grades and that type of stuff. So the idea was that I wanted to simultaneously address failure with the students and perfection at the same time. And I was sort of led to think about this metacognition project, actually, funnily enough, on a flight back from San Diego. I was at what are called the joint meetings for mathematicians, and a lot of progressive newer teaching techniques are talked about at this conference. And I’m flying back from the conference on the airplane and I’m getting really introspective and I’m thinking like, I really need to do something to talk to my kids about failure and perfection. And then it occurred to me that there was this blog post that I had just read a couple weeks before by a mathematician by the name of Matt Boelkins at Grand Valley State University. And he had this idea for a metacognitive project that addressed all sorts of things like growth mindset, fixed mindset, productive failure, and all these different things. And I decided about a week before classes started that this is what I was going to do.

Rebecca: That’s when all the best ideas happen.

John M.: I know…right before class and on an airplane. I get really introspective when I’m on airplanes and staring out the window and thinking of all the big things in life and stuff.

Sarah: And essentially, John came to me and said, “I’m thinking about doing this project.” And I said “Well, that sounds cool. And let’s see if we can measure if it has any positive effect or not.” So, I sort of came in on the research side of it…of “let’s see if this is effective for changing attitudes towards mathematics.” And since then, I’ve stolen the project to use in my own classes. But, it really started as I came in sort of more on the research side of things

John M.: I think stolen might have been a strong word, but…

Sarah: I didn’t ask…I just took it. [LAUGHTER]

John K.: For the research project did you do pre- and post-tests on attitudes?

Sarah: We did a pre- and post-test, we use an assessment called MAPS which is the Mathematics Attitudes and Perceptions Survey. It’s a 31-item survey. It assesses, I think, it’s seven different dimensions. Some of them are growth mindset. Do they view mathematics as being answer focused or process focused? The categories were growth mindset, the applicability of mathematics to the real world, their confidence in mathematics, their interest in mathematics, their persistence in mathematics, their ability to make sense of mathematics, and do they view mathematics as being answer focused or process focused?

John K.: Sounds like a good instrument. Before we talk about the results, let’s talk a little bit more about how you implemented it. How was the project structured in terms of what activities did the students do during the class?

John M.: So the idea was that over the entire semester, they would have a selection of articles online to read, they would have a selection of YouTube videos to watch and it was essentially experts that are addressing these various topics. So, like for example, there is a clip by Carol Dweck, one of the originators of the theory of growth and fixed mindsets, and they were to watch these clips and read these articles across the semester. And then I think it was probably with two weeks or three weeks left in the semester, they’d have to write a reflective essay. It was an attempt to sort of shift the culture in the classroom towards viewing mistakes and failure as productive and as opportunities for learning. Because I think in wider culture, everybody believes that math is just about the right answer. And that if you can’t get the right answer, then there’s no worth in whatever effort it was that you put in to get to that point. And I wanted to provide sort of a counterpoint to that, so a counter narrative. Being honest about how many times per day mathematicians actually do fail, you know, that type of thing. So yeah, the main component was this essay that was reflecting on the stuff that they read and watched over the semester, and then there was sort of like daily conversations.

John K.: Were the conversations online or were they in class conversations?

John M.: In class…in office hours, just kind of whenever they popped up. I remember a couple conversations that happened after I gave back exams, for example, or rather right before I gave back exams. So for example, I would say, you know, I’m about to hand back exams. And I want you when you see the score, when you put the paper over and see your score, I want you to immediately think how are you going to frame this result in your mind. Are you going to look at that score and be happy with it and chalk it up to just your natural talents? Or are you going to say, “Oh, this is a result of hard work?” And then if you’re not happy with your score, are you going to put it away and never look at again, or are you going to engage with your mistakes and make them productive mistakes? It was sort of intervention through conversation that happened on an almost daily basis.

Rebecca: Did you notice a difference in the kinds of conversations you were having in class because they were doing these readings and watching these videos, maybe conversations you hadn’t experienced before in the classroom?

John M.: Yes. In particular, I had students come into office hours and they were relentless with trying to understand the material because they knew that they were going to have another shot to get it right. And I had never experienced that before. In fact, in one of my student’s essays, I had a student tell me that when she’s not done well on exams in the past, she would just take the exam and stuff it into her book bag and never look at it again. And she told me that just because of because of how I was structuring the course that she doesn’t do that anymore. She actually pulls it out and engages with the mistakes and the comments that I put on the exam and comes and talks to me about the exam and everything. So I did see a change in the students.

John K.: Was some of it based on the reflections or was it also partly based on a restructuring of a course to give students more opportunities to redo things or to try things again?

John M.: I believe the latter had something to do with it. Because the idea was that I could say these things out loud to them. But I wanted to actually build components into the course in addition to the essay that sort of reflect the themes that I’m trying to communicate to them.

John K.: Telling them that they can learn from mistakes, if you don’t give them the opportunity…

John M.: Right.

John K.: …to learn from mistakes might not be as productive. I think both components are really valuable. I just want to make sure we were clear on that, too.

John M.: I think that you risk sounding like a cliche motivational poster, if you don’t actually put some meat on the bones with it.

Rebecca: Can you talk about some ways that you actually built that into the course?

John M.: I did test corrections. I don’t remember exactly, I think it was get back half the credit they missed or something like that. So, the idea was that they had to engage with the mistakes on their exams and correct them. And it had to be perfect. So they had a week to turn in their test corrections, and then I would re-grade them. This was very time consuming, as you might imagine, but the students I believe, really responded to it. It really sort of hooked in with the theme that I was trying to send.

Sarah: And since then, we’ve both moved to more mastery based grading. John before I did, but a system where students keep trying things until they get it right. And that really helps sort of drive that “learn from your mistakes” message home.

John K.: Are you able to do some of that in an automated way? Or is this all involving more grading on your part?

Sarah: The way I’m doing it, unfortunately, it’s more grading on my part. Although I will say this semester I’m doing these mastery based quizzes, but I’m not collecting homework. So, it’s kind of a toss up in terms of how much…it isn’t really extra grading. I’m just grading more things in another category.

John M.: Right, I would not do test corrections again. Not only was it a lot of time to grade, but then I had issues with academic honesty. The mastery based thing I have found is, I believe, much more effective.

John K.: Another thing you may want to consider that we’ve talked about in a couple of past podcasts is having a two-stage exam, where in the first stage, they do it themselves. And then you have them break up into groups and do either all the questions or a subset of those as a group. So, you’ve got some peer instruction going on as well…and that way it’s done right in class and it can be done, if the exam is short enough or the class period is long enough you can do both of it. A common practice is to do two-thirds say individual and then one-third for the group activity, which has many of the same things. They don’t know what they’ve gotten wrong, but when they’re sharing with their peers, they’re talking it over and it means you only have to grade the group exams on the second stage, which makes it a whole lot easier than individual ones.

John M.: Right. Yeah, I have a friend I believe he has done that stuff like that. So yeah,

John K.: The Carl Wieman Science Education Institute, I believe, has a lot of information on that. I’ve been doing it the last couple of years, and it’s been working really well. Doug Mckee was a guest on an earlier podcast, we talked about that as well. Are there other things we want to talk about in terms of what you’ve done in the courses?

Sarah: One thing that we’ve both done since this initial project is we’ve taken some of the ideas of this project, but interspersed it more throughout the course. One thing I know at the time that John observed was that he felt like a lot of the students started the projects in the last week, right? And so what I’ve done instead of doing a big project of these topics is I’ve taken these articles and done the second week of class, you have to read one of them and respond on it. And then the fourth week, you have to do another one, and so on. So it’s a little bit of it throughout the whole course instead of all loaded at the end. I think it helps having some of those conversations with the students as well because they’re not just seeing the ideas in the conversations. They’re not just seeing the ideas in the paper. They’re kind of seeing both and it just helps intersperse it a little bit throughout the semester. I know I’ve done that a couple times now. I think you’ve done that since as well.

John M.: I did a pre-semester sort of essay and then I did a post-semester essay. But it was in response to the first time we did that, which is referred into the paper, and one of my students actually told me in their essay, he was like, ‘Hey, I wish I had this at the beginning of the semester.” So yeah, it’s definitely like a “duh” moment. Like, I probably should have done something earlier in the semester, instead of waiting all until the end. But, you learn as you do these things, so. But the essays that the students wrote… I provided them with prompts just to alleviate any sort of writer’s block that they may have. But, the students who basically ignored my prompts and told me their personal stories were the essays essentially that I still remember. I had students that were straight A students that were telling me exactly what I thought was going to happen: that they’ve been the smart person their entire life, and they kind of feel trapped by being a smart person. They don’t want to take any risks because if they risk something and fail, then that’s their identity as a smart person, right? They’re not smart anymore. I’ve had students from the other end of the grading spectrum who basically told me that the first day they walked into the class before I even said anything, they were already convinced that they were going to fail the class. I had students tell me about mental health problems. I had adult learners talking about balancing life and school issues. I mean, it’s just absolutely amazing what they told me, they opened up basically. That made a big impression on me.

John K.: Tying into an earlier podcast, Judie Littlejohn and I had introduced something really similar where we have weekly discussion forums. And I also noticed the same sort of thing, that I got to know the students much better because when they were talking about some of the barriers or the issues they face, they were sharing a lot of details about their life. And you get to know them better and they also seem to form a little bit more of a tighter classroom community because they also got to know each other a little bit more.

Rebecca: It is kind of interesting how when students are talking about their process or who they are as learners, is very different than talking about the subject matter. And it does get them to open up and may be engaged with faculty in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise.

John M.: And I have found being honest about my own failures in the past has been a catalyst for conversation, right? Because they view us as professors, they view us as the authority figures, the experts in that we never fail. And basically telling them how many times I fail on a daily basis in my own mathematical research. It goes a long way, I think… finding common ground with them. And acknowledging how difficult the subject material is. I mean, there’s a reason that calculus has a high failure rate because it’s a hard course, among other reasons. Yeah, just having the humility with the students and kind of stepping down off of the pedestal in front of them, I think that it helps.

Rebecca: So do you want to share some of the results that you got from your study?

Sarah: We saw some very significant quantitative results. I mentioned the MAPS instrument is what we use. It’s a 31-point scale. Its reliability and validity has been established pretty well, especially in calculus classes. One of the things that they did was they looked to see if the items were consistent with expert consensus…. So, with how mathematicians view it and all of the items were valid with the attitudes of mathematicians except some of the growth mindset scales. Research says that that’s an important scale as well. And on this 31-point scale, we saw an almost 4-point improvement from pre-test to post-test…of the students becoming more aligned with the expert opinions, which is a really significant amount…I mean, almost 10% improvement, which is even more remarkable, because when this assessment was first validated, they found that there was usually a negative result from taking a Calculus I class. So, the attitudes get worse pre-post in a calculus class and ours had statistically significant improvement. In addition, we saw statistically significant improvement among all of the sub scales. Now some of them were better than others. Some were just barely below .05 in terms of significance and others were much more significant. I mean, we really saw that over the course of this semester, they really did change their attitudes. We also had some evidence, as John’s already talked about, from their essays…where they said how they started to view mistakes as productive, and they started to feel like there was value in making mistakes and learning from them.

John K.: You mentioned alignment with an expert scale, can you explain that for our listeners?

Sarah: Essentially, what the original authors and it was Code et. al. that did this paper and develop this instrument. They gave this survey to students and they gave it to mathematicians and looked for alignment. Particularly they were looking for whether or not the mathematicians agreed on the items. And the idea was our goal is to get math students to have attitudes more like mathematicians, because that’s our goal, right? …is to develop future mathematicians. And so we would like those attitudes to get closer to how mathematicians view mathematics. They had high agreement among the mathematicians on every item, like I said, except one or two of the growth mindset questions. So, in other words, this survey reflects how mathematicians view mathematics. And that was how they determined the right answers on the survey, whether a particular item is something you should agree with or something you should disagree with. They went with the expert consensus.

John K.: So now, I may be misconstruing this, but are you suggesting that perhaps a lot of mathematicians had adopted a fixed mindset? So, there was a bit more variance there on that?

Sarah: I will say that was what the results of their validation showed.

John K.: Okay.

Sarah: And leave it at that. [LAUGHTER]

John K.: It does remind me of that study a few months ago, that found that when instructors had a growth mindset, the achievement gap narrowed and the drop-fail-withdrawal rate was much lower in courses, then for those instructors who had a fixed mindset. I think that maybe even more of an issue in the STEM fields than it is in humanities and social sciences, but I think it’s not uncommon everywhere.

Rebecca: I say it’s a common problem everywhere.

John M.: I’ll say it…mathematicians suffer from fixed mindsets. I’ll just say it, right? [LAUGHTER]

John K.: Many academics do.

Sarah: Yeah.

John M.: Yes, of course.

Sarah: I mean, the people who choose to become academics are often the people that were successful in school and they decide to continue with it. I mean, it is less likely that people who felt unsuccessful decide to keep going and to go into academia.

John K.: Selectivity bias there and that reinforces a belief in a fixed mindset, perhaps.

Sarah: Precisely.

Rebecca: What kind of response have you seen from students from…I mean, it sounds to me like this one study lead to good results, and then that changed many classes in that you’ve taught or the way that you’re teaching, how have students responded?

Sarah: Generally positively. I think doing the projects at the end of the semester wasn’t the best idea because they just feel so overwhelmed at the end of the semester with exams and projects and everything coming due. So, I did get some responses of “W hy do I have to do this now.” But generally, I think they appreciated learning about learning.

John M.: I think that given the opportunity to talk about their past experiences, I think they appreciated that. For the most part, I’ll agree with Sarah. I think that the message landed with an awful lot of students like I wanted it to. Some of my favorite essays were students who told me that they thought I was crazy on the first day. I mean, you go into a math class to learn math, you don’t go into a math class to study metacognition, or whatever it may be. I had one student the first time around, who basically told me it was all a load of crap, like why this is not working at all. And I had a student the last time that I did this, she was very skeptical towards the end even. Basically, aliken it to just some cheesy self-help stuff. I think that most students responded positively.

Rebecca: Have you seen the response impact other faculty in your area? For example, if they really liked having those techniques and things introduced in your class, have they asked other math faculty to do that in future classes or are you finding that its not many math students who were actually in that particular class?

Sarah: We haven’t done any tracking, so I don’t know where his students have gone. I mean, I’m sure some of them went on to Calc II…I’m sure some of them did not. Right. I mean, I guess most of them would have had Jess the following semester, right? Did she say anything?

John M.: No, she didn’t say anything. I’m teaching Calc III right now, and I have some of my former calculus students that were in this and they’re doing well.[LAUGHTER] Small sample size, but yeah, they’re doing well.

John K.: That could be an interesting follow up though to see how successful they were in the subsequent classes.

Sarah: Yeah.

Rebecca: Sometimes we’ve heard anecdotes, of departments and things when there’s been change that if students really respond well to whatever the techniques are, that they will demand it of other faculty members, and John’s talked about this before in economics.

John K.: Yeah, when you can show results…

Rebecca: Yeah.

John K.: …that there’s been some gain, and especially if it comes from students at the same time, it often puts pressure on other people in the department because if you’re able to show people that your technique has been successful and students are coming in and saying, “G ee, I wish you would consider doing this. I did this in my intro classes, and it was really helpful.” That sometimes helps make change much easier.

Sarah: Yeah, so one of the things that we did look at was we compared the final exam scores of John’s sections to the other sections of calculus that semester. Now, there was some other issues that clouded that data a little bit. His scores were a little bit lower than the other instructors. But what was really surprising, essentially, if you look at, I don’t remember if it were just the final exams or the semester grades. The DF rates were the same among the sections, but the withdrawal rates were significantly different. And that almost no one withdrew from John’s sections. I think there were two if I remember the data correctly, whereas there was like five or six on average from the other sections. And so the DFW rates were different, but the DF rates weren’t. So I just thought that was an unusual circumstance. So, it seems like the students were sticking with his class… and pushing through.

John K.: And if there is a larger portion of students staying with the class, then perhaps a slightly lower average grade is not necessarily a bad sign…

Sarah: Exactly.

John K.: …because student success is partly measured for persistence to completing the course.

Sarah: Exactly. I think because there were more students who stuck it through to the final exam, then his final exam scores ended up being a little bit lower. But again, if you looked at like overall course grades, they ended up being pretty consistent, other than the W rates. I wanted to make sure that there weren’t significant differences in the rates and I think it was just shy of being statistically significant. Like, if you had one more student that would’ve been significant. But just to make sure that, especially like adding the test corrections in wasn’t substantially making the class too easy, right? Because that’s often a critique that, you know, “Well you make these changes, but is that just making the class too easy and people who aren’t really prepared, are they passing?” And so I just did this analysis of the, like I said, it was really just a t-test analysis, but just to see whether or not it was significantly lower and it wasn’t significant. It was lower, right, just not significantly. And then like I said, I looked at retention rates just more as an explanation for why the average was lower.

John K.: In a lot of studies of interventions, the dependent variable is the drop-fail-withdrawal rates, because that’s a measure of success in completing the course. That by itself could be an interesting focus of a study. I’ve been running this metacognitive cafe in my online classes for a while and I did have a student in the class who wrote a few times about the metacognitive development that was introduced in one of your classes. They didn’t specify who but they said, we’re also doing some work on metacognition in the math class, and they said it was really useful and it was nice to see it in two classes.

Sarah: Yay!!

John M.: Good.

John K.: So there’s at least one positive data point there or one additional data point there. So are you going to continue this in the future? And if so, what might you do differently?

Sarah: Well, I think we’ve mentioned already that we’ve worked on including some of the ideas at the beginning of the semester and throughout the semester, rather than one project at the end. For the reason that it really benefits them most at the beginning of the semester when things are getting started. I think we’ve also both changed different things about our grading systems to incorporate more opportunities for growth.

John M.: The last time I did this, I introduced some articles that were a little bit more rigorous with the data and the science, because I sort of wanted to counter that kind of criticism that all this “Oh this is just a bunch of TED Talks…” that kind of thing. So, I really wanted the students to see some of the science behind it, the science of learning, because I really wanted to send that message that “No, this is not me just standing up here saying, ‘Oh, this is going to help you or anything, right?’ This is actually stuff that researchers have thought about before.”

John K.: I had a very similar response the first time I did this. I had a video I posted which was a TED talk by a cognitive scientist who talked about research that showed that learning styles were a myth. And some students had come to believe in the existence of learning styles because they’ve heard of them and often been tested, multiple times in multiple years, on their learning styles. Sometimes even through college and that’s rather troubling. The students said, “Well, this is just one researcher, I’m sure there’s lots of other studies. I don’t believe it because it’s not consistent with what I’ve always been told or what I’ve heard.” So I decided to modify it then and I added to that discussion, five or six research studies. In case you don’t believe this TED talk by someone who’s done a lot of research on this, here’s a number of studies, including some meta analyses of several hundred studies of this issue, and that has cut much of that discussion. They’re less likely to argue against it when it’s not just a talking head or not just a video when they can actually see a study even if they don’t understand all the aspects of it.

Sarah: Yeah. So I think that’s one thing we’ve tweaked what articles and what videos are we showing. I know the semester I gave my students a article that had just come out this September, that students perceive active learning as being less efficient, even when they’re learning more. In some physics classes at Harvard, they gave two weeks at each thing… two weeks of active and two weeks of lecture, and then they had them switch. And the students learned more with the active learning, but felt they learned less. And my students have been feeling frustrated because they feel like they’re not learning enough and that I’m not telling them what to do.

Rebecca: You’re not “teaching” them.

Sarah: I’m not teaching them. And we spend the class period, letting them vent. So all their feelings were out in the open. But, then I sort of countered with this article saying, “Look, I promise you really are learning things. You just don’t feel like you are. But you really, really are. And you’re actually learning it better than if I were using a different style.” So, that’s one way that we’re tweaking the articles because sometimes the research comes out that’s pertinent.

John K.: We refer to that Harvard study in a few past podcasts. We touched on it in a podcast that will release on October 9th. I haven’t shared it with my class yet, but I’ve been tempted to.

Rebecca: What was the discussion like talking about that particular article? Given that they were frustrated?

Sarah: I mostly was just trying to acknowledge that I understand their frustrations…and that, yes, the way I’m teaching this class can be frustrating. I agree. Sometimes I get frustrated about it. But I know that ultimately, they are learning things and that they are going to be stronger writers and stronger students of mathematics by using this structure. And so I kind of use it as evidence of I’m not changing.

Rebecca: So I hear you…

Sarah: Yeah.

Rebecca: …nut…

Sarah: I hear you, but…

John K.: I had this very conversation with my class today. They’re coming up for an exam very shortly. And I asked them, how did they review before an exam and the most common answer was they like to reread the material over and over again. And I mentioned some of the research on that. And I said, the best way to review is to work on problems with this. And I gave them several ways in which they could do that, that are built into the course structure. And I said, “But that doesn’t feel as effective. Why?” And one of the students said, “Well, I get things wrong.” And I said, “And when would you rather get things wrong, when you’re reviewing for an exam, or when you’re taking exams?” And I think some of them got that message. So I’m hoping we’ll see when they take the test next week.

John M.: Right? It seems like anytime you do anything that’s just not a standard straight lecture, there’s a certain amount of buy in that you need to get from the students. And sometimes that can be very difficult. There’s almost a salesmanship that you have to do throughout the semester to make sure that everybody’s on the same page and to kind of fight those feelings where the students give you a lot of pushback. Yeah, that’s the great fear is that when you innovate or you experiment that’s going to go horribly wrong. And sometimes it does, but, you know, we still keep going.

John K.: Because students are creatures of habit. They’ve learned certain things and they want to keep doing things the same way. And anything new can seem troubling, especially if they’re getting feedback along the way that says they need to work more on things…that’s not as pleasant as rereading things and having everything look familiar.

John M.: Right

Rebecca: Passively sitting in a lecture when things all seem like it makes perfect sense to you, because an expert is describing it who knows what they’re talking about, right? Always feels easier than trying to apply it yourself. And I think that students, even though the lecture might feel better, and learning is hard…over time…at the end, when they’ve seen how much they’ve accomplished, and you do have them reflect…many of them appreciate or come around. Sometimes, it’s not in that same semester, sometimes it’s emails, months or years later.

John K.: Yes.

John M.: Right. Right, right.

Sarah: If only if we could do course evals, you know, a whole year later,

John K.: Or five years later. That may not work too well in my tenure process, though.

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

Sarah: Well, the first thing is we’re hoping our article gets published. It’s been submitted. We’re waiting for reviewers. I’m going on maternity leave next semester…that’s really what’s next.

Rebecca: Sounds like a new adventure.

Sarah: It is a brand new adventure.

John M.: Wow, I don’t think that far ahead, I guess. Yeah, I guess I’m that unoriginal, huh. But, yeah, no I’m just trying to…

Sarah: We’re moving to a new building.

John M.: Yeah, moving to a new building, and getting a new department chair. Yeah, that’s right.

John K.: A new desk to go with the chair?

John M.: No. Ah… Yeah, funny, funny, funny.

Sarah: if only…

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us, this has been really interesting.

[MUSIC]

John K.: 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.

John K.: Editing assistance provided by Brittany Jones and Kiara Montero.

98. Developing Metacognition

Many students arrive in our classes with relatively little understanding of how they learn. In this episode, Dr. Judith Boettcher joins us to discuss how well structured project-based or problem-based learning activities can help students develop their metacognitive skills so that they become more successful as learners.

Dr. Boettcher is the author of many books and articles on higher education and has long been a leader in the field of online education. The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips, co-authored by Judith has been an important resource for faculty transitioning to online teaching. At Oswego (and many other institutions), many faculty have been using materials that Judith has developed for ACUE (the Association of College and University Educators).

Show Notes

Transcript

John: Many students arrive in our classes with relatively little understanding of how they learn. In this episode, we examine how well structured project-based or problem-based learning activities can help students develop their metacognitive skills so that they become more successful as learners.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

Rebecca: Today our guest is Dr. Judith Boettcher. She is the author of many books and articles on higher education and has long been a leader in the field of online education. The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips, co-authored by Judith has been an important resource for faculty transitioning to online teaching. At Oswego many of our faculty have been using materials that Judith has developed for ACUE (the Association of College and University Educators). Welcome Judith.

Judith: Thank you very much, Rebecca and John, it’s great to be here.

John: We’re really pleased to have you here. Our teas today are… are you drinking tea?

Judith: I actually… yes, made a special point. Here’s my cup, which you can’t see. But I chose one of my favorite teas, which is a lemon and ginger tea from England, of course,

John: the Twinings version.

Judith: No, this is a Hamptons tea from London.

John: We have the Twinings version of that in our tea collection.

Rebecca: I’m drinking Jasmine green tea today.

John: And I’m drinking oolong tea today.

Judith: Sounds good.

Rebecca: Judith, your mug looks really interesting. Is it abstract art. Is that what was on it?

Judith: It’s actually pears.

Rebecca: Okay, I only saw the bottom part of it. I can see it now.

Judith: Yeah, right. Well, I will confess that at some point, I finally decided to clear every vendor cup out of my cupboard.

Rebecca: That sounds refreshing.

Judith: Yes.

John: I have vendor cups all over… in my vehicles… in my offices, everywhere.

Judith: Well, that was part of my retirement process that I went through. I said, “Okay, that’s it.”

John: One of the things we had trouble with is picking a topic because you’ve worked on so many topics, but we settled on having you talk a little bit about how students can work to improve their metacognition using project-based or problem-based learning. But before we do that, could you talk a little bit about what metacognition means?

Judith: I would really like to John, partially because I had this book with the title of metacognition that I was reading when I was with a family event. And one of my relatives said, “What in the world is this? Meta what?” [LAUGHTER] So, an easy way I like to think about metacognition is the definition of just it’s thinking about thinking. It’s a definition, I think. that we can all just really grab on to and we can really use. But then I kind of like to expand that definition into one that’s in the How People Learn report that I go back to pretty regularly and that is that “metacognition is the process of reflecting on and directing our own learning.” And I really like that one, because it’s got the two steps, I think, what we want to really kind of focus on with metacognition, and that is reflection… really stopping thinking, pausing… and then actually directing our own thinking, because that leads to action. So then we have reflection and action, which I think is the core of metacognition skills.

Rebecca: One of the things I think we often talk about in education context is this reflection piece. And we always tell students to reflect, but we don’t always give them the time and space to do that.

Judith: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] Very much.

Rebecca: So can you talk a little bit about project-based and problem-based learning and how metacognition connects to those rather than standard ways of operating in the classroom?

Judith: Yes, I would love to do that. In fact, that was one of the first things when we’ve got into online learning, was that there was a real struggle as to how do we maintain the security and everything of people taking tests. And so it turned out that we decided that one of the best ways of gathering evidence of student learning was not by doing these tests… that we would actually have the students do projects. And that kind of evolved into the following process. And that is that in some of the work I’ve done for ACUE, and also in the book, I’ve mentioned that I really like to design a course that starts with the students selecting and doing a project, actually in week one or two of the course. And then that students actually focus on that project throughout the entire course. And that’s the mechanism by which we gather evidence of student learning. It kind of also avoids this whole process of buying papers and buying other kinds of things. Because you really have milestones along the way.

I’m going to stop and talk about the first step for just a moment. And that is choosing a project. One of the wonderful things about choosing a project is that then students actually have to stop and then think about the kind of project that they want to do. It gives them an opportunity to actually customize a course to their interests, which starts getting past that big motivation problem that sometimes teachers might say, “Well, how do I motivate them?” Well, we give them the opportunity to choose something that is of interest to them. So they choose a project, and then they actually write up what that project is that they want to do. But that’s not the end of selecting the project. Before the project is really kind of finalized that they’re going to be working on, they actually then sit down and talk with some of their other students and the other peers. They switch and swap their proposed project descriptions, so that they actually talk out loud about the project. And then hopefully, by talking to their peers about it, they get some additional ideas, and they refine it a bit. And then it goes to the faculty member. So the faculty member doesn’t get it right away, but it goes through this first the individual students thinking about it, and then the other students thinking about it, and then the faculty member can take a look at it. And that’s only milestone one that can take up to about the third week of a course. But by then, hopefully, that gives them a real focus of the course rather than having just the topics thrown at them from week one through week 16… that they’ve got a real focus of: “Oh, how is this going to affect my project?” We can come back to that I just want to mention briefly then there’s like four other milestones, five other milestones for every project throughout the course. And the first is that project description, then the second one would be planning how do I plan to do it, which is a really important metacognitive skill. And then another milestone would be some type of other “Just checking in, how are you doing?” …kind of a thing. And then there’s two final things. One is where they actually share their project with the other students, like in a mini conference, whatever. And then the final thing is the actual final thing, which might not be a paper, it might be a video or an interview, it could be one of a number of things that would go into their student portfolio then. But, that gives the student a focus throughout the entire course that way. That’s a lot, isn’t it?

Rebecca: It is a lot. [LAUGHTER]

John: When you have them give feedback to each other, do you recommend that that’s done synchronously or asynchronously If it’s an online course?

Judith: You know it’s actually best, I think, that the students do it somewhat like a brainstorming event. What you and I are doing right now here with Zoom, students can do with FaceTime, they can do it with just an online gathering chat, whatever. If they’re really, really busy online students, and they have to do it asynchronously, that can be done too with email. I mean, that works too. But it’s often really great for the students themselves to talk out loud. We don’t have them talking enough, I think. They read passively, and they kind of think and everything else, but we don’t have ways for them to use their voice to talk about what they’re thinking.

John: It sounds like the project’s really nicely scaffoldied. But how do you bring in the metacognitive development? How do you get students to improve their metacognitive skills? Is that something they’re explicitly thinking about? Or is it something that’s done as part of the structure of the project?

Judith: Well, of course, it depends on how the faculty member wants to do it. As I had the chance to go back and look more intensely at the metacognitive skills, it occurs to me that thinking metacognitively is such a basic intellectual skill in many respects, particularly now in our 21st century. It’s as fundamental as reading and writing. And, you know, I think we need to look at our entire curriculum from pre-K through whatever as to really how do we explicitly teach and model and coach metacognition skills, which includes with that initial project proposal, we can talk about the fact that what they need to do is think and be sure to build on their interest to give them the criteria and coaching as to how that’s going to really work for them. It’s really a problem when they have to select a project. So what are the constraints on that problem? What are the features or benefits that they’re going to get from this? …and to build that into the assignment and actually writing out the initial proposal and then meeting with their colleagues and peer students, that’s all part of the coaching and the modeling of the metacognitive process.

Rebecca: I think your emphasis on talking about things is really interesting. Because I find that students often will passively write something, and it makes no sense to anybody. But as soon as they try to explain it out loud, they realize it makes no sense. Because when it’s in writing, or they’re just reading in their head, they don’t often have that realization. But as soon as you try to say it out loud as a sentence, it’s not structured in a way that makes sense. They catch themselves or they realize, “Wait, there’s a big hole in what I’m talking about here… nobody knows what I’m talking about.” You can tell it by other people’s faces looking blankly back at you.

Judith: And then they realize that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Rebecca: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]

Judith: So yes, in fact, that’s apart of the power of talking with their peers about the project, because the peers would most likely say, “Well, wait a minute, why did you choose this? Why are you interested in this?” And so that’s when they have to dig more deeply. It almost goes back to that Socratic questioning, “Why do you think that? Why is that important to you? Do you think this is going to make any difference in your life?” One of the things I really recommend in online learning is that the students, when they read and look at the objectives for a course, to stop… and in the first week, actually, to have the students process those learning objectives, and then personalize one or two of them and say, “This is what I really want to make certain I know when I finish this course. This is how I’m going to be a different person.” Thinking “What skill am I going to be able to do when I finish this course?” They kind of set that goal and set those expectations early on. Hopefully, students setting those goals and objectives become again, more personal to them, and something that they can check themselves. And then as they go through the course, “What progress am I making on this particular goal? How is this coming?” …kind of fun.

Rebecca: Are there ways that you would suggest a faculty member model metacognition early on in an online course?

Judith: Well, I think a really easy way for faculty to model meta cognitive skills is… say, for example, in biology or one of sciences, one of the things I love to look at is the biography of a scientist and looking at, “Well, how did they come to this point? What made them think X, Y, or Z as opposed to A, B, or C?” and we find it’s really rooted in their personal lives and their thinking that they’ve been doing. So faculty member can somewhat do the same thing, in fact, very early on in their introduction to the course. Now, what do you teach Rebecca?

Rebecca: I teach web design.

Judith: You teach web design, okay. So in your introduction, then, to your students, you can say the reason I love web design is as follows. And you can go back into your life and your experiences and say, This is what happened to me… and this is what I was thinking… this is how I got to this point. So you really speak out loud, and you share your processes by which you arrived at that point. And we can do that for any kind of thinking… as we’re talking about an experiment. We do want faculty to share their expertise and their dissertation, for example, they say, “Wow, you know, this is why I’m interested in this. And you know, after 25-30 years, I’m still interested in this because of this.” So they share their thinking processes. Another really easy time is when students ask them a question. And obviously, this can happen online in the synchronous activities. And the students might ask them a question about, “Well, gee, Professor, so and so what does this really mean in this instance, or in this context?” And the faculty member can say, “You know, I really am not sure about that. And I would like to, before I answer that, I would like to do a little more research and thinking, and I will get back to you on that.” So it sends the message that the process of thinking is something that we keep doing all the time.

Rebecca: I think that moment of admitting that you’re not always the expert in everything in the moment, is always a good thing for students. And they respond really positively to that.

Judith: That’s right. It also gives them the opportunity to say, “You know, Professor, I would like a little more time to think about that. Let me get back to you on that.”

John: How can we tell that students have improved their metacognitive skills? I like the idea of having the peer instruction do that. Or to work with students to help them recognize what they know and what they don’t know. But how can we measure that? Or how can students know that they’re more metacognitively aware? How can they observe improvement?

Judith: Well, one of the things I did as I was thinking about this was, you know, I was kind of preparing for you asking me the question, “What are the actual metacognitive skills?” and I came up with five thinking skills that we really want to encourage and model for students. The first one is an easy one. And that is, number one, we really want to encourage students to think. I know that sounds somewhat simplistic, but oftentimes think about in the online environment, we give them an assignment and students, they don’t even read it, really, they kind of scan it. And they kind of assume without thinking that that’s what that assignment is going to give back. And so one metacognitive skill is to pause and stop to really take some time to think and process. In fact, I kind of like to think about the assignment as a briefing. You know, we use briefings in business and politics and detective crime solving and all the rest of it we use briefings. Maybe as a faculty member, you want to encourage the students to think of an assignment as a briefing and a briefing is, “Well, this is what we know now, what do we want to know about next? How are we going to find out what that next is? And when you finish this assignment, what do you expect to know or think about or become clear about?” So step number one is really pausing and thinking. There’s a book out recently called, was it Kahneman? It’s that Thinking Fast and Slow or Slow and Fast?

John: Yes, Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s a great book.

Judith: Thinking Fast and Slow, right. Well, you know, he makes the point that we live in such a fast-paced world that our first response to anything is that, “Oh, I know the answer to that.” It’s like Jeopardy, and you really don’t stop and pause and think. And so, because it’s really easy, that’s the short-term memory, we don’t have to think about it. We know that in order for learning to occur, that we really have to stop and give time for information going into our short-term memory to get into the long-term memory. The only way anything goes from the short-term to the long-term memory is for us to connect what we know already with the new information coming in. And you know what? …that takes time. So that’s the one thing for all of us. Time is so seriously, we don’t want to take the time. But if we don’t take the time, the only way learning occurs, you know, if we grow dendrites in our brain, and so if we don’t take the time the dendrites don’t grow, and nothing lasts. It’s kind of a fast bullet shot, so to speak. And then we forget it. As soon as we use it in a sentence, it’s gone. So the idea that we have to really discipline ourselves to stop and think and process, what is it that I’m needing to do? What is it that I want to learn? What do I want to get out of this? And when I finish this assignment, how will I know that I’ve really finished the assignment. Which brings us to the next thinking skills. One of the things I really liked, I use myself a great deal. And this is kind of a hard won practice of my own. And that is that, whenever I was given an assignment whether it was at work or wherever, whenever I had a hard time getting started… you know, getting started is sometimes one of the most difficult parts of anything, right? So anyhow, I finally figured out that one of the reasons it was hard getting started was that I didn’t quite know what it was I was going to do. I finally realized that my best practice is that I visualize what it is going to be when I finish. I get requests to review articles for journals, etc, etc. Well, I know now that my visualization works is that I’ll be done when I finish answering all those questions, you know, read the article, finish answering all the questions, I compose my response back to the editor. And that’s when I’m done, okay? So with any kind of a project, we want to encourage the students to say, “Okay, what is my assignment going to look like when I’m really done? When I have finished reading this article, or reading this core seminal research project? When will I really be done? Will I be done when I can explain the research to someone else? Will I be done when I can actually implement these ideas in a web design project? Is that when I’m going to be done? Just what is that project going to look like when I’m really done?” So we just celebrated the Apollo landing on the moon, in July. I just had the recent opportunity to see the Apollo 11 program that they created out of the original footage from everything that was happening at Cape Kennedy and Houston… the pictures, it showed like, literally, a room full… it almost look like 100 guys, and they were all guys at that time… 100 guys sitting at computer terminals, and you think when they worked on that project, how did they envision success? They had to envision success as actually a man being on the moon. How did he get to the moon? What did he land on the moon in? And then how are we going to get him back from the moon safely? I mean, think of all the things that had to be planned and worked on and everything had to be coordinated to make that thing happen.

So thinking skills, we have to think, we have to visualize, and then we have to plan. Once we know what that final vision is, we need to then plan each of those steps along the way. And again, we can model some of that and coach that by building the planning into the assignments for the project. We definitely want the students to give me a plan with the date, the milestones, the resources they’re going to be needing,]… if they need to make appointments or interviews when that’s going to happen. So we help them realize that projects just don’t happen. They happen after all of these various steps. And then, of course, we build in step number four, evaluating and pausing to then debrief each step along the way: How am I doing? Do I need more time? What else might I need? What else do I really want to know, if I do have enough time? I mean, this really does happen with web design, right? We get to a certain point, we think of it’d be great if I did this. Great if I did that. Do I have enough time to do that? Do I have the knowledge to do that? Or do I need to learn a new skill to insert that into that. So those are all questions that we want to ask encourage the students to plan for and to ask along the way. And then of course, the final one is the final debriefing. When you hand something in, you get feedback both from your peers and from the faculty member. And in many online courses, you do have these little mini conferences where you invite alumni or experts or just friends in to say take a look at this and see what you think.

Rebecca: I like your framework of the briefing. And it’s actually one that I use in my classes pretty regularly.

Judith: Oh, great.

Rebecca: When I’m doing long term projects, I have students on a weekly basis do basically a little briefing of what did they do? What do they need to do? What are the planning steps? So not just like that big scope of the whole project, but on a very routine basis, checking in with their schedule and checking in with their plan and what they’re struggling with to demonstrate what they’re doing, and what their thought processes is as they’re working on it. So I asked them, “What were the big design decisions you made this week? And what did you base those on?”

Judith: Wonderful. In fact, I sometimes like to use the example of Mark Harmon, the actor in NCIS. I love those programs, actually. Like every morning, he kind of just drives into the office and says, “Okay, what do we have.” And each one of his team members have to then report “Okay, since we saw you yesterday, this is what we’ve done. And this is what we know.” And then from that briefing, decide on their next steps, “Okay, we need to do X, Y, or Z.” It’s a really kind of a nice example of planning.

John: Building it into the project just seems to make an awful lot of sense. If you want students to improve their skills, have them apply those skills and structuring it so that they’re doing it is a very reasonable way of doing this.

Judith: And I love the fact that, Rebecca, as you were saying is to ask the students to say what have you been thinking for? And what made you arrive at the decision that you’d like to do something a little different there? So yeah, again, verbalizing the thought processes, is part of the metacognitive abilities.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that surprises students with that assignment is that they don’t realize that they’ve made decisions.

Judith: Oh, interesting.

Rebecca: That happens in projects. But also, if they’re writing a paper, whatever, they’ve made decisions, but they don’t necessarily think of it like they’ve made a decision. They’ve just kind of moved forward. So it causes them to stop and pause and do that first thing that you were talking about, and think for a second before they move forward.

Judith: Yeah.

Rebecca: I do have to say, that since I instituted that, my students are far more articulate when they’re talking about their projects. [LAUGHTER]

Judith: When they’re doing their own projects, they get their passions involved. There was another thing I wrote recently on curiosity, how important curiosity is and how we want to really build that in. In fact, one of the things when I was doing a workshop, I suggested to faculty, I said, “You know, let’s get the students to stop answering questions. Let’s get them posing questions. And let’s give them problems that, in our discipline, we don’t know the answers to, because what fun is that? Ok, so we set up the situation that we the faculty know the answers, and then they have to figure it out. So switch it around a little bit and say, here are some problems and we don’t know the answers, how am I to approach this? And then we’ll give them the challenge.” And that really, particularly John, I’m sure you’ve seen this with the TIP program, the students come up with things that you never would have expected.

John: It’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.

Judith: Yeah.

Rebecca: So one of the things that I think can be a challenge is if you’re doing a big project throughout the semester, we don’t want it to end up being just one big high-stakes assignment. Are there methods or ways or strategies that we can manage bigger assignments to have some lower-stakes moments or ways so that there’s not so much pressure, and that they’re allowed to make mistakes and improve and learn?

Judith: Yes, and I’m glad you asked that. Actually, somewhere in a couple of tips online that I wanted to refer to. It’s, I think, tip… is it 38 and 60, that talk about project-based learning online… that’s something to think about. But I also have a chart that recommends the grading process for an online course. And so you assign points to each of the milestones in the project. So you assign points with the project proposal and selection, but you also then have smaller team-based events where it’s worth a little bit. Also, the discussion board is a really important aspect of online learning. But it’s hard. How do you evaluate and grade that? So I recommend that about 15%, even 20% on the discussion board. And it’s pretty much a given like the classroom discussion is… so long as students are reasonably consistent about following the rubric for the discussion boards. So you’ve got a little bit there, you have also shorter essays and shorter leadership opportunities in an online course where they might summarize a week’s discussion. So there’s other kinds of activities within an online course. At no point is everything dependent on that one big project, but it does require the students to invest time and energy in that.

John: Many people often think of a need to develop metacognitive skills most for our less able students, thinking of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and so forth… that those who know the least often overestimate their learning by the most. But I think those issues may apply for students at all levels.

Judith: Yeah, we assume that great kids, actually, automatically have these skills and think that way, and they don’t.

Rebecca: Which I think is also a really great thing to talk about, too, because we often talk about metacognition, and helping students who are struggling, do better. But it’s also a great way to challenge students who are already doing well, to do better.

Judith: Absolutely, a great point.

John: For the last 32 summers, I’ve been teaching in the Talent Identification Program (or TIP) at Duke University. And one of the things I’ve observed is that many of the students there have generally been able to breeze through their regular classes without ever having to really learn how to learn. So they sometimes face a little bit of a challenge when they arrive at TIP, and suddenly they’re faced with a challenge. But a really nice part about this is that it’s an ungraded program, so that they can develop their learning skills without worrying about what sort of grades they’re going to get in their classes. And it’s much better to do it there than it would be at some future point, perhaps in a physical chemistry class, or a differential equations class, or some other class later in the career, when they haven’t really had to develop those metacognitive skills that are going to be useful in their future. Developing metacognitive skills really are important for students all along the spectrum.

Judith: That’s a really good example too, John, it’s an interesting phenomenon to talk about, really.

John: How can we tell whether students have higher levels of metacognition? Or how can we tell when students have not developed their metacognitive skills?

Judith: Well, you know, this is obviously a great question. And so let me share just a little bit about my thoughts on the students. How do we know when the students are totally clueless about their thinking processes? And I think one really red flag, particularly in online courses, that these are the students who rather consistently post comments on the discussion board: “What are we doing now? What was the assignment about? When is this? Oh, there’s a rubric, I didn’t know that.” These comments often are the ones from students that they really haven’t taken the time to really read the assignment and to make plans on that. These are also the students that we know for online students that they’re trying to do too many things. They’ve got 1000 things going on with their families, and work, very likely. And they just simply don’t take the time. So I think… just simple reminders all the way along the way in an online course from the faculty member. In the assignment, to be really clear about the assignment and to say, “Be sure to think about the following.” For example, if an article has been assigned, that you as a faculty member say, “Okay, this is why I’ve selected this article. Here are some of the core concepts that are really important in this” and guide the reading to say, “Why do you think the person did this? Be sure to be able to answer these kinds of questions?” And then also to be clear about maybe what you want to do when you finish this reading assignment, to talk about it. If necessary, explain it to your 12-year old. See if you can explain it to that person. So being really clear in the assignment would be, I think, super helpful for all students in an online course, because again, it’s the kind of thing a faculty member would do in the classroom, you’d say, “Okay, I want you to read this article. And you know, this is one of my favorite articles. This is why I want you to do it” …and all the rest of it.” I think we need to do more of that in the assignments in the online course. That’s one thing.

The other students that are clueless are the ones that keep thinking that all they have to do is passively read and reread and reread. We hear that all the time from students that “Oh, well, I read it 15 times. I don’t know why I don’t understand it.” Without saying, while giving help and modeling, as you’re reading this, think about the following.

Just as an aside, I signed up to take a course on brain, dendrites, and synapses from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and oh, my gosh, lesson three, they said, “Well, you know, if you’re not familiar with the electrical circuits, you probably need to go into the Wikipedia and get all this information.” I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m lost right here.” But the idea was that there was some foundational content that I didn’t have. And so again, if in an online course, if some of their content is dependent on some of those other core concepts that they might not have, to remind students that, “hey, this is a difficult reading. And you may want to get some further help in X, Y, or Z.” So again, going back to that whole briefing, and using the assignment as a briefing and giving them clues how to do well in the reading. Some of those comments really have to do with whether students are struggling or not. Because we want to emphasize more clearly the reasons for why we make choices. When we design a course, we really make lots and lots of design decisions and selections as to why I want my students to read X, Y, or Z. And I think sharing that rationale and sharing those reasons, I think, really helps give insight into the metacognitive thinking of the faculty member as well.

Then John, you ask the question, where we talked about little bit about how even when students are doing well, they may not be thinking metacognitively. And I think that it’s important to recognize that these explicit thinking skills about thinking, about visualizing, and about planning, etc, that it would be a good idea to build those visualization and planning into the assignments.

Now, one of the challenges with online courses, and I’ve seen this for years, is the fact that some students don’t have good places to study, they can be living in very busy environments, they don’t have an office, they don’t have a really quiet place to go. And so one of the things that we can do is actually ask the students to post a picture of where they’re going to be doing their studying. It kind of gets them thinking, “Okay, where am I going to be doing my studying? Is it going to be a place that I can really concentrate?” There was one study hint… that I actually just pulled it out, because I gave it my granddaughters…. and it was called “How to study” …and the little hint in there was that when you are sitting down to study, what you do is you find, select or design, some kind of a flamboyant little hat… think Cat in the Hat kind of thing, you know… just flamboyant things, design some kind of a flamboyant hat so that when you put that hat on, you tell your brain and you tell the other people around you that you’re going internal now… you’re really going to think… you’re going to work, you’re going to study. We almost do that nowadays… when I go into my Starbucks, or my local coffee shop… that’s where I do my writing, by the way… I put on my Bose headphones, because again, that signals to the people around me that, “Hey, I’m working, I’m really concentrating.” So if we asked the students to really stop and think, “where am I going to study?” If I’m a family person, and I’m working, “When am I going to study?” That I have to schedule my week, and the times and places that I’m going to do my work and do my studying. And oh, by the way, I kind of have to get my family and my friends on board to say “Yes, John or Rebecca, they’re studying now I can tell they’re studying, you got to leave them alone, give them the time and the space to leave them alone.” For online students I think this is super important for them to build a schedule ahead of time. And again, it recognizes the fact that metacognitively takes time and it takes space in order to do it well.

John: That reminds me of a couple of our previous podcasts, a few episodes back Mathew Ouelett from Cornell, when we were recording, he mentioned that he has a drawing or a painting, I think he did of a tomato, I don’t remember if it was a painting or if he colored it, but he has a big poster with a tomato on his door that he puts up as a signal for faculty to leave him alone because he’s engaged in a pomodoro technique, and he wants to be just focused on this. In a much earlier podcasts, our very second one, Judie LittleJohn was here and we talked about a metacognitive cafe online discussion forum she and I had both used. And one of the things she uses in it, and Rebecca has introduced that in her classes too, is exactly what you suggested, having students describe their study space and perhaps post a picture of it. And then to address all those issues about how well it works, how they deal with distractions, and so on. This ties in nicely to some of our earlier discussions,

Judith: Well great, actually as I was in my Lucky Goat local coffee shop, actually getting ready for this podcast a couple weeks ago, it turns out this young business person came in and he had a briefcase and all the rest of it and I could tell he was kind of settling in… a little too close to me… but that’s okay, there weren’t many seats available. But anyhow, he was talking pretty loudly. And I thought, “Oh, he’s on his phone.” You know, there’s everybody who talks to themselves these days is on the phone, right? And anyhow, we ended up talking to each other partially because he was talking. He said, you know, what he was doing was he was talking to himself about what he was going to do during his time there. And obviously setting his own personal goal. And then he had learned that from his mother. [LAUGHTER] But that does remind me of something else I do want to share. And that is when I do sit down… my own metacognitive practice… when I sit down to do a task… say, I go to the coffee shop, and I got a couple of things I need to do, I write out a mini plan. And list the time I’m starting… list my first subtask, the second sub tasks with approximate time to completion, and everything else. And of course, it doesn’t happen exactly like that. But I do get done, and I do manage to check the pieces off. But then another really important metacognitive practice that I’d like to share is that when I finish that task, I say “What is my next important step?” In fact, David Allen and his book Getting Things Done on Stress Free productivity, thee whole environment, even in business. His primary question is, “What is your next step?” So before you stop where you are, particularly in a writing project, you write down what your next step is. Because it’s totally short circuits, that transition. Because when you sit down, “Yeah, what was I doing now? What do I have to do? What is my next step?” Hey, I can’t tell you the number of hours that that particular little hint has saved me in terms of really making progress and stuff. So that’s another little hint to build into all that project planning. “What is my next step? What do I have to have next?” And sometimes for online learners, particularly, it’s not sitting down and studying, they have to get a resource, or they have to get a book or they have to make an appointment or they have to do something. But then that’s something that doesn’t have to necessarily be done exactly in order. To kind of almost wanting to build a little calligraphy thing, saying “What is my next step?” is a really, really great little hint.

Rebecca: I think experience certainly teaches us that, but it’s something that students who have less experience don’t explicitly know to do. Because we all know that we’ve tried to cut corners and hurry through something. And then if we don’t do that… I know I’ve spent hours figuring out now what was I doing? Like it’s been a while since I’ve worked on this project. Now, where was that? What was my filing system?

Judith: Yes. And what was I thinking? And oh, dear, I wish I bought that along with this other thing with me. Yeah, exactly.

Rebecca: I also wanted to circle back a little bit to the workspaces too. One thing that I found with asking students to talk about their workspace is also to show them professional workspaces. And to talk about the different kinds of environments and how space can help facilitate certain kinds of activities, but also can short circuit certain kinds of activities as well.

Judith: I think that’s really, really helpful. I know, I can’t tell you the number of conversations I had with people when I was in a work environment, and management was making all kinds of decisions that were not conducive to good collaborative work or good independent work. I mean, it’s a real discipline to think about.

John: And you need both spaces, but you will often only have something that’s better for one or the other.

Judith: Exactly, exactly. For any kind of a course, as we’re talking about metacognition, we get overly focused on “what” the students are learning as opposed to the “how.” So just in a capsule comment, that as we are designing online our classroom based courses that we really include in our assignments.. in the design and the various activities… that we include both the “what” of the content and the “how…” How do I get there? And I think we started getting there when they start setting those personal goals. Because some of the courses now are starting to include a goal or a learning outcome that they want their students to think like a scientist. You’re not just learning biology, we want you to think like a scientist. Or we want you to think like an engineer, or an entrepreneur, or whatever. But getting this… it’s a different mindset. You just don’t want to learn what biology is and learn about the content of biology, but I love finding out about the biographies of like Einstein and a few other folks. It’s just fascinating to get into their heads as to the process that they use to do that. Eric Kandle, by the way, is another Nobel Prize winner. He’s got some fabulous book out about his thinking and his processes by which he actually investigated and learned about memory. So… fun.

Rebecca: I think that using biographies is a great way to introduce students to that a little bit.

Judith: Yes.

John: A number of software packages, such as Lumen Learning’s Waymaker package, Norton’s Inquiszitive, and some of McGraw-Hill’s and CENGAGE’s products include attempts at building student metacognition in their products. For example, they’ll ask students questions and they’ll also ask them about their confidence in their responses. The Norton Inquizitive package, in particular, sets it up in a somewhat game-like situation, where they get to bet points on how confident they are. And then it gives them feedback on how they did versus how they perceived they were doing. Do you think this type of approach might be useful?

Judith: I was just reading a research study about that, John, and the students… Who was that by? I would have to go back and find it, I’ll have to email it to you. But the results showed that the students who were less confident…

John: …did better.

Judith: Yeah. Who was that?

John: I don’t remember. I think it was on the POD list, but maybe not, it might have been on an economics list. Consistent with the Dunning-Kruger effect, the students who did relatively poorly, had relatively high self perceptions of how well they did that were not reflected in their test scores.

Judith: …So important to be asking the question: “What do I know?” and “What don’t I know?” Because that’s a core, isn’t it? If we can answer that question. In fact, one hint that’s in that book called Make It Stick… which is a real good one… one of the key things I took away from that was the technique or practice of having in a textbook, taking the heading and turning it into a question and then seeing if you can answer that when you finish reading something. So again, “What do I know when I start? What do I know when I finish? And am I able to answer that question? Or am I able to pose another good question based on that?” So explaining to ourselves what I know and what I don’t know, I wanted to go back to that study that we were just both talking about, because my question that occurred to me as I was reading this is that, you know, the problem, I think, is that the study really didn’t really give the students an opportunity to verbalize why they felt confident or less confident, which is, I think, a whole missing piece of that. And I don’t know how they obviously would make designing a study… actually, my dissertation, in fact, I will bore you with the title of it is “Fluent Readers’ Strategies for Assigning Meaning to Unknown Words in Context.” And the thing is that, half the time, they didn’t know that was an unknown word, they just assumed they knew the word. So again, if we don’t know we don’t know something, we can be very confident. [LAUGHTER] But anyway, in order to get the answers to that question of the study, I actually had the students talk out loud to me, they verbalized and I would go back and ask them about the word and say, “What were you thinking when you came to that?” …and all the rest of it. So they had to verbalize their thinking. For me, it was a good study, it really worked. So again, going back to the value of verbalizing,”What do I know?” and “What don’t I know?” and “What do I think I know?” And Rebecca, we got that when you said, “Well, you started talking about what to do, and then you realized you didn’t know anything.”

John: As you suggested before, a really good thing with any project is to think about where you’re going next. And we always end our podcast with the question, “What are you doing next?”

Judith: What a great question. Okay, what am I working on next? I did mention that I just finished a little video for the Distance Learning Conference in Madison in early August. On my back burner, and I’ve been saying this for a couple of years, I would really like to write a book on concepts. What I’d like to do is… I mentioned I love working with faculty, and when we design courses it so often on a topic-to-topic basis. And yet, as I started working with faculty towards the last 10 years or so, I started asking faculty to tell me what their core concepts of a course is. And, you know, faculty, that’ve been teaching for 10,15, 20, even 30 years, they would pause and they’d say, “Uhhhh, [LAUGHTER] you know, we just teach topics,…” as opposed to core concepts. And we think about core concepts are what stay with us when we finish a course, hopefully. So the question really is, what do you expect your students to know, five years, 10 years down the road from what you have been spending all this time and energy on? So I’d like to write a book about thinking about concepts and how to design a course, and focus on problems and concepts rather than topics.

Rebecca: I like that, I think that would be really helpful. Can’t wait to read it.

Judith: [LAUGHTER] I can’t either.

Rebecca: You gotta visualize, you gotta visualize. [LAUGHTER]

Judith: Thank you. You can give it right back to me.

John: We talk a lot about backwards design. But a lot of the classes that many of us teach were not designed in that way. They did not start with those major course learning objectives, and then work backwards to get to that point. And they’re just series of topics taught in the same way that they were taught to them when they were students. And they were taught in the same way as their previous generation taught them. And there’s not always a lot of thought going into that. And that sounds like a really good project.

Judith: Well, thank you, I may call you and see. I’ll need faculty to work with on that project. So I may contact you for that.

Rebecca: I’ll sign up.

John: Be happy to.

Judith: I’d be willing, God be willing that I get going on that. [LAUGHTER]

John: I think we all have a few projects like that. But eventually they often happen.

Rebecca: Eventually.

Judith: Yes, well, actually talking about it is a good thing. Because the more things we write down, and the more things we actually talk about are more likely to happen.

Rebecca: And I have just told the world so it’s gonna have to happen, right?

Judith: Oh, dear. [LAUGHTER]

John: Although if you change your mind, we can edit it out.

Judith: Scratch that…

John: I know I come up with some things after a podcast where I say I want to do this in my class next semester. And once it’s in a recording now, I pretty much have to do it. [LAUGHTER]

Judith: Well, John, before we break up here, when you do go to Duke, what do you teach?

John: I teach economics, introductory micro and macro economics.

Judith: Okay. Sounds great.

John: It’s been a lot of fun. I love doing it. The kids are just so amazing.

Judith: Well, kids are amazing at that age. They really are. It’s wonderful to see them evolving to young men and women. You know, I’ve got eight grandchildren. My oldest is now 19 and a half. In fact, she did microeconomics online, both one and two this summer.

John: Thank you for joining us.

Judith: Well, thank you very much. I really enjoyed being here.

Rebecca: This is a lot of fun. Thank you so much.

[MUSIC]

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

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

95. Specifications Grading

Faculty often find that grading student work is a stressful and time-consuming activity. Students sometimes see grades as a subject of negotiation rather than as an assessment of their learning. In this episode, Dr. Linda Nilson joins us to explore how specifications grading can save faculty time while motivating students to achieve the course learning outcomes.

Linda is the founding director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University. She is the author of Specifications Grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time as well as many other superb books, book chapters, and articles on teaching and learning.

Show Notes

  • Linda Nilson – Director Emeritus of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation (OTEI) at Clemson University
  • Nilson, L. (2015). Specifications grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Nilson, L. “80. Self-Regulated Learning.” Tea for Teaching podcast. May 8, 2019.

Transcript

John: Faculty often find that grading student work is a stressful and time-consuming activity. Students sometimes see grades as a subject of negotiation rather than as an assessment of their learning. In this episode, we explore how the use of specifications grading can save faculty time while motivating students to achieve the course learning outcomes.

[MUSIC]

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

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

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

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

[MUSIC]

John: Today our guest is Dr. Linda Nilson. She is the founding director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University. She is the author of many superb books, book chapters, and articles on teaching and learning.

Rebecca: Welcome, Linda.

John: Welcome.

Linda: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.

Rebecca: I think it’s more of a welcome back, right?

John: Yes. Welcome back.

Linda: Welcome back. Yes, yes, yes. Good to be here again.

Rebecca: Are you drinking any tea today?

Linda: As a matter of fact, I am. Yes, yes, yes. Of course I had coffee this morning as well. But I am drinking tea. I am drinking a berry tea, but it also has black tea in it. So it’s still a bit of a stimulant anyway, but it tastes really good.

Rebecca: Sounds good.

John: I have ginger peach green tea.

Rebecca: And I have English breakfast.

John: In an earlier podcast we talked with you about your work with self-regulated learning and one of the topics that came up with that was specifications grading.

Linda: Yes.

John: So we’d like you to tell us a little bit about your book, Specifications Grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time… especially that last part. [LAUGHTER]

Linda: Yes, saving faculty time. Yeah, I figured that would help sell the book. But it’s true. It does save faculty time. And one of the things that inspired this book was just my hearing so many complaints from so many faculty over the years, about grading and the aftermath of grading and returning grading material to students. And the constant steady stream of students trying to get another half a point, just arguing… just conflict… constant conflict… students being stressed… faculty being stressed… faculty getting larger and larger classes with less and less help… fewer and fewer TAs, if there ever any TAs. And I got tired of it. But there was a part of this that I did not invent. I heard it from a faculty member in the School of Management. And she was doing that pass-fail grading. It was saving her tons of time. She had huge classes, online classes. And she just invented this and she was also sick and tired… getting complaints from students and students not paying attention to her feedback, which of course, took her hours and hours and hours to write and return. So I took some ideas from her. But I also wanted to tie grades somehow to outcomes. And this is where another aspect of specs grading comes in. And that is with respect to bundling assignments, or turning them into modules or whatever. But I prefer the term bundles because it’s much more universal. So anyway, this was a solution to a problem. And that’s what a lot of my work has had to do with, making the faculty members job easier and more rewarding.

Rebecca: I think that you’ve been spying on me for the last many years. [LAUGHTER]

Linda: Yes I have. Yes I have. [LAUGHTER] I’ll admit it.

Rebecca: I knew it. I knew it. So I think John and I are both really interested in the idea of saving time, as are many faculty. But you also talked about, in your book, the history of grading… how its evolved… the 4.0 system. How is this different? And how does this relate to the history of grading?

Linda: Well, let’s look at the history of grading first. Grade started, well everywhere, in 1783. It was Yale’s idea. And what they started doing in that year was an achievement-based student classification system. They were not using As and Bs, what they were using were Latin designations of like optimi outstanding and pejores for failing, like as in pejorative, right? Anyway, then in 1800, Yale dropped the Latin designations and started using numbers 0 to 4. Sound familiar? But that was Yale doing that now. In 1850, the University of Michigan initiated grades, but for them, it was strictly pass/fail, and it only took 50% to pass. So we talk about grade inflation now… look backwards. [LAUGHTER] Mount Holyoke, though, just a few years later set passing at 75%. Harvard, also a little bit later, invented the A to F system, but passing was only 26%. So if you were wealthy enough, you had to know less, right? Okay. But anyway, that’s where ultimately grades came from before 1783. This was in Europe. And this started hundreds of years before our notion of grades. There was something… it was like a Jeopardy game, where graduates… or graduates to be… the hopeful graduates… were answering questions in a tournament style, but the stakes were really high. And so yes, if you are winning throughout, you were really showered with honors. But if you were at the bottom, you lived years in shame. It was terrible. We talk about high stakes. Oh my. So anyway, grades were invented after universities. Socrates didn’t talk about grades, right? It’s a relatively new invention for sorting students.

Rebecca: How does the specification grading relate to this letter system or this 4.0 system?

Linda: Well, it kind of takes a break away. Because first of all, all this grades that I was talking about was with respect to courses, there have been pass/fail courses. Sometimes they worked well, sometimes they didn’t work so well. They work pretty well in medical school ‘cause we’re dealing with a highly motivated students who really understand the need to know. But other than that, most students would do the absolute minimum to get their C-… whatever, it didn’t work very well in terms of like motivating students to learn, they learned the absolute minimum. With specs grading, the pass/fail is within the course, the assignments and tests in the course. But, you don’t pass with a C or C-. You set the passing level at what you would regard as a B level. And this is what restores the rigor. I think we have been sold a poor bill of goods, when we don’t set our students to high standards. We say, “Well, maybe they can’t do it, and then they’ll get…” They can do it. Come on. They’re just not doing it because of our partial credit system and our point system ‘cause they can always get another half a point, right? …just by wearing you down. [LAUGHTER]

Linda: Really, they do and they know it works, it worked in high school, so it works now. Now it may have worked the previous semester, these students aren’t stupid. And they can do what we ask them to do for “B” work… certainly at the undergraduate level, or actually at the graduate level as well. They could do it. But they choose not to, because they can survive otherwise. They could do well enough to pass or get their “B” or even get their “A.” So why should they sweat it, they can always get the partial credit. And students get partial credit. It’s almost like going back to the University of Michigan 50% passing for assignments and tests. I mean, we pretty much lowered the bar, because we want so many people to get over it. Well, people are getting over it without preparing… without doing a decent job. And they’ll spend 10 minutes… 20 minutes… the night before on an assignment knowing that no matter what they do, they will get partial credit and they will pass. So again, they’re not stupid, it’s just that, for them, college is a game that doesn’t have much to do with learning. That’s not where the focus is, and at least with specs grading, there is a lot more focus on learning, because you are tying the assignments and tests to student learning outcomes. And that’s a really nice part of the system in that those grades, the ABC, mean something in terms of outcomes achievement, and these, in turn, might be tied to program outcomes as well. So all of a sudden, you’ve gotten rid of an entire step at the departmental level of having to measure program outcomes. And why do you have to do this? Because accrediting agencies know that our grades don’t mean much of anything, as far as learning is concerned, as far as what they’re interested in, which is outcomes achievement. And outcomes achievement, it’s an up-or-out sort of thing. You can either do something or you can’t, and as long as there are standards set for that, and certainly the accrediting agencies want standards set for that. So let’s say “Okay, so your goal is a student can write a good quality, maybe not great quality, but a good quality business proposal.” Okay, fine. So if that is your outcome, what really does that entail? What exactly are you looking for in terms of a very good business plan? And that should be incorporated in your directions to students. But we don’t articulate that, do we? We really don’t. We speak very vaguely, “Well a business plan should have this and here’s your rubric.” Well, first of all, students often don’t understand the language, but is simply not detailed enough such that all students can understand the directions and actually follow them. We need to put more detail. Usually what we assigned undergraduates is some sort of a template or a formula to do this. And we’re not talking about that. We’re not sharing this template or formula with our students. And that’s what we need to do… not to say that you can’t allow for creative work. Matter of fact, with this system, you can and you don’t have to worry about tearing your hair out in different ways. “Well, I don’t know how to grade a movie.” Well, no, but you can talk about certain qualities of that movie, as in just simple things like the length, or perhaps the number of scenes that you want to see. And certainly they’ll be a learning goal and a communication goal connected to it. And that’s pretty much all you have to do. For most of our assignments, they are formulaic, but students don’t know the formula. And we need to tell them, and those are what you would call our specs for an assignment. So that’s really what we need to do. So all our work is up front and laying out what those specs are. It’s like a one-level rubric. But we don’t have to worry about different levels of the rubric, where there are four-level rubrics and five-level rubrics. We don’t have to worry about that. All we need is one. So we can afford the time to actually specify what we’re looking for… what that template involves.

John: And then the focus is helping students reach the standard, rather than negotiating with them over the grades for what they’ve received.

Linda: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, forget negotiation. There’s some things that ought to be non-negotiable. I mean, we’re not sloppy when we grade, I know, we get sick and tired of it. But we are so diligent in our grading. And then we have a line of students outside our office saying, “I deserve another two points on this because Susie said the same thing. She got 12 points, I only got 10.” …like write an essay about it… justifying it.

John: One thing I really like about it, though, is that right now we have these two levels of assessing students’ learning, we have these complex assessment plans for each department. And then we have a grading system, which often bears little resemblance to the assessment. And this is making the assessment transparent and obvious to students. And it’s forcing both faculty and students to focus on the learning objectives for the course.

Linda: Yes, as we should be, you think about it, what does it mean, when a student gets an A? Does that mean that that student has achieved all the objectives? all the outcomes at the level we want to see? Well, maybe for some of the students who get an A. What does a “B” mean? Now we’re starting to get into really ambiguous territory. Does that mean that the students sort of achieved or barely achieved all the outcomes or maybe achieved some really well and then didn’t achieve others? And a “C,” forget it. You can’t tell what’s going on there, especially given the way we give out “Cs” these days. So maybe the “C” student achieved one outcome well, but which one? Yeah, I mean, no wonder accrediting agencies pay no attention to our grades. They don’t even want to know them. And I can understand why, if they’re focused on learning outcomes. And so yeah, we’ve got this whole extra level of work that we have to do and the department chairs have to do and the Provosts have to do. I mean, who needs it?

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between specs grading and contract grading, because it seems like they have some things in common?

Linda: Yes, they do have something in common. With contract grading, students individually work it out with a faculty member as to exactly what they’re going to do. And if they do all those things that they will get there “A” because I’ve never heard of a student contracting or a ”B,” it just doesn’t happen. Now, contract rating goes back to the 60s, and the first half of the 70s. And what was happening was since there was this individual relationship, first of all, faculty didn’t specify enough about what they wanted… what constituted “A” work… same problem we have had up to now… and faculty weren’t all that much different then, in fact, they probably gave less guidance. But in any case, there were the specifications. And then faculty and students would develop this relationship, this individual relationship. And it became particularly difficult for the faculty member to give anything but an “A” to the student. And the student would have thought, “Well, why didn’t you tell me to do this to get my ‘A,’ because that’s what I contracted for.” So contract rating was: 1. sloppy, but 2. highly individualized. With our class sizes, we can’t even talk about contract grading. And because it was something that was mutually established, between the faculty and the students, and specs grading is nothing like that. This is all in the faculty members’ hands. Well, at least, setting out what is required to get the “As” and “Bs” and “Cs” and “Ds” . But students choose what grade they’re going to go for. And according to what grade they believe that they need, but also according to what kind of a workload they want to shoulder for this particular course. And you know, maybe all they need is a “C.” And you know what, that’s okay. And we don’t look down on that student if the student says: “Well, all I need is a ‘C.’ We do otherwise. We say “Wow, this is a lazy student.” That’s what we’re thinking in the back of our heads. We have negative thoughts about students who settle for low grades. But with specs grading, you don’t have to feel that way. This student chose a seat for whatever reason, I don’t care. My course is not in that student’s major. So I’m not going to take it personally. So, that’s nice. But the fact that that’s making that choice, gets rid of all kinds of grading complaints, or that thing at the end of the semester: “What can I do to bring up my grade?” Well, it’s very clear what you could have been doing. If you went for a “C” now you could have done these additional assignments, or taking this additional test to get a “B.” But you didn’t do that. Now, you’ve got a week left, maybe you want to try to do that. But don’t ask me, I laid out the contract, I laid out the terms, I laid out the specs at the beginning of the semester, and you make your choices. This whole thing makes students feel a lot more responsible for their grades. They made the choice. And we respect that.

Rebecca: So I think a question that would come up for many faculty is you’ve laid out that certain assignments need to be accomplished to get even a “C…”

Linda: Yes.

Rebecca: …and what the specifications are. What happens when a student struggles to meet those specs?

Linda: Oh gee. Well, now when you say struggle, you can struggle before the assignment, or you can be disappointed and angry after the assignment. So if you’re talking about struggling before and say, “Professor, I don’t understand these two specs. I don’t even know if I can do it. Could you give me some more guidance?” No problem, and then because the stakes are higher, you get credit or no credit whatsoever… doesn’t count towards your bundle… doesn’t count towards whatever grade you’re doing. So you’d better figure this out. Now, afterwards, don’t meet the specs. Okay. And obviously, you didn’t come to see me in advance, did you or otherwise, we would have hashed this out. Anyway… so you didn’t pass? So you missed these two specs. All right, well gee, that’s most unfortunate. But there’s this system called tokens… or I call them tokens, but you can call them… I don’t know, you can call them pigs in a blanket for all I care, it doesn’t matter. They’re like get out of jail free cards. I’ve seen them called hail Mary cards. In a geography course, they were called globes, but anyway, they are opportunities to either redo an assignment that didn’t meet the specs, or to get a 24-hour extension. And there might be some other things that you make up along the way if absence counts against you in your course, you can get out of absence. But let’s say it’s for redoing this assignment, which is really important early in the semester, because students are not going to believe that you’re going to grade them pass/fail, because this is all new for them. And they go, “Well, how can this be…” and “There must be some sort of partial credit or something…” They won’t believe you. So there will be a number of students who will need this token or get out of jail free card to redo the assignment. It’s up to you, as a faculty member, as to how many get out of jail free cards or tokens that they might have. Three is a nice number. I like it, but some people give five. Some people give two. But I think it behooves you to have some reasonable number of tokens with specs grading, because that takes the pressure off of students; it allows them to screw up at least a few times. So this is something that students can get second chances out of this because the stakes are higher than typical. But the thing is, when you’re grading these assignments, all you’ve got to do is check the specs that weren’t met, and say, “This is why your assignment failed.” Now, if you want to give additional feedback, by all means, I’m not going to stop you. But I want you to have a life. That’s the only thing. And you can give positive feedback as well. And then you know what, you’ve passed something, then you get positive feedback from your instructor that you figure, “Wow, the instructor gave me this positive feedback out of the kindness of her heart, because she really cares about me and my success… told me how I could maybe do better in the future.” First of all, I’m going to read this, because this is meaningful feedback. This is not justification for having taken off points, because that’s what most of our feedback is about: why you didn’t get full credit. And now this is actual substantive learning feedback. So, it decouples feedback from evaluation in a way, but students get the chance to do it over and now that you have their attention, that let’s say they didn’t pass a certain assignment, that they can come to you and say, “Okay, how should I do this better?” Oh, okay. Isn’t this lovely? So the worst that will happen is you’ll have a conversation with a student about how to improve his or her work, that’s the worst that will happen. Isn’t that wonderful? [LAUGHTER] And sometimes students know, they just got lazy.

Rebecca: How would you suggest structuring specification grading for a class that’s more project based or even collaborative work?

Linda: Oh, sure. Whether it’s projects, or papers or whatever, again, it’s a matter of specs. Oftentimes, with our projects, that we might allow our projects different media, what we have to do is lay out specs for each media. Or say, if you can think of a different media, you can do a film, you can do a play, you can write pamphlets, you can write a paper if you want to, or you can do any of, let’s say, a half a dozen things. And let’s say if you want to do something else that’s not on the list, come talk to me, and we’ll work it out, we’ll work out some specs for it, too. So what you have to do is you have to lay out specs, but oftentimes the specs that you have to lay out, and students love creative assignments, is you have to lay out, let’s say, length, and so you might say, “Okay, if you’re going to go with a film or video, I want 20-mintues of that. Going to go with pamphlets? I want at least four pamphlets, I want each pamphlet to have at least 250-words in it. If you’re going to go with writing a play and performing a play for your peers, I mean, wow. But I do want it to be a half an hour long. And I want it to involve everybody in the group, everybody’s acting. And if you’re going to write a paper, I want it to be at least, let’s say, 2000-words long… or maybe that’s too long, whatever… and you lay it out, and I want it to follow this kind of an outline.” You can lay out specs for different kinds of media, and let students run with the project. Now a design project, what you might allow students to choose is exactly, let’s say, in architecture, what kind of a building they’re going to design. Let’s say, “Okay, you can design a residence, single family, a separate dwelling, but I want it to be at least four bedrooms, I want to be two stories, this and that. And you could do an office building too. But I want this to be at least two stories, and I want it to be so many thousands of square feet.” And then you let them run with it. And you know what, we know from our history, and from a lot of publications, that students run with this sort of thing. So I’ll give a little guidance and off they go, it’s a beautiful thing. Now in terms of projects having to do with group work, I don’t know that that specs grading will make group work smoother. [LAUGHTER] And I’ve talking about out-of-class group work. If you want to play marriage counselor, you just go right on ahead. But you don’t have to. I mean, there are some people who say, “Hey, you guys work it out on your own, I don’t want to hear about it and you can fire freeloaders. And if you are doing all the work, you can resign from your group and any other group will be happy to pick you up. But all this has to be done by the end of the fifth week,” whatever. So I don’t know that we’re going to get rid of those problems. [LAUGHTER]

REBBECCA: I think my question was more about the high-stakes nature or the long-term nature of projects.

Linda: Yes.

Rebecca: So would you recommend doing scaffolded specs or something like that to help make sure they’re on track?

Linda: Well, yes, what you need to do, as with any major project, you need to divide it up into smaller tasks that students can be at accountable for along the way, and maybe even get feedback for. Now, you can give feedback… your peers… people in other groups… can give feedback. Because after all, we’re doing criteria referenced grading, we’re not grading on the curve. So there are different ways for students to get feedback. But in any case, this divides a massive task into little pieces. So maybe starting out with, “Okay, by the end of the third week, we want your group to have a literature review put together.” And we put specs for the literature review. “And we want so many references. And we want so many of them in the last five-years,” And what have you. So we can even put the specs, I even specify specs for the format that we want: APA format, or ASA format, or Chicago, whatever it is that we want. That’s something that we can put in the specs if we want to, and that way students will actually proofread. Now I think we ought to be somewhat tolerant with respect to format anyway, we ought to allow three little errors in format. Because you know what, when we submit a paper to a journal, they’re tolerant of us, right? [LAUGHTER] I mean, you can’t be sloppy, but if we put a period instead of a comma, hey, we are forgiven. And we’ll catch it later on the proofs. So we need to allow some errors on something like that. But anyway, yeah, we divide up a big task into pieces. And then students get feedback on the pieces. And that’s also a good way to find out early about who are your freeloaders, who’s not doing the work early, so they can get rid of the freeloaders if they need to. Here’s another thing that you can do with specs grading, when you do bundles, you know, the project, the big project, you can make that big project required for an A, period. And then you will only have groups with students who are going for As. So it depends on the size of your class, of course. You might wind up with only, let’s say, three groups who are going for As. Or you know, the number of students that will fall into three groups. Well, guess what, you’re going to get some really fine projects, you’re not going to have to worry about it, and they might not be freeloaders. But anyway, in the examples in my book that a lot of faculty members and I recommended as well, that group projects be reserved for getting an A, for the A bundle. And other assignments be in the B bundle and C and the D bundle for that matter, which might be very minimal. But hey, if you want to a D, far be it for me to stop you. So, anyway, that’s another way to solve the problem, you just put those projects in just for the students are going for an A.

John: You’ve mentioned bundling a few times in terms of grades, could you talk a little bit about that and how you can go from the specs grading to the course grades that are assigned in the course.

Linda: Okay, there are two ways and the first way I’m going to just mention and not recommend. But you can keep your point system, and you might have some haggling over grades. But in any case, you can keep the point system and say, “Okay, my course is 100 points and if you get 91 points or more, you’ll get an A.” And okay, fine, but the bundling system allows students to choose their grade. So what you do is, you set up clusters of assignments and tests that students have to pass at that B level to get credit for their bundle. So you set those up. And the easiest way to do this, so you got a D bundle, is pretty minimal. And you can tell students, “Look for your D, here are the only outcomes that you will be able to achieve if you go for the D.” Some students say, “Hey, I don’t care, not in my major.” Fine. So it’s minimal work, maybe it involved just passing tests at let’s say, a 70% level, and maybe doing a couple of little written assignments along the way. But, they all have to meet whatever the specs might be. Whatever specs you set out for those assignments… And C bundle, “Okay, you got to do everything that you do in that D bundle, plus there are extra assignments as well.” And so maybe what you are having students do, and I’m just making this up as an example, is the students have to turn in 15 out of the 18 reading assignments that you have, they have to turn in a typed up outline on a particular reading. This way, at least your C students are going to do the readings, right? Because at least most of the readings, almost all the readings, and you’d give your teeth for almost all your students to do almost all the readings, right? But that’s all they’ve got to do. Maybe for a B you have to do all the requirements for a C, maybe even more of those reading notes, or something different. Perhaps keep learning journal, keep a journal on how you are learning, what you’re having trouble learning, the different strategies you are trying to learn the material, and it’s going to be collected. But you really have to specify what questions you want students to answer. So that will be collected maybe four times during the semester, and you might collect some every week or so and look at a few of them. But again, you’re just looking for the answers to the questions. That’s what you have to do for a B. You’re going to get a good handle on those readings and you’re going to find out how to best learn this material. For the A, you got to do everything for the B, but you have to do some sort of a group project where you’re going to learn, let’s say application, analysis, evaluation, what have you, whatever higher thinking levels that you have in there. At the C level, that’s pretty low. But good lord, at least they’re understanding the readings, at least they’re reading the readings and presumably understanding it. And you know, you can spot check some of them to see that they are understanding and if they’re not, you can help them with that. And as soon as they’re learning how to learn for that B, but students are learning how to analyze the material, even higher-level learning outcomes for that A. Now if your student learning outcomes are dictated by a professional accrediting agency, then you’ve got to put all of those outcomes in what’s required for a C, or maybe your institution considers D passing, some institutions don’t. Whatever you consider passing, that’s where all of those outcomes have to go. B students and the A students, they will achieve even more outcomes. If you’ve got an outside accrediting agency telling you what your students have to be able to do, then guess what? All the students that pass the course have to be able to do these things. And you’ve got to set out the specs accordingly. There are some accrediting agencies that layout good outcomes with active verbs. And other accrediting agencies, they give you crummy outcomes where you’ve got to essentially rewrite them so you can assess them. But I’m not going to get into that. [LAUGHTER] Did I answer your question, I hope?

Rebecca: Yeah, I think a lot of your examples focus on a more traditional class and not necessarily a lab or a studio kind of class where there’s a lot of class work that happens inside of class. What might a bundle look like in a situation like that? Where a lot of the learning activities are happening in person rather than for homework. So, for example, I teach studio classes that meet for six hours a week, and they presumably do about three hours outside of class. Versus the reverse, which many people have and labs are similar.

Linda: What area are you in?

Rebecca: I teach graphic design.

Linda: Okay.

Rebecca: But it would be similar to something that would happen in the sciences too and having to do lab.

Linda: Yeah, to an extent, it depends on whether it’s a decent lab or not. [LAUGHTER] Some labs are a waste of everybody’s time. But anyway, what you have to do there is, you’ve got projects, right? …throughout the semester, different things that students are doing. but how many projects do you have in a semester?

Rebecca: Usually, it’s like four big projects, or three.

Linda: Okay, well, now this sounds very, very radical. But what if for a D, you only had to do one project? …and I mean, at that B-level that you set to pass. What if for a C, as a student, I only have to do two. Now, for the first two, because I presume this is somewhat cumulative. For a B, I only have to do three projects. But an A, of course, I have to do all four, if there are four projects. Now, what does this mean? Oh, by the way, do you have tests?

Rebecca: No.

Linda: Just curious. Okay, it means that assuming your D student does passable work, that first project, you can say bye bye after that first project is done. If the person wants to sit in… you can’t, you know… it’s a free country, right? Well, not really. But they can sit in if you want them to, that’s fine. For a C student again, you can say bye bye after the second project, assuming they do it at that passable level. And by the end of the semester, you have only you the most motivated and committed students that you have to be concerned with. And you can give them some very challenging work. Now, I don’t know how you feel about that. But that’s the way you could do that. Now, you could also bundle it differently. You can expand the number of projects that you have as well and simply make them shorter if that’s what you would be required. But I don’t know how you react to that.

Rebecca:I think my accrediting agency would react to that in that they have to put a certain number of hours in. [LAUGHTER]

Linda: Okay, okay, so your accrediting agency is time focused.

Rebecca: It’s part of it. Because presumably with more practice, you get better.

Linda: Well, presumably. [LAIUGHTER] …practice with feedback, you get better. But yeah, if we are committed to this hours business, that makes things very unruly, everybody’s got to put in the same amount of time…

Rebecca: In class anyway.

Linda: Oh, in class, okay. That’s very unruly, with respects to specs grading because specs grading isn’t about time. I mean, you can recommend that such and such assignment should take you at least three hours for it to be passable. But other than that, that’s your recommendation for a certain given assignment. But yeah, that makes it very unruly when your accrediting agency says, “Okay, they’ve got to spend so many hours in class and not just looking at their phone.”

Rebecca: Yeah, I mean, we do critiques and things like that. We provide a lot of feedback. But yeah.

Linda: Yeah. Okay. You do critiques?

Rebecca: Yeah lots of critiques.

Linda: Yeah, like art classes and things like that?

Rebecca: Yeah.

Linda: Okay. Well, that’s nice. But now, you could hold your B and C students to doing critiques on all the assignments, just so they can put in their hours. But they don’t necessarily have to do the assignments, at least they can see models. But again, I don’t know if your accrediting agency would be happy with that either.

John: This may not exactly be specs grading, but could you give, say, different levels of activity in each of the assignments? If you have four-projects, you could have one bundle in that project that would give a C, another that would give a B, and another that would give an A, changing the scope of the projects and it would be specs grading within that scope.

Linda: Yes, that has been done and I’m not sure about what kind of projects you’re doing. But yes, you could do that. And you could set different specs for each level. So D students, lets say, have to do a D-level project, which is not nearly as time consuming and not nearly as high a level cognitively, it doesn’t demand that much, doesn’t demand much time, it doesn’t demand that much thinking. And so you could do that and that way students would put in their time, and as long as you can set out the specs for those levels. Yes, absolutely you could do it that way.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Linda: But yeah, accrediting agencies can really get in the way of flexibility. Rebecca, would your accrediting agency go along with that?

Rebecca: With scope, probably. Yeah.

Linda: Yeah. Okay, good. I want to tell you about a course that does this, it’s in computer science, they have students writing programs, and there are six projects that students have to do, they do these individually. If you are going for a C, you get some pretty easy projects to do, pretty easy problems to solve. If you’re going for a B, well you get sort of intermediate-level problem, you don’t do the C one. Because if can do the B ones, you can do the C ones. Now for an A you get some much more sophisticated ones. But still, for every level, you only get six. So there is that, that as long as you can designate level of difficulty, or for that matter, breadth of knowledge, if you can designate that… of course, usually people can do that… that you can make levels out that you can make different bundles out of that. This is another little interesting take, in this particular course, if you are late handing in your projects, that you’ve got to do two more projects at that level. So in other words, you are penalized for lateness by having to do more work. Now that really hits students where it hurts. And if you’re like super late, you got to do yet two more. So any way that keeps students on their toes. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, so in this particular course students are rarely late. So yes, there are ways that you can do that just in terms of level of complexity or level of cognitive operations demanded.

John: How do you explain this to students, if you’re going to introduce a specs grading system?

Linda: First of all, you’ve got to sell specs grading, because they’ll look at you like, “Huh?,” which is fine. And you should explain this, but you can tell them, “You know, I’m going to hold you to higher expectations.” And we know that holding students to higher expectations feeds into student success, student learning, but also student success in general. You could explain to them the concept of andragogy. In other words, that pedagogy really has to do with little kids. Andragogy has to do with adults. Saying, “I’m going to treat you like an adult.” And students like that kind of thing, you might be choosing the kind of project you’re doing. It’s easy to build choices into this. “This will be a safe but a challenging environment because you know exactly what you’re supposed to do. I’m going to give you the descriptions of what you have to do for the assignment to pass in advance and in detail. So you almost can’t screw this up unless you don’t read the directions or pay attention to the directions.” So you want to emphasize the choice and control over their grade that they’re going to have. You want to tell them about tokens, we’ve got some wiggle room, if you will. Now these tokens, by the way, are not physical, you make them physical students will develop a black market, [LAUGHTER] believe me, but virtual and you keep track, or you can ask for an extension, but you don’t ask me for an extension. You’re late, I just take a token away. That’s all. We don’t have to talk about it. I don’t care why you’re late, this is just the way it’s going to be. Just like your boss won’t care why you are late or why you are absent, it counts as like a holiday. Now we’re going to tie what your grades is to what you are learning. If they look at the syllabus at all, everybody’s going to know what you have learned in this course. So that’s how you sell it to students. Now students will need to be reminded about how the system works, because this will strike them. “This is so weird.” Even if they initially like the idea, they still need to be reminded a few times because it is really strange. According to my research, students way prefer this system to traditional grading. And one of the reasons why they do is because we give better direction, we tell them what we want, we give them the formula, we give them the template. or we give them tons and tons of freedom to meet the specs. Especially with students when we talk about length or whatever, length means depth to the students. It doesn’t mean that necessarily to us. Students really like this because they feel way more secure in it. And they do like the element of choices that are built in, that’s motivating for them. And they do learn more. And if they are more motivated, they’re likely to do more of the work at a higher level, they are more likely to excel. And the A students are going to do A work anyway, because they don’t know any better. All they know is A work. And there’s a sense in which they want us to love them. I mean, really, so they’ve got this strong sense of loyalty towards us and they really want us to respect them. And they’re used to feeding off of that they’ve been doing it all their lives. Don’t worry about them getting sloppy, they’ll never get sloppy on you. [LAUGHTER]

John: If someone wanted to transition to specs grading, how should they get started?

Linda: What you might want to do if you’re switching, transitioning to specs grading, you want to look at your assignments, and for that matter, look at your tests, like what you have in your tests. You want to look to see what can be transferred into pass/fail. You also want to look at your tests, if your tests are very objective, and you’re relying on a test bank, remember, it’s so much easier for you to grade with the specs that you can start assigning more written work or design work on tests, what have you. But definitely higher-order thinking types of questions and you will have the time to grade them, because you’re going to lay out the specs and without giving away the farm, you will tell your students the specs of your essay questions in advance, and they will study accordingly. But anyway, you want to look at your outcomes and then you want to identify the cognitive level of your assignments and your test questions which again, you might want to change. You want to be able to group your assignments and tests by that cognitive level so you can develop bundles. It’s kind of a radical way to do it, but it makes your life so much easier once you have those bundles. Because all you’ve got to do is say, “Okay, let’s see. So I had four assignments in this bundle, this student passed them all, hey B. It’s so much easier, you just have to be sure that you set out the deadlines for the different assignments in the bundles. You don’t want everything being submitted to you in the last week or two. So you still have to have your deadlines along the way. Just warning you about that. I want to refer people to my book for examples of courses, and not just my courses either, that have been specs graded. And they cover a range of over a dozen different disciplines. So they can see all kinds of examples.

John: That’s a great resource for those who are considering moving to specs grading.

Linda: Yes.

Rebecca: And it also sounded to me like a couple of cautionary tales that you have about transitioning are about time and making sure that you spread things out…

Linda: Yes.

Rebecca: …but also being very clear in what the specs are, and then following through with whatever you said.

Linda: Yep, yep. And if you didn’t lay out enough detail, well, there’s always next semester. [LAUGHTER] But you can’t change those specs in midstream. “Oh, I wish I thought of this and then start grading students.” No, no, no, no, no. But again, we live and learn, right? We’ll get better the second time.

John: We always end with the question. What are you doing next?

Linda: Oh, what am I doing next? Well, what I’ve been doing is I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, doing keynotes and workshops… oftentimes on self-regulated learning, sometimes on specs grading, and sometimes on any number of different topics having to do with either teaching or academic writing, or something like that. So I’m going to be taking a little bit of a break from that until the end of, or late, July anyway and then things start up again. But that’s kind of nice. I don’t mind that because this keeps me semi-retired and that’s the way I want to be. A semi-retirement is Nirvana, just letting y’all know. [LAUGHTER] So, that’s what’s next for me, that and to finish my tea.

Rebecca: Sounds like the key to semi-retirement is the semi not retired part. [LAUGHTER]

Linda: Yes, it is, it is. Your brain is still working and you still got your thumb in the pie so to speak. And it feels good because you’re not under that same 60 hour a week pressure that you otherwise have with a regular job and then doing these other extra things on the side and it doesn’t work real well.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for joining us.

Linda: Well, thank you for this opportunity. I normally say… autograph books and things like that… happy teaching, but I want to wish everybody happy grading. [LAUGHTER] An odd phrase right? Happy grading. [LAUGHTER] What an odd phrase, right? Happy grading!

John: Thank you.

Rebecca: Thanks, Linda.

Linda: Bye bye.

[MUSIC]

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

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